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Sunday, April 26, 2009

E-Book Prices: Calling B.S. on the Publishing Industry

HarperStudio (of HarperCollins) recently had a post about why they price eBooks as high as they do. There has been a big stink in the e-publishing world lately about the price of eBooks, so hearing a publisher try to explain why things are the way they are is interesting and useful...except when it's a load of B.S.

Let's put things in perspective. HarperStudio is arguing that the same production costs should apply to eBooks because they say so. Not because it makes sense or because it sounds right, but because they say so. Most, if not all, of the books being put into eBook form by major publishers are already being printed in dead-tree form as well (or already have been printed that way some time ago).

This intentionally ignores all the money they are saving/making by selling eBooks: no (or lesser) distribution costs, no loss for unsold books, access to a new market, etc. The list really can go on. Essentially, the publisher is saving a lot of money by printing eBooks, and yet those who buy them are still being shafted. Why? I don't know. Maybe because publishers want to make a quick buck off of a new technology? Or maybe because there's something else they're not telling us.

It should be noted that eBook enthusiasts aren't asking that eBooks be priced for pennies on the dollar; far from it. In fact, all eBook readers are asking is for a price tag that makes some sort of sense, and paying dead-tree prices for a book that essentially has none of the following is stupid:
  • No tangibility
  • No sell back potential (i.e. you can't sell it used)
  • DRMed (usually)
  • *insert other viable reason here*
Whether this cost is $6.00 or $7.00, eBook readers are asking for a price tag that makes buying eReaders and eBooks worth it. Right now, what's really the value in paying for an eReader only to pay practically the same price for an eBook as you would pay for a dead-tree version? Almost none, unless you buy a heck of a lot of books. Saving $2.00, as HarperStudio mentions, means you'd have to buy roughly 200 eBooks in order to recuperate the high cost of the various eReaders. That's a lot of books, and we can suspect that folks using eReaders are in this for the long haul. We've even seen sales go up. So what's the big deal?

And before anyone comments that I just don't understand how it all works: I understand that there are editors and what not, each with a specific job and each that has to get paid for a service. But I don't find that as a valid excuse for overcharging for eBooks. That seems like a cop out to me, as if to say, "Well, we paid for the dead-tree version, let's punish the electronic folks."

What does everyone else think about this? Am I just flat out wrong? Why? Is there more to this that publishers aren't telling us? Are eBook prices going to go down, or do you think they'll remain high until the market dies? Leave a comment with your thoughts!

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  1. You're equating value with production costs. They ain't the same! I'm happy enough with paying a just below paperback price for an ebook as it gives them a value and a decent author %.

    Books aren't a can of coke!

  2. Except it is. Because why would I pay for an eBook when I can get the same product for almost the same price in real form, and then sell it used and get half or most of my money back? I get less as a reader out of an eBook, yet I pay about the same price. That seems ridiculous, particularly when the cost to produce it is really negligible. I'm not saying reduce the price to $1, but drop it enough to make the eBook worth it. Right now, eBooks really aren't worth much to me, because I'm going to pay $400 for the product to read it, and then almost full price for all of the books. Why would I waste my money? I get less out of it and it's not nearly as good on my eyes as a real book.

    At the end of the day, the consumer is the most important entity. If the consumer doesn't buy, the author doesn't get the money and neither does the publisher. Reduce the cost to something more reasonable and more people will buy them. That's all good or the publisher since actual cost of production for eBooks is less, and therefore a far more profitable model. I suspect a lot of people aren't getting into eBooks because of this: the cost is prohibitive.