Monday, April 19, 2010

Were We Actually Promised Cheap eBooks?

It seems like everyone is up in arms over eBook pricing. Publishers and vendors (Amazon being the most overtly vocal) have been brawling over what they believe is an appropriate pricing structure. They are doing this arguing pretty publicly, both trying to seem like the good guys looking out for the consumer, but no one is coming out smelling like roses.

I'm not concerned. Let them duke it out. Whatever happens, happens. Right? I'm more concerned by how consumers are dealing with the battling.

eReaders are all the rage right now. They're new, they're hip, they make reading cooler than it has ever has been before. Gadgets do that.

I own one. I couldn't help myself. When the Nook was first released I HAD to own it. I love it for many reasons that don't really pertain to my actual topic today. Suffice it to say, I'm an eReader fan. And therefore, an eBook fan.

As more and more people invest in eReaders, I'm hearing the same types of comments over and over again.

"Why are eBooks so expensive?"
"Why do eBooks cost more than their mass market counterparts?"
"Shouldn't eBooks be cheap since they are just digital files?"

and the big one being echoed all the more frequently . . .

"I wouldn't have gotten an eReader if I knew they were going to gouge me with eBook prices."

Some people seem to think that the reason to own an eReader is to save money. I have to ask, were we ever actually promised that eBooks would be cheaper than paper books? Were we told we could save money if we bought an eReader? Many are operating under the assumption that this is the case, but when I think about it, I don't actually remember someone making me that promise. I was told that I could have books that are available under public domain for free, but that's been the case with eBooks no matter what you read them on for as long as I remember. Anything published in the last century? Not so much.

eBooks are wonderful in a variety of ways. The ease of buying. The instant gratification. The portability. These have no bearing on price.

I've gotten brand new books for free through Barnes and Noble (Mark Henry's Battle of the Network Zombies). Other brand new books I've bought for $1.99 (Kimberly Derting's The Body Finder and L.J. Smith's Shadow Souls). I've also spend $9.99 for an eBook that costs $6.99 in its paperback form.

Why would I do that? I can't fit another book on my bookshelf. I'm paying for the convenience of storing the book in a digital form.

Did I miss it when eReader makers promised all eBooks would be inexpensive? It is possible I wasn't paying attention that day. Should all eBooks be cheap? In my opinion, no. As much as I would like to read any book in the world for $1.99 or even $6.99, it's not possible. Authors need to be paid for their work. Publishers, editors, agents, vendors, the guys cleaning the bathrooms at these agencies all need to be paid. It isn't feasible for every book to be a bargain. That doesn't make eBooks or eReaders any less exciting in my mind.

What are your thoughts on eBook pricing as it relates to you, the consumer?


  1. I love my Kindle for a thousand reasons and none of them I really expected when I bought it. Nope no one promised me cheaper books if I purchased the ebook form (though I do understand the argument--DRM only costs so much) but I have to say even before I bought an ereader, if I wanted a book I bought it. Price is just not the deciding factor for me. As far as the "agency" pricing vs "set" pricing--I think the ebook reader pricing wars are still young and will probably take a few years to work out. I think the industry itself was surprised at how many people actually adapted to ebook reading. Tt will change many times before a compromise is found (look at CDs, DVDs before them). Either way, I will still buy the books I want to read no matter the price because that is my entertainment :)

  2. I agree with you, but I think an ebook should be at least less expensive than a paperback or hardback, because there are less costs for ebooks.

  3. I do think ebooks should be cheaper as there are no printing costs. It's just a digital file. Yes, everyone should be and needs to be paid but don't rip off the customer because we're not stupid. I have to wonder whether the high prices means that they are actively discouraging customers from buying ebooks - maybe it's part of a conspiracy to keep actual books in for thought ;)

  4. I am an ebook fan also, I have the kindle. I guess for me I don't understand this debate, all ebooks are less then a hardcover 60% less. I love a hardcover though. Also most ebooks are $9.99, I think that is more than fair, it is less than the paperbacks here in Bda.

    I guess I missed that announcement also but I have found ebooks for free - 2 in series, Maximum by James Patterson and My Soul to Take, that is AMAZING DEALS in my mind.

    I think people love to complain, that is the new life for many.

  5. I don't mind paying the same price for a digital book as I would pay for the mass market print- if I want to buy Lora Leigh's latest that is priced $6.99 for print, I'll also pay $6.99 for the ebook because, like you said, it frees up space on my bookshelf. I refuse, however, to pay $14.99 for a digital copy of a title that sells for $6.99 in print. That is just plain wrong. As for the newest hardcover releases, I never spend more than $15.00 on a book-period. I will buy those titles at a UBS, or borrow them from the library-my library lends ebooks, so often the waiting time is less than half the wait for the newest print versions ;-)

  6. I don't have an e-reader. I know, I'm so old school but I like holding the actual book! That being said, if/when I do and I fork out hundreds of $ to buy the reader, I would hope that the book prices are less then the physical form. Assuming royalties are the same, no paper cost, no shipping cost, no storage/shelf costs etc for the publishers, I don't see why not? Time will tell and as you said slowly they will figure out what the balance is for price & sales volume. I don't shop at convience stores & pay more money for things I can get at the gorcery store so I don't see the instant gratification thing swaying me to buy ebooks.

  7. I bought my kindle to save space not get cheaper books. I have gotten so many free books or very cheap from Amazon for the kindle that it evens out anything that might have cost more in kindle form.

  8. Nobody promised that e-books would be any cheaper than ordinary books, and it's likely that many people do buy them for the convenience, and not because they expect them to be any cheaper ... bbbut, this being said, I think most people ASSUME that they should be cheaper, because, logically, an e-book does not cost as much to manufacture as an ordinary book ... so the bits of the price that would go towards binding / uh (I don't really know how books are made, but you get my point :) should theoretically not come into play. Therefore, the books should be cheaper. If they aren't, we have to ask ourselves WHY not ... is it because it's unfair for people who don't have e-readers to pay more for the same book as those who DO have them? (*shrug*) I don't have a problem with e-book prices being high ... BBBUT then the extra money should be divided between the publishing company and the author, isn't that fair? So, do authors make more money from e-books? If yes, then I'm happy to pay. If not, hmmmm, well then I'd rather buy a real book out of PRINCIPLE, because I'm supporting an author by purchasing their work, and NOT a publishing house.

  9. I think when you consider how much less it costs to print and ship a book, eBooks should be cheaper.

  10. I don't actually own an e-reader. I can't justify spending the money when I have so many hard copy books still waiting to be read on my shelf. Very good write-up though. Thought-provoking and well-written!

  11. I have a Kindle and I love it. I never thought I would love my eReader so much but I do. It's convenient, instant gratification if you want to read a book right away. Before I had my Kindle, I was carrying 3-4 books in my purse at a time. It was inconvenient, heavy and sometimes painful! With that being said, I didn't get the Kindle for the cheap book prices, although that's an added benefit. I love that Amazon offers free books, books at extremely discounted prices (I've gotten books for $.99!). But what I do have a problem with is ebooks being $14 or $15 bucks! I don't understand the logic behind that. I recently bought a book that was $14 bucks. It wasn't a new release. It was released Fall 2009. I don't understand how they can justify charging that much for an ebook. I ended up buying the book but only because it was a book in a series that I was totally wrapped up in and the previous book ended in a cliffhanger from hell. I'm sure some of you know which book I'm talking about. :) So I don't think we are owed cheap prices but I do think there needs to be consistency behind the pricing. A new release is $9.99 but a book that is 8 months old is 14 bucks?? That makes NO sense! Let's hope they get their act together and the consumers aren't screwed in the end.

  12. Just like any other commodity, it is the consumers responsibility to shop around. I buy ebooks for my kindle when they are significantly cheaper than the paper book - or when I must have them NOW - and the paper book of they are priced equivalently. The Kindle is handy, but I still prefer to read a paper book (and see it on my bookshelf).

  13. I don't own an ereader, and I have no interest in owning them until they are made library-friendly, in that I can "borrow" even brand-new titles straight to my ereader. But I still find the debates regarding them interesting, because all this is doing is making the various ereader producers make a better quality product.

  14. I own an e-reader that my mother purchased me for christmas. It is not a kindle but an e-cooler. I absolutely loved the gift even though my mom spent the next day and a half profusely apologizing about the fact it wasn't a kindle. Hey it holds books, that was all I cared about. However, about a week after christmas I was itching to get some new books so I went over to e-cooler to see about getting some. Talk about shell shock. Some books were almost 27.00. For a digital file? No way. I would rather buy the actual book.
    Needless to say my E-reader is sitting in a drawer because I can't afford the books and don't know where to get books for it because Kindle books are only for Kindle's. So it has been nothing but frustration for me.
    The way I see it is the chips are going to fall where they will. I wish I could get them cheaper but if I can't I will just continue to go to the library just like I always have:)

  15. I don't have an ereader and I don't think I'll ever get one. I like having physical books. But I have to admit, I was under the assumption that books would be cheaper if you did get an ereader.

    Checking the prices on Amazon when I order a book (just out of curiosity) I find that sometimes, the ereader book can be a few dollars more than the physical book and though it was never hinted or promised, I think that's a bit unfair. You're shelling out a bunch of money for this ereader, I say they should at least drop the price by $2 for an ebook!

  16. Jen! This is a great post! Thanks! I hear what you are saying, and I can certainly agree that these authors that are sharing such great stories with us, need to be paid!

    But yes, Amazon did say something about the prices of e-books not being over $9.99 when they were first trying to promote the Kindle. Yet now there has been some discussion that the prices might rise up to $14.99. YIKES!

    I think it is all about give and take. Every consumer is looking for the best deal, especially in the economy we live in today. Amazon has also offered some great books for free or for .99. I know I have appreciated that, but for e-books priced over 10 bucks, I rather buy the book if I really want it. :D

  17. I understand what you are saying. I don't understand WHY they are more expensive. There is an entire process cut out, where money doesn't need to go to paper, printers salaries, etc.

    I LOVE ebooks. And Mr.A is eternally grateful not to have to move more book boxes. BUT, I just don't understand.

  18. The ebooks should be cheaper since the physical book would required alot of money to publish and the ebook would not required the process of actual printing of 5,000 books, so no paper cost, no shipping cost, no book outlet cost, etc. I know they can't be free because the author, publisher, etc will have to make a profit in order to continue to write and publish books. I don't have a reader yet but plan to as soon as I can, if the cost of the ebook and the paper book were the same or close in cost, I would buy the paper book.
    I don't know for sure how ereaders work but when you have no room on your reader you have to delete books before you can add a new one. What happens if you want to keep alot of the books on your reader.? Do you have to buy another? Can you down load from ereader to DVD?
    Also, which is the best to buy in terms of ease in use, cost (if have to buy certain ebooks in that format) or problems with the reader. I have no problem paying the authors as they deserve it, but if others are getting the larger portion of the money, I want the physical book.

    misskallie2000 at yahoo dot com

  19. I didn't read through all the comments but your post was good and a book no matter what still has to be paid for. After reading many of the debates on ebooks and ereaders I can understand the prices of ebooks not being super cheap. But they still don't have the manufacturing cost, instead they have the converting cost to format the book to be read in digital. So my one complaint now is that if the book is released in mass paperback, the price for the digital should be the same or lower. I think it is completely stupid to charge anything more then 7.99 for an ebook that has also be released as a mass market paperback. I could run to the bookstore and pick up for the same price or cheaper. It drives me crazy to see them asking $10 for a book that is selling for 6.99/7.99.

  20. Great topic! I don't own a Kindle, but I can see how people would assume that ebooks would be cheaper. They should be a bit less expensive considering they don't have to manufacture the novel, but, as you said, authors and publishers still need to make money!

  21. I havent got a kindle yet, because i want a nook and am waiting for it to come to australia. But i seem to remember someone advertising that with e-readers the books would be cheaper, it's just one file copy distributed 50 million times, if the publishers aren't paying for paper and ink, their expense is greatly lessened.

    I will look for the article that said e-books would be cheaper, if i can find it ill send it too you :)

  22. Well, for one, you pay basically to lease the rights to the file, you don't actually own the file. So hell yes I think I should pay less for something I don't actually own. It's not like I can trade my used ebook into a used bookstore, or lend it to my friend, donate it to the library booksale, or re-sell it on Amazon for some cash. When you pay for a physical book, you get those rights. Not so much with an ebook. So for now, I will get books from the library, used and the occasional new book. On my ereader, all I have are the free samples, egalleys from netgalley and public domain classics. No way am I paying 15 dollars for an ebook, kiss that idea goodbye, and to be honest I think it's a dumb move on behalf of the publishers. I understand people need to get paid, yes. But look what happened to the music industry. Yeah, my generation did that. Now, I am definitely not saying I approve of those actions at all, but say someone goes to buy a book for their ereader, sees it costs more than it's paper counter part, this person then decides, ah screw that, googles the book, and finds a torrent for it. That person has just pirated the ebook. I'm positive this move is not going to "convince" people to go back to paper, it's just going to convince people to pirate. Now, I know everyone isn't this way, but this is what my generation expects. Now, if the price of ebooks were more on the level of a mmpb, I wouldn't complain as much.

    Great food for thought!

  23. I personally don't know an ereader, not ready to do that yet (and everyone who knows me expects me to own one and asks me to recommend one just because I work in IT and like gadgets).

    Anyway...I have not read anything saying that the books were going to be less expensive, but they should be. April makes a lot of good points. I personally think that since you have a digit copy, which is cheaper to create than a paper copy, you should at least be paying less because of that.

  24. Another great post! While I talked myself (and my husband) into my getting a Kindle with how much money I could save... really I've just bought more books. Overall the convenience is something I didn't truly understand how much I would love!

    I don't think eBooks should be dirt cheap, but I believe they should be cheaper than the paperback format just due the lower cost of producing it.

    Tara SG -

  25. The #1 reason I bought my Kindle was the interactive dictionary (it really works great) and the note taking capability (I'm in a book club and note taking helps me). I too have the problem of no more room for books in my house.
    Price was a secondary factor, hey I paid over $250 for the Kindle, another $35 for the leather case, then some more $$ for the cute gel protectors when I'm not using the leather case....... well like I said price was not the motivating factor for my Kindle.
    Oh and one last reason for my eReader purchase is environmental, save a tree!

  26. Part 2, eReader books should be cheaper but most likely unless you are an aggressive shopper (which I am not) you won't find the deals. This is a new industry that is being birthed and everything is in a flux and my guess is it will continue so because every electronics company is coming out with an eReader. More competition may mean lower prices for the devices but not necessarily for the books.

  27. I have a kindle and I love it. A couple series that I read are not currently selling ebooks on Amazon due to the pricing war instigated by Apple.

    I have a problem with paying more or equal than a hardback for an ebook. One, I have no hardbound book that I can read in the bathtub or other locations. I am limited to situations where the kindle won't be damaged. Two, I am unable to sell the book to a used bookstore or loan the ebook to friends. This limits my usage of an ebook.

    As I have emailed Amazon, I WILL NOT spend more than $9.99 on an ebook. It is not worth it and it is one of the reasons I purchased a kindle. If more people refused to pay more than 9.99 then prices would go down.

    I would also like to introduce a "new" concept to Publishing Companies. It's called a library. You can borrow books from this place for FREE. Until kindle books go back down to $9.99, I will be getting my new books from the library.

  28. May I ask where you found the Body Finder so cheap? That's exciting =)

    I was kind of thinking that ebooks would be cheap because we're not paying for production costs or materials, you know? But I do agree with you that the reason I bought my Nook was because I officially have no more room for bookshelves. And it sucks lugging a 100 lbs of books around on vacations lol.

  29. @The Bookish Type - Barnes and Noble has some great ebook deals if you're lucky enough to come across them. Usually I hear about the big discounts on Twitter.