I’m not going to refer to the book in question specifically, because it’s really not important. What’s important here is the price, which was set the same by both Amazon and Barnes & Noble:
|hardback (full list price):||$25.99|
|hardback (discount price):||$15.63|
|ebook (for Kindle or Nook):||$12.99? $18.14?|
There was some uncertainty about the actual price of the Kindle edition, which seemed to display differently to different people on different pages on Amazon. That doesn’t matter. For now, let’s accept that the ebook cost $18.14—that is, $2.51 more expensive than the heavily discounted hardback edition (sans postage, but let’s ignore that too for now).
Two generally supported beliefs seemed to emerge in response to this:
- $18.00 is unreasonably expensive for an ebook
- ebooks should never cost more than their equivalent paper editions
Here in Australia, new-release paperback fiction titles typically retail at between $20 and $30. Clearly, people buy books at these prices (although I don’t know whether anyone participating in the social media discussions is among them). This made me wonder whether there’s something about ebooks specifically that makes them less valuable to some people than paper books.
To me, the reverse is true. An e-ink screen is now my preferred medium for consuming narrative text, and a hard drive is my preferred medium for storing it long-term. So, to me, the ebook is actually more valuable than the paper edition of the book; which in turn means that I’m prepared to pay the same for the ebook, and if anything, even more.
What I’d like to know:
- If you think that $18 is too expensive for an ebook, would you pay that amount for the paper edition of the same title?
- If so: what’s the biggest gap that you would tolerate between the ebook and paper book?
- And what makes the paper edition more valuable to you than the ebook edition?
Finally, the most disquieting thing about the discussion of this book’s price were the various suggestions that the perceived high price somehow made pirating the title acceptable if you wanted to read it.
Really? I get that if someone is selling something—anything—at a price greater than you’re willing or able to pay for it, you’re going to walk away and not buy that thing. What I don’t get is how it then becomes acceptable to just help yourself to something to which you’re in no way entitled. Maybe someone can explain that to me.
Comments on any or all of the above are most welcome.
1Levine, Robert. (2011). Free Ride: How Digital Parasites are Destroying the Culture Business, and How the Culture Business Can Fight Back. New York; Doubleday. p.166. I also found a secondary reference to an article in Money magazine from around March 2009 with a breakdown of the publishing costs of a then-current bestseller, with figures that agree well with Levine’s. I haven’t succeeded in tracking down the original article though, so I can't be sure that the sources are independent of each other.