Ebook Pricing

Saturday, June 11, 2011
I'm in love with my nook. When ereaders first appeared, I thought they would be the solution to the Not Enough Shelves problem. Every avid reader tends to collect more books than will fit on the bookshelves they own. You wind up putting two rows of paperbacks on a single shelf, then stacking books on top of the bookcases, then debating if you have room for another bookcase. Some readers I know have stacks of books on the floor.

I remember going to look at an early model Sony ereader years ago. It sounded wonderful to be able to have hundreds of books that would only take up the physical space of one. But the technology wasn't there yet. The screen wasn't easy on the eyes and I couldn't imagine giving up holding a physical book in my hands.

Then came along e-ink technology, which is used in the screens of both the nook and Kindle. Finally there was a screen that was easy to read at a price that was acceptable. When Barnes and Noble lowered the price on the nook, I bought one as soon as I was able to get to the store.

One of the reasons I chose the nook is the fact that it uses the standard ebook format, unlike the Kindle, which has its own proprietary format. I could read ebooks downloaded from the library, something that isn't supported on the Kindle. (Although there are ways to work around that.) I also didn't like the fact that not once, but twice Amazon had removed ebooks in a snit without warning to customers, both from its website and even from the Kindles themselves. I didn't like their high-handedness and the way they were trying to monopolize the ebook market.

When Apple decided to get into the ebook market with the iPad, I was happy. The more the merrier, I thought. More competition would mean better ebook pricing, more options. Except Apple also introduced the agency model of ebook pricing.

Before Apple got into the game, ebook sales were handled in the same way as regular book sales. The retailer, in this case Amazon and Barnes and Noble, would buy the books from the publisher and set the retail price. Because of competition, retail prices were low, with Amazon often taking a loss on an ebook in order to build sales and customer loyalty to the Kindle. Barnes and Noble would match the price.

In the agency model, the publisher sets the price and the retailer acts as an agency for the sale. They get to keep a percentage of the retail price, but have no control over how much an ebook will cost. I remember in the beginning lots of articles that proved that even though the publisher now controlled the retail price, they would be making less money than they would under the old model.

Publishers decided they knew a way to fix that. They'd just up the price of ebooks! So, where before the price of an ebook was often a bargain for the consumer, now there's absolutely no financial incentive to buy most ebooks.

Publishers somehow equate the ebook to the hardcover edition of a book. So, while the hardcover edition of James Franzen's "Freedom" has a suggested retail of $28.00 and is discounted by Amazon to $15.93, the Kindle edition of the same book is $12.99. The hardcover edition John Sanford's "Buried Prey" is $15.37 and the Kindle edition is $12.99. "Dreams of Joy" by Lisa See (this week's number one on the NYT hardcover list) is $13.97 in hardcover and $12.99 for the Kindle edition. "Dead Reckoning" by Charlaine Harris is $16.77 in hardcover, $7.99 in paperback, and $12.99 for Kindle.

You get the idea. While the maximum price for an ebook under the old system was somewhere around $9.99, $12.99 seems to have become the new standard. And the infuriating thing is that the price for the ebook doesn't seem to come down once the paperback comes out. I refuse to pay more for an ebook than a paperback! Especially since I can't loan the ebook to a friend (the LendMe feature is a joke - one time for 2 weeks to a fellow nook owner), donate it to the Friends of the Library to sell, or have the author sign it.

But someone must be paying the high prices. Otherwise the law of supply and demand would tend to make the prices come down. And I haven't seen that lately. Personally, I can't afford that. So I'll download the freebies (B&N has free book Fridays with one title offered for free), watch for the sales (you can get "Water for Elephants" on both Kindle and nook this week for around $4.00), and borrow regular books from the library or buy the paperback until the prices become reasonable.

Like I said, I love my nook. I love that I'm not killing more trees to feed my reading habit. But I'm not going to support the idea that an ebook should cost more than a paperback.

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Elise's bookshelf: currently-reading

A Clash of Kings
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