Sunday, February 28, 2010

sunday salon: e-book pricing

Kindle Wireless Reading Device (6" Display, U.S. Wireless)
I've had a Kindle for two months now, and I still love it. There have been huge changes in how and what I read since I got it, and I've been following the news about e-book price wars, delayed e-book releases and the general wackiness of the publishing and retail industry quite closely.

A Book Borrower Turned Book Buyer
Before I got my Kindle, I rarely bought books. I have the benefit of both the university library and a fantastic local public library system. On the rare occasion I can't get a book through either library source, I would usually wait six months and request it through interlibrary loan or obsessively enter blog contests to win a copy. I've lived in four states in four years, and I'm tired of moving books, so I didn't feel the need to collect them. As a book blogger, I also have the luxury of review copies to entice me, so I do acquire books. Despite not being a book buyer, I adore my Kindle. I don't mind paying for books with the convenience of the Kindle. I can read wherever and whenever I want. I read the New York Times each day, and I love it. It's cut into my reading time, but I thrive on being well informed. I love the built in dictionary; scrolling down to a word I don't know or only know from context to find it's definition has had a profound impact on my vocabulary. I'm more confident with words, and I find words I used to know only from reading I now am certain I know how to pronounce.

$9.99: Good or Bad for books?
I am a fan of the $9.99 price. I am a fan of reading books when they come out. I am also a fan of great writing, and I am not one to read many bestsellers, although I do celebrate when quality literature appears on best seller lists. I am an unabashedly judgmental reader and simultaneously a literacy advocate. Yes, it's somewhat hypocritical, but I want people to love to read. Once they do, I want them to continue elevating their taste and exploring. I read books at a variety of quality levels, and I enjoy them for often different reasons. I love the diversity in theme, setting, style and quality the publishing industry provides, and I don't want to lose it. Is there a disconnect between my desire for $10 books and a desire for the continuance of great literature? Not really.

The True Cost of Books
I understand the cost of intelligence that goes into books. Good writers and good editors need to make good money. Publicity costs money. Cover art costs money. Despite my love of the Kindle, I am still a sucker for great cover art. Even though I read books without covers, covers definitely influence what I choose to read. E-books don't require a printing press or a warehouse to store the books. They don't require shipping. (My eco-consciousness and devotion to socialism absolutely play into my love of libraries and e-readers.) I understand that hardcovers cost as much to produce as paperbacks, and publishers make most of their money on hardcover sales. Most people seem to agree e-books should cost less than traditional books, but the disagreement is on how much less.

Every Reader Buys the Book
In a world of DRM, I think $10 is fair. The bottom line is publishers should be making more on e-books because every person who reads it pays for it. I can't resell e-books. I can't buy them used. I can't pass them along to friends (Yes, the Nook lets you loan a book once for two weeks if the publisher allows it.) I can't check them out from the library (Kindles don't support the epub format my library uses for e-book check outs.) Theoretically, savvy friends and family members with similar taste could attach two Kindles to one account, as Amazon lets you have five devices (including phones, computers, etc.) attached to each account and "share" books, but I doubt this practice is common. Do publishers not realize that having every reader buy their titles is a boon? Are there really people who only buy new hardcovers? Most book buyers I know buy paperbacks and buy used. Most readers I know get more books from the library than from bookstores. Perhaps I'm an anomaly and most e-reader owners were previously hardcover book buyers. Change can be scary, but I truly think some publishers are wasting an opportunity to court enthusiastic readers who are becoming enthusiastic book purchasers. Kindle owners tend to be passionate, frequent readers. Unless you are quite wealthy, it's not a worthwhile device if you don't read often.

Delaying E-book Titles
The publishing industry gained a regular, loyal customer in me. Yes, I was a big reader, and to a certain extent, my library buys more books when there are people in the request line, but my impact on publishing is certainly greater now that I have a Kindle. I think publishers are foolish to delay e-book releases. I could not wait to read The Swan Thieves when it came out. I pre-ordered it on my Kindle, but I eventually canceled it. Why? The book came out January 12, 2010, and it won't be available on the Kindle until April. Unfortunately for Elizabeth Kostova, I've read a lot of less than glowing reviews. The buzz is gone. I'll still read it eventually, but I've made room on my Kindle for the new books getting praised universally (The UnnamedThe Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksSecrets of Eden: A Novel to name a few.) I pour over the book reviews in the New York Times and the New York Times Book Review. Despite wishing for hyperlinks within the newspaper itself, to be able to instantly order and download a book after you read a review is amazing, and I take advantage of it for more books than I can keep up with. Obviously, if I really want to read something, I will still read it. Game Change delayed its Kindle release a few weeks (weeks are better than months), and it benefited from constant great reviews. I was thrilled when it downloaded. I think delaying titles is extremely risky. Unless you know the title will still be buzzed about when the e-book releases, readers may have moved on. There are still plenty of other books available, and given the sad reality that there isn't enough time to read all the great books, I may choose to read the ones available to me on my Kindle, which has become my preferred way to read.

The iPad
How will the iPad change the e-book market? Not much. I cannot imagine buying one as an e-reader; it's too expensive. It's backlit. I'm curious to see the sales from the Apple bookstore, but I don't think it's an e-reader for frequent readers.

The Bottom Line
Publishers should be happy to have e-reader owners buying their books. When every reader pays to read the book, it's good for business. E-books are good for publishing. As a reader, I want the publishing industry to succeed. I know the publishing industry wants to woo readers, and many publishers are embracing e-books (thank you!) I know $9.99 won't last forever, as all prices for goods will rise. I do think, however, it's far more sustainable than most people in publishing realize. Every reader paying to read your book is a goldmine.


  1. Great post - I agree about the $9.99 price point! It's not like you can go to Paperbackswap or Goodreads and swap the books, in which case no extra cash is earned! It will be interesting to see how this all plays out...

  2. Brava! Great post, and I agree with it all. My Nook is changing the way I do things as well.


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