price[1] Found via Twitter from Electric Ink, retweeted by Pablo Defendini: Remember that post from Michael Cader that I quick-noted a while back (and Paul mentioned it, too), which said among other things that if a consumer can afford a $300 e-book reader, he can afford a $15 e-book?

Chris Walters at The Consumerist takes Cader, and publishers who subscribe to that point of view, to task in an excellent editorial that I have little doubt those who enjoyed Ficbot’s and my posts on the e-book reader side of the Amazon/Macmillan debate will also find extremely satisfying.

So you’re right, publisher; maybe I can afford to buy an ereader device. That doesn’t mean you can jack up the price on your crappy digital copy that currently offers less usefulness than a physical copy, and then hide behind the device’s potential and cry, "I want to be treated like I make expensive baubles too!" Because you don’t. You currently make poorly proofread digital files stripped of most of the qualities that make digital content awesome.

Walters chides publishers for acting like consumers are being cheap, hiding behind their industry’s inefficiencies, telling consumers to “trust us” without having a track record to suggest they can be trusted, and making emotional appeals that only make them look irrational.

It gets so frustrating covering this continuing situation day after day without any indication that the big publishers actually are taking notice of people saying the very same things that Chris Walters says here. I hope that some publishers are reading these columns and taking what they say to heart, but my inherent cynicism says that it probably isn’t likely.

Mike Masnick at TechDirt, remarking on a similar list of publisher talking points circulated by e-mail, had this to say:

Just as we were recently discussing, [publishers are] acting like the recording industry ten years ago: hunkering down for a "war" of words, rather than actually focusing on new business models or figuring out what consumers actually want. Instead, they’re trying to dictate what consumers want and hoping for some sort of magic bullet in the form of ebook readers. This is a dangerous move by publishers that can only come back to haunt them. Instead of focusing on "countering" what consumers are saying, why not actually listen to them, and look for ways to provide what they want?


  1. Yep, a lot of ebook files do indeed currently suck.

    But, if consumers who want to read on e-, really want something to complain about right now, maybe they should choose their battles. Or, maybe they should stop and take a reality check.

    Guess what? For most book publishers, getting entire catalogs of titles converted to the many and sundry ebook formats (which most likely have no e-book rights secured) – oh, and getting them seamlessly delivered via the many e-tailers at which their readers shop — it takes time. and money.

    so maybe readers need to decide what it is they want to complain about. Is it lack of immediately available titles, or the fact that the titles that you have instant access to are not perfect?

  2. Kat,
    Yes, it’s one of the joys of being an ebook reader – there’s just so many things to complain about!

    On the other hand, conversion of back catalogue titles hasn’t been a big factor in most of the discussions I’ve seen. DRM, pricing, geographic restrictions, formatting – and formats – yes. Older titles, less so.

    As for the “many and sundry ebook formats”, I’d blame it – mostly (and perhaps unfairly?) – on the publishers. It certainly doesn’t do the consumer any good! If publishers were willing to sell unencrypted files, they could just release the html files to the retailer. Or sell straight to the public. Job done. And converting all those old books? For most of the last 20 years, they’ll have (surely!) been submitted, and processed, electronically, so conversion _should_ be as simple as ‘File: Save as… html’. Not going to happen, of course. It’d be far too easy…

  3. Like it or not file sharing is the new reality. Our high school economics of supply and demand don’t apply. Selling consumers electronic copies is closer to the busking model then economists have been willing to accept. You have to do the market research to find the price that most consumers will purchase the product. You have to make it the best quality possible and you have to remove barriers to the purchase.

    What you can’t do is the old business model of experimenting with price to see what the maximum price is that consumers will pay. You can’t try to limit access to the product to maximize profits. You can’t experiment with adding protectionist barriers to see how many the consumer is willing to accept.

    This really is selling snow cones to Eskimos. You better treat the customer right, sell it to them fast and it better leave a really good taste in their mouth.

  4. Seth Godin seems to be remarkably clueful in general for a marketroid. He was an early advocate of giving away the e-book to sell the print book, giving out Spreading the Ideavirus for free as a Peanut Press book. (Alas, I’ve long since lost my copy, and it’s no longer in the eReader e-store.)

  5. Selling ebooks may indeed be selling snowcones to Eskimos. After all, any customer who doesn’t wholeheartedly approve of the vendor’s offering can simply snag a pirate copy. Hooray, stick it to the man.

    The problem with this analogy is that virtually all the “snow” has been produced by the snowcone vendor. The internet makes distribution of digital content trivial and free, but it doesn’t do a darn thing to CREATE content.

    We make our living writing books. It’s not as easy as most people seem to think, and it takes years to get good at it. Like most authors, we have good educations, and any number of salable job skills. We’re not indigents or beggars, and there is a substantial demand for our product. However, if we’re expected to “busk” for pennies, while the fruit of our hard labor is freely distributed, we’ll simply find another way to make a living.

    Ebooks, like most nacent industries, is a little wobbly on it’s feet. The publishers are still trying to figure out how to make this new format profitable, without having the pirates eat their lunch. Mistakes have been, and will be made.

    However, before you proverbial eskimos get too smug about your snow, remember that if you run the snowcone man out of business, there won’t be any fresh snow. We need to find a solution that keeps BOTH sides of the equation happy.

  6. @Michael

    The “snow” is more then just file sharing. It’s all the free classics that are available and all the authors that are self publishing or publishing through small publishing houses. I’m not stating this as a threat of “sticking it to the man”, it’s just the new reality and is not going to change.

    The last statistics I saw was that book publishing was a $25 billion a year business. If there is that much money that people are willing to part with for reading material there will always be authors willing to write (even if the market drop to 10% of that). Not all of them are going to make money at it but the smart ones that are willing to adapt will make money.

    The authors that try to stick to the old ways or expect the consumers to change their purchasing habits will not be successful.

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