The promise of the digital era lays in its growing ability to shed old limitations and obstacles. However, there are many problems which must be addressed as our societies enter this new epic period. I have recently finished reading William Easterly’s excellent book “The White Man’s Burden.” In it he argues that foreign aid must take on a more decentralized form in order to allow for verifiable results. At this point you may be asking yourself: how does this all tie in with e-books? I believe that e-books are a rare combination of traditional media with its depth and substance as well as the embodiment of digital information with its inherent speed and superb accessibility.
Seems easy enough to grasp this concept doesn’t it? But the oligapolistic powers that dictate e-book prices seem to disagree strongly with this logic. In a heartless move which seems to only further stoke my anger against publishing giant Penguin, it has decided to price this e-book in a way which guarantees that it will see limited electronic distribution. If one wanted to read this book at Amazon it would cost $13.99, at Barnes and Noble $13.99, at Kobo $19.99. E-books are supposed to lower the opportunity costs for buying books, not raise them or maintain them artificially high. Fortunately, I read a paperback version of his book that I borrowed from my local library.
I am glad that I did. The ideas, histories and field stories that he brings forward are eye-opening and gut wrenching. I became quickly disillusioned as I read accounts of mothers tending to their children in Sub-Saharan Africa as they died of measles. A type of needless death which was even more heartbreaking to read about once he explained that it would result in the oral and nasal expulsion of intestinal worms. The power of his research is clearly there and should be read by as many people as possible. This is where lower prices are a boon, in their power to increase the potential for purchase, which in turn increases the likelihood of readers being spurred to action.
I quickly looked up a charity which he mentioned that combines the Internet’s informational capabilities and marries it with developed nations’ citizens’ ability to donate funds. This charity –which I strongly advise interested readers to look up- is called “globalgiving.org.” On their site you will find real world projects which you can directly fund, ensuring that the people whose dire needs most appeal to you are addressed. It is a simple idea which could gain even more attention if one of its most vocal advocate’s words actually reached readers. I have always opposed needlessly high prices for digital content on simple consumer grounds but must now extend my objections to include its ability to stop the dissemination of vital information. There must be a balance between honest profit making and obstructionism. I for one believe that there are certain works –such as Mr. Easterly’s- which must be read by wider audiences. Any pricing strategy which disregards consumers clearly stated pricing proclivities is an obstructionist one. I hate to repeat the mistakes of the past with the powerful tools at our disposal now and in the future. We have a powerful opportunity to bridge immense gaps with new tools which must not be so easily squandered. Unfortunately, Penguin’s pricing strategy indicates that they are clearly set on ensuring that this will remain the way things are done, for many years to come.