Sony e-book head defends DRM—and costlier e-books than Amazon’s $9.95 bestsellers

image Hardware companies love to say that publishers demand DRM. But Steve Haber, present of the Digital Reading Business division at Sony, goes beyond that and says he doesn’t see DRM vanishing soon for this reason:

“You need an orderly process to sell books and DRM makes that possible, mainly because it allows content creators and distributors to make money from that content.” As if that’s the only way?  Of course, with social DRM or no DRM, you wouldn’t be locking customers so neatly into the ecosystem of encrypted ePub which Sony currently dominates. Significantly, Sony runs an e-book store.

Addressing another issue at the eBook Summit before making his DRM remarks, Haber said $9.95, Amazon’s standard price for bestsellers, wasn’t high enough for many books. “The $9.99 price point is not a money-maker. Certain bestsellers are sold at that price for retail, competitive reasons. But you need to have a range. You could go from $10 to $20 even to $100 for an e-book. There’s no sweet spot and it’s certainly not $9.99. When you walk into a bookstore and there are a range of prices. It should be the same for an e-book store.”

He also said he expects early customers to get their Sony Reader Daily Editions before Christmas Day.

(Via PaidContent.)

7 Comments on Sony e-book head defends DRM—and costlier e-books than Amazon’s $9.95 bestsellers

  1. When will Sony release an iPhone app in Canada?

  2. I don’t disagree with the price range concept for ebooks per se, but if the analogy is to be with pbooks then the rights also need to be analogous to those I have with pbooks.

    I have readily paid a high price for a pbook (e.g., Abraham Lincoln: A Life by Michael Burlingame had a publisher price of $125 and I have on preorder Eichmann’s Men by Hans Safrian, which has an $85 price), but these books have values that ebooks do not. (1) I actually own them and can move them from house to house and still be able to access them. If I had bouth ebook versions, I’d have to rebuy them should I change devices, particularly if I went from a non-Kindle to a Kindle. (2) Should I decide that I no longer want them in my library, I can gift them to someone else — a friend, a relative, a school or library. Can’t do that with an ebook. (3) When my neighbor wants to borrow one of the books, I can lend the book to him/her. I can’t read it while in their possession but I can lend it to them, get it back (or not), and then lend it to my son. More importantly, I can let my wife read the books while I go on to read something else. Can’t do that with an ebook unless I also want to give up my ebook reader.

    But perhaps most important is this: (4) pbooks have a secondary market. When I no longer want to keep a pbook, in addition to the options of giving it away, I can sell it on the secondary market and recoup some of the cost of the original purchase. Can’t do that with an ebook, even if a publisher told me that it was OK to resell the book: ebooks have no intrinsic secondary market and I do not see one being built. There is no need for physical possession thus no need for a secondary market.

    Consequently, although ebooks probably should have a range for pricing, the limitations on ebooks — because of DRM, incompatible formats, their relatively poor esthetic quality, and their ephemerality — call for a range that begins at zero (free) and rises to no more than $25 (in my estimation), nothing even close to what pbooks can command.

  3. borax99 (AlainC.) // December 17, 2009 at 10:36 am //

    Nah, I smell a rat. You cannot convince me that $9.95 is too low – unless you’re stuck in the past and want to use ebook sales to subsidize the manufacture, printing, marketing and distribution costs of your p-books…

  4. I will never, ever, ever pay more than $9.99 for an ebook. We need to draw a line in the sand on this if we intend to protect the market from recalibrated expectations.

  5. Chris Kmotorka // December 19, 2009 at 3:08 am //

    If Sony maintains that mindset they’ll price themselves out of competition. Sony has made many disastrous DRM decisions in the past with some of their CDs. An ebook has no real overhead after its creation other than to sit on a server where it can be duplicated ad infinitum for basically little or no cost. You don’t have to store an inventory or deal with a backlog or remainders or any of that. Unless all that extra cost is going directly to the author and not Sony’s pockets then $10 is more than enough for an ebook.

  6. I agree with Rich Adin’s post. The publishers need to re-consider what exactly ebooks’ value proposition is for the customer. Most of the value problems Rich listed are not exactly caused by the ebook format, but rather by DRM.

    I would be ready to pay pbook price for ebook when the ebook:
    a) is DRM-free
    b) provides multiple formats
    c) gives me perpetual access

    The above would make a purchase attractive to me.

    Now, if the ebook is technical reading, there is one thing that would bring up the value proposition considerably:

    d) offer free or inexpensive updates

    O’Reilly is trying to do exactly that and I think they are on the right track. Especially if you consider that — depending on your reader device and format of the book — you wouldn’t need to rely on the index but can search the text, copy/paste examples or code, enlarge graphs, etc.

    Plus, you’ll probably end up using several of the ebooks as reference material to keep at hand all the time and the ebook format will allow that without adding additional weight to your bag or luggage.

    To me, all this adds enough value to beat print version hands down.

    Of course, O’Reilly reputation is also important. While it is still good, it used to be stellar, and is slowly slipping. Some of the titles I’ve read had very poor editing. If they don’t fix that I will be buying neither ebooks nor print books from them. (Interestingly, ebooks would make it convenient for the publisher to correct mistakes in the book text itself instead of relying on errata.)

  7. I certainly agree that eBooks should not be locked to a single price and economic model. Amazon’s pricing is probably not sustainable without severe armtwisting of publishers. Of course, I believe in affordable pricing, but I don’t try to impose my choices on other publishers.

    Rob Preece
    Publisher

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