Why do so many e-books cost too much when the online consumer is cutting back?

image In a recession, when thrift is contagious, just why must I pay $18 for the Mobipocket store's edition of America America, complete with the exceedingly unwanted "feature" of DRM?

Believe me, I'd rather see Ethan Canin---whose e-book version costs at least $19.51 at the normally less expensive  Fictionwise---get royalties. No such luck, however.  So I bought used through Amazon, where old p-copies from partner stores are going for as little as $8.01.

As for my plans to buy a Le Corbusier bio in E, forget it---not when an e-book will set me back $45 at the Mobi store and cost at least $32.51 at Fictionwise. Meanwhile Amazon is now selling the Knopf  book new in P for $29.70.

A grumpy Jane, too

I'm not the only one grouchy about the price gouges. Over the weekend, in a great post on e-prices, Jane at DearAuthor told us about a St. Martin's book retailing for $7.99 in mass-market paperback but $14 in E. She correctly griped about "e-book taxes," as well as gouging at "standard" prices.

Can I see the side of the publishers? You bet. St. Martin's is an excellent house in many ways, as I know first-hand, having been published by SMP years ago, and I'm absolutely in favor of solvency there and at other publishers. I also know how much effort goes into any book, E or P. If a book is edited well, we're still talking about a terrifyingly labor-intensive process regardless of the medium.

The extra costs of E: Still no excuse for high prices

image image E-books, moreover, also can have extra costs beyond formatting and e-distribution. Twilight Times Books came up with different covers for the paper and electronic editions of The Solomon Scandals, my forthcoming novel---because the original cover wouldn't have shown the title large enough.

But does this mean that Scandals should sell for $14 in E? No! I'm not just mentioning Scandals for the usual publicity reasons; mea culpa. It's a a close-to-home example of a publisher doing something right. While 99 cents would be too low---we're talking about a D.C. newspaper novel with potential appeal to many readers, but not everyone----I'd be aghast if TTB sold Scandals for $14. Publisher Lida Quillen and I betting that we can move enough extra e-books at $5.95 list to make the exercise worth while. And Lida's hardly alone. Many other small presses understand the e-book pricing process so much better than most of the big boys do.

Publishing’s SUVs

Like Detroit, large publishers keep dreaming that people will pay SUV prices, so to speak, for e-books with DRM-inflated costs (the technology isn’t free).

Sorry. But publishers can make much more money in the end if they drop DRM and go after not just the Kindle and Sony Reader crowds, but the many millions of people who now own e-book-capable cellphones, as well as netbooks. Hardware tastes vary. It’s high time for middle-aged and elderly publishing executives to stop believing that everyone hates small screens. I’m in the upper boomer range. And I love to read on my iPod Touch.

Horror of horrors, some customers would like to be able to buy a paper edition at a reasonable price and get an e-book for free for enjoyment on their cellphones, in the doctor’s office. And why not? People normally don’t make extra purchases of E after buying P, so we’re not talking about a huge amount of lost sales.

The library angle

Let me also add that, given people’s love of free, especially in a recession, publishers should be doing everything they can to encourage well-stocked national digital libraries with fair compensation for content-creators. Let’s worry about our educational and cultural infrastructures, not just our physical one. And E could dramatically lower costs. It isn’t going away. Publishers cannot will this simply by overcharging e-book buyers.

May they listen. I hate it when I hear of any publisher—large or small—folding. I hope the right people will stop the gouges before they’re standing in the unemployment line.

About David Rothman (6820 Articles)
David Rothman is the founder and publisher of the TeleRead e-book site and cofounder of He is also author of The Solomon Scandals novel and six tech-related books on topics ranging from the Internet to laptops. Passionate on digital divide issues, he is now pushing for the creation of a national digital library endowment.

4 Comments on Why do so many e-books cost too much when the online consumer is cutting back?

  1. I agree that some publishers set eBook prices too high, almost as if they want to discourage the transition to e.

    I started partly because I thought publishers were cutting of their noses with high prices. Yes, all books cost money to produce, but there are non-trivial savings in electronic publication (zero returns, no paper, no warehousing except on a hard disk, no need to reprint if a book sells more than estimated (or remainder if it sells less), and customers rationally expect that some of these savings will be passed back to them to help them recoup their investments in reading equipment.

    I think this is Amazon’s logic behind discounting its Kindle books–one of many things they do right.

    Like the eBook cover for Solomon.

    Rob Preece

  2. You’re doing Da Lord’s work with your price philosophy, Rob. Meanwhile see just-made post on WalMart, e-books and the iPhone. Imagine the size of your potential market if people will connect the dots and promote E among WalMart shoppers and those at similar chains. It would be great PR for the companies—encouraging literacy.

    On another topic, thanks for your comments on the memorable cover that Carl W. Scarbrorough created for The Solomon Scandals. I had the idea about a giant Solomon moving buildings around. But without a brilliant artist like Carl to execute it, the idea would have meant squat.


  3. America America is only $9.99 for the Kindle. And the DRM can be stripped off. =D

    Looks like an interesting book. I might get it.

  4. My book, The Proviso is $8.99 for a zip file with 8 DRM-LESS digital format. And oh, by the way, it’s 736 print pages long.

    We figured that was a considerable bang for the buck.

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