Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The e-book pricing conundrum. How much are they worth?

One of the biggest debates happening in the book world these days is: how much is an e-book worth? And what is that worth based on? How do we balance the reader’s loss in utility from not being able to touch or see or smell their book (all important if you’re a book lover) against authors’ income and publishers’ revenues? People still need to make money. If they’re not making money they’re not going to keep making books.

I come at this issue from two different perspectives: the reader, and the writer who also works in publishing. So far, I’m finding it very hard to merge these two perspectives. (Dual personalities of a writer’s brain come forth.)

The reader:

When you buy a traditionally published e-book you’re often paying close to the same price as you would for the p-book version. As a reader of both e- and p-books, I have an issue with this. I prefer p-books. I like to feel them. The smell of them. To look at them on my bookshelf even after I’ve finished reading them. If I have a choice, and the price is similar, I’m going for the p-book every time.

E-books, for me, are about convenience and cost saving. Add in the fact that, according to publishing consultant David Amerland, when you spend money on an e-book you’re not actually purchasing the book, only access to the book, why should I spend the same amount as I would to purchase, and own, a p-book?

The writer and publishing industry employee:

A lot of readers think the way I do about the costs of e-books. What they don’t realise is that, for a traditional publisher, there is very little difference between the cost of creating an e-book or p-book. Sure, e-books don’t have printing costs, but they do still have editing, design, marketing, author fees and a whole host of other costs associated with them. You might be surprised to know that the printing cost associated with a single book is usually only around a couple of dollars.

So the question is: how do the big publishers compete when consumers aren’t willing to pay what the publisher needs to survive? Throw in the likes of Amazon, who willingly forces the price point of e-books down so they can sell more Kindles and put competitors out of business (predatory pricing), and you’ve got the publishers in a sticky situation.

The only people meeting the market’s price expectations are self-publishers, who are able to sell their books at very low prices because they have almost no overheads. The market is happy (yay)! The publishers are not. Although whether the market is truly happy could be questionable. There are a lot of self-pubd works out there that wouldn’t know a second draft if it bit them in the bum, but that’s a post for another day.

Here’s a quote from author Stuart Neville that I think sums up the writers' perspective:
"I'm amazed that people are that cheap. Do they think a year of my life is worth less than $9.99? Do they really believe that 10 to 12 hours of entertainment isn't worth the equivalent cost of two or three coffees, or less than two beers?"

What are your thoughts on the e-book pricing conundrum? Do you have no problem paying close to the same price for an e-book as you would for a p-book, despite the perceived loss of worth? Or will you only buy self-pubd e-books and continue to buy p-books from the traditional publishers? I’m interested to hear where everyone else stands on this issue!


  1. I think that quote from Stuart Neville is really apt. The fact that self-publishers are pricing their e-books cheaper is probably initially to do with the fact that they just want people to read it, and are hoping that if it's cheap they'll at least get some exposure and that will start the ball rolling. The next few years are going to be really interesting for the publishing industry. I just hope that publishers and booksellers make it out alive!

  2. I think that its about perception in the market place. There's a reason that products cost $9.99 and not $10. $9.99 looks cheaper and therefore is more attractive. Likewise if a published work is say $24.99 on the shelf and then the e-book is say $19.99 then the e-book look the better deal even though it's not much less.
    Also people understand overheads a little so if a printed book cost a couple of dollars to print then a couple more to ship plus the cost that the book store makes to meet it's over heads and a little profit then customers expect all those little costs to come off the ebook. They almost expect it at cost price. So if a book has the same price on both printed and ebook then the customer wont buy the ebook.

    If the publishing industry is smart (and it should be) then it will make sure that the ebook has the same production quality to its formatting but is a few dollars less than it's printed equivalent. I believe that if customers believe that they are being given a fair price they will happily pay it.

  3. I find the pricing based on "worth" a weird idea, because worth is almost completely a matter of personal opinion. No, I'm not going to advocate demand as a price measurement, but rather author income: To get as much as I get for a self-published 9.99 ebook on Amazon for every book sold, as a pbook selling through a publisher I'd have to price it around $70-80.