Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Price of eBooks: Colour Me Confused

It's summer, the sun is shining, and I'm about to head off on a three day trip to the beach ... so of necessity (and lacking the brain power to discuss anything in a deep and meaningful manner) this post will be short.

Harking back to Claire's post on eBooks and how she's surprised herself with just how enamoured she's become of her Kindle, today, I had a bit of a thought-provoking eBook moment myself.

I'm one of those types who roughly buys half eBooks, half paper books, but when it comes to vacation time I firmly favour packing my Kindle over trying to stuff four or five paperbacks (or, God forbid, weighty and spine damaging hardbacks) into my suitcase. So this morning, I set about doing a cruise of Amazon's Kindle shop to see what lovelies I could download for my beach reading pleasure, and to my delight I came across a new release by an author whose previous works I have very much enjoyed: SEASON OF LIGHT by Katharine McMahon. And it was available in Kindle format. Bliss!

But then I noticed the price: $US20.82.

Yep. Twenty dollars and eighty-two cents. I confess, I had to blink to make sure I wasn't seeing things, but no, that is indeed the price of the Kindle version (a price set by the publisher according to a disclaimer of sorts on the book's Amazon page). More expensive than the paperback version, which is selling on Amazon for $US19.84.

I didn't buy the book. I just couldn't.  And I've been questioning my reluctance (or stinginess?) ever since.

I've become used to paying no more than, say, $12 - $15 at the very top end for an eBook, and I guess the fact the paperback version is cheaper - ok, only marginally, and yes, freight charges would be added, but still cheaper at face value - than the eBook, came as a bit of a shock to me. With eBooks, costs such as paper and printing and warehousing and freight are eliminated; and yes, while different costs go into eBook production, surely, they can't be as much as those associated with paper production. Or am I wrong about that?

But I think the main reason for my reluctance, and with no disrespect intended to Katharine McMahon who is a very fine author, when the Kindle version of a book by an author as popular as Stephen King doesn't even break the $20 mark (his latest release, 11/22/63, sells for $17.69 as an eBook on Amazon) then I'm even more hesitant to buy.

Is it just me? Am I missing something? Am I just being a tightwad? Or is $20 for an eBook too much for you, too?


  1. I'm so with you on this one! Having just ripped through my second series of novels on Kindle for around $1.99 a book, and feeling pretty pleased with myself for that run of awesomely priced discoveries (that's 14 books between the two series, all at similar prices), I went trawling for more reading at the same price.

    And came up *very* short. I was looking for modern classics that I haven't yet read- top of my list are Hemingway's A Farewell to Arms and Faulkner's The Sound and the Fury. Having recently bought The Great Gatsby for around $1.99, I was thinking this would probably be pretty standard pricing for books that have been around a while. But nope- I can't find either of them for under $13.

    Now, I do think I've tricked myself slightly (by virtue of my good luck finding cheaply priced novels) into thinking that it should be possible to find great quality for little outlay. I would *never* expect to pay $2 for a great book in a shop, and $12-$15 is still pretty much a steal in many cases. But for me, $20 is definitely too much. $15 would have to be a really good book. $10 would be closer to my comfort zone, and if I could find books for around $5 I'd be thoroughly happy.

    I know I need to re-examine my own thoughts about the pricing of e-books, because the above is just plain unrealistic, but as a reader, I do think there's an upper limit to pricing that just cannot be as high as a paperback novel. And with places like The Book Depository able to offer paperback novels closer to the $10-$15 mark in many cases now, I think e-books need to stay competitive.

    Have I examined in much detail how I feel about this attitude of mine as an *author*? I admit, I haven't. It's a very interesting point of discussion, though, and I'll be curious to hear what others have to say. One suspects that the expectation of cheap prices is on the increase- and it's not necessarily a good thing.

    1. Rachel,

      No, I don't think it's just you. When I saw the price you listed, I literally gasped out loud. LOL. Wowsa. That's a hefty price.

      There's definitely the argument that publishers are trying to keep hard copies alive by raising the prices of ebooks. I.e. they'll make them so expensive that people will naturally opt to buy the paper versions instead, thus keeping the big publishers in the driver's seat of the publishing world. I've never really had any firm feelings on the matter, but perhaps this is one good example of just that.

      Claire raises an interesting low is too low? Are our expectations of what ebooks should cost going too far to the ridiculous? I priced BTPM at 2.99..and sales have been...okay. Nothing great, but they've been gradually, and I do mean gradually, increasing over the last 2-3 weeks. (Nothing to write home about, iow (g)). It donned on me just this morning--while I was in that lovely spot between sleep and waking--that I haven't even thought to lower the price. When I originally decided to self-publish, that was something that was definitely on the table. I promised myself that I would toy around with the price point to see what worked. That being said, half of me says go for it--lower it to 0.99, and the other half says... WAIT A MINUTE. 2.99 for a book is not overly expensive, and BTPM is a good product for those willing to shell out that outrageous sum. Heh.

      BUT... is the book buying public expecting to pay no more than 99 cents? Is that the price point that will see BTPM sell?

      Definitely food for thought. Part of me is saying go for it... try it for a month or two. Will it really have a financial impact on me right now? Heh. That would be a definitive no. So, maybe there's my answer. (g) We'll see how I feel after breakfast. (G)

  2. I wouldn't pay $20 for a kindle book either. I don't think I have or would pay more than $12. I don't want to undervalue an author's work by demanding that all ebooks be only a dollar or two but to my mind $20 is too much. Also having the ebook more than the paperback? That's just crazy, though it's not the first time I've seen it.

  3. Nope me, either. $20 is way too high for Kindle. Yes, there is the same amount of work for the author. Indie authors aside, the publisher is crazy.

    A lot of indie authors before me have figured the break point is $4.99 for Kindle max. While there are higher and lower prices for e-books, that's the max most e-readers will pay.

  4. That's a pretty ridiculous price. I wouldn't want to pay £5 (which I think is about $8) for an ebook. I too am surprised at how much I love my Kindle, but by the time it hits £5, the paperback usually isn't that more expensive. I only buy hardcovers from authors I trust and love--so two or three, maybe.

    Most of the ebooks I buy are £3 or less. I do buy a lot more books since getting my Kindle, but when I'm done with a good ebook and want to flick back for my favourite scenes...well, it's hard, isn't it?!

  5. I should add--if I do really like an ebook, I usually then order a paper version anyway.

  6. Hi all! Sorry for the late reply, but I've been busy sunning myself on the beach. Sigh. It's a hard job, but someone has to do it ... :-P

    I see I'm not the only one with a bit of a psychological barrier to spending $20 on an ebook. And I think you might be on to something, Jen, with the theory that setting eBook prices so high might be a way of making sure people still buy print books. I had a poke around Amazon today and discovered that many new releases have a similar price
    structure to the book I mentioned in my post. Interesting ...

    As with you, Claire, I wondered whether looking at this from the perspective of an author might change my view ... but bottom line, if price is putting off people from buying a book of mine, I think I'd be concerned about that. But time will tell. We're just at the beginning of this whole evolution in reading, and I'm sure the pendulum will swing from one end of the spectrum to the other before we get it right.

    Oh, and Lucy, I do that too! There's something about holding a physical copy of a well loved book in my own hands that just can't be beaten ...

  7. I got a Kobo ereader for Xmas and I too am shy of buying books that are more than $20. Best sellers however are MUCH more than that. I'm just on the KOBO website and House of Silk (the "new" Sherlock Holmes) is NZ$34.99!!!

    Death Comes to Pemberly $21.95, and Stephen King's latest $24.95.
    I bought Jo's The Black Hawk from this site for - damn - can't remember and it knows I've got it so won't tell me a price. I think it was around $15.
    Elizabeth George's new one is also $24.95 and just looking up...
    And for no discernable reason Diana's books start at $9.95 for Voyager, jump to $11.95 for the German editions of everything, $12.95 for the Lord John books, $14.95 for everything else except for Scottish Prisoner which must still be deemed "new" and that is $24.99. I can't remember what I paid for the paperback of Prisoner but it was probably around $30.

    Are prices for Kindle really cheaper than that? Could someone do a comparative list of Diana's books?

  8. Discovered last night that the Book Depository does Ebooks too. More selection (so it appears) than Kobo and CHEAPER. Yes.

  9. You know what's worse? I hadn't noticed myself, since I buy paperbacks or hardcovers from anywhere, but only get ebooks off Smashwords or on Amazon's Kindle for PC - but Quebec has a different tax structure for all three layers! Amazon off Kindle - price of book. Hardcover or paperback from a local store = price of book plus goods and services tax (GST).

    But e-books?

    E-book from any local seller = price of book plus GST plus provincial taxes.

    And it'll probably be years before the government has the time or inclination to even consider this a problem...

  10. With used paperbacks so easily available, I will not be paying $20 for an ebook.

  11. A bit late...

    I wouldn´t pay that much for an ebook either. I don´t have an e-reader and reading all the ebooks I get in ebook format on my laptop.
    So for me reading an ebook isn´t so much fun as reading a normal book, which I can do lying on the sofa or in bed.

    Many ebooks I got were free, because the authors and/or publishers had them free for one day or so (like yours Jen ).

    For printed books I paid lots, but I wouldn´t do it for an ebook, at least until I have an e-reader.

    I don´t mean, that the work of the author isn´t worth more, since I would pay a higher price for printed version. But that it isn´t there in a material form, is the point for me .