Tuesday, May 22, 2012

eBook Prices

How do you put a value on a digital book? It doesn't seem like this should be the conundrum it is.

Paper books are priced to cover the amount it cost to produce them plus a markup for both the publisher's and the bookseller's profit.

Ebooks should be priced the same way, right? The problem is, we assume the production cost will be significantly cheaper because there is no paper and no binding--forgetting that paper is cheap and binding is not especially costly either.

All the costly things--cover art, editing, etc.--must happen in the production of a digital book, just like a paper one. So logically the price isn't going to differ dramatically.

And yet, it doesn't seem right.

Maybe because so many eBooks are "free." It seems like the average price thus should be lower.

But those eBooks are free because either they are classics, antiques, if you will, long ago falling into the public domain, so libraries or volunteers can legally digitize them, or they're new books whose publisher wants to boost word-of-mouth on a particular title or author and is willing to take a financial hit to do it.

Those eBooks still cost time and money to produce, but your tax dollars, the goodness of others, or a marketing plan paid for them.

So, again, digital books should cost about the same as paper.

What about resale value? Maybe we feel digital books should be cheaper because we can't resell them as we can paper books?

That isn't within the publisher's purview. Paper books are not priced with any thought to the used market because neither publishers nor authors get any money from those venues. Why should eBooks be any different?

We aren't automatically entitled to resell things in our possession. Many items you buy cannot be resold, and we accept that. The video games industry may be going toward a used-games-are-unplayable model. That there is no used market for digital books may simply become the standard of the future.

So again, digital books' and paper books' prices shouldn't be that far apart.

But then why, when I am faced with a $12.99 eBook, do I wince?

I've paid $9.99 for eBooks. I'd pay $12.99 for a paperback. And yet I stall at $12.99 for an eBook.

$12.99 is what - the price of dinner for one? Lunch for two? Food you'll never get back (unless it gives you food poisoning and then it will be returned to the world in a state far different from when you last viewed it) whereas an eBook lasts forever. You can even lend it to others and, trust me, no one wants you to lend them your food or other perishables.

$12.99 is a few hours of work at minimum wage to pay for something that took the author months of agony to produce. If the eBook is nonfiction, it might have taken years. And yet we won't shell out our coffee money for it.

Why is that?

I really should buy that $12.99 eBook. I just... argh. Do any of you have this problem?

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