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back to article UK set for eBook pricing showdown

With Amazon taking pre-orders for the latest Kindle and opening a dedicated UK store, an investigation by Reg Hardware has revealed big differences in the pricing strategies of some of the major suppliers of ebooks in the UK. Waterstone's, probably the highest profile UK seller of ebooks, has announced that the price of the Sony …

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Anonymous Coward

How much

For these 36 books in drm-free paperback?

As these readers become ever more fashionable, at some point we're going to reach a point where the people buying them are going to read so few books that they'd be better off buying the paperbacks.

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Bronze badge

Good question

I'll go back to my spreadsheet and see how much it would have cost to buy the physical books as well - though as I've mentioned on my blog, when I do buy real books, price isn't my main concern, and I go to the local independent bookshop, rather than buying online.

I would guess that that tends to skew the prices I pay for books upwards, compared to someone who buys exclusively from Amazon, say, or even from one of the major chains.

I honestly don't know to what degree I'm typical or atypical in that regard. Do those who read more always go for the lowest price, or are they also more likely to be concerned with things like the range of bookstores available, or technical issues like DRM, and format lock-in?

Is the local independent bookshop doomed?

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Silver badge
Unhappy

When I used to read a lot,

I would browse bookshops, looking for something to take my fancy, so price would not have been the driving factor (although I'd avoid hardbacks, on price grounds).

Now that I have less time for both reading and browsing in bookshops, I tend to go into the shop knowing which book I am going to buy, so it is then a matter of who is selling the book I want at the lowest price.

In either case, I would generally be happiest in a large bookstore, likely belonging to one of the big chains (is it just Waterstones, now?) - although independants were preferred when money was short and I wanted to pick up something 2nd hand, a role which charity shops fulfil nicely.

In short, yes, independant bookshops are dead.

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Depends...

Depends... sometimes you want a book to read but you don't have anything specific in mind. Then you definitely care about price. Cheapest place first.

But then George RR Martin decides to wake up and actually write something... and it's out there in digital format. Then you want that book and you don't care about the price and you don't care about DRM.

If you bought a kindle, you don't care too much about DRM, it's part of the package anyway, right? It's part of the package.

Re: local bookstores... are ebooks that popular? I still see more people on the trains holding real books rather than readers.

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Anonymous Coward

Local Bookstores...

I'm saying this as an avid reader, but I think local book store are on the way out, and that's not necessarily a problem.

If you know exactly what book you want Amazon or Waterstones will have it cheaper than the local shop.

If you're browsing in a specific genre then Waterstones will have a bigger selection and Amazon has its 'Customers who liked this...' suggestions.

And if you're just browsing for a random book on a random subject it's hard to beat second-hand shops or charity stores. That's usually where you find the best 'I didn't know I wanted to read that but I'm glad I did' books.

So I don't see what function local book stores offer that make them better than the above, apart from for people who want to pay more money for less choice just to support a local business.

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Flame

Damn you!

I actually thought A Dance With Dragons might actually have been published for a sec.

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neb
FAIL

re: George RR Martin

ha!

GRR'll kark it before he finishes the song of fire and ice anyway, fat git!

and seeing as cyanide are going to screw up the game adaption as well, the entire franchise will be destroyed

fucking cyanide messed up bloodbowl, how can they be expected to manage a grown up product

french tossers!

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Silver badge
Thumb Up

My prediction for the day:

Some time in 2011, one of the retailers will be giving the hardware away for free, with some form of lock-in to their own book store. My guess would be Amazon, but one of the others might jump first.

GJC

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I predict

Some time in 2011 someone will provide a solution for jailbreaking said reader, should it arrive.

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Amazon's DRM

has already been broken. there are python scripts out there on the internet for those who care to look.

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Book prices

Measuring book prices is hard. If there is a crunch coming, then I would expect prices to be high now, so when the sale comes the retailers can say "20% off" and the like. RRP's mean nothing any more with books.

Still, it wont affect me, I've got a pile of reading that will take me years to get through. By the time I'm done with them, I expect we'll have something with the advantages of both ePaper and LCD screens.

And then, there's the library... I wonder what will happen to them in 10 years time...

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FAIL

Library?

I currently get all my books for free from the library. Is there an eBook library?

I'd be willing to pay a monthly subscription for a "spotify" type eBook library service. Until that comes along, they can give away the readers for free, but no way am I going to be paying top dollar for eBooks.

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Anonymous Coward

Yes

but the books wont work on the kindle because they are ePubs.

Will work on the sony's though

check out your local library such as http://herts.lib.overdrive.com/

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there will be

Here in Norfolk, the library service are about to roll out through-the-browser ebook borrowing. It's tied to Adobe Digital Editions at the moment (I think), but I'm sure that will change with time.

There is, as far as I know, no charge/subscription for this service. Not sure when other UK libraries will get on the case - apparently Norfolk is something of a national leader in library tech - but I'm sure they will.

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Good idea

Some sort of library system has to be the way to go. With paper books when I finish them I can swap them with my friends. This isn't possible with ebooks so I'm losing out by moving to an electronic format. For that I want something in return so a tiered library system would be great.

For £x you can rent 20 books per year, for £y you can rent 100 for £z you can have unlimited.

The publishers can be paid per book read.

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Library eBooks

Leeds library currently run a similar lending service using Adobe Digital Editions. It's just a shame it doesn't work on Android.

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Flame

Sometimes I hate Sony

Sony has its own ebookstore. As a PRS 505 owner, I used to buy books from there in dollars, which was cheaper than anywhere else. They recently changed everything - first, you had to have their Sony Reader software which had a browser embedded in it - that embedded browser is now the only way you can buy books from their store. Also, you have to be in the US. So yes - Sony is pushing its ereader customers (victims?) to Waterstones where you can buy books at 1.5 times the price. Hurrah.

However, being a Kindle owner as well, I can buy books cheaper from the Amazon UK store and uh... "transfer" them to the PRS 505. This saves me a bit of money as your article has noticed the significant price difference between theh stores.

What is upsetting though, is that I bought the PRS 505 before the price cut at about 150GBP and I was one of the early Kindle-UK adopters (idiot?) when it was being sold from the Amazon US store - none of these @100GBP prices.

If any of you are considering buying eReaders, now is the best time. You've never had it so good.

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Cant you do that...

Cant you buy from Amazon anyway without actually owning a Kindle, by installing the Kindle for PC app and then...<cough>..."Transferring"...</cough> them to your Sony?

Prices of hardware are finally starting to look good, though ebook prices still need some work. I suspect the publishers don't really want digital books and wouldnt mind if they simply went away, but are being forced to offer them by demand, and they will eventually sort out a working model. It just may take a little time.

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Silver badge
Unhappy

£4 to £6 for an ebook, then (not including the reader)?

Unless ebooks are going to be cheaper than their paper counterparts, what's the point?

I like the ebook idea, but if I were going to shell out £100+ on a reader, I'd expect the books to be cheaper than the printed versions (publishers are saving on print, storagee and transport costs, and retailers' overheads would be down, too).

Perhaps the hardware cost will reduce once manufacturers realise that there's little point in "added value" features, such as annotation, music playback and web-browsing?

Nevermind, I'm mostly reading graphic novels at the moment, and I've yet to see an e-reader that could show something like Watchmen in a readable form.

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Jobs Horns

Printed words are cheap

The printing cost really is negligible for books (10% of the cost), with most cost going to people that make a book readable (i.e., editors, and decreasingly, proof-readers). This issue of ebook viability and pricing was rigorously kicked around by the author Charles Stross and devotees:

* http://www.antipope.org/charlie/blog-static/publishing/

If publishers/retailers are tying books and customers in to a specialised ebook reader gadget then you would be well to expect that the cost of the hardware would be shared/written-off. That said, what moron of a publisher or idiot of a retailer is going to try and sell people on dedicated ebook readers when iPhone, Android Phones, and iPads, etc. can do the job provided an App can be devised. Who wants yet another computing device causing people to wonder if you are pleased or "pleased" to see them.

Make the books _purchase_ (and not for indeterminate rent under DRM) and I'm on board at the current retail prices, more so if I can have a hard copy for only a slight additional fee.

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Megaphone

I'd noticed that

"editors, and decreasingly, proof-readers"

Yes, I'd noticed the decreasing use of proof-readers in several books recently.

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Don't forget Kobo Books

Their ebook prices were already lower than Waterstones, and since Kindle store opened in the UK they have started lowering their prices more...

(Most of) their books are compatible with my Sony Reader Pocket edition, and they also have Android/iPhone apps.

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FAIL

Book prices

A cursory search of the waterstones ebook prices shows that prices vary between a few pence cheaper than the equivalent paper version up to a couple of pounds more expensive. Which is outrageous. Whilst there are a number of costs that are shared by paper and electronic books (cover art, editing, proofreading, royalties, etc), and ebooks do require investment in server storage, online transaction processing and small amounts of additional artwork (reducing cover art to thumbnails whilst keeping them recognisable is not easy), the savings from avoiding the printing and distribution costs should still result in significantly (very, very roughly in the 20%ish ballpark) cheaper ebooks, given equal profits to publisher and author.

Waterstones may be blaming the publishers for this, but I'm unconvinced. Personally, I blame lack of competition in the UK ebook market - you've basically got Waterstones and WHSmiths (and now Amazon), and that's about it. In the states, there are dozens of online bookstores, and given identical content they can only really compete on price. Hence, lower prices.

The authors and publishers inability to grasp the concept of global ebook rights, because they are so used to selling the physical rights on a country by country basis, are a large part of the problem here (selling the physical books on a country basis makes a lot of sense buts makes little or none for electronic - there are interesting VAT issues to overcome there, but these are hardly insurmountable). Without those artificial boundaries to sale, there would be much more opportunity for competition.

But the largest problem is still that there just aren't enough ebooks being sold for the publishers and authors to take the time and make the effort to get things right. And of course, this is a chicken and egg problem - ebook sales are being massively restricted by DRM, poor interop, lack of standards, artificial barriers to purchase and high prices in many countries. And without those sales, there's no obvious incentive (to idiot suits, at least) to fix the problems. Good old Catch 22.

I should mention the one exception to the dreadful state that ebooks are in these days (in most ways worse than 5 or even 3 years ago), which is Baen Books, an american sci-fi/fantasy publishing company that publishes all of their books as non-drm'd ebooks, and you can buy them no matter where you live in the world. And they make the first quarter of each book available for free on the web (a practice akin to the crack dealer telling you the first hit is free...). And they have the Baen free library, which is basically the same concept applied to either series or authors in general, where they first few books in a series or several of the authors individual works are made available for free to get you hooked on that series or author. Frankly, I've given up buying ebooks from anywhere else (and no, I don't work for them)

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Bronze badge

Reducing cover art to thumbnails?

You'd be surprised how many of the eBooks I've bought don't even do that.

There are 39 books sitting in the copy of Digital Editions on my Mac; that includes the 36 that were used in the price comparison for this article. Of those 39, 19 have no cover art worth speaking of. Essentially, it's a text page with author and title.

In one or two cases, they might have turned the typeset title of the book into a graphic, and used ordinary text for everything else. The Harper Collins books have a blue graphic stripe down the left with their logo, then text for the rest. Random House has a generic grey background image of a book, with text on top of it, and Hachette Digital doesn't even stretch the budget to a logo on some of the Iain M Banks books in my library.

The proof reading in some books is of a quality that makes me wince, though I suspect that's the same for the printed editions too.

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Silver badge

One extra cost of eBooks

Unlike normal books they are VATable. But there's no reason why they should be MORE expensive than regular dead trees.

Oh and why so many typos in eBooks? Things like a 1 where it it should be an l, a 5 in place of an s, strange spacing - are they optically scanning books to turn them into eBooks? And these are on books released in the last five years, so there should be an electronic manuscript somewhere.

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Apple iBook Store Uncompetitive Too

Been using iPad and iPhone to read books for a few months. Kindle Store is streets ahead in choice of titles compared to UK Apple iBook store. Haven't yet even found a book I wanted to buy on the Apple iBook store yet so can't yet comment on title for title price competition.

If we end up being forced to go to a dedicated UK Kindle store, I hope we don't get stung on prices.

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Anonymous Coward

Typos?

Have been waiting for eReaders to hit the £100 mark, and I'm really tempted to get one, but have read a lot of complaints regarding the quality of the conversion process - lots of typos, etc. Any of you peeps seen that problem?

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Anonymous Coward

No

at least not the official books i get from my local library free of charge (see higher post for web address).

the ones that might be dodgy are those that someone has scanned manually and then uploaded - can't vouch for the quality of those

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Anonymous Coward

Re: Typos

I've seen a number of typos on non drm ebooks. I think the most likely cause of these is that the originals have been OCR scanned rather than the ebook having been generated from an electronic original source. OCR scanning is of course prone to error and relies on the skill of the inputting operator to fix any problems. I have seen examples where the reader has misread the word and presumably offered several guesses, but the operator has chosen the wrong one...

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Bronze badge

Paid for books have typos too

Probably because book publishers, like other publishers, have started to believe the business consultants and other policy wonks who tell them that jobs like sub-editing can be removed from the process, or sent offshore.

There really are some howlers in books I've read lately, to the extent that even the names of one of the main characters were misspelled in a book I bought from the Waterstones ePub store. I shall have to pick up the paperback and see if that too suffers in the same way.

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Silver badge

Typos

Loads of them in books sold through Watersones.

The worst being China Mieville's 'Perdito Street Station' in which whole chunks of the book had been randomly duplicated throughout the text making it effectively unreadable. And their conversion of 'Voices' by Arnaldur Indriðason is poor - okay they're having to deal with Icelandic names and places, but Unicode supports Icelandic characters. The book has them all correct and present, in the eBook they are missing or completely incorrect ones substituted. If I was an author I would be furious at the way my work was being treated.

Waterstones don't want to know about bad conversions, you'll have to fight to get your money back.

So far nothing wrong with Kindle titles, but I've heard of some titles having an eccentric approach to page setting and spelling.

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FAIL

Ebooks = RipOff

I just love how publishers are charging the same for ebooks as the paperbacks. They cost nothing to produce, do not need transportation, publishing or any other distribution costs (as it is all done by the retailer) yet they price them the same, claiming they don't want to diminish the value of their product. The author still gets his £1 per book, the publishers make triple on an ebook what they do on a paper back!

Ebooks are a rip off to consumers and to authors, not to mention being locked in (Kindle breaks and Sony Reader is on offer? Tough luck, you need to buy another Kindle to view your books) to one format. Ebooks offer nothing good and those prices are wrong, £99 might sound great, but it doesn't include books and for £99, I can buy 20 books.

Also get ready to have to keep buying your library again in a new format every few years.

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Bronze badge

i agree on nearly every point

When i brought my sony reader, I was lucky enough to get a CD with 100 books on it. And real books too, Dickens, Shakespear, Bronte, Darwin, Tolstoy etc etc...

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re:I agree on nearly every point

those are probably the generic set of free books you get with practically every reader, a reasonably wide selection of public domain stuff from project Gutenberg.

Although, i think the kindle store charges you for them!

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Unhappy

Ebooks are great, until you actually try and buy an ebook in the UK.

E.g. author: Dan Simmons, number of books: Kobo 1; Waterstones 3; WHSmith 5.

for comparison:

US Sony Bookstore 17; US Amazon 15; bittorrent 15.

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Coat

VAT on real books

Still no VAT on actual physical printed on paper books so there's a saving.

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eBook Pricing

Regardless of whether the cost of production and provision of an eBook is the same as that of a paperback, then the price of an eBook should *still* be less than a paperback because it can't be resold.

If I can buy a paperback at £5, and resell it at £2, then surely a fair price for a non-resellable eBook would be £3, not £5?

Alternatively, allow second hand sales of eBooks (should be easy enough for Amazon to achieve technically, they have proved the ability to remotely delete books you no longer have rights to, and have a second hand marketplace already on their site), then I'd accept they should be sold at the same price as paperbacks.

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Bronze badge

nice idea, but...

What is the difference (apart from cost) between a 'new' and a 'second hand' ebook?

Are the pages a bit worn? Is the spine damaged? Is there a coffee ring on the front where it's been used as a coaster? (not that i would ever do such a thing you understand)

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Difference

No difference at all. Which would suggest that eBooks should be discounted by the resale value of a perfect mint condition second hand copy, not a worn grubby one.

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Silver badge
FAIL

Publisher Set Pricing

Didn't they make Publisher Set Pricing in UK illegal on Paper Books?

So now they bring back that nonsense on eBooks? Shame on them.

Till eBooks are 50% cheaper than PAPERBACKS (not Hardbacks) and a Reader is < €100 and the content can be used on my Laptop or a newer better eReader of different make via local back up, I'm not interested.

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Pirate

Dark Ages

eBooks are stuck in the same dark age that afflicted digital music back in the day - DRM-laden product requiring incompatible proprietary devices to read them, ridiculous regional licensing nonsense (I found a US ebook site that would let me pretend to live in the USA but pay with a UK credit card, but it really pisses me off that I have to do that to get the books I want, especially if it's a UK author), etc etc.

I can only hope that the eBook market experiences the same reality check that the music industry got, then maybe in 5 years time I'll be buying DRM-free books at a competitive price to read on the device of my choice. For now, I'm ready to part with my hard-earned for books in any format I can read on my PDA, but if they won't take my money, I feel little guilt in obtaining those books from other sources.

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Anonymous Coward

Hosting costs

For those who comment on the reasonableness of costs, because of hosting charges, let's not forget we are talking about text here, not vast video files. The actual storage involved must be trivially small, and easily tacked on to the side of existing order and customer database systems.

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Bronze badge

Average book under a megabyte

Of the books that I've bought, I think the vast majority are well under a megabyte, and typically around 600k. My Digital Editions folder of 39 books comes in at 35.9MB.

So, in storage terms, you're right that there's not much needed. But I have a sneaking suspicion - and I'd love to find out for sure - that licensing something like the ADEPT system is a fair chunk of money. It really would be interesting to see a complete breakdown, and find out where the costs crop up.

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Silver badge
Pirate

The nice thing about the Sony Pocket

Is that it doesn't require either Sony's software or Sony's bookstore. Calibre will do all your conversion needs and the Sony will display anything in ePub or its own format.

Personally I WILL NOT BUY anything with DRM. I strenuously object to being treated as a thief. On the other hand, the world is full of copyright free works and I have no objection to scanning material I own (or taking advantage of someone else scanning it for me) - and before you all start, I *did* ask a representative bunch of published authors...

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FAIL

Tragic

I barely read at all these days but I love music and films so I was interested to see how the whole move to electronic distribution would play out with books. Would the publishing industry avoid any of the pitfalls that the music and film industries fell into? In a word, no! In fact they seem to have introduced new pitfalls such as charging a premium for electronic content, I mean WTF?

The competing formats, the poor availability of titles, the region locking, the DRM, the pricing, it's just tragic and unseemly. Consumers should demand more and better but it is wistful to think that we would ever be able to behave like anything other than a herd of cats so maybe we just get what we deserve.

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Can anyone explain ...

... to me, as the technical side of a very small publisher, where I can find a good explanation of the various ebook formats, which readers handle which formats, and ways of creating them (all the books exist as Adobe InDesign files) ? Mother (who does all the writing) wants to sell ebooks, but at the moment it really does seem a complete mess from the publishers point of view - at least with the dead tree versions we only have to produce one type, and it's available through any bookshop (in the UK at least).

Given my own feelings about DRM, it's tempting to just sell a plain PDF - but I can't help this suspicion that we'd sell very few of them :(

As to costs, well it's different for large runs where the printing cost really does come down, but for the quantities we are doing, there's typically about a fiver per book for printing a 400odd page paperback. Retailers expect a huge discount off the cover price, so to be honest, sales though distributors are below cost. And then there is postage which soon adds up when sending a lump of tree.

We'd be more than happy to sell ebooks for a lot less than the paper versions.

Oh yes, and we put a lot of effort into the covers - you can see them at magpiesnestpublishing.co.uk

From the comments it's clear that a lot of people fall into the trap (just like with music) that it's all about big publishers, "big" writers, and loads of money. Unless you strike lucky then reality is different - few writers make money, fewer still make enough to actually live on. A handful strike it lucky and their book catches on, most don't.

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Go

ebook formats

Use ePub. You can include DRM with it and it "flows". There is also support for chapters and (some) images. It works on most of the ereaders out there, not the Kindle, but that's only of use if you intend to sell through Amazon (who have their own format).

Please don't use PDFs, they are designed to be viewed at a fixed size and therefore don't display well on a a screen smaller than the one they were intended for (I have a Sony Pocket Reader) so will miss much of the market.

And I do try to buy ebooks direct from small publishers for niche genres, so if you have an online shop, do sell through that!

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e-book publishing and other publishers

1 thing about e-books is you do not have to put up with UK pricing on US titles.

A good site with some pointers on e-publishing

http://www.abintrapress.com/

Baen do "buy this months book set" deals at

http://www.webscription.net/

Other publisher seem to be using webscriptions as well.

an alternate e-book distributor (pay in $, regional limiting from the publishers).

Some of their titles are DRM free, but not all - you can set filtering on their newsletter for new titles to limit the formats to those that are not DRM.

Note it has been sold out to a book chain.....

http://www.fictionwise.com/home.html

There are loads of reader tools around - Mobipocket got picked up by Amazon for the Kindle, but the software runs on PC, Palm, Blackberry....

epub is a purpose built e-book format - but it can have DRM embedded and when it does that can limit which readers and platforms will work with it.

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