back to article WTF is... up with e-book pricing?

Electronic books are a topic that never fails to generate comment on Reg Hardware – most often along the lines of, 'why are they so expensive?' With the launch of Amazon's Kindle in the UK, many book buyers hoped that e-books would become cheaper. Together with the falling price of readers, and Amazon trumpeting large e-book …

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Big Brother

b*gger e-book pricing

WTF is up with the Hansard article on the home page of Charlie's Diary linked to above. That is real and much scarier than an e-book price increase.

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WTF?

Title

Presumably the publishing houses will start suing people for not buying massively overpriced ebooks when those users discover how to type "ebook" into binsearch.info

Presumably they are trying to generate Hollywood levels of piracy in record time.

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Slapping allowed?

I think when any of these publishers start bleating that illegal distribution is a really big problem for their industry and they don't understand why. Whoever they are bleating to should be allowed to slap them and tell them to stop being so stupid....

So in the move to digital distribution all media industries have seen it solely as a way of increasing profits rather than sharing the savings with the consumer and trying to make a dent in illegal distribution. You can never stop all illegal distribution, but lower pricing will reduce it by making it less attractive.

I don't support illegal distribution and support reasonable efforts to curb it, but these idiots deserve what they get. Only a shame our governments don't feel the same and are quite happy to protect their price gouging archaic business model at the expense of proper rule of law.

In the efforts to clamp down on illegal distribution all we get is the stick, where's the carrot?

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Bronze badge

eBooks

I use my Kindle only to read out-of-copyright material. There are tens of thousands of titles like that, and others I know do the same. It would be interesting to know if that's typical. If so, then then the economics of eBooks for the sellers may not look so good.

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JMB

eBooks → #

"I use my Kindle only to read out-of-copyright material"

I keep thinking about getting one similarly as a convenient way to carry around PDF files in an accessible form.

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Anonymous Coward

Not just out-of-copyright material...

I use my Kindle to read anything I can copy and convert myself. I haven't bought, and probably won't buy, stuff with DRM that I can't bypass.

Apparently DRM can be very expensive for small publishers so they tend not to use it.

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Alert

Or try buying your eBooks from somewhere else?

Not usually to be plugging someone what takes their money in USD, but look at Baen Books. Switch authors. They have a lot of good stuff and don't charge daft amounts of money for it. Eric Flint has a good explanatory rant at http://www.baen.com/library/ but the real kicker is this is a real publisher and doesn't seem to be out of business yet...

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Bronze badge

Hell yeah

Many a good writer here and they even offer free intros either as the first few chapters or in a lot of cases the whole first two or three books. As mentioned by Beardy, Eric Flint (no mean author himself) has a very real-world view which would give many an Exec at these more rapacious publishers heart failure........hmm now there's a thought

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Thumb Up

Baen Rocks

I second everything said above about Baen, they are great to deal with and actually seem to be keen on making a good impression and keeping you as a customer.

No nonsense, no ball and chain, cheap good products and the attitude that they prefer to have happy customers who will keep coming back rather than try to gouge everyone at the earliest opportunity. They have a great business model and it works for them and for me as a customer.

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Bronze badge

Baen Rocks x2

Baen has embraced eBooks with a vengeance - they regularly make some of their older stock available free of charge, albeit for a limited time (generally a month) and rotating the available titles.

Another Baen example: when I bought Lois Bujold's latest Miles vorKosigan book, "Cryoburn", there was a CD included which contained *all* of the vorKosigan saga (including Cryoburn) in ePub format. *Without* DRM. Yay!

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Thumb Up

Another thumbs-up for Baen

They have some very talented authors and they really know how to do ebooks right. Their ebooks are cheap, or in some cases free, as well as not being encumbered with DRM. If I have a physical copy of a book and I want to put it on my phone, I'm more than happy to search out a torrent rather than pay for an expensive, DRMed copy - but I make it a point never to do so for anything published by Baen because of how well they treat their readers.

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Thumb Up

Thumbs up again

Thanks, you've made my day. Seems like there are some sensible people in the world of media.

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Happy

Baen and your local Library

For tohse that do not have to patience to download Baen books from their free library online, I''ve come across the occasional "Baen hardbound book that comes with a CD at our local branch library. It actually encouraged you to copy the CD and give to your friends. I've been a loyal Baen (print) reader since they first started up and every year they seem to do something nice for their loyal, and new, readers. Nice to see someone knows how to get, and keep, their readers.

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Or you could just buy from the US

Just get yourself an amazon.com account, and buy your Kindle ebooks from there - despite what Amazon says, it's significantly cheaper.

This also allows you to do the sort of impulse buys that (a) have sold so many Apps in the iTunes Store etc., and (b) thus provides more income for the publisher/author.

How often do these dumb industries need to have evidence that their pricing policies are counterproductive rubbed in their face before they admit they're wrong? Stupid question I know.

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WTF?

Cost?!?

You totally seem to gloss over the cost issue in 2 paragraphs on the first page.

The fact that ebooks involve no printing, shipping, wherehousing, they cannot be resold and there is no "lending" them to friends. Should affect the cost in real and meaningful ways. I understand the costs to create the content remains static but it is simply rediculous to argue there are no real costs savings over dead tree books!

When I buy a book I get to keep it forever. I can lend it, sell it or simply reread it 20 years later. I would bet a million dollars that 20 years from now my kindle will be long dead, and whatever device they are selling then, will use some new format and I will be asked to buy my books over again. The book companies are tricking us into a situation like we face with music and movies. We will have to keep paying to replace things we already bought (once, twice or more).

Unless we as consumers stand up and say NO and demand a more fair system we all will lose more than we planned!

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Pint

You've missed the point

The books you buy from Amazon are not tied to your kindle. If your kindle is lost or stolen you get a new reader and sync your books back to it. No'one is asking you to buy books again. In fact, if you associate the same account with two readers, two people can share books, although it would be linked to one payment card, so you'd have to trust each other in terms of how much you'd spend on e-books. The Nook in the US already allows you to "loan" books, hopefully Kindle will at some point to.

Stand up and say NO when you understand the current system, and not some system you imagine is more repressive than it actually is.

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Unhappy

Yep - that's my objection too.

"Rather than price per se, the chief objection seems to be that with many e-books, they’re paying more for a product that, thanks to DRM, they can do less with than the ‘old fashioned’ paper alternative."

As you say, AC, with a normal book, you can do what you like with it. You simply can not do that with a "book" contained in some strange non-standard file format that's all DRM'd. You wouldn't buy a paper book that had a padlock on the front (with one key that might rust and be useless at some time in the future) and that could only be read under the light of a special bulb that you could only buy from one shop, would you? But that's exactly what all these e-books are like.

I would love a Kindle-type device - I think they're a really nice idea. Convenient, very lights, etc etc. But I'm simply not prepared to lock myself into content arrangement that is in place. It's a similar thing to the whole iPod walled-garden thing, and I don't like it. And as the article points out, the prices are often way above what they should be. A shame.

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Alert

Good luck

>>Unless we as consumers stand up and say NO and demand a more fair system we all will lose more than we planned!<<

The only way for consumers to do this (historically speaking) has been contract violation*. This goes back to the days of Napster - even people who owned a real album/cd/tape were downloading because the format was open.

Notice the ability to now obtain digital music easily and - just recently - without DRM so that you can play it on any device capable of playing your purchased licensed music. The problem with this type of objection though is it creates two lines of issues:

1) "Piracy! Piracy!"** gets blamed for poor performance when the people in charge are screwing the consumers so badly an elephant would feel it.

2) Publishers have a lot to hide when it comes to prices. I've seen threads on authors sites arguing the exact same; usually trying to understand the cost - if there's no raw material, and only one copy, albeit a high quality one, needs to be made; then costs are practically zero. No shipping. No materials. No risks on those materials. No depreciation on the machinery, no paying staff, no need for large warehouses, no need for excessive QA.. When arguing this, publishers always come back and say those things are practically nothing, and that the cost does not reflect materials. So they "hide" the numbers by pretending it's material costs.

* Yes, I refuse to use the word piracy, it's childish I know but then I prefer to speak English and not market-shit.

** Why yes, yes I did just use that word.

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Syd

Touching!

You don't seriously believe that if you'll be able to download (for nothing) the same books that you bought for Kindle in 2010 onto 'Son of Kindle III' in 2020?

"Oh sorry - that isn't the same book - we upgrade the print to a high-definition format, with color capability, so you need to pay again!"

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Re You've missed the point

I have books I bought thirty-odd years ago. The authors are dead, the bookshop where I bought them is gone, the publishers aren't even around any more. But my kids can still read those books.

Will Amazon still be selling eBooks in thirty years time? How is anyone going to resync their eBooks then?

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Can be circumvented

You can de-DRM both Kindle and Sony Reader Store books (don't know about other formats), quite trivially once you have the tools. I de-DRM all the books I buy from the Sony store so I can put them on my crappy Android tablet and my phone, and so when something goes wrong with the DRM system in future, I'll still have my books...

Once you de-DRM the Kindle books you can convert them to a less odd format with Calibre. The Sony ones are already ePub.

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Silver badge
Linux

Completely unjustifiable level of optimism.

> The books you buy from Amazon are not tied to your kindle.

Of course it is. Or rather, it is tied to the Kindle app. It's not quite so much like proprietary Mac software but more like proprietary MS-DOS software. The effect is still the same. YOUR "property" remains essentially a rental that Amazon can revoke at any time it likes.

The fact that Amazon is not a single hardware vendor standard is somewhat nice but the same basic problem remains. You don't really own what you buy. You are not in a position to resell it or take your own steps to preserve it. You remain always at the mercy of Amazon.

As long as some corporation "owns the format" of your data, you are in the same vulnerable position.

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Re: Touching

Books bought on my Peanut Press (known as ereader.com these days) account (for use on my Handspring Visor) back in 99 were still available to download to my iPaq a few years back and now work perfectly well on my iPhone today.

"You don't seriously believe that if you'll be able to download (for nothing) the same books that you bought for Kindle in 2010 onto 'Son of Kindle III' in 2020?

"Oh sorry - that isn't the same book - we upgrade the print to a high-definition format, with color capability, so you need to pay again!""

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Stop

There are *some* costs associated with digital

I consistently see arguments comparing dead-tree costs but rarely, if ever, the costs of digital delivery. The publisher has costs for storage arrays, servers and the like as well as the costs of its network provider(s) and energy. While it is easy to argue that the publishing houses would pay all of these costs anyway to maintain a web presence I would love to get real numbers on both forms of publishing. [CO2 footprint data would be nice as well, but that's wishing for this econometrician] One thing that I haven't also yet seen brought up is the costs of returned dead-tree books. [Actually they aren't returned. The cover is ripped off and returned to the publisher and the contents chucked.] That isn't mentioned anywhere. Digital books do not have to front for that. Without real numbers all of this is speculation. Informed speculation I'll admit. I seriously doubt we'll ever see them though.

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FAIL

Price fail

For as long as I can buy a new physical copy for less than the digital copy then there is something inherently wrong with the pricing model. Publishers need to understand this.

Secondly in order for me to accept eBooks I need them to either fully work across readers or for each book store to have the same range of books that Amazon can supply me in physical format.

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Pirate

Have a Kindle ...

.. haven't bought a single eBook. While prices of physical products are cheaper why would I? Plus I resent paying VAT on them.

Buy the physical book, Google for a DRM free digital copy and use that. You could of course skip the first part, but that would be naughty.

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Anonymous Coward

That's the point though right?

Because it starts with "I'll just get the books I own". Then you realize how easy it was to get that free copy and you notice other titles you haven't got access to..

The music business brought their current troubles on their own head by not listening to their customers - and they're still not listening. Over €1 for a song with no physical cost? Are they dumb or just plain screwed in the head??

I also blame authors for this - not new, first-book authors, but the older, established crowd. They can easily take over the process, just like several musicians now do. And there are a few (way too few) who have done this, with GREAT success. These are the ones who have the power to totally change the system but they won't do it en-mass - leaving the consumer to fight the battle. Personally, I don't like the idea of not rewarding my favorite author but.. you're a part of the problem or a part of the solution.

Regardless. All they're doing now is encouraging the piracy process. Until such time as it's so bad people won't be buying books - then who'll be crying for the authors that did not stand up for their fans in the first place?

I don't know about you, but definitely not me (and I DO pay for my eBooks by the way).

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Bronze badge

If authors could be marketers...

I am a published novelist and books don't pay the rent unless you hit the jackpot, as did JK Rowling. Most of us have day-jobs, which is why I am an El Reg reader.

I could turn turn my out-of-print stuff, where the rights have reverted to me, into digital books, and hten market them, but if I sign up to sell through Amazon, I would be locked in. I don't have the power and clout of a publisher to be able to sell to Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Waterstones, etc. etc.

I woudl also have to spend a lot of time being my own marketing department. I have worked as a publisher's marketer before, and it is hard work. It takes up time I could be spending doing the writing bit of writing. Being a one-man-band is a tough gig, for musicians and for authors. For authors in particular, going out and touting your own work does not come naturally. We are solitary souls, after all, or we wouldn't spend our free time alone with imaginary friends.

So I am not sure I have the wherewithal to be my own PR machine, and I feel as if the survival of the fittest is not the best way to serve the world of books. Should an author succeed merely because he or she has chutzpah?

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Bronze badge

Well worth re-iterating

For the vast majority of authors, writing is not the way to make a living. A few high profile people are fortunate enough to be able to live by writing alone. Thanks to the RegHardware reader who emailed and pointed out that figures from the Society of Authors suggest only 2-6% make enough money to survive by writing alone.

Most, then, have to have another job that pays the bills. Writing is done in their free time, and that means that there's precious little time for them to do all the other things that publishing companies do - the editing, the marketing, formatting for eBooks, and so on. Many, many writers simply wouldn't be able to do that, or would have to produce a lot less work if they did.

That, of course, doesn't mean that publishers are all cheery lovable people who are only trying to help. Many of the big groups have utterly failed to grasp the expectations of people who would love to buy eBooks, if only they didn't feel their pockets were being picked when they did it.

But I think it's hard to dispute that for most writers, going it alone is not really a realistic option. You do need some assistance as part of the process. The issue that has to be worked out is how the efforts of all the different parties are balanced. I don't think many would dispute (certainly not judging on the comments here) that at the moment, they're somewhat out of kilter.

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IT Angle

I have an idea!

What we would need is a slightly commercialized SourceForge for publishing. The reason I say slightly commercialized is that authors that go this route should still get paid their normal royalty; whatever that is these days. This would also need some low amount to pay for hosting as I imagine this would get very popular, very quickly. Hopefully. (And there's the rub.)

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FAIL

Well, that put me off eBooks...

So, I can buy a paper book which I read anywhere, never runs out of battery power, will never go out of support and I can pass round friends...

OR

I can spend £100 plus on an eBook reader then have to spend more on the books themselves than I would for a paper copy, I can't pass the book around without the rest of my e-Library and it's liable to end up unsupported at some future date...

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Anonymous Coward

Buy Adobe DRM books..

They allow you to share with up to 6 devices. In my case I share books with my daughter since we have the same tastes in books.

Yeah, not quite the same thing; but it is a partial solution; and in my case with the sony reader software coming in December I'll be authorizing an old smartphone I have lying around (and you can get them for cheap off ebay).

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Thumb Down

Buy Adobe DRM books? No.

I for one will not buy an ebook at all if it has DRM infesting it. I don't care how widely-supported a particular DRM infestation is or whatever other claims are made by the snakeoil peddler who comes up with it.

DRM is an instant "no sale!" and I will only buy the dead tree edition while acquiring a DRM-free ebook version via some other method.

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Hmm

Everyone accepts they've got to cost money but they shouldn't cost more than their physical counterparts. For instance, a lot of books are lent around by people whereas you can't do that with e-books therefore e-books in the long run will sell more and should be discounted appropriately.

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Anonymous Coward

ebooks...

The way I approach the whole thing is... can I get it DRM free if yes then buy if no then buy the deadtree version and get a digital copy from somewhere else.

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Finally! People supporting Adobe DRM

Thank god! Finally, people are beginning to support Adobe DRM! Maybe now it will actually be possible to buy a decent selection of non-kindle books in the UK and read them on an iPhone - though I note that despite the article claiming that Stanza now supports Adept DRM, there is no mention of it on the Stanza website.

Incidentally, as usual, the article makes no mention of the only publisher that seems to "get" eBooks, Baen, whose entire catalogue is offered DRM free in multiple formats at generally around $6 a book (or $15 for monthly release bundle of 5-6 books, 3-4 of them new releases), with no region restrictions. Fantasy and Sci-fi only, and their writers include a bunch of Hugo and Nebula winners and New York Times Bestsellers.

(No, I don't work for them - but I've been reading their eBooks for nearly a decade now, whilst cursing the rest of the publishing industry for being rubbish)

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Bronze badge

Baen and DRM free

We had to cut some things because the piece was already a bit long - and the mention of Baen (together with some other on the ball publishers, like O'Reilly) was one of the things that went missing, I'm afraid.

I'd love to see more innovative ideas, like the jacket for hardbacks having a unique code that entitles you to download the eBook version too, so you have both for the same price.

There's also the whole subject of libraries, and it seems to me that some publishers would rather the issue of libraries and eBooks went away altogether; no space to cover that here, either, but you can read my companion piece (and weep!) at http://gonedigital.net/2010/11/23/libraries-and-ebooks/

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@Nigel

>>I'd love to see more innovative ideas, like the jacket for hardbacks having a unique code that entitles you to download the eBook version too, so you have both for the same price.<<

Nigel - I don't know why nobody has thought of this yet. Absolutely would go in for this idea. And if the publishing crew feel that it makes piracy too easy, one could even use that same code to activate the copy on a device, requiring you to "check it back in" if you want to move it elsewhere - I'm sure Adobe DRM could be adapted to this process. Adobe DRM allows you to activate several devices anyway as it is.

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(Written by Reg staff)

Re: @Nigel

I look forward to snapping hardbacks' e-book codes with my cameraphone in a bookshops and getting free e-books. Hee-hee.

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Silver badge

@Tony Smith

The code could be validated at point of sale, so only because valid once you have bought the book. For additional security, give the customer a slip with an additional code on it - get home, type code from book and code from shop in, hey presto, download ebook version. Needs central database and net link in the shop, but hey, how difficult would that be...??? And in case there are any patent trolls listening, I claim dibs on the idea as of 11.05am, 26th November 2010.

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Just print it on the receipt.

It can't be beyond the wit of man.

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Silver badge

Put the code inside a sealed pocket perhaps?

It can't be beyond the wit of a bookseller to insist that if someone has opened the packet, they have bought the book, and if they disagree, the local constabulary would most likely see it from the bookseller's point of view. After all, if someone went into a newsagents and started ripping open packets of crisps looking for little evelopes with £20 notes in (remember those promotions?), they would most likely not get away with it for long!

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And for movies...

When you buy a cinema ticket, give a discount on the DVD / Blu-Ray.

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Anonymous Coward

what a con

The publishers are hiding behind the cry "won't someone think of the authors".

The issue is NOT that people want ebooks for free, or at a price that is simply isn't sustainable.

Ebooks cost LESS to make and distribute than physical books.

Physical books are NOT subject to retail pricing control

So ebooks should be priced LESS then the physical book. That price should be set by the retailer in the same way as for physical media.

I also have no problem with ebooks being priced relative to hard-back pricing if the paperback is not out yet. People who must have the latest release as soon as it is out pay the premium for it.

As soon as the paperback is released, then drop the price (amazon sometimes don't help here, as they list the paperback price before it is available to buy, so people see a huge ebook markup relative to a format that is not out yet)

The government also need to address the VAT position of ebooks. That probably eats up all the price differential we can expect from ebooks already.

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Silver badge

Don't buy ebooks

There are a lot of sites which offer free ebooks. Mostly those out of copyright but also those like little brother which are released under copy left. The black library website has a few books for free on it as well. Some libraries offer ebooks in epub. Push your local library to offer them if they don't. There is no excuse (I don't accept sheer greed) for ebooks costimg more than paperbacks.

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Overdrive has this feature, but you have to buy each book

There is a library in the UK I believe that offers the service. There's one here in Ireland but they're crap - they haven't bothered updating since they launched, and they have mostly junk that's free or near free anyway (5 copies of Great Expectations, WTF!).

Personally? I would gladly pay a subscription for an all-I-can-eat service like netflicks in the US. Charge me a tenner a month and let me access up to three books at a time (and expire the book each month if I don't pay). Libraries use this expire feature already to great effect.

Any VC companies out there willing to fund a new venture??

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Bronze badge

There are quite a few

Lots of libraries around the UK offer eBooks via Overdrive - but see the link I posted earlier to my own blog, for a little more despair. Essentially, some publishers seem to think that if you want to borrow an eBook from a library, you should have to take your reader to the library, to load it there.

Because doing it at home could have all sorts of awful repercussions, obviously

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Ahh The same old song

This is effectively what damaged one of the first generation e-readers, the Rocket Book. It was a wonderful device, I still have and use mine for self generated content, but the publishers could not seem to get their heads round pricing below hardback level.

Now they seem intent on profiteering from the new generation of e-readers and they have a bigger target audience to squeeze.

e-reading is very convenient, though I have to admit to having purchased more dead tree format of late, the ability to carry multiple books in one convenient device is brilliant - but not at any price.

Oh well, do you think if we compressed the book people with the music people at high pressure, we could get the next gen fosil fuel, after all, we are running out of the original dinosaur juice.

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Happy

Tipping point?

I just received my Kindle (with the free 3G) and I don't mind paying for my eBooks, nor do I care that I can't do anything with them like, oh, I don't know, resell or give away or otherwise distribute my eBooks

That said I can read on the kindle at night, pick up my iPhone at lunch time whilst at work, pick up where I left off and then when I get home my Kindle knows where I'm up to. That's more than enough functionality for me thank you very much . It means I can read my book wherever I want because I've always got my phone with me.

Ah yes but what if you get rid of your kindle, you can't move your books to your new reader can you thanks to the evil DRM!

OK, fair point but why would I want to get rid of my kindle? it offers me all the functionality I want, the books are not exactly overpriced and it works well, even having a "free" 3G connection which allows me to browse the web (el Reg renders quite well in the Kindle)

eReaders are still a niche market compared to hardback & paperback publications, that's why the price isn't coming down (and why publishers can charge pretty much what they like) I don't think its right or wrong, these businesses will charge whatever they can, that's the free market economy for you. I don't think 1 eBook sale = 1 physical sale lost, I have bought some books for the kindle that I already own so it's additional income for them.

Until eBooks and eReaders take off to the point where there is more demand for them than for "traditional" publications then I don't see any reason for publishers to bring the prices down too much, do you?

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FAIL

Same Old Story

RIAA, MPAA and now ths bunch! Have heard similar arguments to pay the artists/authors before.

Tell us something new, el reg. Wanna support the cocaine lifestyles of these bunch??? GO buy Kindles, Sony's etall and fight the format wars all over again.

B**tards all !

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