I Don’t Understand eBook Pricing

I’m ready to buy an eReader. I don’t want to haul around a bunch of books. I don’t want to keep finding shelf space in my library (or beside my bed). And I tell myself that in the long run, I’ll save money.

But pricing like this baffles me.

Can anyone explain why an eBook costs more than either a paperback or hardcover book?

In case you’re curious, the book is The Invisible Gorilla: How Our Intuitions Deceive Us. Coincidence?

Author: Brent Logan

Engineer. Lawyer. WordPress geek. Longboarder. Blood donor. Photographer. More about Brent.

10 thoughts on “I Don’t Understand eBook Pricing”

  1. I am an evangelical convert to ebooks. 5 months ago I bought an iPod Touch. I liked the idea of a versatile pocket computer with lots of apps. For me, the killer app has turned out to be the Kindle reader. Having a large bookshelf of books in my pocket at all times is just awesome. I happily trade the smaller screen size for pocketability.

    But to your question: I don’t have any wisdom to offer about the pricing.. except that I hear that some of the highest paid authors on amazon.com are selling tons of books at $.99 each. Personally, I haven’t purchased any books yet. I’ve downloaded dozens books that I already own a physical copy of. In my moral universe, this doesn’t count as pirating.. though I’m open to consider counter arguments…

    Be sure and download the free Windows app: Calibre. Really cool tool for converting between all the various ebook formats.

    1. Hmm. Maybe I should carry around Jamison’s iPod Touch for a few days and see if I’d use a device that small. I’ve always assumed it would be too small for convenient reading … though it would appear there’s more than one way to measure convenience.

      I’ve been looking at the Nook 2. I read enough that I think I’d prefer an e-ink display. And I’d like there to be viable competition to Amazon for book stores. That means supporting the competition…

      I guess the nice thing is, regardless of what format book you buy, even without conversion, there are multiple readers that will support it.

  2. It’s the publishers. They demand the higher prices. Amazon used to be able to send Kindle books for cheaper, but the publishers balked, and threatened to take their ball and go home. So Amazon caved, and eBook prices went up.

    An interesting article on the topic from the NYT: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/11/technology/11reader.html

    There are lots more where that came from. Google “ebook pricing” and you’ll have a ton of material to read.

    You know I love ebooks, and read them almost exclusively. I’ve used every electronic device I’ve owned since my original Windows CE 2.1 PDA back in 1998 to read ebooks. Today, it’s most the Kindle app on my iPad and iPhone. I love having all my books with me, all the time, with my place synced across devices. I can read when and where I want. As a book person, that pleases me. (And yes, since I’m a book person, I still by a ton of dead tree books, but they take a lot longer to read, since I have to have them with me).

    1. Josh, thanks for the reply. That’s a great article. Clearly, I’m only a year and a half behind the times (groan…). I’m sure antitrust law professors love this topic. Setting retail prices is fraught with danger if not done correctly.

      You’re the second vote for reading on an iPhone/iPod Touch-sized device. I still haven’t borrowed Jamison’s, yet. Maybe this weekend.

  3. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed reading on my iPhone/iPod touch before getting the iPad. In a way, I think I read more, with the smaller screen. I just haven’t found a really comfortable way to read on my iPad. I have the Kindle app and download tons of samples, but I would say that when I READ, I still pick up a book. You know, the paper kind. But reading your other two commenters talk about the iPod to read on makes me think maybe I should just go back to reading on my iPhone… I’ll be curious what you think if you borrow Jamison’s… Happy reading!

    1. Sherilee, were you reading more on your iPhone because it had a small screen or because you had it with you all the time?

      I’ve played with e-ink Kindles and Nooks and find them just as nice as books to read, and maybe nicer.

  4. Hi Brent –
    I just stumbled across your corner of the web while searching for some Intel Hawthorn Farm contact info. But that’s another story.

    Anyway, I have both an iPod Touch and a Kindle. I much prefer to read on the Kindle. I find reading on the Touch to be uncomfortable for several reasons:

    1. It’s very small and hard for me to find a position to hold it in for long term reading.
    2. The screen is so small that you are constantly turning pages. To turn the page you have to move your hand and swipe the screen. It’s not the same as flipping a paper page.
    3. The LCD screen is harder on the eyes. The eInk is a pleasure.

    It’s nice to have the option of being able to use both, but since I got the Kindle I don’t bother using the Touch for reading. The Kindle, for me, has just been a smooth, seamless transition from a traditional book (I used the Touch for reading first long before I had the Kindle).

    And while we are on the subject of ebooks replacing traditional books . . . I find it interesting to hear that the textbook market is the next big thing for ebooks. I guess it might depend upon what you’re studying and how the book gets used (i.e., a straight through linear read or constantly paging back and forth). For the scientific disciplines, I don’t see it.

    I often see mention of Med Students being issued iPads for their books. My background is in Chemical Engineering. When I was in school, I’d have 2, 3, even sometimes 4 books opened while studying and doing homework. You can’t do that on an ereader — you’d have to constantly be “screening” back and forth losing contextual relevance in the process. So unless I had more than one device, it wouldn’t have worked for me. Maybe it’s just the way my brain is wired, but the efficiency of the physical book, in this instance, trumps the convenience of multiple books on a digital device.

    That’s my story and I’m sticking with it. :-)

    1. Hey, SDouglas! Yeah, I think I agree with you. E-ink is nice for reading text. And e-ink readers are very light.

      Having three daughters in college, I can understand the appeal for ebooks. My daughters have gotten very good at borrowing textbooks to keep the price down. We’ve also done the buy used and sell back thing. Textbook authors only make money off the first sale. I’d expect they be just as happy selling etextbooks for a lower price, but then avoid the resale issue. Seems like everybody reads.

      You’re right about the user interface for ereaders being terrible for anything other than going straight through the book. This is a problem for any book that needs to be scanned or randomly accessed.

      It’s a good story you have. Stick with it. :-)

  5. Hi Brent, I’m coming to this discussion late but here’s my two cents. I’m baffled by ebook pricing. I arbitrarily decided to pay no more than $9.99 for fiction and non-fiction when I noticed that new releases were creeping into (IMHO) outrageously expensive territory. (No formula – $10 it was just my threshold). I steadfastly wait until prices come down and I’ve got dozens of books in my queue so I can afford to be patient. Now, the only paper books I buy are: 1) cookbooks (for the pictures and often ebook formatting is wonky) and I collect 2) Robert B. Parker novels.

    One of the benefits of e-book access that I hadn’t anticipated, I am hooked on classic literature – the books that students either read (or should have) in high school and college. I have a deeper appreciation for these works now that I don’t have to write a paper or take a test at the end. They’re free too so I indulge.

    I have a second generation Kindle and have loaded the Kindle app on my laptop and iPhone. E-ink is much, much kinder on my eyes than reading on my iPhone or laptop. I’ve borrowed a Nook, uncomfortably heavier than my Kindle and harder on my eyes. Want to purchase an iPad for Christmas but don’t intend to use it for pleasure reading.

    1. Zanny, better late than never. :-)

      You’re absolutely right about the classics. Free is an awesome price. A paper book will always cost something, even when it’s out of copyright.

      I’m jazzed about the new Kindles. I’m hinting loudly in Santa’s direction.

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