Will e-books ever have a fair price?

There’s no doubt in my mind that e-books are here to stay.  Not with number of new e-readers coming out each day and increasing sales that already overtaken paper books. Heck I’ve stopped buying paper fiction books since Handspring Vizor came out. I’ve been reading books on Palm PDAs, phones, blackberry, iPod Touch and now iPad.  I actually never had a “proper” e-ink reader because my eyes are quite happy with LCD screens since font size can be adjusted. Yes you have to turn pages more often and battery doesn’t last that long, but portability wise PDA/iTouch beats any Kindle of Nook out there.  By I digress. I wanted to talk about e-book prices. Being somewhat naive and logic driven I figured e-book price will drop to $5-$1 range once it gains in popularity.  But just the opposite is happening. The more popular this format becomes the  more expensive it gets.  In an excellent article “Why does this e-book cost $14?!” Rick Broida discusses gouging practices undertaken by most e-book publishers.

… I understand books cost money. There’s editing, publishing, and distribution. Paper, ink, trucks, gasoline. Storage, shipping, shelf space, sales staff. And the countless people involved in all those transactions.

E-books, on the other hand, consume zero trees. They weigh nothing, occupy no physical space, and don’t get shipped in the traditional sense. Middlemen are few and far between. So you’re left with, what, editing costs and the pittance you pay the authors?

Hard to disagree with this logic, won’t you say?  I’m not an economist so I can’t possibly know all the factors that make an e-book cost same or more price than actuall paper book. So let’s say there’s a nice SciFi book on the shelf of Barns&Noble that costs $10. I’ll pick it up look it over, wonder if it’s a good book then put it down back on the shelf and when home check reviews. If reviews are good I’ll check used book stores and maybe order it used from half.com or some other site for $5.  But let’s say I see same book on iBooks for a $1. I’ll probably buy it right away without thinking too much about it. If it really sucks I lost $1, I can live with that…  And I’m sure I won’t be the only person who does that. So now instead of selling 5 copies of $10 book in a month, it instead sells 1,000 copies for $1 online.  Wouldn’t author, publisher and everyone else gets paid more?  Like Michael G. Scott would say it’s a “win win win” situation 🙂

Supply vs. demand. That’s probably only economical factor that I understand fully. If there’s a big demand for e-books, publishers can jack up the prices until demand won’t go down. However I don’t think that’s all that’s happening here. There’s certainly competition involved. Apple vs. Amazon vs. Barns&Noble vs Borders, etc.  If there’s so much competition, why didn’t ebook went down in price drastically? Maybe it’s too early and industry hasn’t adopted to paperless sales yet so publishers didn’t adjust their pricing model accordingly. I’ll buy that. However I also suspect there’s a price fixing involved like it was with LCD screen manufacturers.  If you’d like let me know what you think in the comments.


Tags: , , , , ,