In a short blurb? We talk books.

Shouldn’t ebooks be, like, $5?

“Publishers are making a killing on e-books because they cost nothing to produce, distribute and sell and are almost 100% pure profit…” So read the first sentence of today’s article in the Digital Book World digest. The publisher side of me nearly punched the computer. I am so tired of people asking me why ebooks “aren’t, like, $5?” Yet the ebook consumer side of me was thinking, “Yeah, WTF, man?! Why are ebooks so damn expensive? Why did I get a $100 nook if I still have to pay the cost of a physical book to read on it?!” I’ll never admit this second side of my dual-conscious while I’m at work (that may not sit well with my fellow production coworkers…), but that doesn’t stop me from cringing at the $15 price tag of the latest new fiction in the nook store.

Well, why are ebooks so damn expensive, you ask? You don’t need the paper, don’t have to pay the printer, don’t need to store the inventory, don’t need the trucks that distribute the books across the country, don’t need to worry about bookstores returning unsold copies, don’t need.. well, the physical book. Where’s our discount for all that reduced cost?!

Well, here’s the thing, guys: the actual physical book… the paper, and the inventory and the distribution… it is only about 10% of the cost of producing a book. Turns out, we have to pay the editor, copyeditor, and proofreader, the cover designers, the marketing, advertising, and publicity teams, and ya, know… the author to have the book even exist. Then, if we want a decent ebook that actually displays on the myriad of e-readers, smartphones, and tablets out there, then we need a team devoted to doing that, also. Contrary to what my workday dreams wish to be true, we do not have a big red button in the middle of the office that *poof!* creates a seamless reading experience on your reading device of choice…

That said, the truth of the matter is that many of us value ebooks less than we do physical books. It cannot sit on our shelves to impress our house guests (Oh, come on into my library… I’m such an avid reader…), we can’t (always) lend them out to friends, and as technology changes, well, they may not change with them.

And yet, I’m realizing more and more how much I actually do value ebooks. Not only are they super portable, but they can live on the internet cloud, ready to be grabbed on different devices, at almost any time. If I’m in Florida and really craving a bit of that Connolly book I read 5 months ago, I don’t have to lament that I left it at home (no, Florida is unfortunately not my home). Ebooks are a commuter/reader’s dream… and in time, I think I’ll find, I might actually prefer them (GASP!).

So we return to the dilemma: should ebooks cost nearly as much as print books? The publisher side of me has to say “yes.” After all, since most of our ebook consumers out there were our former print book consumers, if we have a significant price drop for ebooks, coupled with a static (often dropping) number of print+ebook purchases, basic economics says that publishing companies will not survive, or will have to significantly decrease the quality of our services.

And the ebook consumer side of me? Well, I will still cringe when I see a $15 price tag on my book of choice in the nook store, but I’m starting to understand that the money still buys me all that I ever wanted from my print books: a great reading experience. What makes it great is all that has changed.

Happy print & e-reading,



3 comments on “Shouldn’t ebooks be, like, $5?

  1. anthonybellaleigh
    April 24, 2012

    It’s a fascinating debate! 🙂 As both a reader and part-time author (and, if truth be told, commercialist) I’d agree wholeheartedly that everyone in the value-chain deserves some reward for the efforts expended bringing new creative writing to the marketplace. Heaven knows, the rewards are most often meagre at best…!

    Nonetheless, personally, I won’t buy an ebook that’s priced identically to the print version. Somehow it just feels wrong and, worse, my experiences so far suggest to me that many publishing houses seem to push out e-versions that look like cheap conversions, riddled with the sort of layout issues and typos that many self-respecting indies would be ashamed of.

    My view: Paper is rapidly becoming the premium-price medium for literature and eBook pricing needs to be reflective of this, whoever the distributor.

    • Jane & Carin
      May 4, 2012

      You made a great point, Anthony, that I did forget to talk about… the actual aesthetics of ebooks, the shoddy composition, the mediocre design, link issues and typos… that certainly detracts from the overall e-reading experience. So I have a question for you, and all other readers out there: if the aesthetics of ebooks improved…if fonts and layouts got closer to the print book, if the content was exactly the same as the print book (no typos and strange punctuation throughout, unless they appeared in the print book), if the links were flawless or even linked you to bonus content, would you then feel comfortable buying an ebook that was just a few dollars below the cost of its print counterpoint? Or would you still not be able to get over the lack of physicality?

      (Thanks for the comment, Anthony!)


  2. anthonybellaleigh
    May 5, 2012

    Hi Carin,
    I was a complete skeptic regarding eBooks until friends started using Kindle. Talking to them, and then getting my hands on one, completely changed my whole perspective. For me, after only a few months of e-reading, I doubt I will buy anything other than eBooks from now on.
    Formatting: needs to be right. I’m currently reading Sandstorm by James Rollins – a professional publishing house eBook. It was priced a dollar or so cheaper than the physical form which was enough to tip my buying decision (I think that answers one of your questions!) but, disappointingly, it is laid out with a double line paragraph break and, as a result, looks absolutely awful (the extra white line breaks every paragraph or line of speech into a single isolated segment). The few cents worth of discount have not, for me, offset the effects of an undermined reading experience and the net result is that I feel disappointed about my purchase.
    My conclusion: Publishers need to ensure that the formatting and layout is completed properly for all delivery platforms and media types – i.e. irrespective of whether paper or electron-based – and the results should be properly vetted and quality assured before release…
    🙂 Anthony

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This entry was posted on April 20, 2012 by in Carin, Insiders and tagged , , , , , , , , .

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“I think it makes more sense to write what you don’t know. To write what makes you uneasy, what you wonder about, what keeps you awake at night."

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