eBook Pricing Goes Outright Insane!

I downloaded a free Kindle book this morning and happened to look at the list of other books The Kindle Store said were somehow connected to it.

One had an interesting title: The Information Officer.

So I went to look and had my first shock.

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There’s no “This price was set by the publisher” notice, so why isn’t this $9.99?

It made me wonder what other eBookstores were selling it for — and that’s when the eBook pricing insanity kept increasing in scale!

Here it is at Kobo:

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Here it is at the Sony Reader Store:

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At this point, I turned to a shortcut, Inkmesh, which will do the eBookstore dredging in one go.

It had Powell’s Books listing it for a whopping $26.58 — which is $1.58 over the “digital list price.”

So I went to Powell’s via the link but it apparently had some crossed wires, because I wasn’t seeing the listing for the eBook version. I had to search for that. And then I got this:

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Three things:

1) This is a book from Random House. This is not one of the five publishers that have formed a trust to fix prices. So why is this price so damned high, even at The Kindle Store?

2) This book was published in February! That makes it nearly ancient in Internet Time!

3) Does Random House really think someone with a $99.99 device is going to pay near one-fourth of its price to read one book?

Random House is creating its own Long Tail here.

Sensible people are going to look at that price and pass it up. That will mean lower sales. That will help kill the career of the writer. And since the book will probably never go away — because ain’t no way in hell will Random House ever revert those rights to the writer now that their paws are on them with an eternal eBook version — it will just sit there, receding into the distance, falling into the Long Tail.

And now here’s where the Big 6 of print publishing reveals its contempt for us, how they all just spit in our face:

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It’s cheaper as a paperback!

Update: I got sloppy and didn’t check. As someone points out in Comments, the paperback will not be available until March 2011! I should have gone instead with my original argument of used hardcovers and library loans.

And here’s the final kicker, the kick in the teeth, the spiteful insult.

I downloaded the Kindle sample and this is the eBook’s cover:

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You don’t even get the appealing cover the cheaper paperback has!

This is because Random House has had a policy of stripping the covers from its eBooks! (As do several other publishers.)

Pay more and get less!

Tell me how that isn’t having contempt for all of us eBook buyers!

Never in the history of American business has one industry done so much to guarantee its own failure.


Filed under Pricing

43 responses to “eBook Pricing Goes Outright Insane!

  1. I had a book recommended to me recently, and the kindle price was $13.50. I got a used paperback copy for $7, plus $3.99 shipping, had it in 3 days, and paid $10.99. I got the paperback version out of principle. Amazon caving on the $9.99 cap was a big blow to ebooks in general, I think, because it looks like publishers are going to try to milk ebooks out of all proportion.

    There’s no baseline to compare it to, really, so they can’t say “we’re making *more* at $22/ebook vs $10/ebook” because most of the books were never published at $10/ebook to compare sales against. I’m all for profit, but this reeks of “what will get us the most $ in the next 2 months” short term thinking vs longer-term vision.

    I think we’ve gotten so used to format shifts – beta/vhs/dvd/blueray – cassettes, albums, cds, mp3s – that trying to plan for the long-haul in ebooks isn’t going to be in anyone’s plans.

  2. Dean

    Maybe this price is just a mistake. Why don’t you bring it to the attention of Random House?

    Publishers strip covers from e-editions because it would cost more to have the original cover. Why? Because the electronic rights to the art cost more. That’s why sometimes they take out interior art too. Or why some illustrated books are never in e-book form.

    • mikecane

      This is no mistake. I singled out this book because it caught my interest, but I’ve brought up price creep in other posts and on Twitter.

      Your cover stripping argument doesn’t fly. Other publishers have the print cover in their eBook editions. And many, many covers are created *in-house*, so the publisher *already* owns all rights. And even when they contract out for covers, it’s as Work For Hire! There is no excuse.

  3. Angstrom

    Likely has more to do with scale. http://goo.gl/Ug8Z

    It’s $13.75 at Amazon/B&N. Is it really any different than Wal-Mart getting low prices because they deliver in scale?

    • mikecane

      There are still middlemen in the eBook process, as someone reminded me on Twitter. But that never stopped Amazon from taking a bath on other books and selling them for $9.99. So I have to wonder what’s different here, especially since it’s Random House.

  4. What’s their goal here? To make electronic books less attractive? I think, if these people could go back in time, they might try to bog down Gutenberg and prevent the invention of the printing press!

    They make the record companies look smart, in comparison.

    BTW, thanks for the link to Inkmesh. Useful!

  5. Angstrom

    Should also point out that in the case of the Nook the cover is still there. It shows up in the carousel book cover view.

  6. Tom

    Nope doesnt make any sense. Look up the O’Rielly book apps on iphone and android. They are 2.99(GBP) in the app store and slightly more in the android market. The epub/pdf books start from 10.00(GBP) and settle closer to the price of the print books.

    • mikecane

      Non-fiction is an entirely different argument and O’Reilly’s books are the worst case to bring up because they are for specialized audiences seeking specific information, not entertainment.

  7. Deb

    Using stock photography in part of design requires additional license fees for unlimited, i.e.ebooks, distribution. License fees are determined based on # of copies distributed.

    Amazon advertised the $9.99 price point for most hard cover books which hit NYTimes bestseller list. They did not indicate that price point as the price across board. You could question Amazon on this, as it seems your book is in paperback now. They have been known to respond favorably with customer inquiry.

    • mikecane

      Who says stock photos have to be used? There have been classic covers made of typography alone. And there are millions of people out there who’d gladly assign perpetual rights for a Flickr photo for a book cover for peanuts. The world is overrun with people who are not professionals willing to sell things for cheap.

      • Deb

        Sure, you can try to get something out of Flickr, etc., but would it print properly? Most likely no, as screen res images are not adequate for print. You could redesign for the ebooks, but that requires more work and thus more $. And someone is bound to whine that the covers are not the same.

      • mikecane

        Right now, most eBooks make do with 800×600. Most people have cameras that do better than that. But they time a higher res is required, a new edition would be put out with another amateur’s cheaply-licensed photo with higher res.

  8. george

    You bought that piece of shit kindle thing? What a sucker you are!!!

  9. Jason Lotito

    Did you actually click on the paperback link? I’ll save you the trouble: “This title will be released on March 8, 2011.” So, you can get the Kindle version for less than what you can buy now. Substantially less than the retail price. And you can get it now if you wanted, as opposed to waiting for delivery, or even waiting. Tack on the price of shipping $9 for me, and suddenly the Kindle edition is even cheaper. Or, if I wanted to wait until March 8, I could pay $19 for the paperback. Still more expensive then the Kindle edition now.

    And for that, I miss out on the cover. Something I’ll see on my Kindle for 1 sec as a skip past it and get to what I paid for, the story.

    • mikecane

      OK, you got me there. No, i didn’t click on the paperback link. Must update the post now. Thanks!

      As for covers, they are necessary. Kindle has a text interface for its library function. Other devices present thumbnails of the covers. Seeing generic cover after generic cover is just unacceptable.

      • Jason Lotito

        “Seeing generic cover after generic cover is just unacceptable.”

        I’d say this was a problem with the device itself, not the publisher. Sure, it might be nice for each publisher to present you with it’s own cover, but if the device is showing you generic cover after generic cover, and this isn’t appealing, then I’d look to the device manufacturer who clearly need to learn the concept of polish. =)

        For example, most devices or software that allow you to manage albums of music usually fetch album covers for you, or you can add your own easily if they can’t find it.

      • mikecane

        You misunderstood. What you see as a sample eBook cover is generic. Some publishers also have *one* generic cover they resuse over and over. Imagine having to distinguish between a row of such non-descript covers. Like having all your print books with plain white spines facing you on your bookcase.

  10. Matt

    The prices in Australia are far worse, Raymond E Feist’s e-books cost up to $30 whereas the same in paperback can be found for under $10. The fact that the Australian dollar is now at parity with the US makes this even worse.

    Case in point:

  11. james katt

    Why are you being so CHEAP?

    When Paper Books die, and all we have are EBooks, then EBook prices are GOING TO GO UP.

    The reason is simply the free market. Books are sold at a price that the market will bear.

    The only reason that eBooks are being discounted to $9.99 is that the book sellers are trying to grow the eBook market. But don’t expect this give-away to last forever. Once the eBook market is established, then eBooks will be sold at free market prices. It is that simple.

    Your argument that a $99 Kindle means the reader won’t purchase a $22 book is WRONG. The Kindle is only the carrier of the eBook. Many Kindle Books – such as technical books sell for much much more than the price of the Kindle.

    Suppose a Kindle sells for $1. Or suppose a Kindle is given away for FREE. Does that mean consumers won’t purchase any book that costs over $1 since it will cost more than the Kindle itself? That is your argument and it is wrong.

    Each book has an intrinsic worth to it. This is determined by the market. This is why the author of the Harry Potter series earned enough from her books to be a BILLIONAIRE.

    There is NOTHING crazy or insane about eBook pricing. It is simply what the market thinks the book is worth.

    A friend, for example, priced his book at $350. He sold over 10,000 copies. That means over $3 Million in sales – of which he received half. NOT BAD AT ALL for a high priced technical book. His second edition is selling for $400. It too will sell well.

    The free market will ultimately determine the price of any individual book. You don’t have to purchase it. But others will. The totality of this will determine the price going forward. PERIOD.

    • mikecane

      These days I know enough that when someone uses the term, “free market” they have zero understanding of what that term means. At one point VHS went away and we were left with DVDs. They quickly went from like $20-$30 down to 3 for $10. You have zero understanding of a “free market.”

      • james katt

        That is a straw man argument. You have no idea who I am. You don’t even know the definition I use of “free market”. You are using your own. But consumers who read this blog should be clear on what I mean.

        I expected better from you.

        Again, you don’t make a good argument.

        New DVDs are still in the $20-30 dollar range for their list price – with some discounting by some middlemen, such as Amazon or Walmart, who are reducing their own profits to drive customers in to buy other products. But not all retailers discount their DVDs. Obviously the older titles are less in price. But not all go down to $3.33 per title as you imply. The more valued titles retain a higher price – as the market bears.

      • mikecane

        There is NO free market when most of publishing is in the hands of 6 global corporations with FIVE of them fixing prices.

      • james katt

        Here is a good DVD example:

        Star Wars, Episode IV – A New Hope is a 33-year-old movie.

        Yet, from Amazon.com, the price for a new DVD of this movie costs $20.00 to $34.95.

        There is hardly any decrement in price of this old movie despite 33 years of passage.

        This is the price that the market will bear. And this is the price that people will pay.

        Additionally, artists and publishers also have to determine the worth of their product. This will determine how low the price will go.

        Obviously, George Lucas is not going to cheapen the heritage he has created out of the Star Wars universe by pricing his original film like it was in a fire sale. To him, it is worth as much as when it came out.

      • mikecane

        At one time, Disney would release its films every few years to reintroduce them to a new generation. Then DVDs came along and they tried it with that. They soon learned people wanted them both faster and cheaper. And now Disney does crap CGI Tinkerbell made-for-DVD dreck. Some day, like Disney did, Lucas will die, and money will rule his, uh, empire too.

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  13. Just looked it up on Infibeam. A paperback version of that book is available for less than $6 in India.

    I wonder why eBooks need to be priced any higher than that. This is digital goods that we are talking about. Compared to print, distribution and replication aren’t going to cost them much.

  14. jfn2nd

    Mike, I’d have to agree with your comment that people who use the term free market really have no idea what that means.

    To the point at hand… Ken Follett’s new ebook is going for $19.99, and currently, the hardcover book is *cheaper*, going for $19.39. And, the audio version is cheaper too. While I get that perhaps publishers are still trying to figure out what the max someone will pay for an ebook is (which is part of why I think the prices of them have gone all over the place lately), it’s going to be a tough sell to keep the prices low if people fork out the $19.99 or the $22.19 for an ebook. And, maybe they’re still trying to sell physical books, as the terms with the sellers involve a bit more of a profit for the publishers.

    I’m a hold out though, I refuse to pay more that around $12-15 for an ebook; $20 is just insane for something that is nothing but a digital file.

  15. Mary

    E-books prices need to drop drastically. They’re cheaper to publish and you can’t sell them or loan them to a friend after you read them. Unlike music, most popular fiction isn’t worth reading more than once. For now, I’ll stick with the used bookstore and the library.

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  17. Tehno

    It’s ok. If this is their attitude I will do the same thing I did when I found out what DRM Ubisoft put into Assassins’s Creed 2. Cancel preorder, fire-up uTorrent.

    And they blame it on the piracy heh …

  18. A possibly highly important concept here (in particular, when looking at some of the comments) is price segmentation:

    If I have one product sold at a fix price, there will be people who would have been willing to pay more, but do not. Similarly, there will be people who would like to buy, but cannot afford to.

    What companies do against this is to split the market into different segments serviced by different products or prices. In the case of books, there is a semi-artificial division into over-over-priced hard-covers that are available a year or so before the more reasonably priced pocket books. Ostensibly, the price difference is for a better product—in practice, it is for the opportunity to read at an earlier date. Not only is this likely to play in where eBooks are concerned, but the same principle explains e.g. the changes in pricing of DVDs.

    BTW: Please add a checkbox for subscribing to comments. Without it, it is very hard to know what pages need revisiting.

    • mikecane

      Ah, I didn’t think anyone would want to sub to Comments. I will fix that.

      The price segmentation idea makes no sense with eBooks. To charge more for those who will pay to read earlier only invites piracy. And once it’s been pirated, it’s unlikely a person will go back to pay for it. Better to get as much money as possible upfront through lower pricing.

      EDIT: I went into settings. There’s nothing I can see that explicitly states Comments sent in RSS feed aside from sending the Comment Count. This is the free WordPress.com. If there’s something I’m not seeing in the Settings, let me know.

  19. kjkbook

    Great find. I had to laugh when all the eBook fans were chastising the “Agency Cabal” publishers and praising Random House for “standing up” for eBook readers.

    I mean, come on…Random House? http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704121504574594113096154756.html

    Sometimes the enemy of your enemy is still not your friend.

  20. Price tag for 72 page (at minimal font size) poetry collection in Denmark as EPUB DKK 150, POD DKK 200, and this from the second largest of the established publishers. Outrageous:

    25% sales tax
    40% bookstore commission
    15% author’s royalty
    20% Publishers share (print, storage, advertising, design, cover, in house administration etc.)

    take away printing, commission, storage, part of design and the cover and the publisher have at least 40-50% surplus, if they sell their own books. Okay, investment in webshop etc., but absolutely NO reason to rip people off.

    Except it’s possible.

  21. I observed the same phenomenon with computer e-books. It is actually not cheaper and less convenient to buy the electronic version…. Really sucks because I want to be green and get rid of paper; but there is no advantage to do so. :(

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