Who is driving the e-book pricing bus?

I did something I would never have expected of myself the other day. A poster on this blog recommended a new adult genre book to me, and I went to Amazon.com to buy the Kindle version. Not so surprising? Of course not. Buying a book is not the thing I didn’t expect. Not buying the book, however, after I had already made up my mind based on a recommendation, was shocking. So what happened?

I checked out the cover, the book description, the reviews…I was good to go, or so I thought. Then I noticed the price: $9.99

For an e-book?

I debated for about 1/2 second and then moved on with my credit card undented.

There seem to be two camps in e-books these days: the self-publishers pricing their books anywhere from free to $2.99 or so, and the traditional publishers who are pricing their digital editions close to print book prices. Self-publishers say that the traditional publishers’ pricing models are outdated and readers expect e-books to be cheaper. Traditional publishers say that self-publishers are devaluing the author’s work. Both sides claim that the other will soon make it impossible to earn a living as an author.

So far, neither side seems to be giving. I am astonished by the number of cheap–and even free–e-books I see posted each day. Traditional publishers don’t seem likely to bend given the financial investment they make in their books. Right or wrong, there is the perception that traditionally published books are “better.” And there is some validity to the notion that traditionally published books have gone through more scrutiny before hitting the electronic shelf. But self-published books offer a wider variety of voices and plots and characters that are difficult, if not impossible, to find in the risk-averse traditional publishing house catalogues.

So what do you think? Who will drive the market in the long run? And how much are you willing to pay for an e-book? Will you shell out an amount close to the print version price, or do you expect a deep discount?

9 Responses to “Who is driving the e-book pricing bus?”

  1. 1 Kim October 31, 2011 at 1:48 pm

    I did some thinking about this, and here’s what I concluded: When considering the entertainment value of a story (not the media in which it’s delivered), I think it’s perfectly acceptable to charge a price similar to what one would pay in a movie theater. I know the overhead is drastically different between ebooks and movies, but from an enjoyment perspective, I think its acceptable. I’d pay $2 – $9 for a good ebook. My greater concern is the quality of the ebook – as there are technically zero barriers to market entry.

  2. 2 vickietaylor October 31, 2011 at 3:12 pm

    It’s weird, Kim. I know I wouldn’t have thought twice about plunking down $10 for this book in a bookstore. But somehow the price grated on me for an electronic version. It’s not really rational…but it is what it is. I think readers are being trained to expect dirt cheap prices on the e-books.

    As for quality, that is so true, and will soon be the topic of another blog entry. Let’s just say for now, I use the “look inside” feature very heavily before buying. I can usually tell in a few pages if a book is well-written or not. I also use reviews and check out the author’s website before purchasing. Last week, I did something else I’ve never done before — I bought a book and then returned it. I felt like the back cover copy and even the “look inside” feature were misleading. The book was not what it was represented to be. I read the first two chapters and then did the return. It’s amazingly easy on Kindle, and I had my money back within a few hours.

    The digital revolution truly is changing the world of reading.

  3. 3 A. C. Cockerill October 31, 2011 at 11:25 pm

    Hi Vickie, I think paper books should cost a bit more than e-books and find I’m willing to buy in the $2.99 – $7.99 range. Anything outside the range gets extra scrutiny. Cheers, Ashley

    • 4 vickietaylor November 1, 2011 at 1:56 pm

      Thanks, Ashley, that’s good to know. I agree that normally I would pay in that same range. I think this particular book was more because it is a trade paperback in print form, and as you know, trades are always more expensive than mass market paperbacks. This is where the whole e-book thing gets weird, though. In digital form, the mass market paperback vs. trade paperback vs. hardback doesn’t translate! That’s just one of the adjustments the market is going to have to make, I think. Those distinctions are no longer relevant–and so the different price is harder to swallow.

  4. 5 Brinda November 1, 2011 at 2:09 am

    I understand your feelings on paying that much for an item that you know cost less to manufacture. I would pay that much for an ebook only if I REALLY want it or I know the author. Of course, I pay almost 15 bucks for an ebook every month where I can listen while I drive. When I chose my publisher, I did look at their pricing structure because I know readers do.

    • 6 vickietaylor November 1, 2011 at 1:53 pm

      Brinda, Have you tried the Kindle function that reads the book to you? Might be cheaper. I also used to buy audio books for long car / bus / plane trips and I know they can be super expensive (much more than the paper version in many cases).

      I haven’t played with the Kindle reading function yet. Hmmm. Sounds like the perfect procrastination for the morning…oh wait. I need to write!

  5. 7 Brinda November 1, 2011 at 3:20 pm

    I tried the Kindle reading to me. It is too robotic for me. 🙂

    • 8 Brinda Berry November 12, 2011 at 12:38 pm

      I forgot to add that I also check out audiobooks from my library. I’m able to check out the books online and download immediately. The problem is that I’m usually on a waiting list for the good ones. I do this for my husband as well. This augments my Audible.com subscription.

      • 9 vickietaylor November 15, 2011 at 9:56 pm

        That’s a good point, Brinda. I never seem to think about going to the library, either the brick-and-mortar establishment or virtually. I have also seen that some of the self-publishing venues will now let us create and sell audio versions of our books. It’s on my list to research more next year. I do like e-books when my eyes are tired. I also do search and rescue for FEMA, and sometimes on deployment we’re sleeping in huge auditoriums with hundreds of people coming and going 24 hours a day. It can be hard to sleep, so I like to put on an eye mask (because the lights are always on) and listen to an ebook on my old iPod. The only trouble is I usually fall asleep listening to it and it keeps running, so the next day I have a heck of a time getting back to the last spot I actually remember, lol!

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