When Amazon launched the Kindle, we were told that eBooks would be $9.99 for most new releases, with many other books available for less. That was true, for a while. Amazon had set the price and everyone else—publishers, authors, and readers—had to live with it. Considering that new hardcovers sell for $30 or more in the bookstore (although considerably less on Amazon, of course), the eBook price seemed like a pretty good deal. Pricing has changed now, however, and the publishers, for the most part, set the prices.
eBooks have lots of advantages, of course, all well documented: portable, space-saving, searchable. But there are also disadvantages. While some books can be lent (to other Kindle owners), many cannot; and of course lending to a non-Kindle or Kindle-app user is out of the question. Some of us still like reading actual books, turning actual pages, feeling the paper in our hands. And I happen to like more information about what’s coming—I like to know how far from the end of a chapter I am, or how many pages there are in the book. I also like being able to go back and read sections over if I’m confused about something. While that’s not impossible with a Kindle, it’s not as easy as merely flipping pages. And sometimes, when I’m done with a book, I like to sell it or give it away. Can’t do that with an eBook.
But today I’m thinking about prices. I recently had a gift card to spend on Amazon. There were a couple of new release hardcovers I was interested in, so I bought them. The first was Julian Barnes’s The Sense of an Ending. It retails for $23.95 (although it’s only 175 pages) in hardcover. (Terrific book, by the way.) Amazon sells it for $14.37. The Kindle price is $11.99, a difference of $2.38. I also got The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides. Amazon’s price is $15.28, with a list price of $28.00. The Kindle price is $12.99, a difference of $2.29. Weighing the costs and benefits of the eBook, it seems worth it to me to pay a little extra to have the hardcover—especially if there’s the theoretical possibility of selling the book once I’ve read it, or giving it away. In fact, I’ve found many instances where the Kindle price for a book is actually higher than the discounted price of a paperback. (Shipping must be taken into consideration, of course, but my purchases usually total over $25, in which case shipping is free.)
So, as a reader, I’m not at all happy about eBook prices.
On the other hand, there are many books available for much less (and I’m not even talking about self-published books, many of which are free or sell for $.99). For example, my publisher, Press 53, sells most of its eBooks, including mine, for $3.99 on Kindle and Nook. The paperback list price for my book is $14.00 and the Amazon/B&N discounted price is $12.62. So, the eBook savings over the discounted price is $8.63. That’s significant.
All of which is considered solely from the reader’s point of view. As an author, I’m not sure what to think. I want to make more money from book sales, but at some point the price is too high and inhibits demand, and in a competitive environment that’s the last thing I need!