Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Price fixing and the average reader

Hi all! If you're like me, you've probably read an ebook at some point in the last 5-10 years. And if you have, then odds are you've given an enormous sigh of frustration over what seems like some pretty exorbitant prices for a copy of a book that's confined solely to your e-reader of choice.

There's been an air of contention over ebook prices for mainstream publishers. (By this I mean the extremely well known and huge publishers such as Penguin, who are known for setting prices rather high. The smaller presses can't help but try to keep up with their own costs and can't produce as cheaply as the bigger ones do, so I don't really count them in this. I also want to note that there are some larger publishers who must keep up with the other larger publishers or risk getting flak from their counterparts that could seriously hurt their business.) Some defend the publishers, some berate them. Others just shrug their shoulders and assume that there's nothing to be done about it since the mainstream book prices are all set by the bigger publishers, who show little to no signs of changing their way of business. Although now there's a court case against some of the bigger publishers concerning their price fixing, will that really have an effect on prices? Some of the bigger publishers such as Simon & Schuster have settled out of court, but I've noted that their prices haven't fallen all that much. It's gone from a $14.99 average to a $12.99 average for new releases.

I've been one of many who has asked why the ebooks are so expensive and I've gotten back a few explanations, from price fixing to expenses. From a quick Google search I've been told that ebook prices pay for the following per book:

  1. Author royalties
  2. Typesetting for ebooks
  3. Adapting the text for the various e-readers (so it doesn't show up as wonky on an iPad versus a Kindle)
  4. Digital distribution
  5. Quality assurance
Some of these make a lot of sense, as providing server space is not cheap and the higher the demand is for a book, the more stress it puts on a server, which means that you'll have to put it on several servers if it's a book of Dan Brown proportions. However... a common question has been "if you have a book that you know is going to be high in demand and will make back costs quickly, why price it so high?" Other than the obvious answer of "profit", there's no good answer that would do anything other than irritate you and I. 

Now my problem with ebook pricing is that so very often the prices are not that different from what the hardback costs are. It's gotten a LOT better since the courts started investigating claims, but I still see some ebooks going for the same prices as the print book. For example, Laurell K Hamilton's Hit List costs the same whether you buy a mass market paperback or a kindle version. I've also seen where publishers are slow in lowering the price of the ebook versions to match the prices of paperback books. Again, this has gotten better as the public became more aware of the insanely high prices of ebooks, but I'd bet dollars to donuts that it still happens. 

I can't really give anyone good advice on what to do to combat this. If you don't purchase the books, you run the risk of hurting the author's chances of getting published again in the future (unless they're a very well known author). If you only purchase the books in paper format, the publisher still wins. The only things I can recommend is that more of us start getting the books from the library and that we try not to buy into campaigns that involve leaving low reviews on merchant sites such as Amazon. More and more libraries are making eBooks available via programs such as OverDrive, which is relatively easy to use. As far as review campaigns such as the now infamous "9.99 Boycott" review drive, those do nothing except for irritate your fellow readers and the poor mods that have to wade through the reviews to decide whether or not it's an actual review. The mainstream publishers are well aware of these review campaigns, but they don't really care that overly much and the merchant sites have absolutely no choice but to keep the prices at what the publishers set. Amazon almost lost several publishing contracts because they tried to set the prices for the ebooks lower than what the publishers wanted. 

I guess in the end we'll all be watching the ebook anti-trust cases with interest. 

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