We all have a good intuitive grasp for the value of a physical book. We grew up with them. We know roughly what they cost new (£5-15), what they cost in a second hand book-shop (about half that) and what you’d expect to pay in a charity shop (20p-£1).
We don’t really have a sense yet of what an e-book is worth. A quick survey on amazon.co.uk suggests that they think an e-book is worth about the same — sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less:
- The Silmarillion: £5.59 paperback compared to £5.99 Kindle
- Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: £6.29 and £6.99
- The C Programming Language: £23.64 to £20.09
- How Bad Are Bananas?: £6.29 to £5.98
The four Kindle editions cost 1.05, 1.11, 0.85 and 0.95 times as much as their paperback counterparts — an average of 0.99 (arithmetic mean) or 0.98 (geometric mean) times as much. In other words, the difference in prices is negligible.
How reasonable is this?
In terms of costs, it seems like a terrible rip-off. I know from experience that creating a physical book (i.e. preparing the digital files for printing) is a lot more work than creating an e-book. And needless to say the marginal cost of each printed book is greater by an infinite factor than that of each e-book. It comes to something like £2 per copy, and on top of that you have to think about warehousing. So on that basis, an e-book should cost significantly less than its printed equivalent — less by an amount related to how many copies are sold, since the more it sells, the more the zero marginal cost dominates the equation.
On the other hand, what about value? Is an e-book worth more to the reader than a printed book? On the plus side, it’s more convenient to carry around with me, and I like being able to search (for example, when I forget who one of the characters is, and I can find his or her name’s first mention to remind myself). On the negative side, e-books are pretty ugly compared with printed ones, often have formatting errors, can’t be conveniently lent to other people, can’t be conveniently passed on to a second-hand shop when you’ve read them, and –worst of all — may be explicitly locked to your device by DRM. (We all know stories of people who have lost their collections due to vendor misdeeds.)
To my mind, the balance of things suggests that on the basis of value as well as cost, e-books are worth about half as much as printed ones.
That why my own book — which costs £11.95 as a paperback — is only £3.65 in its e-book edition (or $5.59 in the USA). In fact, in this case, the e-book is less than a third of the price of the paperback, but that’s because the paperback is overpriced, due to the very high overheads of publishing print-on-demand at Lulu.
(Aside: the price I set for The Eleventh Doctor in Amazon’s KDP programme is $4.99, so I don’t understand why they are in fact selling it at $5.59. My apologies for the extra sixty cents.)
Anyway: I wonder what others’ thoughts are on the appropriate relative pricing of paperbacks and e-books?