There is a lot of debate going on lately among book lovers about the merits of e-books vs. print books. Mostly, it boils down to personal preference, with a lot of people valuing both forms of books to varying degrees. There is also the valid question being raised about whether the appearance of e-books on the scene, and their quick rise in popularity will bring about the demise of traditional books. But as a book lover, and especially as a consumer, there is a question that looms higher in my mind than both of these questions. What is the real price of e-books? Of course, there are the dollars and cents costs, but there are also non-monetary costs that many proponents of e-books give up without a second thought. But some of us give them up grudgingly, weighing them in our minds with the flat-out cost of the e-books and wonder, “Is this worth it?”
Let’s look at some aspects of the plain old cost of e-books. The one that hit me right off the bat when I first got my Nook was that most e-books cost the same, or more than their print counterparts. Now I’m not talking about the classics that are offered for free on most e-reading platforms. Nor am I talking about the low-priced self-published books. I’m contemporary fiction, non-fiction, whatever you like to read. Frequently when I go to buy an e-book, I find that it’s just plain cheaper to go to get the print edition. With that said, shouldn’t the cost of an e-book be cheaper? After all, there is no printing cost. Maybe the cost of translating print into digital is more expensive? This article helps to answer that question. But the author doesn’t really cite any sources for his data so I’m leery. This article is from a publishing group, and I see what they are saying. It would explain e-books being similarly priced to hard cover print books, but not their costing more than paperbacks. This blog post (written by a former publishing CEO) makes a similar argument. But the interesting thing on this one is the comments. Read what the responders are saying, and you will see that many think this argument is deceptive and doesn’t make sense upon further investigation. One commenter suggests that the economic incentive is to buy the print paperback because it is cheaper, and I have to say I agree there. Yet, as the blogger responds, many people continue to buy the e-book versions. Why? I can tell you one reason I have been known to do it. It’s just more convenient. I get the book right away without having to leave my house, and I don’t have to worry about finagling another space on my already way-too-full bookshelf. But I do get the feeling of being exploited every time I hit the “buy” button in these instances. Are publishers and sellers charging consumers more because they know the high value of convenience in the minds of readers today or are these the legitimate prices as related to the legitimate costs of publishing e-books?
Another way the actual cost of the e-book leaves me, as a reader feeling somewhat exploited is the price difference between e-book vendors. In a normal consumer setting, if something is cheaper at another store, I will simply buy it there (unless of course I am convenience shopping). Because of the Proprietary model used by e-book sellers such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc., this is simply not possible when purchasing e-books. E-books contain DRM (Digital Rights Management) to protect the books against digital piracy. There is a huge debate around the use of DRM that I will not go into right now. What I do want to say about DRM is that it forces a consumer to read their purchased e-book on a specific platform. For example, if you purchase a Kindle edition book, you must read it on a Kindle device or on a Kindle app on a computer or mobile device. If the NookBook is cheaper than the Kindle edition, you must pay the higher price for the kindle edition because you will not be able to read the NookBook on your Kindle. For example, I want to buy the book The Cutting Season by: Attica Locke. On Amazon it costs $6.99. From Google Play it costs $7.29. From Barnes & Noble it costs $14.99 (all prices listed are current at the time of writing). I and other Nook owners will be stuck paying the higher price. I can see the reasons why booksellers would choose to use DRM for e-books (and why publishers would require its use). But is DRM also hurting the sellers of e-books and e-reader devices?
The pricing differences between vendors have caused many people to decide on a tablet PC rather than an e-reading device. While a tablet PC tends to cost more than an e-reader, the purchaser gets more diverse functionality, and can download apps for all of the different e-readers. This allows the consumer to shop for the lowest price e-book without having to buy multiple devices. The downside is that readers are unable to enjoy the full features offered by some of the companies. For example, Amazon Prime members are able to borrow a book a month for free from the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library. If you are an Amazon Prime member, and own a tablet PC with the amazon Kindle app on it, you are able to purchase and read Kindle books, but you are unable to use your full Prime benefits by getting a free book a month. For that, you have to actually own a Kindle device. But then you would be locked in to their proprietary format and not be able to shop for the lowest priced e-book.
What do you think? Will things like the high cost of e-books, and proprietary lock-ins make readers turn to boycotts or piracy? Will these issues keep the traditional print book alive? Or will readers simply accept the new terms of e-reading and pay the price?