I’m not talking about that thing I want to talk about


Not because it’s a secret, but because it’s not the sort of thing writers talk about online, and it’s faintly ridiculous to be upset about it. Also: unseemly to feel neglected by people who are friendly enough but do not owe me anything.

So I’m going to talk about ebooks instead. Lots of people talk about the disadvantages of ebooks: you can’t loan them (usually, right?), can’t resell them, they feel ephemeral, some systems don’t even let you own it outright.

But many people obviously prefer them over physical books–they certainly rhapsodize about them online. You’d think that, with readers switching in large numbers, they’d be willing to pay more for those features.

I know I know. Ebook readers have all sorts of justifications for why they think they should be paying less. I just listed a bunch two paragraphs above. Still, it’s about demand, right? What price people will pay?

This jumped out at me while reading this article. The author starts with the assumption that all these features should lead to higher price points, which is very much the opposite of the usual set of assumptions I’ve found so far.

Anyway, it’s not going to happen right away, not while readers are agitating for price reductions. At some point, though, I suspect the price of ebooks will split off from the price of paper books, and ebooks will either cost the same as they do now (or increase slightly in price) but include ads or will come with upgradeable options that cost a little extra. (“Is the plottable map in the new Rothfuss worth an extra 99 cents?”)

End obligatory useless ebook prophecy.

4 thoughts on “I’m not talking about that thing I want to talk about

  1. A. Nuran

    Readers think ebooks should be priced like a commodity – price reflects cost. Fixed costs are the same. Inventory costs are zero. Material costs are zero. Distribution costs are pretty much zero.

    Publishers think ebooks should be priced like a monopoly good – price reflects the total value the reader gets from them. Readers are used to paying $8/paperback. They get convenience, free up wall space, can’t lose the book, etc. So charge $10/ecopy. Any uses they haven’t thought of are value they aren’t getting money for, so forbid or charge extra for them.

    Consider 17-hydroxyprogesterone caproate which prevents premature births. It costs $10/dose or $200/pregnancy at compounding pharmacies. That’s what it costs to make plus normal profits. The FDA granted KV sole rights to market its version. The price jumped to $1500/dose or $30,000/pregnancy because, in the words of KV spokesbastards, that reflects how much women value a normal pregnancy.

  2. Ebooks will be priced according to profitability: whatever price point brings in the most money. They are monopoly goods (and rightly so, although I think copyright periods are too long).

    That’s not going to be 99 cents, and it’s not going to be $25, either. I can’t wait to see how these forces all play out.

  3. A. Nuran

    The rationale for charging the same for ebooks is that they cost as much per copy as dead tree volumes. This is simply a lie.

    And the monopoly-good pricing isn’t actually true. While I might only be able to get copies of your books from your publisher there are many other authors out there whose books I might buy and derive just as much enjoyment from.

  4. ::sigh::

    Ebooks are cheaper to get to the market than physical books, yes, but not by as much as people like to tell themselves. That is most definitely NOT a lie.

    Besides, I’d thought the argument had already moved from “Ebooks are really cheap to make!” to “Ebook readers don’t care that they cost almost the same!”

    And yes, I do have a monopoly on my own work. That’s what copyright is. The fact that you can spend your money on someone else’s product (and enjoy it) doesn’t mean I don’t have a monopoly on my own.

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