Monday, July 12, 2010

A matter of perception

This was an interesting article about the value of ebooks and why readers are so up in arms about their cost. The initial reason is probably that when Amazon came out with the Kindle, one of the big draws was that they said that most ebooks would be $9.99. As ereaders gain in popularity, publishing companies are scrambling to figure out the market, and trying to find the correct price point.

There are a lot of discussions on the Amazon message boards about Kindle book pricing, and a lot of anger, even going so far as to start boycotts against any book with a price higher than $12.99. I don't claim to understand all of the ramifications, but apparently part of the problem is that Amazon discounts the physical books, but isn't allowed to discount the ebooks, so you will quite often see an ebook at a higher price than the physical book which, when you think about it, makes no sense at all.

You run into instances like this:

"Don't Kill the Messenger" is a trade paperback originally priced at $15.00. Amazon discounts it to $10.20, but the ebook edition is $12.99. I wanted to read it, but I just couldn't justify it at that price, so I put it on the waiting list at the library.

When you buy a book, the main thing that you should be buying is the content, but of course, when you consider a physical book, a lot of the appeal is the packaging. I kind of like separating the content from the packaging--I have often seen a book that I would like to read, but I'm turned off by the font, or the paper, or something else, and don't buy it. I don't have those constraints with an ebook--they all look the same, so it's just the content that's important.

I used to want to own the books I read, but over the last few years I've gotten away from that. Part of it is expense--I seldom re-read a book, so it doesn't really make a lot of sense to buy them if I can get them at the library. The other consideration is space. I have a LOT of books. I've been slowly getting rid of some of them, either selling them (either at Half Price Books or online at Amazon or or donating them to the library.

Ebooks don't take up any physical space, so it's easy to have a library of hundreds of books that will fit in the palm of your hand. I enjoy reading on my iPhone; I know a lot of people don't, they think the screen is too small, but I actually enjoy it a lot. I download a lot of free samples of books, but I really do think long and hard before I spend the money on one. At $.99 or $1.99 it's not a big deal, even $6.39 isn't bad, but when it gets up over $9.99, I definitely have second thoughts.

The article I referenced above made me think, and I believe the author made a lot of good points. I don't buy $4.00 cups of coffee, but I will buy a couple of lunches on the weekends while I'm out running errands; I don't have a problem spending $10 on lunch, so why do I have a problem spending $10 for an ebook? I think it's the issue of necessity. No, I don't have to eat out--and seldom do, anymore--but I do have to eat. I don't generally need a new book. I have a lot of books that I haven't read yet, so I could read one of those, or I could put the book on the hold list at the library and wait a couple of weeks.

Spending ten dollars or more on an ebook seems frivolous, extravagant. Which is why I've been so pleased to do the Swagbucks thing and earn a few Amazon gift cards. I still think a long time before I buy a $9.99 ebook, but at least when I do buy one, the price is coming out of a gift card, and not going onto a credit card.

A lot of Anne Tyler books came out in ebook form in the last month or so, and I bought my favorite, of course, Ladder of Years. I paid $9.99 for it, using a gift card; I noticed it on the Amazon homepage yesterday, and I thought the pricing was pretty funny:

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