Hey Publishers

October 20, 2010 | 8 Comments

Hey publishers,

I would like to think of us as friends. I read lots of books, and most of them I purchase so I can mark them up and revisit them. Several of you have been kind enough to send me free books to review. That’s neat, especially when they are books that interest me. Maybe it’s not quite a friendship, but there is some kind of positive relationship based on mutual reciprocity. You can agree we have something here, right?

So can we figure out something reasonable for this whole ebook pricing thing?

I think you provide a valuable service, finding authors who have voices and ideas that need to be heard, and distributing those words to the likes of me. I don’t mind putting money in your pocket for this.

And I certainly don’t mind putting meals on the table for those who are crafting those words. I have several friends who make a living by creating content. I’m thankful for their words, and thankful that they can make a living from forming those words into meaning and wisdom.

But can we figure out something reasonable for this whole ebook pricing thing?

I know I was spoiled in those first few years when Amazon charged $9.99 for most ebooks. I’m still a little resistant to paying more than $9.99, but I’ll own that as my issue, not yours.

I can see how an ebook has added value. Being able to read the book on different devices, or read a book at the same time as my daughter for her book club, or not have to find more space for it on a shelf, or to be able to carry an entire library with me, or to easily search and reference all my notes — all of this adds value to an ebook for me.

But what I’m having trouble with is that I can go on Amazon and buy a brand new physical copy of some of your books, and have it shipped, for less than the ebook version.

Why do I have to pay less for a product that includes the expense of gathering and moving limited natural resources, consuming forests and fossil fuels to put the book in my hands? (And adding to landfills later on.) I understand that in most cases, it’s because Amazon has the freedom to discount the physical book, and you won’t allow them to do the same with the ebook. But this is just silly, and were this a rant, I would even say it’s stupid. (But I’m not the ranting type.)

You should talk to some record companies. They had a crisis around all this digital stuff a few years ago, and they appear to have worked some things out. The movie and TV types might have some valuable input too. They are doing some nifty things with digital delivery.

I suppose what I’m really trying to say is, can we figure out something reasonable for this whole ebook pricing thing?

  • Scott


  • Pat

    While we’re at it, publishers, if you’d like to make an extra buck or two off me: OK the distribution houses (Amazon, Barnes and Noble, ..) to sell me an ebook edition of a book of a printed book I’ve previously purchased, for a discount. Help me to make the transition from walls of printed books to ebooks. I’m not going to double-purchase everything, but if you charged me a few bucks, I’d so willingly fork over gobs of money to you that it would make you giddy.

    Price point is important though. If I’ve already paid $8-$20 or more for a printed book, I don’t want to pay more than $3 for an electronic copy of what I already bought new from you.

    It’s like the reversal of the business scenario wherein I buy a new book, then sell it after I’m done with it, and I keep the profit. This time, you get to make secondary profits. Cool, huh?

  • Zach Phillips

    The saddest and most despicable part is that they don’t even have the sense to TRY. At zero distribution cost, who cares what the book is “worth”? The question has to be “How much money can it generate?”

    I’ve been saying this for a long time, I bet if the standard price for a NEW ebook was brought down to $5, profits and sales would go up a thousand percent.

    And audiobooks should be about $8 (down from $35!), creating a 2876128735426252746283 percent increase in sales and profits.

    These people are dinosaurs, and they need to be fired. All of them. I mean that in the most loving way.

  • amen to the post and the comments thus far.

  • urtules

    I think time will fix it.

    • John Chandler

      Yes, I’m hopeful for that.

  • I’m totally with you on this one. For your nerves, some clever cats put together Leatherbound.me, which prices out books between iBooks, Kindle and Nook stores. Immediately invaluable info:


    As to the topic at hand, I’m more annoyed by the inherent restrictions that come along with some ebooks, and I really wish publishers would get more creative about some of these things. For example, I wish they bundled ebooks with physical copies, kinda of like the Blu Rays with digital downloads. Why? Because sometimes you want an ebook, sometimes you don’t. I’d pay a midrange price, say $20, for that instead of the ridiculous $40+ it would cost to get both. Also, I really really really really want copy/paste functionality. Obviously, this could be used to steal a whole book, but I have trouble believing it would be hard to limit to a 20 word copy or something. It’s pretty stupid since with the kindle, you can highlight text, go to kindle.amazon.com and then copy/paste to your heart’s content. Sometime I want to sideload a note into another app, what’s the big deal?

    Finally, why can’t Amazon, who owns Audible, hook up ebook/audiobook bundles? I absolutely love audiobooks for nonfiction (still can’t do fiction with them) but the trouble is there is no way to reference that material without getting a textual copy. Again, I would pay extra to have the audiobook with an ebook alongside that synced to the proper page based on where my listening is. It seems irresponsible that they’re not offering this. People would pay for it.

    Sigh. I’m with you 100%. Pubs need to realize they should value-add THE FUTURE OF PUBLISHING and not limit it to hock dead trees.

    • John Chandler

      Thanks for the comments.

      I’ve looked for a good OCR app so that I can do a screencap to capture text from an ebook or my Logos Bible app, which also doesn’t do cut and paste. Unfortunately, they all have awful reviews, so I don’t want to waste my $5 trying one.