$10 Kindle editions: get 'em while you still can

This isn’t anything official, just the musings of some analysts–but analysts are paid to think about these things and predict what businesses will do next. In this case, an outfit called Bernstein Research says that a more ideal price for ebooks, at least for Amazon and publishers, is $12.50.

…by raising the average price by $2.51, Amazon’s margins could increase from 6 percent to 20 percent on the sale of an e-book. That, they say, is “comparable to its physical book business” since Amazon would only have to sell 1.7 e-books to match the profits from the sale of a hardback, instead of 7.

Here’s my feelings on the matter:

  • $12.50 is still a great price for a new book that just came out and is only available in hardback otherwise.
  • It’s a terrible price, however, for a book that’s also available in trade or mass market paperback.
  • It’s an even worse price at that point in the publishing cycle when you consider the things you’re not getting, especially from a closed format like the one Amazon forces on publishers and customers:
    • no physical copy, including no jacket art;
    • no ability to loan or give away or resell;
    • and no ability to transfer the copy to a different device (the number of competing ebook readers are growing every year).

I can understand the difficulty in trying to sell two versions of the same product at widely different price points, and the fear that that will mess up consumers’ perceptions of the true value of a work. However, I think most consumers understand that when you pay $25 for a hardback, you’re getting a physical object that you own outright. By comparison, in some ways you’re only renting an ebook. After all, the current Amazon system takes away most of the abilities you have with a physical copy–see my list-within-a-list above for examples. Add some of those abilities back in and you increase the real value of the ebook as well as the perceived value, and consequently can price it higher.

I also think that any argument in favor of aligning ebook prices more closely with hardback falls apart as soon as the book is released in trade and mass market formats. The only reason to price an ebook at a high price point is because of the scarcity that’s supposed to happen when the book is first published. There’s a reason it comes out in hardback first, and if a publisher is going to mess with that scarcity by simultaneously releasing an ebook version, he can and probably should price the ebook higher than “normal.” (At that point in the publishing cycle, $12.50 is still quite a fair price for an ebook, in my opinion.) But as soon as trade and mass market versions come out, that ebook price had better fall to a point lower than those other physical versions, or else I’m going to instantly recognize that the publisher is trying to rip me off.

My point is that there really needs to be two different price platforms: one for new books that are otherwise only available in hardback, and a lower one for all other books that are also available in various paperback formats. If I saw this reflected more frequently on the Amazon Kindle bookstore, I’d be far more willing to accept, and even buy, $12.50 ebook editions of new works.

(A final hint/suggestion for publishers: a customer might even be willing to pay $15 or more for an ebook edition if it was only available otherwise in hardback and contained additional content that wasn’t available in the physical copy version, like author commentary, expanded footnotes, additional notes and material from the writing of the book, chapters that were edited out, character notes, etc.)

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