The Kindle Boondoggle

Eldritch Weaselsnake:

So, when the Kindle store was first introduced, the prices were a breath of fresh air: finally some reality in ebook pricing. In-print hardbacks were never more than $10.00. Paperbacks were deeply discounted from list price (30 to 60 percent or so). But since I've bought my Kindle, I've been dismayed to see the price rise steadily. Current hardbacks probably average $16 to $21 dollars, often more than the price Amazon sells the physical copy for. Paperbacks, the majority of books I'm interested in buying, have seen an even more extreme and nonsensical increase in price: the Kindle price is almost always more than the physical list price. Let me repeat that: MORE than the list price.

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  1. Well, a product is always worth as much as a critical mass of rubes is willing to pay for it. They’re quite likely to keep rolling the prices upward until the customers have a fit, at which point they “discount” their books (with a PR release spinning it as a price cut) and have found their equilibrium point, at which customers are being fleeced the most without being completely aware of it.

  2. This is a seriously shite move on their part.

    The idea is that money is saved by EVERYONE by eliminating the expensive, bulky physical media.

    To charge MORE for a digital copy (which, btw can only be purchased by those who’ve already given up hundreds of dollars for the privilege) is a slap in the face – why should customers pay for the hardware, then MORE than list for the data, just to keep amazon’s bottom line looking black?

  3. “A digital copy is more valuable to me than a paper one.” Quiet you fool, they’ll hear you!

  4. eBooks are easy to pirate, Amazon. Incredibly easy. It’s only by the good graces of your customers that they are paying you for what you’re providing. I suggest that you treat them well.

  5. I have to disagree with this post…. a vast majority of the books I look at are $9.99 or less. When a new book is added, it does often start out at over $9.99, but within a few weeks it drops to $9.99 or below. If you can’t find something to read for $9.99 or less, you are not looking very hard.

  6. “The idea is that money is saved by EVERYONE by eliminating the expensive, bulky physical media.”

    I agree, and I think it’s a given that money is being saved. At the same time, we’re gaining a lot of convenience out of the Kindle Store.

    I have Kindle for iPhone, and I think having the option to preview a book before buying it is great. I would never have purchased half the books I did if I’d not had the option to preview them. Someone says, “Hey, have you read ‘The Onion Girl?'” I say, no, is it good? “Totally, you should check it out.” I fire up the Kindle app and grab the first few chapters for free. Yes, I could go into the bookstore and read the first few chapters, but with kids screaming, weird guys mumbling to themselves, sick people coughing and sniffling, store employees telling me I can’t sit in the kid section beanbags (even though all the “adult” chairs are taken) why WOULD I want to go to the store to read?

    There are still a lot of books that are priced under the $9.99 mark, and a good handful of FREE books, too. When’s the last time you went into Barnes & Noble and they gave you a free book? And the prices change so often, if the book you want it priced too high, email Amazon and tell them, then download something else. By the time you’ve finished the first book, the one you originally wanted is likely on sale.

    I also love that if I’m sitting on a beach and want to read a book, I have, like, a MILLION books to choose from. If I’m not in the mood for World War Z, I can tap a different book or buy something new RIGHT THERE. You can’t buy a new book while standing in the surf without a Kindle, trust me. I like that I can buy them anywhere there’s cell service (which is just about everywhere now) and I can carry around several dozen or several hundred books in my pocket. Cory Doctorow pays every month to keep his dead trees in storage sheds all over the world. I don’t pay anything every month* to keep my bits in my pocket. (*Yes, cell phone fees. So get an iPod Touch and find some WiFi. Problem solved. Or buy a real Kindle!)

    All of this is why I buy Kindle Books. Would it be awesome if all the books cost 99 cents? Of course! Will that ever happen? No way! But instead of complaining about the cost of a Kindle book, look at the bonuses. Look at the stuff you get with a Kindle book that you don’t get with a paperback. The Graveyard Book won’t fit in my DSLR camera bag, but my iPhone does, with it’s 100,000+ library of Kindle books available on the store. It’s all about convenience. I like convenience. It’s why I pay twice the cost for DSL than I used to for dial up. It’s why I pay a delivery charge to have my pizza driven to my house. It’s why I buy books on Kindle instead of the stupid dead tree store.

  7. The big suck is that one can send free previews to his Kindle. Then, if the preview is favorable, the reader can purchase the freebie from the Kindle.

    But the price is never shown on the Kindle!

  8. Note that, right now, paper is cheap — because the process to make paper creates its own fuel sources, and the paper companies have realized that they can qualify for gov’t subsidies by mixing in some diesel. (Thus going from 100% biofuel to a mixture. yes, this is nuts, and yes, this is in the US. I don’t mean to speak about other countries.)

    But as a result of that, paper is cheaper than it’s ever been.

    I will admit I don’t think that’s the case here. 🙂

  9. If you can’t open it, you don’t own it. EVERY DRM system built eventually screws it’s customers

    There are NO market forces on Amazon’s kindle book prices. If the Kindle + project gutenburg isn’t worth buying the Kindle, DON’T BUY IT.

  10. @Brian,

    What do you mean, the price is never shown on the Kindle? When I preview a book, I see the price on the original download screen (at which I downloaded the preview), and I can see the price by looking at the “Book Description” at any time.

    What I found outrageous was that an eBook by Modern Library of Gibbon’s Decline and Fall (Vol 1.) has the text-to-speech shut off. So, which Author’s Guild member are they protecting now? Prof. Boortin, who wrote the 3 page foreword? It sure as hell isn’t Prof. Bury, who wrote the introduction, who died in 1927, let alone Gibbon, the author of the actual book, who died in 1797. And I doubt they put that much work into editing it beyond the work Bury did.

  11. In all likelihood, that inflated margin isn’t going to Amazon (and certainly not to the author). It’s almost certainly for the publishing company, so they can fund one of their two raisons d’être:

    a). Increasing shareholder value

    b). Increasing executive pay to “retain top-tier talent”

    Airpillo@#1 has it, though. It’s just a market game to see how far the price can go up before sales fall off.

  12. “… of books I’m interested in buying”

    Please don’t say that you are BUYING books from Amazon for your Kindle. You are not BUYING anything. You are licensing them from Amazon, and all you have from Amazon is a weak promise that you will be able to continue to read the books that you have licensed.

    The cost of a physical book is actually less than what you would pay Amazon. You should discount it by the value you might receive by selling your copy after you are finished with it, or the value you might assign to sharing the book with a colleague or family member. Unfortuately you are unable to sell or share a Kindle book.

    In addition, you should increase the cost of the Kindle book by factoring in the risk that your book might no longer work, requiring you to acquire another copy. Changing technology might render your Kindle book unusable, or Amazon might simply decide to shut down their infrastructure. In any event, there is a chance you might need to spend more money in the future to access the same book. With physical books, this is not a problem.

  13. It isn’t only amazon.
    I went to buy an e-book around two months back and it was supposed to go for $26

    $26 for a f***** e-book! The same as the hardcover version.

    I promptly went to my swedish pirate friends and downloaded it. I wanted to pay the author, but this was so far out ofline with the worth of what was being sold that I didn’t even feel guilty about it.

    Sell e-books at a realistic price and sales will probably go up. Remove the DRM (if music can be sold withou DRM then so can books) and screw those idiotic publishing corp people.

    One or two publishing companies need to do this in a sensible manner, make a bunch of money and laugh at the other guys.

  14. Geez, next they’ll price CDs higher than tapes and DVDs higher than VHS even though they’re much cheaper to produce.

  15. I recently read an essay on this subject. The argument was that books, as objects, are actually very cheap to produce. Especially for paperbacks, the economies of scale mean that paper, printing and binding have become very efficient processes. Once to book has been typeset and proofread, actually printing a paperback is very cheap.

    The essay claimed that, in contrast, typesetting and proofreading new editions is a very time consuming and therefore expensive process. For eBooks, the typesetting needs to be re-done in whatever markup language(s) they’re using, then tested and proofread on its target device(s). On top of this, the publisher typically has to pay a license fee to use the DRM algorithm.

    As publishers expect to sell far fewer eBooks than paper copies, these costs have to be spread over fewer units. So while the cost of printing the book is eliminated, each book has to pay a larger share of a still considerable outlay.

    I don’t work in publishing so I can’t say whether this is true. Does anyone have any data?

  16. @Bugs–this might be true if its an ebook-only edition. But as someone who works with electronic versions of textbooks, i can tell you that we start with the printer-ready files (ie, there’s no typesetting or editing, and only minimal proofreading on the end product), and do a one-time file conversion to whatever format the end result is supposed to be. There may be a couple of conversions per book, depending on how many of them we’re supporting (PDF, XML, Kindle, etc). But there’s considerably less work involved than, say, converting a hardback to a paperback.

  17. Most eBook files are also basically raw text with the only “typesetting” being paragraph breaks and page breaks. The formatting is similar to HTML in that the width of the printed lines depends on the size of the font. Since the font size can be set by the user, they don’t have hard coded line breaks in the eBook files. That way the lines flow nicely regardless of text size.

    Since proofreading would be extremely minimal (almost nonexistent) for a document like that, it’s hard to believe the up-front costs would be very high. Any spelling or grammar checking would be the same as the print version. Check the page breaks, paragraph breaks, and heading info and you’re done.

    The DRM licensing fees? Cry me a river, publishers. There’s a really quick way around those. (Almost as quick as the ways to circumvent the DRM if it’s implemented!)

    I don’t doubt that the publishers claim to have high upfront costs, I just doubt that the claims are true or the costs are necessary.

  18. lolbrandon makes the best case for this sort of pricing, which still isn’t that great. Two things to keep in mind: you also paid $359 to $489 for that convenience, and Amazon can and will brick your Kindle, which makes it really, really inconvenient (i.e. impossible) to read any of your books.

    My guess is: it’s either being driven by particular authors, or Amazon just figured that they have sold enough to start bumping book prices up, or they’re hurting like everyone else and need to make up lost revenues somehow. Regardless, I think that whomever Amazon has watching the various popular torrent servers are going to be making some startling discoveries in the near future.

  19. @19 – sorry, I need to call you on this one.
    …and Amazon can and will brick your Kindle…

    Amazon has never made it impossible for anyone to read their books.

    In the case in question, dude had his amazon account suspended for alleged shenanigans. That means that he was no longer able to connect via whispernet to buy new books wirelessly, or get a refresh of a deleted book back onto his device.

    I don’t see anything wrong with that. Amazon no longer wished to deal with him as a customer (I can’t speak to the validity of their reasons), so they made it impossible for him to buy things. Also, as far as reloading books, he should have had a local backup, sorry… I don’t see Barnes and Noble giving out free replacements for books that you previously purchase from them but lost/had stolen/set on fire.

    He was also not prevented from loading books from other sources onto his device via USB.

    Both the Consumerist and Boing Boing takes on that story when it broke were misinformed FUD. I’m not saying that some of what Amazon is doing with the kindle is not stupid and wrong (TTS, anyone?), but let’s at least complain about legitimate things.

  20. @20That means that he was no longer able to connect via whispernet to buy new books wirelessly, or get a refresh of a deleted book back onto his device.

    I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    I think you are reading this the wrong way. The issue with this incident is that Amazon is free to disable your ability to re-access the content you have licensed from them. If your Kindle breaks or you simply want the latest reader, you will need Amazon’s permission to do so.

    With that being the case, a consumer will need to factor in the cost of re-licensing their library from Amazon or another source. The cost of a book is not the price Amazon is charging. It is that cost plus the risk adjusted cost of purchasing another copy if Amazon decides to prevent you from accessing your original copy. If Amazon is unstable, the risk is high and the risk ajusted cost is also high. Unfortunately I don’t have a lot of faith in Amazon (either the company or their technology) right now, and as a result the cost of a Kindle book is a lot higher than what Amazon is charging.

  21. Sorry, in my @21 reply, a misplaced “italics” markup made it look like I was saying “I don’t see anything wrong with that” when I was trying to quote poster @20. Just to be clear, I DO think that there is something wrong with Amazon cutting off access to the books a customer has licensed.

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