Ebook Pricing - Chaos in the Marketplace

The debate over ebooks is particularly focused on their pricing. For years, consumers have whined about the "exorbitant" prices of hardcovers, which have inched their way up from the low twenties to the mid- to high- twenties. I myself have complained about the near extinction of the mass market paperback in anything but mystery, romance, horror and sci-fi. Publishers instead opt for the trade paperback, which often costs nearly twice as much as the mass market. But, c'est la vie. Nothing will ever be expensive enough for the manufacturer, and nothing ever cheap enough for the consumer. This is what keeps prices in check, either one way or the other, right?

The problem is, Amazon has come into this delicate balance and trampled everyone, especially in the world of ebooks. They have priced their ebooks (with the exceptions of highly anticipated new releases) at $9.99, in many instances without consulting the publisher of said book. (If you missed it in a previous post, see this coverage of Hachette's outrage at ebook pricing).

As ebook sales do, in some way, replace physical book sales, the cost of an ebook must take into account the cost of running a publishing company; sure, there are no printing or shipping costs, but you still have to pay a writer, illustrator, jacket designer, marketer, sales rep, editor, copy-editor, interior designer, administrator, etc, among a myriad of other business costs. These costs cannot be covered if, as Kindle-owners and other ebook readers insist, the price of an ebook cannot go above $9.99. (Did you miss the "boycott"?)

The only thing I have to add to this ongoing debate is the example of the music industry. In this case, the mega-giant that came in and trampled everyone else was Apple, with the development of the iTunes store. Here, music was no longer free as it was on Napster (wow, remember those days?). Instead, it was a mere $0.99/song, or, on average, $9.99/CD. Now, if a physical CD costs an average of $15, and the digital CD costs $9.99, why isn't there outrage about this? That's only a $5 price difference if you buy the whole CD, and if you buy a CD's worth of $0.99 songs, you're looking at about $15 - the same cost as a CD itself. In the book world, many are arguing for up to a $20 price difference for new releases in digital format.

My hope is that eventually this turmoil of ebook pricing will be settled and forgotten, much as I'm sure there were hundreds of debates over the pricing (what, we have to pay for music!?) of mp3s.

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