Thursday, December 15, 2011

Are E-Books Raising the Price of Real Books?

I admit to having mixed emotions about e-books.

On the one hand, I am a gadget freak by nature, meaning that I am totally fascinated by the technology that makes e-book readers possible.  Heck, I was so excited about the readers that I bought two of the extremely overpriced Sony Readers when they first came out.  I fell in love with the ease of transporting a small library in my pocket - something that was particularly handy during those years I spent weeks at a time working deep inside the Sahara Desert.

On the other hand, e-books, themselves, have not exactly grown on me.  I find it much more difficult to concentrate on a book's contents when I read it electronically, and I very much miss the feel and smell of a hard copy in my hands.  To me an e-book will never be the real book; that honor will always belong to any book's hardcover version.

Now, though, I'm starting to get concerned that the great new popularity of e-books, and the willingness of buyers to cough up whatever outrageous price publishers demand for them, is going to start directly impacting me at the bookstore when I shop for real books.  Are publishers printing fewer copies of books now that e-books have taken a chunk out of the number of copies they can expect to sell?  If so, does that mean that hardcover prices are being pressured upward because printing costs, distribution, and the like, have to be spread over fewer copies?

Or, how about this?  Are printed book prices being artificially raised in order to maintain the gap between their prices and their e-book knockoffs?  The narrowness of that price gap is already ridiculous, but publishers have to fool customers into thinking that e-books are significantly cheaper than real books if they want to continue increasing their sales.  Don't believe me?  Take a look at a few numbers I pulled this afternoon from the Barnes & Noble website:

1.  Zero Day - David Baldacci - $14.70 in hardcover, $12.99 for the e-book
2.  Kill Shout - Vince Flynn - $18.47 and $14.99
3.  The Litigators - John Grisham - $14.92 and $12.99
4.  Steve Jobs - Walter Isaacson - $18.42 and $14.99
5.  Unbroken - Laura Hillenbrand - $14.67 and $12.99
6.  The Art of Fielding - Chad Harbach - $14.14 and $12.99
7.  In the Garden of Beasts - Erik Larson - $14.13 and $12.99

Come on, 15 bucks for an e-book that I can't easily loan to a friend, or trade to someone for another e-book, or sell back to a used book bookstore?  For less than two dollars more, I can OWN a real book, not rent an electronic one.  Do I look stupid? 

I read 15-20 e-books per year; I read over 100 real books during the same period.  Seldom do e-books make my Top 10 lists for the year's reading - and that's not necessarily the fault of the book.  It's much more the fault of the reading experience offered by the e-book format.

Are those like me, who love flipping real pages, about to get punished for preferring the real thing?  I wonder.


  1. I have a Nook and love it, however if I have hardbacks to read, I will always read them first.
    I have been surprised that the e-reader companies don't sell them super cheap(under 20 bucks?). Then I think people would be more likely to buy the e-books themselves. I do think the e-book prices are outrageous, and try to get free, or cheap ones if i can.

  2. I've said the same thing, too, Kayo...give the damn things away and sell the stuff that keeps them functioning. That's where the real money is.

  3. AS far as I'm concerned, if you can't sell it, you don't own it.

    I'm still without an e-reader, but then I don't even have a cell phone. But I don't see how publishing houses can stay in business much longer. Just what does a publisher do to produce an e-book that authors can't do on their own?

  4. I completely agree, James. Traditional publishing is about to shrink greatly. I know of at least two authors who have branched out into e-publishing of their own and the books of others They are keeping more money in their own pockets that way. I like that part of the idea, but I do wonder what it means for the quality and variety of books that will be published in hard and soft cover in the future.

  5. In my opinion, it's not very easy to read on an eBook reader. I love to feel the book in my hands. Nevertheless, I must admit that I can't take printed books everywhere with me and I travel quite a lot! Also, I don't think that eBooks are raising the price of real ones, I mean why to happen this? Ebooks are cheaper, because they want to sell them.

  6. My point, "All you can eat" is that the price of the average increase, especially from established, popular authors is on the rise...and quickly. So, in order to maintain that ebooks are cheaper than real books, publishers will have to raise prices on the hardcopies.