Thursday, June 25, 2009

E-books and readers

There is a lot of discussion about e-book pricing going on in the news and the blogsphere. I’ve weighed in, recently even, on my other blog about e-book readers. I don’t own one.

I like them. I really do. I’ve fondled a couple, but they always go right back on the store shelf, right next to their $300 price tag.

I’m not a market analyst or a business expert in publishing. I’m not even a published author. Right now, I’m just a consumer. Not only a consumer, but one who probably buys 25-50 books a year, and reads at least that many, or more. Not counting childrens books (if I were to count those, we’re in the hundreds—my kiddos love books). My bookshelves are overflowing, and my library card is as well-loved as my credit card.

All of this might make an analyst think I’m a good candidate for an e-book reader. But they miss the mark.

First of all, e-book readers are expensive. Second, the e-books are expensive. There is no bargain table where I can get last season’s bestsellers for 40% off. And the regular rack is full, hardcover price. Minus the hardcover. For $24.99, I don’t get beautiful, full-color artwork, or crisp paper. I don’t get a tome that I can save for years, or loan to other readers. I can’t resell it. I can’t have an author autograph it. I am, for all intents and purposes, renting the words. I can read them. Once. Maybe a few times if I don’t lose or break my electronic reader, and don’t lose my backed up files on my computer. Can I even back up e-books? What about DRM? If my reader dies and I haven’t read 20 books, are they lost and gone forever? And how does the library fit into this picture? (I’m assuming the children’s book discussion will need to wait for a color e-ink-like technology to hit the markets.)

For $24.99, I can buy 3-5 paperback books. Paperbacks with full color art. That can be shared, loaned, possibly resold, kept for years. They can be signed. They can still be lost, burned, or mildewed. But they won’t get zapped in a lightning storm, or by being dropped by a 2-year old, and if my reading glasses break, they don’t take a whole library with them. And I don’t have to pay $300 for a device to read them in the first place.

I would be all over that $300, space-saving, e-published-enabled device if the book price made up for it. If after 25 or 50 books, the device would have paid for itself. But it doesn’t.

I understand publishers’ reluctance to lower their prices. A traditional print publisher still must recoup the costs for the artwork, the page layout, the product placement, the shipping, the paper and ink. And I doubt they’re printing fewer hardcovers because they expect e-books to pick up the slack. If I could hazard a guess, I’d say they’re printing almost as many, and getting slightly more returns of unsold books as a few buyers opt for digital. A book that is e-published only does not have many of the same costs, so they can be produced for less money, and more of it shared with the author. But a book that is traditionally priced, with e-publishing added as an afterthought would have to be priced like a hardcover to make the publisher money.

This is where the publishers are missing the boat. They will sell more e-books if they price them lower. Possibly a LOT more e-books. Instead of e-books being a little bonus money on top of the print sales, they need to consider the hardcovers to be a premium. Their bread-and-butter needs to be electronic, not print. Some readers, myself included, will continue to pay more money for a nicely-bound, beautifully made, re-usable, durable, print book. So offer it to us with a heftier price tag. I spent $100 on a leather-bound Tales of Beadle the Bard by JK Rowling (its beautiful, btw, and worth the money as a conversation piece)

As a reader, I usually only buy hardcovers of books that I know I want to keep and re-read. I pay discount paperback prices for books that will be a short-lived diversion. Make it worth my while financially to buy my diversion-books electronically, and publishers will save themselves the costs of printing, shipping, and mulching books. And maybe, they might find that there’s a little profit to be made in it.

1 comment:

Robin Bielman said...

Great post! You make a lot of good points, Kristi! I love holding a book in my hands, love the feel of the paper, love turning the pages, love knowing someone has worked so damn hard to have their story published.

E-book readers seem so impersonal to me. I think they take something away from the experience. However, I must say I'll never say never. I only saw my first Kindle a couple of weeks ago and the owner made a pretty convincing argument for it. Plus it was bigger than I'd pictured. Still, nothing will ever replace my paper and hard backs.