There’s a lot of talk online about what the hard stop price is for ebooks, with people like yours truly saying that my limit is about $10 for any book purchase unless it’s a much-coveted title. Meanwhile, Macmillan has said in the past that the price point for an ebook could and should be nearer to the hardback price, but certainly should be more than paperback.
To which I say, “What?!” Clearly, their sense of value and my sense of value are very, very far apart indeed.
I was passing by a billboard in Weehawken (one of the two jewels of Jersey’s crown) the other day advertising Continental Airlines’ meals at mealtime program. Would I pay more for airfare if I knew that the flight that cost more would include a meal? Not likely.
But would I pay more for a flight if it meant that I could accrue something of value to me, like frequent flyer miles? Yes. Absolutely. I would and I have – but the amount extra I am willing to pay varies depending on the miles I’d earn.
I will pay extra for the ability to fly with a particular airline that has a unique connection to my vacation budget, and I know I can’t get Continental miles flying JetBlue.
So how does my concept of value apply to ebooks?
I will pay more than paperback prices for an ebook if I know that I am getting exclusive content not available in print, or if I were to be rewarded with membership points or rebate dollars for paying the extra dollars. The reason I’m ranting about this now, when it’s obviously been discussed before, is that, since Angela James twittered the variations in price for the eBook of JD Robb’s new book ranged from $10 on the Kindle to $20 on FictionWise, all the way up to $24.93 at Powell’s online.
Digital book devotees should be treated like frequent flyer customers, and FictionWise, with that alluring, sexy, and oh-so-confounding MicroPay rebate system, knows it. But publishers and booksellers don’t seem to get that the only creature as loyal as a romance reader is a digital book reader. If publishers and sellers are going to insist on pricing ebooks between paperback and hardback, or if the prices for digital content will continue to shift and slide so widely, at the very least reward me and my dollar for our stubborn devotion. If a publisher knows that I purchase ebooks, I should be able to subscribe to their digital book program to earn points towards future purchases.
If folks are going to dick around with the pricing until everyone gets on board and sets their price point, at least reward me in the meantime. I’m willing to work for it. You want answers about how consumers use and approach ebooks? Ask me. (And let me earn credit towards future purchases!)
Let me answer the first question: will I pay more for the ease and privilege of reading an ebook that is no different from the paper? Depends on how badly I want the title, but the idea that I should have to pay what Jane calls the “ebook tax” is asinine. The option of having the book title on any ebook reader, which I much enjoy and find tremendously easy on my eyes, should not necessitate an additional fee. If the paper book is cheaper, what’s stopping me from cutting up a paper book, feeding it into a scanner, making a PDF of it for my own personal and exclusive use, and then recycling the pieces? Time and fury, basically.
I’m not the first to ask about the reader/consumer experience in the new publishing dynamic. Hugh McGuire at HuffPo also noticed the same thing I did at the O’Reilly ToC – the reader/consumer was scarcely mentioned, and that absence is evident in a variety of areas in publishing and its marketplace.
What really tees me off is the attitude that ebook readers are in some way stealing revenue from publishers. The recent New York Times review of the Kindle written by David Pogue acknowledges the mistaken idea that ebooks somehow threaten paper sales as it lauds the device as a much-improved ebook reader:
So, for the thousandth time: is this the end of the printed book?
Don’t be silly….
The point everyone is missing is that in Technoland, nothing ever replaces anything. E-book readers won’t replace books. The iPhone won’t replace e-book readers. Everything just splinters. They will all thrive, serving their respective audiences.
It seems ludicrously short-sighted to the point where I’m speechless (ok, not really) that ebooks should detract from paper sales, or vice versa. Pogue, for all the topics upon which we disagree, has a point. Splintering, not stealing, is the foundation here. Ebooks may be only 2 or 3% of a given publisher’s income, but it’s also likely the only revenue stream that’s growing exponentially. Maybe fostering that growth is a better idea if one looks at the issue from the perspective that ebooks are a new form of publishing, not a stealing, replacement form that wants to eradicate paper, and one way to foster growth is to stop penalizing ebook buyers for wanting a particular format, or wanting an ebook at all.
This is what I mean by relative value: for now, I might be inclined to pay more to read an ebook, but not for much longer. Publishers, please examine ebook readers as readers and consumers without comparing us to paper book consumers. Please. And please stop sliding the price up and down like the Dow on crack. Or the Dow not on crack. While I’m aware that the cost is about the same for mass market paperback production as it is for ebook productions, I can see through the idea that an ebook should cost the same as a hardback. It so should not. Get over it. But if the price is going to slide around like wet shoes on linoleum, fine. Reward me while you figure that out.
Because while the price remains a wild and frisky variable, you risk alienating me, and anyone who wants to try ebooks but remains hesitant to do so.