Monday, March 1, 2010

Pass a Fork

...because I need to eat my words.

Long time readers will know that I not only have had an opinion on ebooks, but I've not been shy about sharing that opinion.

I said--well, lemme just quote myself:'s what I think the future really holds for e-books to be profitable and a success:
  • e-readers must be versatile and affordable (such as iTouch)
  • e-books should never cost more than $5
  • free e-book downloads should be included with the purchase price of a book (after all, I can rip music into my mp3 player after I buy a CD)


That was my opinion.

Note the past tense.

Because...I'm ready to eat my words.

World, take note. I'm admitting it here.

I was wrong.

I was basing my opinion on two things: the effect of electronic media on the music industry and my own assumptions about the cost of ebooks. Which means, basically, that I was basing my opinion on two fallacies. First: books aren't songs. And while I knew that (obviously), it didn't really register with me that marketing the electronic versions of books and songs would necessarily be different. And regardless of that, I was also ignoring the underlying costs of ebooks.

Books are more than paper. I know that. I know that. But when I thought of what the cost of ebooks should be--I only factored in the cost of paper.

I've been thinking a lot about ebooks lately, in part because, for the first time, I am considering purchasing an ebook reader. I might have mentioned it before. A little device that I kind of sort of want...  Before, I honestly dismissed ebooks easier beacuse they were not really a part of my immediate readership. Which meant--I didn't really want an ebook, because it was an inconvenience to me. So, at that time, for me personally, an ebook would have to be cheap or free for me to consider purchasing it, in order to compensate for the personal inconvenience to me. 
Now, I am looking at purchasing an ebook. And suddenly, they've come up on my radar in a much more personal way. Now I'm thinking of how convenient it will be to have immediate purchases. Now I'm thinking of just how much a new release is worth to me.

And now my previous self assertions on the topic seem rather foolish.

As the NY Times pointed out:
But publishers also say consumers exaggerate the savings and have developed unrealistic expectations about how low the prices of e-books can go. Yes, they say, printing costs may vanish, but a raft of expenses that apply to all books, like overhead, marketing and royalties, are still in effect.
Yeah. That was me. One of those consumers that exaggerated the savings.

Now my perspective is different--which, I think, is a good sign. It is true that consumers tend to exaggerate the savings on electronic versions of products, be they music or videos or games or books. That is something I don't think will change--people want to feel like they own a thing when they buy it, and a physical hard copy is part of the value there. 

But it is also true that there are significant costs in the production of an ebook, and it is necessary for the consumer concept of value in terms of electronic media to shift. And it is. 

Just look at me, eating my words.


Alissa said...

I think I've always thought e-books should cost less in part because I'm not someone that taken with the concept of reading books on a screen. I love my paper books, and I think of them as objects to treasure, but I realize other people don't feel this way and would actually like to read books on an e-reader. So, I'm (like you) starting to come around and see that e-books actually do have some value and so should be priced accordingly.

Michelle D. Argyle said...

What a great post! My mom was just saying yesterday that she bought a book for her Kindle, and she hates the book halfway through. She didn't pay much for it - less than a printed book, but this was a good way to see if she wanted to buy the printed book. There's still value in the book she bought for the Kindle, but now she's not going to waste even more money on a printed version. That's value right there, in my opinion. Of course, libraries can do the same thing, but there's pros and cons.

Are you going to get that ebook you put up on your blog awhile ago? That one is cool!

Scott said...

I love my Kindle. Love. It. The thing that I don't like about my e-reader is that I can't really share the joy of my e-books like I can the hardbacks I buy. I think, once I buy the book I should be able to share it with whomever I want. I'm not talking about posting it on a blog or something piratey like that, but just the ability to share it with someone else who has a Kindle or the Kindle app on their IPhone/ITouch.

Now, on the other side of the pricing coin, if a major book retailer is able to take a $24.95 book and sell it in their store for 19.95 and then offer me a 40% off coupon, so that I'm basically getting the book for 47% off the suggested retail price of $24.95 . . . well, then, why can't they just sell the book to me at 47% off? Where's the profit? Yes, it's out there somewhere, I'm just not seeing it.

I think the fact is, most things are overpriced to begin with so that stores can have sales and, probably, not lose a single dime in the process. Hmmm . . .

So, that book I just bought for $11.97 is really valued at $11.97 because the publishers took into account that the major retailer was going to offer the book for $19.95 and then hand out a 40% coupon.

Oh, my brain, my brain, I think it just exploded. Fair market value should exist across the board. I'm just saying . . .


lotusgirl said...

I thought I'd never give up my books in the hand. I'm now a Kindle lover, so... We've all been known to eat a word or two. It's good to remember that the biggest costs with a book are not the physical things.

Danyelle L. said...

Amazing, isn't it? I also thought ebooks would be so much cheaper than a real book because it was completely electronic.

Marcia said...

I just saw this NYT article too. I think LOTS of people expect that e-books can be really cheap and don't think the profit margin with both print and e-books is as close as it is. I wonder -- will buying e-books seem more like buying a service than a product if there's no physical book?

PJ Hoover said...

I love that you have the integrity to admit when you were wrong. This is something we all should strive to!

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I agree that you may (repeat: may) have been wrong about the $5 price point, but as I blogged about yesterday, I think there is some severe overestimation (still) in the e-market as to the worth of e-books. Ultimately the customer will decide the worth, once everything shakes out, which we're a long ways from. It will be interesting to watch...