A simple question today: how expensive should an electronic book be? I don’t mean books written for the e-book format; I am thinking of electronic versions of books originally published in either soft or hardcover. Should the electronic books be the same price as the physical books, or cheaper or more expensive?
There are arguments for each approach:
- If what you’re buying is just the information in the book, then the prices should be the same.
- If the physical book is more than its content for you, and you see the cost of the paper as significant, then an ebook should be much cheaper.
- If you see the value in getting your book immediately, and being able to read it on different machines and keep hundreds of books in an easily transportable device which you can search and highlight, then you’d pay more for it.
Dan Ariely, author of “Predictably Irrational” adds to the complexity of the question by pointing this out in relation to an ebook that was more expensive than a physical one:
As someone who has published two books, and purchased a lot of them over the years, I find books to be one of the most puzzling categories in terms of how much attention people pay to their price. Think about it this way — if you were going to spend 10 hours with a book, do you really care if it costs $3 more? Shouldn’t you happily pay $0.30 more per hour of reading if the quality of the book was slightly higher or the experience was slightly better? Personally my more pressing problem is time, and if someone could assure me a better, even slightly better experience, I would pay a substantial amount more. And for some books, those I really treasure and that have changed my view on life – if I were just thinking about the utility of my experience I would pay hundreds of dollars.
The problem is that it is really hard to think this way. It is not easy to focus on what we really care about (the quality of the time we spend) rather than the salient attribute of price. And on top of that the unfairness of the differences in price can make us mad …
So, what do you think ebooks should cost? Less, the same, or more than regular books?
Definitely less. I’m not paying for paper, ink, the time to print it, the cost of producing the packaging, the cost of the fuel to transport it, or the maintenance of the vehicles used to transport it. I’m not paying for space on a shelf, or a shop assistant, or the cost of the tills and other equipment needed to run a bookstore. I’m not paying for the rental of the space for the bookstore. All I’m paying for is the content.
In addition, books are more expensive because publishers know that when you buy a book, if it’s good, you’ll loan it out to your friends. Thus, they won’t sell as many copies of it as the times it will be read. With an e-book, although there are now some limited ways in which to share an e-book, most people don’t want to loan their e-readers to people who don’t have an e-reader, and so the book doesn’t get loaned out as much. Therefore, the publishers will make more money because more people will be buying copies – whether printed or digital versions.
Finally, if an e-book has truly revolutionised my life, I’m going to consider buy a printed copy. Why? Because I still love paper more. So then I would be paying TWICE for a book, which is just wrong – and very expensive. BUT, if the digital version were cheap, I’d be more inclined to buy both.
Which brings up another point… if you already have a printed copy of a book, shouldn’t you be able to buy the digital version at next to nothing??? Surely there could be some kind of system that allows you to bring in your copy of the book, with your name stamped in the front of it, or you could sign some declaration, to prove ownership? I would love to be able to carry some of my favourite printed books around with me all the time, but I’m not going to buy a digital version because they’re just too expensive.
Very compelling argument for the prosecution, Nixgrim. Is there anyone who will speak for the defense?