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?

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