karen_w_newton (karen_w_newton) wrote,

eBook pricing: no rhyme or reason on Amazon

For quite a long time, book prices have been determined mostly by their format. A new release that came out in hard cover invariably cost more than one that came out in trade paperback. Trade PB, on the other hand, always cost more than mass market paperback.

The advent of ebooks has thrown that tried and true pattern for a loop. Publishers and ebook sellers are scrambling, trying to accommodate customer expectations— if format drives price, then ebooks should ALWAYS be noticeably cheaper— with the need to make a profit. Amazon has attracted a huge amount of hatred from publishers for its policy of trying to keep Kindle books at $9.99 or below, and promising that virtually all new (hardcover) bestsellers would be $9.99. This is often misreported as either "All Kindle books are $9.99" or "No Kindle book is more than $9.99." Neither is true. New (as in recently published) books tend to be $9.99 on Kindle when the print comes out in either hard cover or in trade paper, but this is not universal (E. L. Doctrow's latest novel is $14.30 on Kindle). And in nonfiction, there don't seem to be any rules.

A friend complained to me about Susan Squires' Time for Eternity, which is out as a mass market paperback for $6.99 while the Kindle edition is . . . $9.99! My most recent Kindle purchase was Rebecca Stead's When You Reach Me (excellent book!), which must be out in trade paper because the list price is $15.99. Amazon discounts that to $10.87, so the Kindle edition, at $9.99, is only 88 cents cheaper! It does seem that Amazon thinks $9.99 is a magic number. Sometimes books that have been out for ages— and the author dead for decades— are still $9.99 for the Kindle version, as seems to be the case with these Raymond Chandlers.

There is actually a boycott effort by a lot of eReader owners to not buy any ebook that is more than $9.99. I don't subscribe to this as policy, as such. It's more a matter of looking at the book, thinking to myself, "Do I want to pay $14.00 to be able to read that on my Kindle or is it just too much?" Almost invariably, the answer has been that it's too much to pay for something I won't be able to share with anyone (except my husband who has a Kindle on the same Amazon account) after I read it. There are a few authors for whom the answer might be that it wasn't too much, but not that many. When you get less, you expect to pay less. Regardless of convenience, readers see ebooks as being "less" (see note on format-driving pricing in the first paragraph).

I am sympathetic to authors (I hope to be one!) and to publishers (I work for one!), but I am also realistic. Publishers who reject manuscripts do so because they don't think they will make money on them. Publishing is, after all, a business. And businesses should not expect their customers to worry about their pricing models or their overhead or their marketing costs or anything except what they, the customers, are getting for their money.

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Tags: e-books, ebooks, kindle

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