Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Who Knows What About the Great Ebook Price-Fixing Conspiracy?

Blech, it's going to take ages for the thirty-odd different class action suits against Apple and/or various book publishers and Amazon and Barnes & Noble for ebook price-fixing to get consolidated and settled, at which time, in 2018, we all get checks for 30 cents and sign away our rights to further recourse and then keep buying ebooks from this cartel. Meanwhile, there's apparently a smoking gun, or someone who claims they saw a gun smoking, at least: a source who says he or she was privy to the actual alleged strategy for price-fixing. (This person, or others similarly situated, should feel free to email us to tell all.)

16 Comments / Post A Comment

Murgatroid (#2,904)


Mr. B (#10,093)

Am I the only one who thinks e-books are still way too cheap? Is the content really worth that much less in non-physical form?

@Mr. B : I feel that ebooks should be more expensive than real books, and the price difference should be used to compensate me for the amount of time I have to spend listening to my dad talk about his damn Kindle.

@Mr. B No, you're not. But the other side is legion.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@Mr. B What are you, some sort of novelist? Stop trying to ruin this for the rest of us!

sharilyn (#4,599)

@Mr. B: You are the only one. You have to think that part of the price of books is related to their physical-ness needing to be printed, bound, trucked around, and stocked. Without that expense, books should cost about $6.

Mr. B (#10,093)

@sharilyn So what you're paying for is the production materials, as opposed to the content that took writers, editors, typeface designers, cover artists, etc., years to produce. I see.

jfruh (#713)

@sharilyn Do you actually have math to back that up, or did you just come up with $6 as a figure that seems fair to you and decide that the physicality of the book is what costs the rest of the cover price?

I would genuinely love to hear some figures as to what the various aspects of book production cost. It's a hard question to answer, of course, because large capital investments in, say, printing presses and warehouses have to be taken into consideration even though they happened years ago. Most people in publishing will tell you (though they would, wouldn't they?) that most of the immediate cost of producing a book goes to content (writers, editors, designers, artists) and marketing (promotion, publicity, advertising — this is important too, though probably creative people hold it in almost as much contempt as the e-book enthusiast holds physical bookness).

Then there's the whole hardcover vs. paperback pricing system, which I've always taken as a way to extract the most money out of the most enthusiastic buyers (i.e., a hardcover book can't really cost two or three times more to produce than a paperback, can it? but still you get them something nicer for their enthusiasm), with the paperback price drop then going after the long tail. The problem is, if there's no ebook equivalent, you can't sustain things on only paperback pricing. The answer may be to simply charge more for an ebook for the first (say) 6 months it's out.

boyofdestiny (#1,243)

@jfruh It's not just production. The booksellers need their cut, too, so you've also got the rent on the bookstore space, the capital investments for the shop, the salaries of the employees, etc., right?

Mr. B (#10,093)

@jfruh Or even hold off making a new book available as an ebook until it's time to release the paperback. Of course these things would probably start riots (or the Twitter/Tumblr equivalent thereof) among the Nook faithful.

jfruh (#713)

@boyofdestiny True! Though since (as is my understanding) the wholesale price of a book is half its cover price, you've kind of just made the case that, in the brave new future without disintermediaries where we buy direct from the producer, books will cost half what they do now.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@jfruh: I totally pulled the $6 figure out of my ass, but I still think $12 for a digital copy is way way too much. I don't even pay $12 for digital (music) albums anymore (mostly $8-10)!
Here are the things I am willing to pay for in books production:
- writers
- editors
- copyediting (and sure okay typesetting)
- marketing and promotion
Here is what I should NOT have to pay for:
- printing and binding
- cover art
- trucking and distribution from printer to bookstore
- bookstore rent
I still buy real books because I'm a fetishist and they give me a warm feeling inside. And I realise my plan attacks the very bookstores and book objects I fetishize! But for the cheap mass market paperbacks I load onto my handheld, I feel I should get a price break.
Digital books are not the same as actual books. They can't be lent or given. You can't scribble margin notes. You can't mark your place with a postcard that your brother sent you from California. But they are hella convenient and MUCH cheaper to produce. So why can't they pass even a little of that savings onto us?

sharilyn (#4,599)

@Mr. B: No, I defintely think artists/writers and editors should get paid. Even marketers and promoters. But printers and warehousers and shippers can go hang.

sharilyn (#4,599)

@jfruh: AND that if someone broke out of the established (FIXED) pricing model and started offering digital copies for even $1 or $2 less, they would obviously gain almost complete control of the eBooks market. And it's almost precisely how Amazon nearly cornered the market in the 90s – by offering loss leaders and training everyone to buy all their books in one convenient online place.

Which is to say that as the market evolves, I predict more and more writers will pull a Louis CK/Radiohead move and offer a mass market product at about half-price. And when that sells like crack-laced hotcakes, more and more popular writers will try similar moves. Who needs Amazon when you can sell directly to your installed base?

kumquatmay (#196,414)

@Mr. B, I work in publishing, and as to whether or not producing a hardcover book actually costs twice as much as producing a paperback book, the answer is yes, it does. (I checked our cheat sheet for production scales, which accounts ONLY for the cost of producing each book, not factoring in art costs for cover, typesetting, interior design, or any other overhead services or the advance. The paperback cost per book was half that of a hardcover of the same page count and print run. And that's not even counting the freight costs of shipping a hardcover which is heavier than a paperback, or special effects like spot UV lam, foil and embossing, as generally hardcovers get blinged out and we drop effects in paper)

BadUncle (#153)

As long as Richard Kadrey is paid fairly for my Kindled copies of the Sandman Slim books, I don't care.

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