price points in the kindle/paper war

(Disclosure:  I have a Kindle, and I think it’s fabulous.  My newer books are available on Kindle. I expect that everything I write from now on will also be on Kindle.)

As an author, I think ebooks should be cheaper than paper books.  Ebooks are an inferior product.  Yes, you can get them more quickly, but you don’t actually get a book: you get a license to have a copy of a book attached to your account.  You can’t resell ebooks.  You can’t loan them out. You can’t express your disgust by using them as toilet paper.   Anyone in the IT industry knows the difference between owning a piece of software and licensing it.

When ebooks are more expensive than a hardback, people who have “invested” in an ebook reader become angry.  Amazon has many 1-star reviews of ebooks because the price is above that of a hardcover.  This leads to angry emotional arguments from both sides.  You can see lots of reader arguments on Amazon, and then there’s publishers’ arguments like this one from the SFWA.  But buried in the recent SFWA post are a couple of interesting facts that aren’t getting enough attention:

  • ebook prices are set by the publisher
  • physical book prices are set by Amazon

Amazon specifically dislikes the agency model under which books are sold.  They tried to use a more traditional model, but were forced out of that.  All indications are that Amazon is very unhappy about the agency model.

Amazon discounts their books under a formula known only to Amazon.  One side effect of this is that ebook devotees are angered by the price differences — and they’re getting angry at the publisher, not at Amazon.  And Amazon has previously used paper books as loss leaders.

I cannot say that Amazon is deliberately feeding this anger by choosing to price hardbacks slightly below the publisher’s ebook price.  But they make a point of labeling ebook prices as “set by the publisher,” where they don’t say that hardback prices are “set by Amazon.”  I think it’s fair to say that Amazon is aiming the anger.

And for those folks who say that publishers need to die, preferably soon:  I wholeheartedly disagree.  My books would not be nearly so good without my publisher.

Finally, on a completely different topic, but still about writing:  There’s a popular article kicking around now about reasons to date a writer.  I wanted to do a corrected, realistic version, but thankfully it’s already been done.