The Lunacy of eBook Pricing – Example from the Forgotten Realms

Considering I am a huge fan of classic role-playing games, greatly enjoy the whole Dungeons and Dragons universe, have read and enjoyed some of the popular book series from author R. A. Salvatore including the Icewind Dale Trilogy and the Cleric Quintet, and have been intrigued by the recent announcement of the upcoming online-but-not-MMO computer game Neverwinter … you might say I was a ready-made target for the new book Gauntlgrym: Neverwinter Book I.

Naturally I wanted to read it on my iPad, because as many others here have noted – it is just a great way to read things. CarlyZ has talked time and again about the pricing issues related to the Agency Model, in which publishers name their price – and now has a new article on ‘insane ebook pricing‘. In it he talks about how in some cases new eBooks are actually priced higher than hardcover books. The argument is that the loss of ‘first sale doctrine’ and the lack of the need for all of the overhead associated with physical product should make the product cheaper, not more expensive!

And I agree that $9.99 was a psychological ‘easy point’, similar to $0.99 for songs on iTunes. I have definitely balked at buying books I would have bought without thought at $9.99. For example, Bob Woodward’s ‘Obamas Wars’ looked interesting, but the ebook cost $14.99 – basically the same as the $15.00 hardcover. Similarly Company Town, looking at industries that have become wrapped around a single town (interesting since I work for one!), cost $12.99 – much less than the $19.40 hardcover, but whereas I wouldn’t have hesitated at $10, for $13 I decided to wait.

So when I decided I wanted to pre-order the Gauntlgrym ebook, I first headed to Barnes & Noble, since I get gift cards there for giving talks, my wife has a nook and I like to use the nook reader. I was stunned at the high price, so I checked all four of the stores I use for ebooks – iBooks, Amazon’s Kindle store, Barnes & Noble’s nook store, and Borders. It wasn’t available on iBooks (surprised? Me neither), but here is what I found from the other three:


Barnes & Noble:


I had looked at all of these before, but rechecked after some comments from Doug & Carly about the Salon article. The screen grabs above are from October 7th, and I was immediately struck by Amazon. I thought “that is NOT what I paid!”, and sure enough I checked my order and I paid more than $1 less!

Amazon Order:

So there you have it – a $3 differential on a niche fantasy genre book, with prices all the way up to $0.05 less than hardcover!

That really is insanity – Einstein is quoted as saying that ‘insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results’. Publishers forced Apple to allow them to raise prices on songs in the iTunes Store, and there was an immediately decrease in sales, which has continued ever since!

Now book publishers, for all of the various nefarious and paranoid reasons Carly has detailed in the past, are trying to push ‘price parity’ between ebooks and hardcovers, raising prices on ebooks by up to 50% at times, and expecting everyone to be happy! Insanity, I say!

My wife was reading her nook while waiting for surgery the other day and a nurse was asking her what she liked about it. She cited three things: the screen readability is ‘nearly book like’, the ease and portability of having books in one light device that fits in her purse, and knowing that any book she wants will cost $5 – 10 less for the nook!

If you remove the price incentive – and also the ability to swap books with her sister and niece – then she will tend to gravitate back to physical books. Because charging the same for something that isn’t ‘real’ and is lacking in actual benefits of the ‘real’ product feels way too much like paying more for less. Insanity!

Categories: eBooks, Editorials, News


13 replies

  1. IMHO eBooks should be priced below paperback prices. One stands a greater risk of losing an eBook, and I can trade printed books in for credit towards more books at my local used book store (Go Katy Budget Books on Fry Road in Katy, TX. Voted #1 Bookstore in Houston 2 years in a row. Sorry had to plug ’em).

    To charge $15 an more for an eBook just seem like…well outrageous.


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