As an avid reader and Kindle owner, I’ve recently become interested in the economics of the publishing industry. When I first received my Kindle in February of 2009, one of the advantages of owning a Kindle was the discount on paperbacks and hardbacks offered by Amazon. All hardbacks were $9.99, and most paperbacks were discounted either 10 or 20%. However, about 6 months or so after getting my Kindle, I noticed that books that were available for pre-order for the Kindle were now no longer available even though the printed text was. I soon learned that certain publishing companies were protesting Amazon’s reduced pricing for the Kindle. The end result is that now many of the prices for ebooks published by certain companies (Harper Collins, Penguin, and Random House, for example) are fixed at the cover price, and the electronic version of hardbacks is usually $12.99.
I must confess that I am hardly the first person to blog about the publishing industry’s pricing wars, but I’ve never understood the publishers’ stance on ebooks and e-publishing. Since owning my Kindle, I purchase a TON more books than I did before, and I suspect that a good case could be made by my husband for my attending some sort of “resort” that aids those with addictions. There’s no doubt that the ease of purchase associated with the Kindle makes my addiction that much more difficult to quit. My husband should give thanks that I’m not giving up my Kindle for Lent, because Kindle deprivation could lead to some nasty side effects, namely finding things to add to the “Honey Do” list. Bottom line, I’m spending a lot of money on books, and since Amazon recently announced that their ebook sales have surpassed mass market paperback sales, I’m at a loss to explain why the publishing industry seems determined to raise ebook prices.
This decision becomes even more bizarre when I can walk into any Walmart or Target and find mass market paperbacks and hardbacks at reduced prices. The publishing companies are clearly not losing money by selling to these stores or they would have raised a stink about the prices and fixed them at the cover price as well. So my question then becomes, what’s the difference between purchasing the paperback at a Walmart at a reduced price and purchasing the Kindle version?
My sister and I recently discussed this phenomena, and we both admitted that we’re far more likely to try a new author on the Kindle than in a physical bookstore. I’ve also seen an article that said that romance novel sales have soared with the growing popularity of ebook readers. I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s a bit embarrassing to purchase a low-brow romance novel with some half-naked stud and a woman with enormous breasts hanging from her strategically placed dress! I once purchased a Georgette Heyer romance and a Frida Kahlo book at a Waldenbooks, only to have the cashier make a comment about that being a strange combination. I certainly don’t have that problem now! And since Waldenbooks is now defunct and Amazon is rolling in the dough, I have to think that there’s something to Amazon’s business model.
Another troubling issue I’ve noticed with books is the move from mass market paperback to trade paperback. For a long time, I thought the trade paperback format was reserved for either academic texts that had been on the market in hardback or erotica. This could very well have been an entirely erroneous assumption on my part, but that was the impression I had. But lately I’ve begun to see a lot of novels that would probably have been published in mass market paperback being issued in trade paperback format. Since the trade paperbacks tend to sell for $14.99 and the mass market ones for $7.99, I have to assume that this is a ploy to get more money from readers. However, I pretty much refuse to purchase trade paperbacks, and I certainly don’t try new authors in that format. $14.99 (or $9.99 on the Kindle) is a lot of money to risk on an unknown or even a known author. I haven’t purchased any of Nora Roberts’ books in trade paperback, even though she is usually one of my auto-buys. And Amazon kept recommending Chloe Neill’s Chicagoland Vampires series for me, but I didn’t want to try them because of the high cost. I did find one of the Neill’s books on a bargain table at a Borders (and Borders is another subject for another rant) for only $3.99 and for that price, was willing to give her a try. I’m glad I did, because it’s a great series and she’s a good writer. It just seems to me that launching a new author in trade paperback, while perhaps intending to indicate a higher quality product, is just going to make people reluctant to try that author.
The publishing industry’s reluctance to embrace the technology of ebooks seems extremely impractical to me. Ebooks clearly are not “killing” books; more people are buying books than before, just in a different format. I understand that late last year Dorchester decided to stop issuing paperbacks and only issue ebooks. I think that’s as much a mistake as engaging in pricing wars over ebooks is! I also recently learned that Harper Collins is now limiting the number of times libraries can lend ebooks to 26. I don’t understand this decision either, because once a library purchases a printed text, the publisher receives no more profit from it, so why would an ebook make a difference? Now Amazon is allowing Kindle users to “share” ebooks purchased with others, which again is no different than if I purchased a paperback and then passed it to my mother-in-law (which I do frequently). I understand that the publishing industry has been struggling economically for years, but the growing popularity of ereaders seems to be a possible solution, rather than signaling the death of publishing. I’m certainly curious to hear what others think on this issue, so please share your thoughts!