The Kindle, the Nook, the this, the that. The makers of eBook readers are pushing pretty hard to make them the next iPod, only with words instead of tunes. Word of mouth tends to be very positive, too.
Me, I just can’t jump on board yet. The price of entry is still too high — over $250 for the low-cost model — and the price of books on it is, in my opinion, absurd. You’re generally paying $9.99 for a new release, which is fine if you’re a person who needs to have a book right now, but is still several dollars more expensive than a paperback edition.
That’s right. The virtual copy can cost more than a real, physical copy. As far as I’m concerned, this is a stumbling point. I’m going to pay several hundreds dollars for the price of entry, then I’m going to pay MORE for my books than I would otherwise? Why am I doing this, exactly? With music, I get the attraction. I can carry around the equivalent of thousands of CDs wherever I go. And I do. Books, on the other hand … do I really need my library with me at all times? No, not really. Just the book I’m reading at the time. I can understand someone who travels a lot finding a Kindle useful, and literary agents have found great use for such devices, but if the Kindle results in no real savings for the average Joe, why not just buy an actual book? Especially if you’ve got to spend a few hundred just to play the game in the first place.
For me, the bottom line is simply: The price for virtual content is too steep.
(EDIT: A reader quite rightly pointed out that my criticism isn’t applicable across the board, and he’s right. There are many e-book publishers who offer reasonable pricing, pricing consistently lower than a print copy of the same book. My criticism is largely specific to Kindle edition pricing, but that is not only unclear in this post, it’s unfair to the good e-book publishers out there. Thanks, Jim, for pointing that out.)
However, not everyone agrees with me. Jim Duncan, an aspiring writer, says, “The story is valuable regardless of the format.” He makes a passionate defense for the work being the most important thing; for writers needing to be paid; and for consumers to think of more than themselves. His points are thought-provoking. I respect the idea that what writers do is to be valued.
I don’t agree with his stance, however. I may pay $10 for a book because I’d really like to read that book, but were I asked to pay the same $10 for the same story, only this time printed on musty old newsprint, I’d balk. Yes, the story is the same, the work that went into it the same, the author is still in need of payment … but if I’m paying for a product I expect a fair price. I expect value. In the case of a book, I’d like my quality story to be a quality package, too. If it’s not — or if it’s a virtual product without the costs involved with printing, distribution, and returns — I expect to pay less. If I do not, I move on.
It comes down to a simple question: What is this worth to me?
This is not a judgment on the author’s work or a suggestion that they ought not get paid. Rather, it’s my role as a consumer to ask this question. To cast a ballot with my wallet and say what is and is not a reasonable price to me. If pricing on digital books continues to be aggressive, publishers will find that the digital marketplace will refuse to keep up. Then no one will get paid. And no one wants that.
Rather than put the onus on consumers to purchase things at a price they might not be happy to swallow just to ensure that authors get the same cut they were getting pre-digital, we ought instead urge publishers to do a better job of moving their compensation structure into the 21st Century. It is incumbent upon them, not consumers, to ensure that their talent is fairly compensated even while ensuring that consumers receive a product commensurate with the cost.
Thus far, in my ever so humble, Kindle pricing is not quite there.
Maybe in a few years things will change, but for the moment, this avid reader (and worshiper of both digital music and video) is saying no to the digital book scene.