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The value of ownership and ebooks

Last week we determined that ebook pricing was not based on the cost of ebooks, but rather the most that publishers thought readers would pay for ebooks in this market. What some argue is that with lower pricing there would be more purchases and thereby making up for loss of margin through volume of sales.

Volume sales in digital books weren’t really an option, however, when there were only a few digital book readers in the marketplace. As the number of digital reader owners grow, so does the possibility of volume sales of digital books. Does this mean that prices for digital books will come down with the increased number of digital book readers? I think so, but not because publishers will make the decision that lower book prices make financial sense but because there are a number of external pressures that will push prices downward.

1. Loss of ownership. Currently digital books are considered leases rather than true sales. If a sale occurred, a reader would be entitled to the rights under the first sale doctrine: resale, trade, loan. Additionally, the question of whether a reader would be able to bequeath her digital library if she passes on to her descendants (like a daughter or granddaughter) hasn’t been addressed as the term of the lease hasn’t been challenged in court.

An Australian company is offering true cloud access of digital books. You buy the books from the ebookstore but you never get to download them. Thus, you never actually own the books. The company compares their service to YouTube, which is unfortunate given that YouTube is free.

The Bookish folks declare that ownership is being redefined and DRM’ed downloadable ebooks give only illusory ownership whereas the cloud access will actually confer more rights, like sharing and even reselling. Essentially, ownership is being redefined, under cloud storage, as access rights. You don’t own the product, only access to the product.

In my opinion, the reduction of ownership rights will lead to expect lower prices. Consumers expect to pay less for occasional use of products that they do not own. However, access is what people pay for through satellite, digital cable, music, movies, and so forth. Why not books?

2. Comparable media prices. Angry Birds is the number one selling app in the iTunes App store. It provides hours and hours and hours of entertainment and the price varies between 4.99 and .99. It’s standard price is $9.99, but I’ve rarely seen it at that price in the App Store. At least one financial writer speculated that Angry Birds and similar styled game Apps are canabalizing magazine sales. Because who wants to pay $12 an issue for a magazine when you can pay far less for a game app that entertains you five times as long?

But there are only so many hours of free time in a day to be divided between tending to the Smurfs' blueberries and reading up on menswear trends for January.

The challenge here for magazine publishers is what Matt Jones, a designer of iPad apps (among other things) at London agency Berg, calls "attention economics": "A casual game developed by five people commands the same attention of a magazine produced by 25."

Books will similarly suffer the same problem. Who will want to pay even $9.99 for a book when a product like a video game costs so much less? I think many people are willing to pay more for video games because of the a perceived higher value.

3. Other reading options. Other publishers such as Samhain, Baen, Carina Press, have reasonably priced, DRM-free ebooks. There are a growing number of authors self publishing DRM free books at prices around $2.99 and $3.99. Lori James of All Romance eBooks stated the following:

Although we've certainly realized some lost sales due to the decrease in that [Agency] inventory, data supports the fact that many readers simply found alternate content to interest them and accordingly shifted those purchasing dollars to non-Agency publishers.

So I believe that in the coming years digital books will decrease in price. This is what has happened to music. Songs are $.99 and albums are under $10. But services like Pandora and Spotify which provide unlimited access to large libraries of music, supported by ads. You can pay for a premium subscription that removes ads. Royalties are paid to authors based on usage or “plays” (versus purchase).

Another possibility is chunking or more commonly known as serialization. Publishers might charge for chunks of a novel instead of the entirety of the novel, thus increasing the overall revenue for one work. I’ve noticed in digital books that the stories have become shorter and shorter and even some authors are extending stories over several “books” instead of containing the entire arc of a romance in one “book.”

Yet another possibility is ad supported books wherein inline google ads or other ads will be inserted into books so that they appear more like website pages with ads or magazines.

I’m sure that there are other possibilities but with the amelioration of ownership and comparable media prices, digital books will come down from their current position and this, in turn, will create new business models and new pricing models. Could publishers resist the downward pressure of ebook pricing by coming up with a business model which would result in increased sense of ownership and thus value to the consumer? Is cloud access that model? What other ways could publishers and authors increase the value of ebooks to consumers?

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

46 Comments

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  2. library addict
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 07:14:17

    I want ebook prices to come down, but I do not want ads in my book. Ever.

    What I really want is the ability to use coupons on the Agency books. I bought so many more books per week back in the heyday of Fictionwise (before B&N bought them out and then Agency 5 pricing kicked-in) and I didn’t even have my Sony Reader at that point. Why? Because micropay and discount codes may it worth my while to go broke saving money. I bought the entire In Death series (which I already own in hardback and paperback) plus plenty of other favorite books I had already read and own in print.

    With agency pricing, I rarely do because I can’t justify paying $8 or $9 for a book I’ve already purchased in print. Not saying I haven’t paid agency 5 pricing for any ebooks (there have been a few books I “needed” on release day and some books by fave authors I wanted to complete collections), just that it’s much easier to say no to a purchase, particularly a “repeat” purchase, with the Agency 5 pricing structure. And I'm much more likely to try new authors via the library than e when I have to pay that much money for a book.

    I'm not sure how publishers can make ebooks more valuable. I think they have shown progress getting ebook released the same day as print (at least for many authors I read). Really allowing lending would be another big plus.

    Of course, they could also make it easier on customers by ditching DRM and going with a single, industry standard format, but I don't see that happening any time soon.

  3. DS
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 07:43:15

    Having things “in the cloud” makes me uneasy because of loss of control. I have all of my ebooks backed up like I do most of my important data, and I also use dropbox. Plus, I also know how to strip the DRM from my books even when I don’t bother to do so.

    I don’t want to buy access unless it is very, very cheap. Nexflix’s $8 or so a month is about right, although it looks like content providers are trying to squeeze them for more money so it may be going up.

  4. Mireya
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 08:10:36

    I would be okay with a business model that would allow me to “rent” content, like I “rent” my music using Rhapsody, or get streaming movies from Netflix via our blu-ray player. The pricing would have to be VERY LOW though, no more than, let’s say, $1-$2 a pop. I wouldn’t mind having to buy a dedicated device linked to the service. I did that when I subscribed to Rhapsody several years ago, and most recently I did something similar this past holiday season, when the blu-ray player I got as a present for my husband, which is our first player btw, was one that my husband chose because it allowed for it to get streaming content from different subscription places like Netflix, Hulu, etc. besides being a DVD/Blu-Ray player. The prices for both my music/MP3 player and the blu-ray player I just mentioned were really good and didn’t break my wallet. Say $100 or less for an e-ink dedicated device linked to the “rental” service.

    In my personal case, it would make sense as frankly, I only consider 10% of my book purchases true “keepers”. Most of what I read ranges from okay to flat out bad (in my personal opinion) so I wouldn’t even really care to keep those. Those books that are “keepers” I’d likely want to buy for “keeps” though, so that would bring another issue (I’d like to have the option to “keep” the books I want to keep).

    I am okay with paying up to $8 for an ebook version of a book from one of my autobuy authors. However, new-to-me authors are more of a gamble, so a “rental” service could be a solution when I am not sure about a new-to-me author, or with one of the authors I consider “hit or miss”.

    As to “ads”, that is a HUGE no for me. I don’t want “ads” in my ebooks. I am scrolling through a few pages and next thing I know I get an “ad”? erm… NO. I don’t get “ads” in my music player, know what I mean? so I would expect the same from an ebook rental service … ZERO ads if I am subscribed.

  5. may
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 08:26:14

    I have not yet gotten an e-reader, mostly because I don’t see the value for me. I value my hard copies, often share or trade with friends, give away to library booksales if they’re not keepers, etc.

    If prices were better (most books I want to read? Little more than $1 difference at most. ugh.) or if there were cheap ‘rental’ options for a buck or two or if there was something compelling me to buy in I would.

    Thus far? I’ve been content to be 100% old school real books.

  6. Mike Faraday
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 09:09:23

    I’m not sure what is meant by the comment about challenging lease terms in court. What possible ground could cause a court to abrogate a voluntarily entered-into agreement like this?

    Also, the fact that a few publishers have lowered prices doesn’t mean we should expect others to lower theirs. From Econ 101, remember the concept of cross-elasticity of demand. Lowering the price of books A through F will cause prices of books G through M to do down only if the first set of books is a close substitute for the second set. Are you unwilling to pay $24.95 for a book you want because other books are available for $7.99?

    Similarly, are games like Angry Birds substitutes for books (other than comic books)?

  7. Sylvie
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 09:49:42

    I’m 100% with May.

    Though, I still believe e-books are a truly wonderful and viable option for libraries – but not my real life. I just snail mailed books to my mother, my grandmother, and a college friend.

    We enjoy sharing good and not-for-me reads with each other and I don’t want to have to pay (throw away) nearly 10 dollars for some DNF.

    Bottom line, ownership is worth *something,* and knowing publishers are just skimming profits off of buyers AND writers doesn’t make it any more attractive.

  8. hapax
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 10:42:03

    Mike Faraday: “are games like Angry Birds substitutes for books (other than comic books)?”

    Umm, have you read many comic books / graphic novels recently?

    Because a cheap swipe like that makes it hard to take the rest of your comment seriously.

    And no, I wouldn’t consider Angry Birds an adequate substitute for the psychological surrealism of Moto Hagio’s DRUNKEN DREAM, or the inspiring, heartrending and infuriating IRREDEEMABLE, or even the pretentious twaddle that is ASTERIOS POLYP.

  9. JenM
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 10:43:29

    I do believe the Agency pricing will have to give at some point. There’s just too much competition. The backlist stuff that authors are recovering the rights to and releasing on their own at $3 or $4 is just the latest example. Prior to Agency pricing, every book I bought (around 300/yr) was in ebook format and probably 75% of it was from the Agency 5. Now, due to their insane pricing policies for books that I don’t even own, I’d say about 10% is from them and I’ve gone back to swapping used paperbacks when I want to try a new author instead of just going ahead and buying a new ebook.

    I’ve discovered lots of great authors at Samhain and some of the smaller publishers as well as a few very good Indies. I don’t read many categories, but HQN’s pricing policy is very good so I read quite a few of their longer romances and PNRs and everything I’ve read from Carina Press has been at least decent, often very good. There are so many good books out there from so many sources, that I would never read all of them in my lifetime, so why should I pay more for the Agency 5’s books? I have maybe 5 authors left on my “auto-buy, must have on release date” list. Everyone else can wait either until the price comes down, or until I can get my hands on a used copy.

  10. LG
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 10:51:40

    I’m not comfortable with the idea of paying for access and not ownership as we understand it with print books. I have print books I’ve had for more than a decade. I might only reread my favorite parts on a regular basis, or I might reread the full book only once every few years – but I can do that if I want. If I pay to access something, will I still be able to access it 10 years from now? What happens if the company you paid for access goes out of business?

    If I want access and not ownership, I go to the library. If I find myself wanting to access a particular work often enough (i.e., I check out a book multiple times and am disappointed when the due date rolls around), then I buy it. E-books, or at least what publishers are comfortable allowing libraries and individuals to do with e-books, may change how that works in the future, and that’s not looking like a good thing right now.

  11. Isobel Carr
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 11:47:07

    As a reader, I want what I want when I want it. EBooks are great for that. The ease of availability and accessibility is worth something too. It has just never fazed me that an ebook costs the same as a paper book (costing MORE irks me however).

    I love eBooks because they allow me to glom an authors backlist at will. For example, I bought Must Love Hellhounds because it had Nalini Singh in it. Ended up falling in love with Ilona Andrews and am now on the second Kate Daniels book (can’t read historicals when I’m writing, which is pretty much all the time now, LOL!).

    Maybe I’m strange. *shrug*

  12. Pat
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 12:06:18

    Er, isn’t that cloud access thing pretty much what a public library is for paper books (only free)?

    I have an ebook reader, and it has its uses -‘ the free out of copyright stuff and when traveling -‘ but I really prefer to read paper books. If I want to keep a book I buy the real thing. And I can’t think of anything I wouldn’t be willing to wait a few days for.

  13. GrowlyCub
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 12:10:28

    @Mike Faraday:

    If I decide to play Angry Birds instead of reading the latest historical romance that time is not available for reading, so clearly in that case the game is a substitute for said book.

    The act of commenting here or using other social media also takes time away from reading. Readers make decisions all the time as to which activity will bring them the most enjoyment at any given moment, whether it be swapping one book for another or one book for a movie, Twitter, Facebook, a phone call, TV or lunch with their friends.

  14. Ridley
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 12:47:44

    @Mike Faraday:

    Are you unwilling to pay $24.95 for a book you want because other books are available for $7.99?

    Similarly, are games like Angry Birds substitutes for books (other than comic books)?

    1. Totally. Though even $7.99 is too high for me. I’ve completely eschewed Agency 5 priced books since the dawn of agency. I’ve read small publishers in much greater numbers instead.

    2. Hours spent playing Angry Birds are hours not reading. It isn’t a matter of consciously choosing a game over a book. There’s only so many hours in a day and if a casual app game catches your eye, that’s your leisure time being allocated.

  15. Erica Anderson
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 13:24:21

    Fascinating topic. Two points: I don’t mind “leasing” books, because I rarely keep paperbacks and reading digitally means I don’t have to take bags and bags to the UBS. For me, mass-market ebooks should be at least $1 to $2 less than tree-books. Second: I’ve read more widely since I got my ereader. Review sites like DA or SBTB have alerted me to good deals on books by debut authors or in subgenres I don’t usually read. For me, $2.99 or $3.99 is a reasonable price point to try something new. $7.99 for a MMPB is not.

  16. Estara
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 14:00:45

    No ads in my book, definitely.

    As a bookworm the experience of reading a book can not be replaced to me. I own and play PC games and console games, but I play them when I’m on holiday, not regularly. No day goes by that I do not read for at least an hour – unless my right eye acts up, heh.

  17. hapax
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 14:38:31

    As a bookworm the experience of reading a book can not be replaced to me.

    I’ll agree with that, and even say that different kinds of reading are not interchangeable as well. Reading romance is not interchangeable with reading a thriller. Reading the newest Nalini Singh is not the same as reading a Heyer I’ve practically memorized.

    Reading a print book is not interchangeable with listening to an audiobook nor with reading an e-book.

    I’d even disagree that we have “more entertainment options available to us these days.” Yes, I couldn’t surf the Internet in 1911. Well, today I can’t hop on my horse for an invigorating ride, take a stroll across open fields, visit the neighbors for a leisurely gossip, attend a village musicale, dance at a grand ball, cheer at a school spelling bee, or sit on the back porch with my sweetheart and watch the moon rise.

    (Yes, I’m aware that all of the above are indulgences of the relatively well-off. And does anyone think that buying iPhone apps is not?)

    I’m not aware of any time in human history that people had access to more than twenty-four hours in a day. If large numbers of people choose to spend some of those hours on something other than reading, I doubt that the majority of the blame can be assigned to agency pricing.

  18. Kerry D.
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 14:51:50

    I don’t mind the idea of cloud access if it’s like a library with a small charge. I “borrow” the book and read it and I’m done with it.

    But if I want to “buy” a book, I want it to be mine. (I admit I DRM strip and back up to future-proof by books, not because I want to “share” them.) I want a copy safely stored on my computer (and probably multiple other places if I’m feeling paranoid) and I want it available for me any time in the future that I want it. So in that situation I hate the idea of cloud books with the passion of a thousand suns. Just no, no, no, no and no.

  19. Sarah, not Sarah
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 15:21:06

    I honestly would love to have some sort of rental service available*. I’d happily fork over $8-10 dollars a month for borrow books at will. (Heck, I do that now in terms of late fees at the library. Barring the odd lapse in will power, I really can’t justify paying the full Agency fee for my romance novel fix when I can go pick up a new release for $1-2 dollars cheaper at the local big box. I am all for paying authors for the intellectual value of their work, but the disparity in cost of a book you physically own and a book you’re essentially leasing is ridiculous.

    * That caters to the Kindle crowd along with everyone else. Overdrive, you have many shiny books that I cannot access without doing nefarious things! I shake my fist at you.

  20. Ridley
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 15:29:50

    @hapax:

    Yes, I'm aware that all of the above are indulgences of the relatively well-off. And does anyone think that buying iPhone apps is not?

    Well, I’ll have to disagree here. I live in a pretty working class city north of Boston and smartphones are everywhere. Everyone has cable or satellite TV. We were probably the last people on our street to get a flatscreen tv and cable. I know our lowlife neighbors with the knotted sheet curtains have had an enormous one for years. Everyone finds the cash for a game system too.

    The working poor are more techy than you’d guess.

  21. Dennis
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 15:31:36

    I think DRM stripping is the main reason prices might fall. If you can get it for free you won’t pay too much. If it is cheap, why steal?

  22. Isabel Cooper
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 16:04:22

    I would love a Netflix-esque rental service, although I also don’t have a problem with buying ebooks at the moment–but yeah, having all the rights would be good.

    Ads…really depends. Something that interrupts the text? Hell no. But I’ve pretty much grown up reading blogs, and I can ignore the side-or-bottom banner ads pretty easily. (Which probably makes me a non-ideal market for same, but hey.)

    I kind of agree with hapax that the e-book and print book experience aren’t the same. With a print book, I find myself settling in to focus on it for whatever time I have; with an e-book, I tend to switch around, check a little email between chapters, etc.

    On the other hand, that kind of multitasking is sometimes really valuable. And e-books are easier to get away with reading at work. Not that I’d ever do that, of course. ;) (Well, not at my current job.) Also, I like the convenience: I am a lazy, lazy girl, and I support any media platform that doesn’t make me leave my house when Boston does its annual three-month Surface of Mars imitation.

  23. Andrea K Host
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 16:58:12

    Leasing not owning books is one of the big barriers to ebook libraries for me, and a major reason why I limit my ebooks to ‘disposable’, Project Gutenberg, or DRM-free from places like Smashwords.

    I know some of the places I can currently buy books from will go out of business eventually. I will not buy a book I want permanently when access to the book relies on a company staying in business for the rest of my life. If I buy a ‘keeper’ ebook, I want a file I can place in my personal cloud, not in some company’s login domain.

    Pricing-wise is always a difficult one. I resent paying more than physical book costs for an ebook. I don’t mind paying same or less for a new release, but I expect that price to drop once the book’s been out a while.

    As an author myself, I really love the price flexibility ebooks give me. They are so much more profitable than the physical books, and so much easier to give-aways and discounts. [I’m having a half-price week if anyone likes fantasy with a strong thread of romance!]

    Organisations like Baen really understand the ebook market. I’m hoping other big publishers will wake up and follow their lead.

  24. Janine
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 17:07:23

    While I would love for ebook prices to come down, the truth is that agency pricing hasn’t made much of a change in my buying habits.

    That’s probably at least partly because I live in a small apartment where in an area where the rent is ridiculously high, so ebooks, even on a leased basis, feel like a better value than paper books I have to pay to store, move, etc.

    Also, I am a slow reader and rarely read more than one book a week on average, and I get access to ARCs because I review for DA. For that reason, even at agency prices, most books seem affordable enough to me at least at the moment.

    I recently got a Kindle 3 and I love some of its features (the new e-ink contrast ratio and page reloading speeds) so much that ebooks feel like a better value than they were when I read on my Sony PRS-505, and certainly than they were in the old days when I read on a Dell Axim PDA.

    So I guess I would say that for me at least, what I’m willing to pay for an ebook depends on a variety of factors including my household income, what I’d have to pay for storing paper books, what machine I’m reading my ebooks on and also, how much I want to read a particular book.

  25. Brian
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 20:18:19

    As far as I’m concerned my books are purchases, not leases. When I get a book from Amazon it says BUY NOW, same with Kobo, B&N and others. As far as I can remember I’ve never been presented with anything by any of these sites when buying where I had to accept/agree that I was paying for a lease/license. Probably living in a dream world, but…

    While I dislike some of the pricing the agency pubs have thrown out it hasn’t stopped me from buying from them entirely. It has made me wait on a price drop for some books, with the risk that I’ll lose interest by the time the price does drop. My biggest problems when it comes to pricing is when an ebook costs $1-$5 more than its paper equivalent, those I won’t buy period.

  26. MaryK
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 21:53:19

    “The Bookish folks declare that … cloud access will actually confer more rights, like sharing and even reselling.”

    I’m so sure.

    “I think many people are willing to pay more for video games because of the a perceived higher value.”

    Video games definitely offer more entertainment mileage for your money. Some you can play over and over for months without getting bored with them. And they have broader appeal. My nephews love to borrow iThings when they visit, but they rarely look at any of the interactive kid books we’ve gotten for them; they go straight for the game apps (or Google for hotair balloon pics in the oldest’s case).

  27. MaryK
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 21:57:46

    @Andrea K Host:

    I know some of the places I can currently buy books from will go out of business eventually. I will not buy a book I want permanently when access to the book relies on a company staying in business for the rest of my life. If I buy a ‘keeper' ebook, I want a file I can place in my personal cloud, not in some company's login domain.

    Yes Yes Yes! This is what I think a lot of people don’t get.

  28. Suze
    Jan 23, 2011 @ 23:39:24

    @Dennis: Stripping the DRM, while technically illegal, is not stealing. Many, many people who buy e-books strip the DRM so that they can read them, not so that they can pirate them.

  29. SAo
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 00:17:18

    No to books in the cloud. That’s like owning books on a bookshelf in someone else’s house. I don’t want my books limited to when I am connected to the internet. I read on planes and in the car, neither has web access, either at all or at an acceptable price or quality. Nor is my internet that reliable that I want to be dependent on it to work 24/7.

    I’d be up for a subscription based library service, as long as there are no geographical restrictions. I currently borrow ebooks from my hometown library. It works really well, except there is such a limited selection and long waits.

  30. SAo
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 00:38:17

    @ m. Faraday:
    game apps definitely compete with reading. I view most pop fiction as light entertainment, as I do game playing.

    At 10$, e-books cost more than I was used to paying for pop fiction. Add to that they can not be shared. Popular non-fiction often gets read by me, my husband and two kids. For that, 25$ and a hardcover that will last is worth it. 10$ for an e-book that can’t be shared (unless I loan my computer or e-reader out, depriving me of access to all my other books/programs) is way too expensive.

    Take Harry Potter. My paperback HP5 cost 10$, but was read by me, my daughter and my son. That’s $3.33/person, easily comparable to the price of a new video game or a family DVD.

    I wouldn’t mind paying extra for a sharing option, but that’s not paying extra on top of 10$/book. That’s paying 1-2$ extra on a 3-5$ book. If the final cost of a book sharable by 3 or 4 of us is 10$, that’s okay.

  31. Tamara Hogan
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 06:19:00

    SAo, great bookshelf analogy at comment 28. “The cloud” is still a server farm in some vendor’s basement, and access to the cloud assumes you can (or want to) use the internet. I don’t want to be dependent upon multiple vendors to access my books. Hell, I don’t want to be dependent on the electrical grid to access my books.

    When a computer virus takes the grid down, I’ll still be reading. (I’m mainly – but not entirely – kidding.)

  32. Jane
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 08:53:57

    @Dennis If you equate DRM stripping with piracy, your conclusion makes sense, but the only individuals who can strip DRM are those who are the legitimate purchasers. I would guess that the great many of DRM strippers strip so as to ensure that their books can be read on more than one device.

  33. Jane
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 08:54:53

    @Ridley Given that there are over 80 million iThings out in the wild, I would say that it isn’t an indulgence of the relatively well-off

  34. Dennis
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 09:36:07

    @Jane: What I meant is that if the price of the ebook is too high, one might be tempted to get a DRM-stripped version from a friend (or site). I believe this is why music prices have come down. People will pay what they believe is a reasonable price, but not more if there is a way to get it for free.

    In the example used by SAo, stripping would enable sharing with daughter and son.

  35. Eric Hellman
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 10:05:06

    I think the book publishing industry underestimates the competitive price pressure from public-domain and freely licensed literature. The $10 current ebook competes with the worlds greatest literature available for free and with a vast ocean of writing created by everyone. I see my kids voraciously reading, not Jonathan Franzen, but stuff written by other kids, including their friends, both virtual and IRL. Heck, you’re reading this!

    I’m working on ways for literature to join the public commons in other ways, and I hope that today’s authors will be able to profit from that effort.

  36. Joy
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 10:20:43

    Ah, cloud access to e-books. Sounds like the divx of the e-book market and will probably go over just about as well. I get better service from the free Overdrive library.

  37. Castiron
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:43:45

    @LG: If I want access and not ownership, I go to the library. Exactly. When I buy a book, I want to *own* the book. I can see paying for access (after all, I’m paying for my public library through taxes), but I’m not willing to pay ownership prices and be limited to access rights.

  38. Castiron
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 11:57:10

    @Andrea K Host: I’ve actually had etexts I bought become unavailable, back in the earlier days of ebook experimentation, so I’m extra wary of ebooks that might not work in ten or fifteen (or two!) years.

    There are paper books on my shelves that are 30 to 40 years old; short of a disaster that destroys half my house or a thief with weird ideas of what’s got resale value, those books will be around for many years to come, with no effort on my part, and can be given to my descendants or sold for cash after my death. How many DRMed etexts are still going to be readable in 40 years?

  39. Isobel Carr
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 12:32:29

    @MaryK:

    Video games definitely offer more entertainment mileage for your money. Some you can play over and over for months without getting bored with them.

    My little brother and his friends only rent games because it takes them such a short time to beat them and then they’re bored/done with it. On the other hand, they BUY books like mad (yes, these are 20-something guys!).

  40. MaryK
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 13:05:18

    @Isobel Carr: That’s pretty cool! We’re more into puzzle games rather than RPGs(?) which probably makes a difference.

    I probably shouldn’t mention this considering, :) but my latest timesuck app is “Sherlock: the Game of Logic.” I’ve killed untold amounts of reading time with it. But hey, it’s exercising my brain, right?

  41. nasanta
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 18:00:21

    I myself would not pay for cloud access. Typically, I will purchase e-books only if I have reasonable expectations that I will enjoy it; namely, books and authors that have been reviewed on this site or recommended elsewhere. If I enjoy it, I will want to keep it to reread or just to read my favorite parts. For many years, I’ve kept many of my old books on that basis. Only recently, I’ve been swapping some of my paperbacks and hardcovers on Paperbackswap.com, and that is after forcefully telling myself that there is very little likelihood that I’ll be rereading them.

    Having had the experience of losing an e-book I had paid $9.99 for (which I consider pretty high for an e-book) because 1) the format it was in was no longer in use and 2) the e-book store I’d purchased it from had removed it so I could no longer download it again (I’d “backed it up” by saving the .otd file which is no longer in use; CS couldn’t help me and DRM issues + unsupported format meant Adobe Digital Editions couldn’t open it) and 3) it was DRM’ed, I too strip DRM so that I can a) convert to epub and b) not worry about DRM preventing me from reading a book I’d purchased for one reason or another in the future. I rarely share books outside of family or give them away since my friends and I do not read the same genres; it is unlikely I’d share my stripped e-books.

    Regarding pricing, if it’s a book I really want and my choice was paying $24.95 for an e-book vs. hardcover, I’d go with the hardcover. With Borders’s coupons and Amazon’s discounts, it would be cheaper and I would be able to sell it or swap it if the book turned out to be a disappointment. Even if I’d been waiting for a year or longer for the book, and it had come out first digitally, I’d wait just to purchase it more cheaply as a hardcover or paperback. I can, in no way, justify to myself spending over $10 for an e-book. I will, on occasion, spend up to $9.99, but that would be the really rare occasion when the book is only available in e-book format and a Dear Author review created enough interest.

  42. Silvia
    Jan 24, 2011 @ 19:08:27

    To me books have never been disposable; I have a large home library of print books and I enjoy re-reading them often. If I love a book, I’m going to want to enjoy it again & again every couple years. Thus, I have little interest in “access rights”. I don’t want to lease books, I don’t want DRM on anything I purchase. I want to own my books and be able to do anything I want with them.

    For people like me, the way to make us extensive ebook buyers is to move away from DRMs and provide digital book products that can work on a wide variety of readers and software and can be easily backed up without worrying about licenses and future compatibility. They should be something we can easily utilize 10 years from now, after multiple computer crashes and software updates.

  43. Kristi
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 12:07:53

    With DRM, buying an e-book is much like buying software. I expect that if my reading device dies or if I decide to upgrade, then I will probably lose much of whatever I’ve already bought. Similarly, when my 5-year old laptop with Office 2003 dies or I decide to upgrade, I’d expect to have to buy a new copy of Office, not re-install the old version.

    If that’s the way publishers want to work, fine. But they need to price books for the temporary use, not for the long term. When I buy a new laptop and need a new version of Office, I will get an “upgrade” license for a fraction of the cost. If I had to replace a DRM’d e-book from an agency publisher, I have to pay full-price all over again.

    When publishers protest that hardcovers are $24.95 and they’re setting ebook prices at $12.99 and $14.99, do they realize how many people never ever buy a full-list-price hardcover? Bestsellers are discounted (40% frequently), and eventually put on clearance tables. Bookstores have coupons and membership cards and 2-for-1 deals. If the publishers want to set the price and fix it at an artificially high level, then they will see some of their sales move elsewhere.

    Microsoft knows that it has cheaper (and free) competitors to its Office software, and they combat it by offering upgrade pricing and educational pricing and enterprise pricing and by allowing sites like Amazon to discount the software from the list price. People still buy Microsoft because their quality is good (no flames please…;) )

    What are the old-school book publishers doing to make sure that their customers don’t feel cheated and therefore abandon their “brand” for an indie author or a smaller e-press?

  44. DRM (or…the devil) « The Illustrated Romance
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 22:49:32

    […] being said, after reading Jane’s post on pricing and value I sat down and really considered what I needed to do. The facts are the facts. […]

  45. Jenn
    Jan 25, 2011 @ 22:58:38

    This happened to be a very timely and helpful post today. I’m working on pricing and rights and all that fun stuff. My book includes much more than the average ebook and is being published specifically for digital delivery.

    I also hate DRM and saying that is difficult because I certainly don’t want to be a hypocrite. On the other hand, this was a lot of work. I fear putting something out there that people will disseminate at will to countless others.

    My best hope is that my readers will appreciate the ownership and additional content enough that they will respect my rights as the creator and draw a line where, sure they share the book. Of course they put it on every reader and computer they own, but if they are giving it as a gift…they buy a new copy. If a random person is interested in it they tell them where to buy their own copy, they don’t just bump it to them.

    Of course…this all comes after the part where they LOVE my book.

    Now my brain hurts.

  46. Stumbling Over Chaos :: Long ago, in a linkity land…
    Jan 28, 2011 @ 07:55:27

    […] Publishers need to decide whether they’re selling ebooks (providing full ownership rights for the purchase price) or providing a rental (at rental prices). Another, longer opinion piece on the same topic. Dear Author weighs in, too. […]

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