By Steve Weddle
My pal Lein Shory and I have been chatting for the past, let’s call it 88 years just for a nice round number, about ebooks.
The recent announcement from Apple about its iPad and the kerfluffle between MacMillan and Amazon following that announcement, just offers more examples of this here fancy brave new world we aren’t ready for.
Shory uses the new ebook advances to argue that size no longer matters.
Which makes sense, of course. Reading the paperback of Infinite Jest or Battlefield Earth can be difficult – for many different reasons. But one of those reasons is the binding. Break the spine of a 1,200 paperback and see how well it holds up the next time you take it in the toilet.
Publishers will continue to play with content and delivery as we move further and further away from cave wall drawings towards holographic pages streaming from your sunglasses while you ride along on your jetpack.
Still, one of the problems folks have with ebooks is the lock-down-ability the seller has. Remember when Amazon took 1984 off people's Kindles last year? Now Apple is getting all grumpy about allowing Stanza ebook reader to work via USB connector.
Buying an ebook doesn't give you a copy of the ebook. You are purchasing the permission to look at a certain file on a certain device (or devices, depending) under certain conditions. Sure, some readers allow you to "loan" out a book to a friend for a couple of weeks. But you don't own the book.
And there's really no alternative to the used book store. I can't imagine buying a "used" ebook.
All of that brings us back to the current kerfluffle: what price ebooks? The Atlantic has a nice piece about pricing -- taking a look at fixed costs and the price elasticity of demand.
Like publishers themselves apparently, these wise guys are using the wrong cost figures. To calculate the cost of a copy, they're loading on fixed "pre-production" costs like the editor's salary and the publisher's rent. They're including the marketing budget. But these are fixedcosts. They don't change when you produce another copy. They may be important when deciding whether to publish a book at all, but once the money has been spent they're irrelevant to what you charge for a given copy. Optimal pricing should be based on the marginal cost of that incremental copy. Cover that incremental cost, and selling one more copy is profitable. The common intuition that e-books should be cheap reflects this basic microeconomics: Producing and delivering another e-copy costs next to nothing. (from The Atlantic)
As Lein Shory has pointed out at length, you pay 99 cents for an mp3 of the latest Avett Brothers tune, but you'll listen to that over and over. What price ebooks? What price short stories?
Would you pay $15 for an ebook that you can't loan to someone when you're done? Would you pay $4.99 for a short story you'll only read once or twice?