Ever since the launch of the eBook reader, the publishing industry has been scrambling to understand the move to digital media. Unlike the music and movie industries, who’ve constantly embraced (however begrudgingly) new technologies, the publishing industry hasn’t had the constant push of new technologies. There’s been improvements in how publishers actually print books, however the publishing industry hasn’t seen generational changes in how their medium is consumed. Compared to the audio and visual realms, books have stayed in one medium almost since their invention1. That is, until now.
As you’d expect, the digital publishing industry - as the music and movie studios before them - is worried about the ‘colossal threat’ of eBook piracy. Of course, in a similar move to the movie music studios they’re also being entirely pigheaded in their approach to online book sales.
Before I start explaining, I need to caveat this somewhat: I’m all for artists, movie producers, publishers, writers and other content creators being paid for their expertise. To imply that lower (or perhaps more reasonable) pricing is the sole cure to persuade the majority of pirates to buy content would be missing the point somewhat. But pricing is still something that needs addressing.
In the aforementioned Metro piece, the paper goes to great lengths to explain that pirates are already sharing a copy of an eBook even before its UK release - despite a digital copy being available for £9.59 via Amazon’s Kindle service with a recommended retail price of £11.99 for the Kindle edition. Now, £9.59 may not be an unreasonable amount of money to pay for a book - after all, if you’re a Kindle user and you’re only browsing via the device you’ll never see any other price.
However, if you drop by the Amazon website and decide to pick up a copy of the paperback - one that the publisher’s gone to great lengths to pay someone to bind out of dead tree and ship to Amazon or a bookstore near you - it’ll set you back £5.39 with an RRP of £7.99. Taking Amazon’s fluid pricing into account, at the time of writing you’d get the paperback for nearly half price. Yes, I know there’s the fact that Amazon price-balances their entire inventory so that 44% discount isn’t entirely fair, but after comparing the differing RRP for both editions I had just one question about the eBook price: are you fucking kidding me??
Right now, publishers are stinging - or as Fraser more succinctly puts it gouging - eBook customers. I completely understand that there’s costs involved to produce an eBook version of a work. However, when you’re no longer smashing together some (entirely physical) pulp, pressing ink onto it, and shipping it some place, the idea that a premium should apply simply fails logic. The idea of paying substantially more for a digital copy of the exact same text can only be one set up by a publishing house who’ll next year announce stagnant eBook sales - most likely as a result of people looking to buy digital texts thinking “Screw this, I’ll buy the paperback cheap” or resorts to nefarious means.
If the publishing industry really does intend to avoid a slide into rampant piracy like their audio-visual predecessors, then gouging customers for the “convenience” of a digital copy isn’t going to cut it. As a paying (and begrudging) customer of the music and movie industries’ online forays, here’s some ideas for any publishers who happen across this post:
There’s also the argument that you shouldn’t be penalising legitimate customers with DRM, but that’s an argument for another day. Don’t get me wrong: I’d love to buy more digital books instead of making the most of Amazon Prime to ship me the less-expensive paperback2. But until the publishing houses take a second to realise they’re circling into the same downward spiral as the music and movie industries, I’ll be damned if I’m going to be gouged for the privilege of reading on my iPad.
I’m exaggerating of course, as behind the scenes things obviously evolve, but the publishing industry’s had just one addition - audiobooks - so far as the general public is concerned. ↩
Posted on Monday May 2nd, 2011