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E-books are a rip-off

I have found the experience of reading books on an iPad to be enjoyable. Certainly much more comfortable on the eyes than mass-market paperbacks, with the added advantage that I don’t hear my wife demanding, “When are you going to turn the light off,” from the other side of the bed.

Before buying I thought that the Kindle or one of the other e-ink screens would be better for books than the illuminated screen, so was very pleased that I had no problem with the Apple device. The big issue is the price of e-books — they are a rip-off.

Clearly the publishers are fighting to preserve their out-dated dead tree business model. The marginal cost of an e-book is practically zero. I don’t mean they should give them away.

But the pricing is crazy. Take Our Kind of Traitor by John le Carré, list price £18.99 but for sale at Amazon as a hardback for £8.99 (from £7 if you use one of the merchants who sell through Amazon). At the Apple iBookstore where publishers can set their own price for electronic versions it is £11.99 while the Amazon price is £8.08 for the Kindle version which can also be read on an iPad.

So at Amazon the electronic version is 92p less than the hardback (or £1.08p more than the same book from another seller at Amazon). The publishers have the nerve to treat readers as idiots by pricing the e-book at Apple at £4.99 more than I need to pay for the hardback.

First, the publishers are admitting that the recommended price is utterly meaningless. Second, the e-book version is gross profiteering.

What should be the price? Let’s assume that on bulk sales John le Carre is getting 5% or the recommended retail price: that is 95p. If the publisher £2 for editing, production and marketing and the retailer has a 50% mark-up the price should be around £4.50. I suspect I am being generous to all those involved.

Clearly the publishers are trying to protect their dead tree, gas guzzling business model. I could say the same about newspapers but thanks to Shane Richmond, technology  blogger at the Telegraph, for reminding me about e-book pricing. He writes:

All publishers can do is slow things down, though. Customers believe instinctively that e-books should be cheaper than the paper equivalent. There are no printing costs, packing costs, shipping costs or overheads on shelving. Whatever the publishers might believe, it won’t be them that decides pricing but the market.

He is probably right, but I don’t see much sign of the market working yet. In the meantime, I am reading a lot of 19th century out-of-copyright books which I had long planned to read but never for round to. There are great free ebooks out there to keep us going until the publishers come to their senses.

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