Ebooks, Printed Books, and a Pile of Steaming Malarkey!

What is wrong with the picture shown below? Do you see it?

The Kindle version of this book is $10.47 and the paperback is only $6.94! What is going on?

I checked the New York Times bestseller list and went on Amazon. Here is what I found:

  • Hardcore Twenty-four by Janet Evanovich: Kindle: $13.99 / Hardcover: $10.50
  • Oathbringer by Brandon Sanderson: Kindle: $16.99 / Hardcover: $13.04
  • End Game by David Baldacci: Kindle: $14.99 / Hardcover: $10.88
  • The Midnight Line by Lee Child: Kindle $14.99 / Hardcover: $10.88
  • The Rooster Bar by John Grisham: Kindle $14.99 / Hardcover: $13.03


Why is this happening when the publishers admitted (in the Apple Inc. v. United States case regarding ebook price-fixing) that printing and distribution costs were 8% – 10% higher for printed books? In fact, most experts think the publishers understated this number considerably – not taking into account all the distribution costs: returns, marketing displays and other in-store related costs that ebooks would not have to bear.

Publisher’s Weekly:

“Stolper offered several reasons for the decline in e-book unit sales, with the most important factor being price. According to Stolper, the return of agency pricing by the Big Five trade houses in 2015 raised e-book prices by an average of $3, leveling off at about $8 per book. That jump in prices coincided with the downturn in e-book sales for traditional publishers. And while e-book prices for the Big Five were rising, prices for self-published books were settling in at about $3. Stolper said Nielsen’s Books and Consumers survey found that price is the top priority for e-book buyers when considering which book to purchase.” (https://www.publishersweekly.com/pw/by-topic/digital/retailing/article/72563-the-bad-news-about-e-books.html)

Why would the big publishers overprice ebooks? Because if ebooks were priced closer to their cost relative to printed books, people would move to them in droves. This idea, this meme, that is going around about how the physicality of books – their feel, their smell – is so attractive to people that they are rejecting ebooks: What a pile of steaming malarkey! It’s all about money. People buy the cheapest option.

The major publishers have a lot invested in print technology. They do not want to idle their presses and binding equipment. They want to maintain their control over what shows up in bookstores – their monopoly in that regard is invaluable to them and they would lose that advantage if ebooks took off.

I am often annoyed (I know, I could stop the sentence right here) at how often book lovers, and some writers, gloat about the fall off in ebook sales. Who wins? Readers don’t win. They are paying more. Writers don’t win – ebooks offer them greater volume and better royalties. Small indie publishers don’t win – they don’t get the same access to the big bookstores like the big publishers do. The only entities that win are the major publishers who get to hold on to their privileged position for a little while longer and maintain their attractive margins in hardcover and paperback titles.