Why are ebooks so expensive?

I was looking for another book to buy today and noticed a definite trend that I’d been failing to put together: ebooks are getting expensive.  Well, I should say ebooks from A-list authors, distributed in parallel with hardcopy of their works.

Now, I say this not as a whiny, complaining reader (well,  not entirely) but as an author.  When looking at indie authors who’ve published on Amazon, the trend is for relatively inexpensive pricing.  I feel like I could make the generalization that independent authors will list books for $5 or less.  I’m sure there are plenty of exceptions, but I also think it’s a fair number to throw out for the purpose of comparison. I personally charge $3.99.  Any more and I’d feel like I was pricing myself out of the market.

Why are ebooks so expensive?  I noticed the newest book in Jack Campbell’s Lost Fleet series is available for preorder.  The Kindle version is $14, only $2 less than a hardcover version.  The one previous to that is actually cheaper as an ebook than hardcover as of April 3rd.  Same goes for a Harry Turtledove book I just read.  The paperback was the same price as the ebook; I bought the paperback.

I always assumed part of the allure of the ebook was the drastically lowered distribution.  All you do is host a file, and people download it.  You don’t have to print, ship, shelve, etc.  That should bring costs way down.  So, the obvious question is, are the authors getting a larger cut of the profits, or are the distributors keeping it all?  Authors tend to get a percentage of the profits after expenses are paid; do the publishers consider their high cost of e-books to be expenses?  If I was an author in that sort of situation, I’d be expecting larger royalty checks.

Are we simply willing to pay what someone says the product is worth versus what is a reasonable markup?  The argument reminds me of the concrete countertop industry.  We looked at going the concrete route recently but were shocked when concrete actually priced out much higher than granite.  Yes, more than granite!  Granite has to be found, dug out of the ground, shaped, processed, stored, etc.  Concrete comes in bags and is poured to shape after being mixed with water.  I found a website belonging to the concrete countertop industry and they explained that their product needed to be sold to customers as a premium product, and it wasn’t about what it cost to produce and mark up, it was about what they could get people to pay for it.  We’re choosing granite, thank you very much.

So, are the only reasonably priced ebooks going to come from indie authors?  I have no qualms about giving new authors a try, but I wouldn’t mind putting the new Scalzi novel on my Ipad either.  However, as much at I want to go digital with more and more of my life, price remains an important consideration.  I had hoped that with the advent of e-readers the cost associated with buying books would go down, a trend that seems to apply to anything involving technology.  If publishers want people to buy more books, they aren’t going to accomplish it this way.  My entertainment budget is fixed, and I look at it this way: I can buy two or more indie novels for the cost of any one mainstream author.  People may say that the name recognition is worth something, and I agree, but there must exist some sort of balance.

So, today I bought a novel from an indie author from Amazon.  It’s called Aurora: CV-o1, the Frontiers Saga, by Ryk Brown.  The preview looked good, the writing and editing were good, and it was $2.99.  Time to go read my new book.

If I’m way off base, or you feel I’m being unjust, let me know, because as GI Joe said every week, knowing is half the battle.

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One response to “Why are ebooks so expensive?”

  1. DaPoet says :

    Whats happening is that the major book publishers are milking their readership for all the money they can get and won’t reduce the price of their ebooks as long as their readers keep buying them. Which is one of the reasons that I don’t buy books from mainline authors very often any more. The difference in “indie” authors like yourself and mainline authors is that “indie” author’s write because they love to write while mainline author’s write to make a living.

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