Peter Abrahams won the Best Young Adult Edgar for his book Reality Check. You can buy a version you can actually hold in your hand from Amazon for $8.99. Or, and you know what's coming, you could buy a version that requires no paper, no printing, no binding, no boxing, no shipping, no storing, no other shipping, no possible returns to the publisher, nothing very book-like other than its appearance once properly viewed on your electronic reading device. It's only a dollar more, at $9.99.
So on the one hand I've been worrying about Big Publishing pushing us all gently and subtly towards e-books because "it's the future" or whatever other BS. The reality is that if people spend yet more money for something that costs publishers less to produce, then print books will disappear. Will that happen? I don't see how it can, but that doesn't mean they won't try.
If the world were a better place, they'd sell five million paperback copies and ten electronic ones to those folks who would buy it just because they're cutting edge hip and the rest of us are an anchor on their future.
I can live with that. My kids think I'm cool anyway. Not that they've actually said so or anything, but I know. I know.
I just read where Amazon's total revenue has gone up 46% and their net income 68%. As usual, I can only say that yes, I've contributed my share, I've done my part, I continued to drink the Kool-Aid. They can thank me by continuing to do things like sue North Carolina, who have sought records of state residents and what they've purchased, going back to 2003, for the purposes of trying to collect state tax.
If consumerism represents two thirds of our nation's economy, why do we constantly try to drag it down? Why do we even listen to crapweaselly schemes like VAT taxes? For that matter, why do we pay for parking, or penalize people for shopping some place?
(When I was a kid in Minneapolis, downtown was dead to anyone with a sense of smell. They put up an upscale indoor mall called City Center, which created a lot of buzz but few customers (though they did keep the winos out). Then they offered free parking in the nearby parking ramps and boom, a thriving marketplace was born. It did so well, in fact, that other shops opened up and downtown retail became a destination shopping target. Clearly, the time was right to exploit the situation and, um, charge for parking. Downtown shopping was Tombstone, Arizona in a matter of months. This was years ago; now they have sports stadiums downtown and all of the old buildings are gone. If I were a wino I may be completely lost on Nicollet Mall or Hennepin Avenue, but that's another story...)
No matter how much I try to make sense of all of the issues that the existence of e-books pose, I keep coming back to rising consumer prices. Which may be completely wrong, either because no one actually knows or I am actually just really, really bad at extrapolating anything out of this stuff. Or I'm just a bad guesser.
Anyway, publishers want to charge more for e-books. You would think that since there are no printing costs, shipping costs, distrubutors' cuts, more shipping costs, returns, etc., that e-books could actually retail for less than the cost of a printed book. But now, especially with the agency model coming into vogue, most major publishers will charge a minimum of $12.99 per book.
Okay, so what effect will this have on trade paperbacks that go for, say eleven or twelve bucks from an online retailer?
You see where I'm going with this. This would be absurd. But since we already know what they want to charge for e-books, than all they can do is to raise the cost of the print book to equal or exceed the e-book. This would seem to get to a higher margin and lower cost situation but at no benefit to the consumer/reader.
You'll have rising prices for a diminished product (I think most people would agree that the very nature of a physical book vs. an electronic file denotes a more substantial product; this can be argued, I suppose, but either you value a book or you don't, the actual words aside). In other words, the existence of e-books can be used in an attempt to either push people toward electronic products or simply to accept a higher cost. It's that higher price that has a greater chance of affecting demand moreso than the premise that available hi-tech gadgets will always supplant anything older than your first dog.
Again, as an endless repeat, I think what ought to happen is that a niche for e-books be created and allowed to grow to whatever size of the market would like to see. But when a small number of entities control the majority of a market, an oligopoly as it were, they can dictate more than respond to the market. I've already been driven to second hand books to a degree I absolutely rejected not so many years ago. But a used book vs. new book isn't much of a contest. Fortunately, despite the fact that I own two e-book readers (and other than experimenting haven't spent a dollar on new e-books), if you price me out of the market now I can make do with a) the books I already own, b) the library, and c) public domain e-books.
Bring back real mass market paperbacks. Hell, bring back pulp magazines. How cool would that be? I have no idea what The Shadow's been up to since the war in Europe ended.
Following yesterday's post, I see that Amazon's Kindle price of Paul Harding's "Tinkers" has been reduced to exactly that of the paperback print version, $8.22. Perhaps this model makes sense: pay a single price and pick your format, instant delivery and a mere text file, or an actual battery-resistant book.
(I kind of like the idea of buying the print version and getting an e-copy for no-additional cost; I've already paid for the book, now it's a matter of how I choose to read it. But that's a different pipe dream.) More likely the pricing difference was nonsensical and this was the simplest way to resolve it. In any case, no one called my a lying buffoon so this has been a winning situation for me.
Some people have very violently yelled at me (electronically, thankfully) for pointing out instances where Amazon's Kindle prices are actually higher than print versions of the same book. These scary people are basically implying that I'm making it up, or some such nonsense.
I just saw where Paul Harding was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for his debut novel, Tinkers. As of this moment, the Kindle price is $9.99, and the trade paperback is $8.22.
The obvious point to make is that prices fluctuate; many Kindle prices have started out high, especially, it seems, when the publication date has been recent. They then often go down, in the meantime prompting rabid posters and e-mailers to be mean to others. I haven't been shy about my feelings toward e-books: there is a niche for them, and they will co-exist with print books. My two big fears are that because "New York" publishers have become so consolidated that they will be able to dictate what form their offerings take, and that the "print books are better but technology will take over no matter what" folks will enable a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Clearly, any case where an electronic version requiring no printing, no shipping, no distribution and no shelf space can command higher prices than a print version, which requires all of those things, is not a sustainable thing. And the agency model that many publishers are turning to for their e-books is simply going to make things even less clear.
I have a Sony Reader and I have a Kindle. They're great to travel with, but you know what? I read the public domain books that cost me nothing to download (see my earlier post about two thirds of the Amazon's bestselling Kindle list being available for $0.00). I have two readers but I spend, um, nothing on actual e-books. One day I would like to read all of Richard Burton's "Arabian Nights" volumes and if I don't come across an affordable set in an antiquarian bookstore (I missed an opportunity years ago in Florida), I'll read the e-version. I could read e-books for the rest of my life and never pay a cent for them. Yes, the authors have all been dead forever but they're still books I'd like to read. But I digress, which is easy to do with such a big and complex topic. The point is that somewhere along the line either the print version of Harding's book will go up, or the Kindle version will go down. Since the latter seems extremely unlikely, and it's difficult to see the former, the experiment I mentioned will simply be to watch this title and see what happens.
In the meantime, nobody yell at me for pointing out the greater e-book price, it's real, it's right there on the site. Until it isn't. But really, I'm not lying, once all the probing was done the ship put me right back in my bed, and only one side of my face was tanned. Spooky.