Monday, August 11, 2008

Killing Books

By reducing the discounts on many of their books, Amazon has raised their prices. Again. It's been a few years since they've done this (I think the last time was when they simply stopped discounting mass market paperbacks altoghether), and I'm not counting the mandatory Amazon Marketplace shipping price (from $2.99 to $3.49 to $3.99 in a little more than a year). This makes me sad for a number of reasons.

I realized a few weeks ago that I no longer really buy books, I scrounge them. I will not be coerced into buying the inch-taller, two-dollar more expensive "mass market" paperbacks. Rather than drop ten bucks per on these marketing monstrosities, I'll buy a used hardcover. Even with shipping I can more than likely get the book for less. Which is sad.

Yes this is an opinion but I just cannot believe the way to sell more books is to charge more for the same book in a different form factor. Or merely to charge more. I've blogged about this extensively so I'll cut myself off here, but geez, if it costs me fifty bucks for five fricking paperbacks, how many do you think I'll buy? Seriously.

Spot-checking Amazon shows that smaller presses' offerings are suffering the reduced discounts. Look, guys, I only have so much money to spend each month. You won't make more money from me this way, you won't generate more sales, you'll generate less. And you'll keep driving me to the used book market. Since I live in a small town about a hundred miles from the nearest Barnes & Noble or Borders, I'm quite cozy with the internet and buying used or new isn't any more difficult. Amazon needs to require booksellers in their Marketplace to state whether or not their books are publishers' or book club editions but that just makes me buy bestsellers from ABE or Alibris. (It seems that many Marketplace vendors buy up surplus book club editions and sell through Amazon.)

When I grew up, I would haunt the bookstores and spend the money in my pocket in books I thought would be good. This is how I discovered new authors. I can't afford to do that any more, nor have I for years. And I know I'm not unique. I still think that people who want to play video games or watch Matrix movies over and over are doing exactly what they want; readers will read, be it by patronizing libraries, used book stores, borrowing books, whatever. I just don't think competition from other leisure activities outweighs the sheer cost of reading new books. It is expensive, which inclines it toward an elitist activity, which further limits its scope.

It all just makes me wonder whether publishing is really in trouble or the fine art of reading books?

The other thing that occurred to me in the not too distant past tied all of this with e-books. While I still don't see readers choosing to supplant physical books with electronic ones (and deal with disk crashes, computer changes, O/S upgrades, DRM related issues, etc.), I could envision a scenario when publishers make books so unaffordable that they can then push a cheaper e-book price and basically force a reader to go there. But that's another nightmare.