The problem with eBook pricing

I saw this NYT blog post and retweeted it (props to @datingdad) with “Good for amazon”

My friend Dave (@courier_new) asked some questions clarifying my position, so I thought I’d write my thoughts up (not new here, check the eBooks category) in a bit more than 140 chars.

Publishers are fighting companies like Amazon on eBook pricing. Many have won with agency pricing. Agency pricing lets the publisher set the price and more often than not you see this.

The publisher has set the digital price to be the same as the Mass Market Paperback.

Here’s why that sucks and is the wrong path. BTW Dave’s argument which was “aren’t you paying for the content, not the medium?” is very valid, and I’ll explain below why it’s flawed (at least right now).


I very much would pay the same price for dead tree or digital if the same rights existed on both. But that’s not the case because while the publishers want to rape us on eBook prices, they don’t trust us to actually own the content.

if I bought the paperback, I could sell it. I could lend it out as many times as I wanted. I could trade it for another book at a used book store. I could do whatever the hell I wanted with it, since I paid for it.

If i bought the ebook, I could do none of those things. Well I might be able to lend it to someone… once, for 14 days, if the publisher decided to allow that feature (most don’t). Hell I can’t even have my kindle read my book to me, because publishers think it takes away audio book sales.  So by purchasing an ebook, well purchase is wrong, I’m actually renting since I don’t own the content, I’m paying the same price, but getting far less.

Some examples that help clarify my thoughts. Would you lease a car for the same monthly payment as owning it? Would you rent a house, for the same monthly payment as owning it? Would you rent a movie for the same price as owning it? Most likely the answers to those are all ‘no’

So yeah if I could do the same thing with a digital book as I could with a paper one, paying the same price would make complete sense. I’ve already written about why I don’t think eBooks should cost as much since there’s far less involved in their creation, but that aside, I agree with Dave, it’s the content I want to pay for, but it’s the rights around that content that (at least right now) are out of whack with the prices.


By John Wilker

I'm a science fiction writer and conference organizer. In 2017 I published my first book, 'Space Rogues', a fun Sci-Fi adventure with a fun cast of characters. I'm also the co-founder of 360|Conferences, a conference and event logistics consulting company.

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