Tuesday, February 17, 2009

On the cost of e-books

Shelf Awareness is an online newsletter for the publishing industry. They have archived issues on their Web site, but only starting from last week. So since I can't link directly to the original, I hope they won't mind if I copy a piece that sums up my feelings on e-books and their pricing(speaking as a book-lover, not so much as a collection development librarian):

Michael Herrmann of Gibson's Bookstore, Concord, N.H., writes:

As not only a bookseller but a booklover, I can see why e-books would be priced lower than real books. Not only do you not have printing, storing and distribution costs at the producer's end, but you also do not have a permanent artifact at the consumer's end. That is to say, e-books are not collectible. They are ephemeral. There is no guarantee that they will be readable or retrievable in two, 10, 50 years. They have less value than a real book. So perhaps they should cost less...

If Amazon succeeds in diverting publishers' creative energy into the e-book category, there will be incredible disruption in publishing and in retail. While there is a place for e-books in ephemeral categories and in textbooks, they will never amount to more than 10% of the market. As a technology and as a cultural artifact they are inferior to the printed book. The public will realize that, and e-book sales will eventually find their natural level, beyond all the hype...

I can't imagine I will ever spend $400 on an e-book reader if I will not be recovering my money by cheaper e-books. Many, many book-lovers will never have that kind of money for anything but necessities. And when a person spends all of that money on the reader, it is likely to break or will become unusable after five or six years. Whereas if you collect your favorite books in a physical format, you can pass them on to your children and your children's children... provided they were well-constructed.

Of course just because books don't have to physically be made, the intellectual work behind them and the technology to distribute them does cost money. I still have a hard time believing that ends up costing the company the same, though.

I am all for electronic journals, newsletters, newspapers, and e-books have their place in reference and technology fields, but I cannot envision a world without physical books that were meant to be read from cover-to-cover.

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