Ebooks, Ereaders- prices, going forward and stuff

This year, like last year and the year before that should have been the year of the ereader and ebooks. But it isn’t and there are some fairly obvious reasons why not.

Firstly the sort of pricing hi-jinks that I’ve documented before don’t help. If you can buy a hardback over the internet and have them post it to you for four or five pounds less than the ebook equivalent, there is no incentive to buy the electronic version. The soution is simple and can be borrowed from other media.

Sell the ebook for a sensible price ( Victor Finch has done a survey of what people are willing to pay here), and more importantly do what film studios are doing with BD releases. For a couple of pounds more than the stand alone price, they give you a double disk set with the DVD and usually a digital download version for your iPod. That means you could have a hard back to keep at home and a digital version to read on your commute. Sensible.

I’ve read a lot of claptrap about the cost of making an ebook and how high it is. About how publishing a physical book isn’t much of the total end cost of production. That is true but its a little pointless in its selective truth.

Shipping and storage are two other major costs of physical book production. Most production is done in the far east now days and that means shipping on the high seas. If you’re not expecting to sell out your first print run immediately, you’ll need your own warehouse or distribution centre. And you’ll need to heat it, staff it or pay someone else to do it for you.

Yes, editing, proof reading and the rest are all intangible costs but how relevant are they to electronic editions? To my mind they’re only really relevant if there isn’t a tangible paper copy. At the moment ebooks, certainly for mainstream authors and publishers, are an extra, not the be all and end all. This means the sunk costs have already been sunk. Apportioning them to the electronic version doesn’t make sense. Of course this is different for new authors or those braving the new frontier of electronic publishing but lets face it, those seeking to justify the high RRP aren’t web 2.0 literate are they?

Secondly I like Seth Gordin’s idea of a Paperback Kindle– strip the ereader of all it’s superfluous functions, make it good at purely what its supposed to be good for and sell it cheap. Stupidly cheap. In fact give it away for free with ten ebook purchases, it’s the medium not the message, don’t look to make a pennies profit on it because you’ll slow adoption and lets face it its all about mass market really. Sell the Sony PRS 300 for £70 and be done with it.

Finally, get those back catalogues up there. Do I really want to buy book four in a series when books 1,2 and 3 are unavailable in electronic form? It’s all about the catalogue available. Google are working on something big, their first entry into online retail (barring the nexus 1) and the market needs shaking up. Books for the Kindle, iBooks and every other format are riddled with DRM and are still too expensive.

Well there you are. If I worked for a large consultancy firm, I would charge you a couple of hundred grand for telling you that. Aggressive pricing gets you penetration, and a large affordable catalogue gets you consumer buy in. Email me for payment terms chaps.

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