The internet gods probably won’t thank me for adding yet another post about ebook pricing to the hordes already attracting heated exchanges about piracy and ‘ripoff’ publishers but I wanted to address an aspect of the discussion which tends to get drowned out by the entrenched positions of both ‘sides’ in the debate – convenience.

Acknowledging that everyone buys things differently and for different reasons, for me the biggest attractions of ebooks is that I can buy one on my iPad wherever I happen to be, I can carry multiple books around without weighing down my bag, they don’t take up valuable room around the home and I don’t have to find a shop stocking my chosen title or wait for the Royal Mail to balls up the delivery whenever I want something new to read.

Or to put it more succinctly – they’re convenient.

And for me, that convenience has a monetary value which is why I’m not too excited about the prices of individual books even where they’re dearer than a reduced paperback edition.

Let’s look a currently popular book I recently bought (and would have regardless of the publicity it’s had in recent weeks) – The Spy Who Came in from the Cold which I paid iBooks £6.99 for this.

(As a side note, it’s maybe worth pointing out the ebook price for this title is lower than the RRP for the paperback edition.)

I could have saved myself a whole £1.10 by buying the paperback from where they’d have delivered it for free or where for a further saving of 85p I could have got the book shipped for nothing in return for a 3-5 day wait.

Would I like to get a book for £5 instead of £7? Sure, but more times than not I’d rather just get it as quickly as possible so I can start reading.

I’m hardly alone in being prepared to pay a little bit more for convenience – many of us do it every single day.

It’s clearly much cheaper and better value to buy 3 assorted melons, cut them up, mix up the pieces and take a serving to work for lunchtime yet an army of us buy overpriced ‘melon salads’ from supermarkets every lunchtime.

From observing other people in the shops those overpriced handfuls of fruit are often bought alongside a sandwich you could make at home for less and half a litre of cola which per 100ml costs more than twice as much as a bigger bottle of the same drink.

If we could be bothered to buy an empty plastic bottle it could be topped up from a less than two quid 2litre bottle of big brand cola four times a week, yet we routinely pay around £1 for a single 500ml serving.

And we do it without demanding the OFT hurries along to investigate the cola producers and without rushing round the supermarkets leaving post-it notes with 1 star reviews on the shelf edge.

High street coffee and burger chains also seemingly have little difficulty convincing people to pay premium prices for fairly average food and drink all of us can make to a higher quality at home.

So why is there apparently less acceptance that the conveniences of an ebook have a monetary value?

I think the major problem is that publishers have been dreadful at promoting the ebook format and have utterly failed to portray it as a product with added value.

Supermarkets, burger chains and coffee shops spend millions advertising themselves – even the most downmarket supermarket group runs adverts portraying itself as an essential, convenient and fun part people’s lives.

Publishers on the other hand tend to be happy to allow retailers to just push ‘books’ as a generic offering. The problem with this is that most retailers can’t push the benefits of ebooks without kicking at their own legacy businesses.

If the Kindle came from a company which didn’t have a large warehouse full of paper books it wanted to ship the adverts would relentlessly push the benefits of instant delivery over wasted mornings waiting for missed deliveries.

But Amazon can hardly afford to portray legions of unhappy internet shoppers frustrated because the postman or courier didn’t bring the item when they were meant to!

Equally, neither WHSmith or Waterstone’s are likely to be running adverts any time soon showing disappointed shoppers leaving high street stores empty handed because their chosen title wasn’t in stock.

The only high profile ebook retailer which could run such ads is Apple which recently seemed to come close with this:

but the final line of the voiceover reveals that the true purpose of the ad is to distinguish the iPhone from those Android handsets eating into its market share, not to push iBooks over paper books, Kindle or Kobo.

Unlike when Apple pushed the convenience of the single use iPod, the general purpose nature of the iPad and iPhone means it’s just not pushing the same message about digital books. Even it was, Apple’s ads would merely be pushing iBooks, not ebooks as a wider format.

As content producers you’d expect publishers to be extolling the virtues of digital – it doesn’t really matter to them what format a book sells in so long as the price is profitable – yet they remain resolutely silent.

What’s most puzzling about their lack of engagement is that the benefits of ebooks and the justification for ‘higher than paper’ prices are part of the same conversation and one publishers need to have if the format is to grow without the traumas suffered by both the film and music industries.

Are we really about to witness a third creative sector utterly bungle the relationship with its users?



  1. Phil Bowyer says

    Businesses used to care about their customers. Things like whether or not something was convenient to use/access was part of the deal. It wasn’t something extra like it is today. Somehow we got to a point where the customer’s needs/wants/desires don’t matter, and we’re only concerned with the bottom line.

    Convenience should be part of the product you offer. You should WANT to make your customer happy, not make them pay for every little thing. If you make it easy, you’ll make a sale. It’s like these studios that create 30-90 day windows for movie/tv show releases. It just pisses people off and they go elsewhere. They aren’t making it convenient to do business with them, so people find alternatives.

    I agree we should be talking about the convenience aspect of digital goods, as a way to make the customer happy, not to charge for it.

  2. Ramakant Yadav says

    Ebooks are not the same as regular paperbacks. Sure, you can have 100s of ebooks on your computer. But most people like to share their paperbacks with friends or sell their books after reading.

    With a digital ebook, there is no sharing, and there is no resale. That’s why customers are unwilling to pay similar prices. Why should I pay the same price for a digital edition that I cannot resell or share with other people.

    Of course, some formats allow sharing, but that’s on the similar device. If your friend does not have the device, then you are out of luck. There is no beating the convenience of a paperback as far as social aspect is concerned. That is the reason why paperbacks will always be more expensive then single-use digital editions.

  3. Ramakant Yadav says

    Of course, for the individual reader, the ebook is great value. I had given up reading fiction a long time ago, because of the lack of book stores that sold English language contemporary fiction. However, now I can buy the digital editions from amazon and read it on my pc without venturing out. The fact that I cannot resell those books is another deal altogether.

  4. Matt Johnston says

    Convenience for whom? The retailer, that’s whom.. We’re paying more for a product that is duplicated, shipped and stored for about 1p a year whereas previously it would have required paper, ink, card, shipping boxes, inventory control, shipping, lorry drivers, pallets, storage space, shelf space, retail advertising, shelf sackers and ultimately pulping. All of that cost money so ebook retailers are winning hugely over previous dead tree retailers. The comvenience of being able to give them money anytime, anywhere is a convenience for the seller, not really for the buyer.

    And the authors, the artists who make these products we crave, they still get the same % as they always have. It’s the publishers and ebook retailers who are making the killing. Something has gotta give.