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 Waterstones.com where they’d have delivered it for free or Amazon.co.uk 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.
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?