Frustration in eBookville: Will There Be a Rubicon for Publishers?

I’m one frustrated ebooker! I recently purchased several books in hardcover (The Eichmann Trial by Deborah E. Lipstadt and Bismarck: A Life by Jonathan Steinberg), which is (supposedly) what the publishers prefer I do. But although I bought hardcover versions for my library, I would like to do the actual reading on my Sony Reader.

I already own (and read years ago) Hannah Arendt’s 1963 book on the Eichmann trial, Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil, and I would like to read it again but this time as an ebook. I am particularly interested in comparing the Arendt’s contemporaneous account (who also attended the trial) with Lipstadt’s hindsight account. The reviews of Lipstadt’s book indicate she comes to a conclusion opposite from Arendt regarding Eichmann’s role in the Holocaust.

All three books are available as ebooks. One would think, then that the problem is solved. Just buy the ebooks. Alas, it isn’t solved because of the exorbitant ebook pricing.

I purchased The Eichmann Trial for $16.20; the ebook costs $12.99. I purchased Bismarck: A Life for $21.25; the ebook costs $14.97. Arendt’s Eichmann in Jerusalem was originally published in hardcover in 1963 (I own a first edition of the book). In 2006, Penguin released a paperback version. I can buy the paperback today for $10.98, but the ebook costs $12.99. Based on the ebook price, one would think Arendt’s book had been released for the first time yesterday, not that it is nearly 50 years since its publication!

The publishers of these books are playing a dangerous game. It is readers like me, that is, readers who want both hardcover and ebook versions of a book that publishers and authors should be trying to find ways to accommodate. We are interested in buying a book twice.

Alas, it appears that neither the publishers nor the authors are able to wrap their heads around the concept of a decent package price. It is certainly obvious that publishers are fixated on a single remedy to cure all ills, with that remedy being high ebook pricing — even on a book first published 48 years ago. What happened to the promise of lower prices the further away from the initial hardcover release we are? How much farther away than 48 years do we need to be?

As it stands now, the ebook pricing scheme is forcing me to consider the darknet route for the ebooks. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I’d even consider, in this instance, darknetting as piracy, as I bought the version the publishers wanted me to buy — the hardcover version; after all, preseving hardcover sales was/is the rationale for high ebook pricing.

What the publishers should be doing is thinking up schemes to entice me to buy both the hardcover and ebook versions. The first step to accomplishing this is to come up with a realistic ebook price when the hardcover has already been purchased or as a package price at the time of the hardcover purchase. This latter approach would work easily.

Give me the option to buy the hardcover alone, the ebook alone, or the hardcover-plus-ebook combination. In the combination package, charge me $5 more than the hardcover alone. Because I value having hardcovers in my permanent collection but want the pleasure and ease of reading the book on my Sony Reader, I, for one, would readily pay a $5 premium for the package. Publishers should learn from the movie companies, which increasingly are offering DVDs in two packages: DVD alone and a combination of DVD plus Blu-Ray, with the combination package costing only a few dollars more.

With all their complaints about piracy and the threat the darknet raises to their existence, the reality is that publishers are their own worst enemy because they refuse to address honestly what the marketplace wants. Instead of complaining about their problems and doing nothing productive to solve them, publishers should be devising creative solutions to those problems — and packaging the hardcover and the ebook together, although not a final solution, is one interim solution that would increase sales and revenues yet preserve the hardcover that publishers seem to be focused on preserving.

If publishers do not take such steps, they will have met their own Rubicon. They will turn ebookers like me into darknetters, the opposite of what publishers want and need to happen. It is time for publishers to meet head on the challenges of the eBook Age and not continue to try to hide them beneath the carpet.

reposted with permission from An American Editor

image by cobalt123


  1. Michael Allen13 April, 2011

    Yes, I’ve bought two versions of the same book — most recently Gary Taubes’s latest. Yes, publishers are their own worst enemy. And yes, they are braindead. If they won’t listen to their friends who want to help them, there is no chance.

  2. monopole13 April, 2011

    This is a perfect example of O’Reilly doing things right. Excellent prices for eBook and print combos, and the option to buy the ebook or print version after purchasing the other format earlier.

  3. Erik13 April, 2011

    I find this very interesting. I just recently saw my very first kindle and was very impressed. I thought for sure i would have to worry about the glare coming off the screen. But i was greatly surprised, it was just as easy to read as a book or a newspaper. I was really quite impressed! I am actually a fan of digital print now. I still want the printed word to exist, but there are so many positives to digital works: for one, its incredibly environmentally friendly. Think of all the trees and other raw materials that are saved from the mass production of books. I find it very cool. However, I can also see how authors can be made upset by these things.

  4. Sherri13 April, 2011

    There are probably hundreds, yes hundreds, of books in my library that I would rebuy as ebooks if the price were reasonable. Pretty much any time I’ve encountered a book I already own in paper as an ebook priced under $3, I’ve immediately bought it. It’s extremely frustrating to me that publishers are still charging new book prices for books that were published years ago.

  5. curiosity killed the..14 April, 2011

    that actually would be a really cool idea to be able to walk into any bookstore and when you go to buy the book they stop you and say would you like to buy the digital copy for an extra 5 dollars? and then they hand ya a cd from behind the counter.
    i think that would make a great standard for all hard copy sales. cause then you wouldn’t feel bad about selling the hard copy down the road if you needed the space.

  6. Alexander Inglis15 April, 2011

    But it’s not realistic for a publisher to go to the expense of converting relatively obscure (ie low sales potential) titles from 1963 and expect them to charge bupkis for them. If $12.99 sounds a lot relative the the paperback at $10.98, what happens when the paperback goes out of print but the e-book remains on sale at $12.99? Is that personal license to steal the book from a second-hand shop or download a bootleg from the net? When a legitimate, sanctioned copy is widely available at “regular” rates?

    My thinking is low sales ebooks are just as challenged for re-release as a business case as are preparing a new print edition of an older title. If you sell it for $4.99, will the ultimate profit be more than selling it at $12.99? It’s a gamble the publisher must make, title by title.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Scroll to top