Earlier today I wrote a post on Frank Luby’s arguments about ebook prices, but as the day went by and I read the coverage and commentary (on TeleRead, here, and The Passive Voice) I have come to the conclusion that Luby may have been right and that much of the commentary was wrong.
This whole meta-discussion was sparked by a talk given by Luby yesterday at the OnCopyright 2014 conference where he argued that ebooks should be more expensive, and that publishers and retailers convince consumers that they’re paying for the convenience of immediate delivery.
While his arguments are being derided in some quarters as nuts, unworkable, or simply a bad idea, as the day wore on I began to realize that Luby wasn’t nearly as wrong as many assumed. In fact, if we change just a single word in his argument then it will make much more sense.
Rather than saying ebooks should be more expensive, let’s instead assume that Luby meant that ebooks can be more expensive. Rather than see his arguments as being in favor of an across the board price increase, let’s look at it possible to charge more in certain situations.
It turns out that Luby is not wrong in that publishers can charge more for the convenience of ebooks, and I can think of at least one publisher who already charges premium prices for early delivery.
Yes, this small SF publisher may be synonymous with reasonably priced DRM-free ebooks, but they have also been quite successful in pursuing a premium pricing strategy and charging more for convenience.
For the longest time Baen Books has been selling digital Advanced Reader Copies to those fans who simply could not wait for the publication date. Each ebook costs $15, and you can get one months before the official publication date.
I don’t know how many copies Baen Books has sold, but I do know that I have succumbed to temptation at least 3 times. And I also know that I am paying extra for the convenience of immediate delivery.
How is that not a point in support of Luby’s argument?
Sure, it’s not quite what he said, but it is close enough that for all I know this is what he meant when he gave that presentation.
At the very least it proves that ebooks can be more expensive, and that means we cannot simply write off Luby’s talk as nonsense.