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eBooks Should be More Expensive, and Other Ideas (video)

There was frank luby on copyright 2014much debate on the future of content at the OnCopyright 2014 conference yesterday, but few of the discussions were as radical as the ideas proposed by Frank Luby.

Calling ebooks not a prodcut but a reader service, Luby lays out an argument that ebooks should cost more. "eBooks should be more expensive than they are, more than print books — a lot more," said Luby. He thinks that ebooks are both under-priced and under-sold because publishers and retailers aren’t properly explaining their benefits, namely, convenience.

When I first read about this on DBW, it sounded like a crazy idea which I knew would go over like a lead balloon among indie authors. But rather than just write Luby off as a nut, I went looking and I found a video of his talk (link).

I’ve embedded the video below, and I think it’s well worth watching. Luby’s arguments are much less crazy when you consider them from a marketing standpoint and not as economics. Luby isn’t saying that the ebook market as a whole should be more expensive; he’s suggesting that individual publishers convince readers that their ebooks are worth more.

I still think it’s a crazy idea, though. Luby is arguing that publishers can convince readers that their works are worth more digitally than in paper, even though those same publishers are competing with free digital content, a lot of which is quite good. Also, there are any number of authors and publishers who cannot make the convenience argument given that they are digital only.

He does try to support the idea by pointing to Netflix and how that company raised prices in 2011. According to Luby that only cost the company a small number of subscribers (quarterly statements reveal that Netflix lost 800,000 subscribers while revenue increased by 6.7%), but what he leaves out is that few publishers or retailers have a product which even vaguely resembles the Netflix DVD+streaming subscription bundle at the time, thus limiting the possibility that Netlfix’s move can be repeated.

In fact, the closest publishers have gotten to Netflix is by bundling ebooks and paper books, and that is still uncommon. In short, O’Reilly and a handful of other publishers can repeat the Netflix trick, but it’s not applicable to the rest of the industry.

If nothing else, this video is going to be thought provoking.

Video streaming by Ustream

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TME April 3, 2014 um 12:34 pm

In my experience with ebook testing and distribution, I can tell you that they are a ton of work for all involved. Especially once we get into the fixed layout books that mean to display vibrant content like cookbooks or children’s books. Flowable text ebooks are straightforward and easy to distribute, however the more enhanced the files become, the more intensive the task of getting those books onto the right reader. And don’t get me started on all the different file formats for different reader ecosystems.

They should absolutely not be comparable to print books especially the more complex the media becomes. However, they could be included as part of a print book experience to help gain widespread acceptance. The fact that publishers aren’t bundling print books with an ebook counterpart is a huge misstep but one that is easily corrected.

So while price is important, I think the core concept of how to make the ebook more consumable is something publishers are terribly inept at.

fjtorres April 3, 2014 um 2:02 pm

Sony convinced the movie studios that people would willingly pay $50 for HD movies in mpeg2 on bluray disks. We all know how that worked out.
Cost-based pricing of content fails utterly most of the time. If your costs are higher than what the market will bear you either get the costs down or you’ll be toast.

Nate Hoffelder April 3, 2014 um 2:25 pm

I wouldn’t know. I never bought any blu-ray discs because one, I didn’t see the value in buying content which would not be higher qualuty than what was already available on DVDs, and two, I stopped buying DVDs years ago.

fjtorres April 3, 2014 um 3:08 pm

That is what they discovered.
For most movies (and especially backlist movies) Bluray on Mpeg2 was not visibly better than upscaled DVD. Now, for your typical sfx-ladden summer blockbuster, say AVATAR or JOHN CARTER, the BD will actually deliver a clearly superior experience. But not $50 better. Which is why even those BDs run $25 instead of $50.

Publishers may think their precious new bestseller should sell for $25 but if the consumer says $5 and means it, the publisher is more likely to get zero.

Chris Meadows April 3, 2014 um 2:25 pm

Argh, why do publishers keep listening to this kind of thing? It drives me crazy.

I want to believe publishers can, eventually, adapt to the new realities of this post-Kindle world, but stories like this don’t make it easy.

Bob W April 3, 2014 um 2:51 pm

It’s easier to sell people on what they want to hear and you have to remember that he’s selling speaking engagements and not sound business strategies.

People will look at the overall product value and not just what you tell them the value is. You can try to sell people a bucket of sand and a heat lamp and tell them it’s a beach vacation service but I don’t think you’ll sell many. "But it has to cost more then a trip to the Bahamas because you don’t have all that inconvenience and danger of travel."

Valentine April 3, 2014 um 6:06 pm

There’s marketing sense, and there’s common sense.

I could agree with increased prices for ebooks, because:
Ebooks can last forever. Literally. The won’t be worn down, by too much use or degraded by time. One hundred years from now, they’ll look exactly the same.

There’s the matter of ownership. One ebook is virtually identical to another, how can you justify the costs when the replication is basically free? Also, have you really bought a book, instead of just rented it, when a company can remotely remove it from your possession? And … aren’t you dependent on the selling company or at least on the ability to freely copy and back up your files? Not even getting into the formats issue, this does it better:

Even if they last forever, do we really care? I mean, a few decades ago, we had all those airport paperbacks, would you pay extra for that?
Not every author will be famous or important or simply, the books won’t have the same value in another decade or two, to make the "forever" thing a selling point.

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