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Amazon finally begins to offer Kindle-plus-paper
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jducoeur
Kate just pointed me at this article. Summary: Amazon is finally starting to play with the feature that I (and I'm sure a number of other folks) have been wanting for a long time -- a deeply discounted price for a book if you buy it in *both* Kindle and paper formats.

It's a good idea, and I hope more publishers sign up. I can't claim that I would use it for the majority of my books, but it would likely get me to buy more books in paper format than I'd otherwise do. At the moment, I'm mainly buying eBooks (because let's get real, they're much more convenient), but when I really *like* a book, I'd often like to have a bookshelf copy.

The tweak I'd really love to see them add here is the other way around: if I've bought a book in Kindle format, offer me a deeply discounted price on the paper. Obviously there are limits to that -- the incremental cost of production is much higher, and there's a risk of weird arbitrage -- but it's what I'm most often going to want: I read the book in eBook format first, decide that I like it enough, and want to have a bookshelf copy. If the hardcover is going to cost me $20 *more*, over and above the Kindle copy I already have, I'm rarely going to do that. But if I can get a copy for a more reasonable price, I might well do it.

Why would the publishers go along with that? Mostly because, if I have that option down the road, I may be more willing to fork over the money for the original eBook. That is, $10 for an eBook *feels* expensive, knowing that the incremental cost of production of my "copy" is pennies. (If that.) But if I know that I can add another $5-10 later and get the hardcover -- basically, paying the full hardcover price only once I know that the book is worth it -- that makes it a somewhat more plausible investment...

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I have started to think of fiction purchases not as purchasing the book, but purchasing the story. This helps me be easy with the price of hardcover-era ebooks; I'm buying early access to the story I want, not a stream of bits.

When you think of the purchase price of the book in terms of the total cost of production of the story - a year of the author's life, a bunch of other professional work, etc. - distributed over the total market for that work, it makes more sense for the ebook price to be approximately the paper price.

With that market-based approach, I'd expect to have the discounts on the hardcover kick in when the hardcover market is functionally dead - somewhere around paperback release. Would you still buy your library copy under that circumstance?

A secondary consideration would be textbooks and professional reference books, with significant graphical content. I'd love to see ebooks sold as teasers for those, then have the ability to apply some of that price to a discount hardcover. I may be in the minority thinking of these books differently, but I read my ebooks on my phone.

I don't think it does-- because with an ebook, there is a lot *less* professional work in terms of printing, but the extra money they're saving by doing that isn't going to the author or the professionals doing the remaining work. It's going to more profit in the publisher's coffers, when the publisher already makes the lion's share of the money on a book anyway.

I wonder if a simple and logical metric would be to discount whatever you paid for the ebook from the purchase price of the hardcover.

Offer not good for paperbacks, only because paperback and ebook prices are often (but not always) similar and that would create a likely scenario of loss for the physical producers.

Goodness knows I've bought several physical CDs off of Amazon because not only was the physical CD price less than the MP3 download price for some reason, it came with a free MP3 download of the album instantly. This seems ridiculous to me, but I'll take it.

It would seem that the sensible discount off the paper book would be the same as they're offering off the ebook. In both cases, they're offering a discount off the bundle.

I usually buy fiction in digits and research material in paper. I'd like to see more scholarly works offered as ebooks, because while for deep research I prefer paper, for my initial reading and for quick lookups, an ebook would be awesome.

As a writer it's worth noting that production costs for books, either paper or digital, fall into a couple of categories:

1. development costs (the writer's time to produce, editing, etc.). This splits across all editions more or less evenly.

2. formatting/initial production - the tasks that fall into this category are different, depending on the kind of edition. The design for a paper book and the design for an e-book are not interchangeable, and publishers that don't understand this produce crappy looking e-books. Also the foibles and formatting of different formats (Mobi/Kindle, EPUB, PDF, etc.) mean you have to go through the exercise of formatting the book three separate times to hit all of them. The ebook does have significant production overhead.

3. Printing/shipping/storage, etc. - obviously this doesn't apply to ebooks.

Economically I suspect that the big publishers are still kind of thinking of the ebook as an afterthought, and basing their budget models on paper. They don't want to see paper sales shrink, so they inflate the price of the ebook to only a little less than the current paper release. So you see the 7.99 ebook and the 8.99 or 9.99 paperback. In small press or independents, you're more likely to see a 5.99 ebook and a 14.99 trade paper edition. (All those prices being approximate, and the topic of *endless* argument among authors and small publisher, as to where the best price-points are).

Oh, I'm sure that you're correct that the publishers don't want to believe that ebooks are going to become central -- they're all too aware of what's happened to other industries, and of folks' sense that an expensive ebook just *feels* wrong to many consumers.

But reality is going to catch up to them, same as to those other industries -- the digital world has different economics and expectations, and is gradually becoming dominant. As consumers increasingly have ubiquitous reading devices, they're going to read books that way more often. (I confess, I was surprised at how fast the Kindle changed my habits -- both in that I am reading on the Kindle more *and* that I'm actually reading a lot more books again. I find that I keep the Kindle on me at all times, so I always have books to hand when I'm out and about.) The smart publishers will probably begin to get more realistic about this, and the others will have to learn the hard way: they're going to have to rethink their business models.

The fact that ebooks are currently bad for publishers but good for authors isn't helping them any -- some of my small-press friends like Niki have been telling their friends to buying the ebook edition, because the price is lower *and* the author typically gets better royalties. The publishers are used to being middlemen, and are being squeezed from both sides.

I suspect that the recent Apple ebook decision will accelerate the trend, since it deliberately makes collusion a little harder. I find the timing interesting, and wonder if Amazon has been using the Apple trial to say, "Look, this is the way the wind is blowing -- start experimenting or die" to the publishers...

Good points. There's a lot of discussion in writing circles about the long term viability of traditional publishing on the model embraced by the big publishers. Kristine Kathryn Rusch has been writing a long series of very good blogs discussing the issue which I recommend if you're interested 1n delving deeper. (http://kriswrites.com/category/business/)


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