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Is the price right for e-books?

Rory Cellan-Jones | 15:12 UK time, Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Britain's publishing industry is in a ferment of excitement, anticipation and collective neurosis about what's been billed as the biggest threat - and opportunity - to come along since Gutenberg and his pals across on the continent turned up with their new-fangled printing-press, putting thousands of scribes out of work.

A book and an e-readerTheir concern is that the arrival of e-readers and e-books could do the same to them. But hold on a minute - there's precious little sign yet that the digital revolution has really arrived in Britain's book trade.

And that's because readers still think e-books are not worth the price they're being asked to pay.

Sure - a few people in the UK have now bought Amazon's Kindle, and quite a few more have acquired the Sony Reader and other e-readers.

But after canvassing the views of people who have plunged into the age of electronic reading I've concluded, after an admittedly unscientific poll, that they're buying precious few e-books.

Many had simply read the free books that came on a CD with their device or had downloaded titles for nothing from the Project Gutenberg site.

One person who had bought two books for a Sony Reader said this:" Pricing waay too high, user experience of buying beyond awful. Apple/Amazon will crush Waterstones/Smiths."

Another said they had bought about a dozen e-books in the last year: "would have been more but choice in online stores woeful."

And another said this: "my husband bought me the sony e-reader and we bought 1 new title from Waterstones before realising e costed more than print!"

I did come across a couple of people who'd bought quite a lot of e-books - but mostly from Amazon for a Kindle.

So it seems that the retail trade in the UK has just not got its act together in providing readers with the choice of books at a price they can afford.

But now another American company Kobobooks says it is going to transform the UK e-book landscape.

It's arrived this week, offering both an online bookstore and software that allows you to read the e-books on a number of devices - from mobile phones, to computers, to some e-readers.

It boasts that its "unique cloud-based service enables consumers to build their e-book libraries without being locked to any one device."

By adopting the cross-platform ePub standard, Kobo is lining up with those trying to prove to the world's new digital book consumers that there's a better way ahead than Amazon's Kindle, which has proprietary software locking its titles into its own device.

When I spoke to Kobo's CEO Mike Serbinis, he wasn't backward about coming forward with his ambitions for the UK. "We expect to be a leader in every market we're in", he said.

But when I questioned him more closely it became apparent that Kobo is currently a minnow in a market completely dominated by Amazon, which may have as much as 90% of global e-book sales.

I then took a look at his service, which promises very competitive prices on a wide range of titles. I'm afraid I came away slightly disappointed - it doesn't look as though Kobo yet has the range of titles which Amazon's Kindle store can offer, although that may change as it prepares to announce more deals with publishers.

The key of course will be the price readers have to pay for digital titles...Amazon is currently in a battle with publishers which want the company to stop selling books at low prices which they fear could cannibalise their "analogue" sales.

It's all rather reminiscent of the music industry's battles with Apple over who should set prices for music on iTunes - battles which Apple largely won.

Mr Serbinis was diplomatic when I asked him where he stood on this issue: "We support a sustainable business - that means prices that consumers are willing to pay."

He'd obviously prefer publishers to be more realistic about what the public will pay for a digital book, but he can't afford to antagonise his suppliers.

But Mr Serbinis did point out that the abolition in the 1990s of Britain's Net Book Agreement - which meant publishers could tell retailers what to charge for books - had been very good for consumers.

Of course independent booksellers were by no means so convinced that that particular revolution was good for them.

Now the book trade is going through another upheaval as it tries to work out what readers will pay for e-books. What seems clear at the moment is that prices are too high to persuade more than a dedicated few that digital reading is the way forward.


  • Comment number 1.

    The cost of e-books seem simply outrageous. The question is how much does it cost to produce a book, in terms of materials, production, distribution and environmental. If all those things actually add up to just a tiny fraction of a books cover price then the seemingly high cost of the book in digital form would be understandable.

    They should still be cheaper though. I'd love to have my books in digital form, it sure would save space around the home and would remove the dilemma of trying to choose what to take with you on travels.

  • Comment number 2.

    Good article about the price of ebooks, but not one single mention of the VAT that is charged on e-books but not on their printed 'tree-book' equivalents.

  • Comment number 3.

    E-book readers are a nightmare for printers and perhaps publishers that manage their printing in-house but for authors and unburdened publishers, they're going to revolutionise the whole process.

    Or course the market has to decide how to price these things and a fixed price (ala itunes) wouldn't be fair for publishers but I think the key to how successful they are is how they stack up against print books.

    Paperback books are dirt cheap. One must assume they're even cheaper to produce. E-books cost even less to produce, you never have to reprint and you can prevent lending and resale (!!!) so fairness would argue they should cost even less to end-users.

    Publishers might cry out about diminishing bottom lines but it's in their interest to get people buying books from an online marketplace. In short, they'll see sales soar so they can afford to make a little bit less off each book.

    What publishers should be pushing is open markets. They should group together and demand that retailers like Apple and Amazon supply any device with their product and not limit things to their proprietary formats.

    And there's still one problem before we're anywhere near mainstream: the price of hardware. It seems silly that companies can sell a mobile phone for £15 but a device with (frankly) comparable hardware costs $250-500. If you can make and sell a reader for £50 or less, you'll kill off the mainstream print book market.

  • Comment number 4.

    Is it me, or am i the only one that when i read a book, it's to get away from the screen?

  • Comment number 5.

    I've read other articles that suggest that printing the book isn't the expensive part of publishing but rather the marketing etc costs the money.

    For me ebooks should be cheaper than the discount price on Amazon and other book stores, and additionally if I buy the physical book then I get the ebook for free. I still want to read the physical book at home, but for commuting I want a nice light ebook reader that holds a range of stuff. And I want to be able to back it up on my computer.

    If the industry could then link it with a library distribution as well that would be the icing on the cake.

  • Comment number 6.

    I bought a Sony eReader, whcih i found slow to turn pages, and the download from the bookshop way to cumbersome.
    I now have a Kindle. which is great for catching up on newspaper articles, i have downloaded a few books.

    But for both the eReader & Kindle it's pricing & lack of content that really do them down.

    I really hope there is more competition in the market soon.

    And look forward to a same size slate/ipad which will have more fucntionaility, pictures and even dare i ask colour. ( I wont be buying the Ipad though)

  • Comment number 7.

    Kobo is not an American company. They're Canadian and based in Toronto.

  • Comment number 8.

    I am drop dead keen on an eBook reader, the price of the reader does not put me off, but the availability of titles and price is really stopping me. I want books to be available at supermarket paperbook prices.

    As for the physical eBook reader it self I want it to be no more than a reader and perhaps an MP3 player I do not want a laptop/smart phone replacement.

  • Comment number 9.

    Hi all as it appears their is only two real next contenders for E book readers , they are a distant mob add on too view all features on any books any papers without the buy maybe and lastly rory have you heard of the E ink paper thats err like a sheet paper , imagine swping or even wifi uploading daily pape bks even dare i say it school work , sorry i have some that not quite with me their , but i maybe missing a few yrs on you younger people but wa not microsoft Reader and audable not on old pdas cough, even mob , good write up thou.

  • Comment number 10.

    @ brightengineer

    That is the whole point of e-ink. The screens refresh slower than normal LCD or OLED but they are as easy on the eye as paper. Both the devices and the e-books need to be cheaper though. I was going to purchase on just after Christmas but the cheap sony e-reader was pretty poor and the expensive one was far too expensive. Then I took a look at how much the e-books were and completely scrapped the idea.

  • Comment number 11.

    E-readers are a solution to a problem that just doesn't exist. No one has ever sat down with a book and thought to themselves: "You know what? What this really needs is batteries."

  • Comment number 12.

    Media content providers not giving the customer the choice they want at a price they are willing to pay? Not heard that one before.

    No doubt Pirate Bay or other torrent sites will fill the void and we'll hear publishers bemoaning how they and authors are starving. Stephen King must be down to his last $100m

  • Comment number 13.

    Rory, I'd like to take issue with your characterisation of the publishing industry as being "in a ferment of excitement, anticipation and collective neurosis". This is simply not true, and if you think it is you should perhaps spend some time talking to them before blogging about it. The UK publishers we at The Bookseller speak to are well aware of the coming revolution, and are preparing for it sensibly. They are digitising their back-catologues, signing authors up to digital contracts, and experimenting with different ways of presenting digital materials (enhanced ebooks, DRM-free ebooks). What they are not doing is destroying their print-based businesses that still pay all the bills by selling e-books at prices that are not affordable. Anyone can sell £5 for £1.
    It is also not true that the ebook market has not happened over here because of price. You can get access to 5m free ebooks via Google, but I don't see that kick-starting the e-books revolution any time soon. The market has not grown because a killer application has simply not arrived yet. Everyone was waiting for the Kindle launch, but until Amazon UK follows it up with a UK-focused e-book store then the market is not going to shift in any big way. Of course, this opens up the field to a better Sony device, or even the iPad, when it comes across.
    You say that big publishers in the US are in a "battle" with Amazon over e-book prices. But actually they won this fight two weeks ago. Macmillan US did so by acting in a measured manner explaining why it thought's e-book prices were unsustainable and not in the long term interest of readers, authors or even publishers.
    And what was Amazon's response? It stopped selling Macmillan's books for 10 days while the spat was resolved. Talk about "neurosis".
    You say that "it's all rather reminiscent of the music industry's battles with Apple over who should set prices for music on iTunes - battles which Apple largely won". But in this case it is Apple, through the introduction of the iBooks platform on the iPad which has enabled US publishers to move to the so-called 'agency model', where publishers, not Apple, or Amazon, set the prices.
    It seems to me that Apple has shifted in how it goes about doing business with old media, not the other way round, as you imply publishers should do now.
    Of course, it remains to be seen what prices consumers will pay for e-books over here, and whether publishers will have success at setting them. But I think you've got publishers on the wrong side of this argument. Publishers are responding to a market that remains small for them, and which is only growing slowly. Unlike the BBC they do not have a bottomless pit of money to throw at a market that, in the short term, may not be very big, or very sustainable.

  • Comment number 14.

    'Someone I know' got a sony e-reader just over a year ago and, after looking at the Waterstones selection of e-books and their prices, downloaded about 1000 e-books from different authors from a torrent website.

    This person would have been more than willing to pay a reasonable price for e-books but refused to pay more for an electronic copy than a physical copy.

    It's amazing that every industry seems determined not to learn the lesson. It's time to adapt your business model!

  • Comment number 15.

    I have chosen a different route to go e-book - I am running software called Mobipocker Reader on an ordinary hand-held Pocket PC. The software also runs on a PC and will convert virtually any electronic format into something it can use. The hand-held is smaller and less clumsy than propriatory e-book readers, and if you don't want to read it runs other things like Word & even Excel...

  • Comment number 16.

    I have been using an eBook reader for some time. I find it an excellent bit of kit and the ability to carry a shelf-load of books around is great. However, books, especially mass market fiction, are hugely overpriced. I really cannot see any justification for the present level; authors presumably to not receive greater royalties for eBook sales; all the capital cost of being able to read the book (medium, transfer of data, storage) is borne by the reader of the book, not the producer. Those who like to play a green card should be shouting far louder that this is a green option that is far more expensive than the carbon-hungry option.

  • Comment number 17.

    Didn't publishers claim that the rapidly rising prices of books was due to the rising cost of paper, years ago? Yet, now that they're able to remove that factor from the production equation, they're not willing to pass on the saving to the consumer?

    It seems the people at the top, yet again, have forgotten that the phrase is "give and take" and now seem to think it's "take and take" instead.

    If anyone has any right to fear the coming of the e-book, it's the paper manufacturers, not the publishers.

  • Comment number 18.

    I have been reading e-books now for a long time. I purchased 2 PDA's specifically to read on and now am already onto my second sony. The first was unfortunately stolen in Moscow. I work abroad for 6 mnths of the year and find e-books a godsend as I don't run out of reading material. I find that the book pricing to be slightly daft sometimes, why would I want to pay more for an e-book tha a paperback. I have a favorite e-book publisher that I have been using for many years now. It is a sciencefiction site, Baen books does a minumum of 4 books a month for 15 dollars. Normally there are up to 8 books included in this price. They also do all books individually. Why can'tmore publishers be more enlightened and follow similar models. I am sure that baen have not been harmed byt their method of e-publishing otherwise they would not have continued for as many years. It just goes to show how a good site can be run.

  • Comment number 19.

    Consider a married couple, or a family - they buy a number of books and on finishing reading, pass them around the family. The set of books can be read concurrently, each family member reading a different one.

    I don't think this model works at all with an eBookReader - unless the price is drastically reduced by new technology (printed flexible screen?) as the reader itself cannot be shared concurrently.

    The eBookReader concept seems to me to be attractive only to single people who go on holiday alone - or, possibly, travelling engineers?

  • Comment number 20.

    Can't read it in the bath, the outcome would be far worse than a few soggy pages, and half and hour on the radiator.


  • Comment number 21.

    What should an e-book cost?

    Well, take a regular hardback or paperback, and strip out the costs of producing the physical item (the paper costs, the binding costs and all the printing costs); strip out the cost of putting it in a truck and shipping it all over the country; delete the cost of displaying the book in high-rent retail space with its associated staff and infrasructure costs and that's your price. In other words: an e-book should cost significantly less than a physical book.

    An e-book has virtual ZERO costs in creating a new copy. There is a TINY cost associated in distribution to the buyer. There is no need for retail space, just a server and minimal staffing, and it has a much-reduced cost for infrastructure compared to retail space.

    None of this negates the cost of the author, editing etc; solely the costs of creating and distributing a physical copy.

    We, the buyers of books can see the copyright holders using their monopoly on a work to price-gouge, just as do the music companies with their 'authorised' downloadable music.

    These publishers clearly see the advent of digital media as an opportunity to rip us off further and line their pockets rather than confer the benefits of a new technology on the market.

    This is why piracy will win out with readers and why the publishers will continue to spend their ill-gotten gains on lobbying government to crack down on piracy: so they can continue to profiteer by abusing their copyright monopoly.

    We need sane copyright reform to prevent these abuses (preferably not engineered by an unelected member of the new aristocracy).

  • Comment number 22.

    Mobile phones are subsidised - maybe by too much - against what you pay during a contract. Do that with electronic books and... the price of individual titles is inflated to compensate. Which is what we're saying we don't want.

    Besides which, the dedicated e-readers have that special display - that's where the money goes. In about five years we'll probably have colour...

    But how about some cheap and cheerful, easy quick reads that wouldn't necessarily work economically as print publications? What do Mills and Boon go for?

  • Comment number 23.

    The pricing is a bit of an annoyance but it's not a major factor when compared to the sheer convenience of having 150+ titles instantly avauilable on a handy device. Not just good for travelleing either, I have virtually given up buying paper books - the sole exceptions being those few titles not yet available in ePub format but they are becoming fewer and fewer as time goes along.

    Kobo (Canadian company, by the way, not American at all) are one of the best purveyors with a good selection, fair prices, regular discount offers and a format that works on pretty well anything with a screen or e-paper to read it on other than Kindle. The Sony readers are excellent.

    Leave the trees in the forest and carry a library in your pocket.

  • Comment number 24.

    It doesn't seem at all surprising to me that ereader owners aren't buying many ebooks, considering the poor selection of paid content available currently.

    Content is at least as important an issue as price. Even on a Kindle the books available to UK customers still lags way behind the offerings for US customers - and that, in turn, is still less comprehensive than I'd like. I can't see there being a widespread switch to ereaders until more books are made available in e formats.

    As far as device cost goes, the cost of an ebook reader is zero if you have an iPod touch or iPhone thanks to Stanza and the Kindle app. I don't get the whole E Ink idea - I find those screens grey and uncomfortable to read from.

  • Comment number 25.

    As a writer, only published in a e-book format, I do not think the price my publisher asks is excessive: the price of a couple of pints, about half that of a cinema ticket for something which will, I hope, give more than two hours on entertainment.

  • Comment number 26.

    i would be interested in a breakdown of the costs of producing a book - how much goes to the author, how much goes to the publisher, to distribution etc. I also think that there is a perception in the human mind, that unless it has something physical it doesn't have a lot of value - maybe I am wrong?

    The potential revolution in ebooks is the same as it was for music - that of giving more power to 'smaller' authors and smaller publishers. One of the other comments was correct - e-readers don't fix a big need as most people are happy to carry one book, read it to the end and then move on to another. There isn't the 'dip in and out' of books in the same way as there there is for music albums. I have an iPod, and most of the time when I'm listening to music it's on shuffle and I just hit 'next' if I don't want to listen to a song. I would struggle to listen to a chapter of a book and flip to another and have 10-20 books on the go at he same time.

  • Comment number 27.

    It's to be hoped that the publishing industry learns lessons from the music and film industries. If they price too high then people will simply take them without paying. This is already happening, I know people with ebooks and the balance is 1 or 2 paid for books and 100s of free downloaded ones.

    Whether publishers and authors like it or not a digital file does not have the same intrinsic value as a physical book and costs need to reflect that fact

  • Comment number 28.

    "That is the whole point of e-ink. The screens refresh slower than normal LCD or OLED but they are as easy on the eye as paper. Both the devices and the e-books need to be cheaper though. I was going to purchase on just after Christmas but the cheap sony e-reader was pretty poor and the expensive one was far too expensive. Then I took a look at how much the e-books were and completely scrapped the idea."

    To be honest, i have not been looking at e-readers, they are too over priced and my shelves would not be the same if i ditched all my books.

    Plus i love the smell of new books!

  • Comment number 29.

    I think publishers are way too worried. Reading real books is a pleasure, I have hundreds of them in the house some paperback and some hard back. Reading on screen just does not give the same experience.

    But when I go on holiday or on my daily communute ebooks are a real boon. I can hundreds of books in a single reader. I am more than happy to pay £2-3 per ebook, I will probably even buy ebook versions of the real books I already have.

    My problem is the ebook reader. Current models are not good enough, page turning is slow, only a single page on view at any one time (at least until dual screen versions come out). I would happily read the newspaper on my daily commute on an ebook reader but how would I do the sudoku?

  • Comment number 30.

    I certainly don't see a benefit in buying an eBook reader at present - they cost a relatively large amount of cash for little benefit. I've previously used eBooks bought from (formerly PeanutPress) - they have nice reader software that works across multiple platforms (including PC, Palm, iPod/iPhone, Symbian, etc.) and have probably the least intrusive DRM I've seen - the book is coded to your credit card number, so just enter the number to unlock the book (thus getting round the problem of family members being able to read the book). Their pricing was even fairly reasonable and with a good selection.

    So why have I stopped using them? The publishing industry has made the same stupid decision as the film industry did with DVDs and have locked down everything geographically. I can now find almost no books available on the site for a UK user and consequently have stopped buying books for them. Apple seem to be running in to the same problem with the bookstore on the iPad, hence the lack of any mention of it on the UK site. When will these big industries realise that this sort of behaviour really just damages them in the long term??

  • Comment number 31.

    I tested the ebook water some years ago using a Palm handheld.
    Whilst I liked the idea of always having something to read at hand, thre aspects of ebooks turned me right off.
    1) The price:- always more than paper.
    2) You can't pass them to a friend afterwards.
    3) You can't give them to charity shops.

  • Comment number 32.

    It's not just the prices of eBooks (which are outrageous), it's the delays in getting new books into ebook format. New titles, in big series, are coming out 12 weeks or more after the paper launch. E-book readers are not for the cost conscious, nor for those who like to read books when they come out. So that's about 99% of the market then. No wonder they're not taking off.

    As another contributor said, this situation is driving people to the murky world of torrents. The publishing industry have only a few months to sort this out or they'll have lost the goodwill of honest consumers for a long long time.

  • Comment number 33.

    eBooks are are solution looking for a problem, I will always stick with paper, mainly because I only read on Holiday and that means water or Snow, For example Im off to Sweden with a copy of "Googled" to read, It will be in my backpack as I ski and brought out to read as and when I want, and I doubt ereaders are crash proof, work at -18 and finally Sauna proof yet are they ;) .

  • Comment number 34.

    I know this is a bit off topic, but I wouldn't buy an e-reader. This article has just added another point to my list of "why I don't like e-readers".
    1. I read novels to relax, I don't want another electronic gadget for that.
    2. I use my laptop/smartphone to get info on the go. An e-reader doesn't provide me with connectivity.
    3. When I read text-books or other business documents, I like scribbling on them.
    4. The price isn't right.

    I'll confirm another point that was made in some of the comments. We aren't used to paying for digital content, yet. Why pay for it, when it's available for free? This is the same argument as "the old media vs the new media".

    PS: why not get google to add small ads into e-books and pay the publisher a dividend from the ads? That way the customer would get the books for free. I bet google would love the idea, but technically it's not possible as the e-readers are not internet devices.

  • Comment number 35.

    I must agree with those contributors who say part of the reading of a book is the 'getting away' from the laptop,PC ...You cannot realy compare curling up with a bottle of wine and a book to anything else, if it is something you have done.I think the page is here for a while ...and I am glad that it is so.

  • Comment number 36.

    As an author, I love books. Real books. I sit at a computer all day, every day, and to escape this cruel and unusual punishment, I collect fountain pens and read real, paper books.
    And I hope to God that ebooks work.
    Because in the business models used today, it is next to impossible to earn enough as a writer. Take one example - it used to be the case that an author would earn a percentage of the cover price of the book. It was ten percent of hardback prices, a few points less on paperbacks. The author knew how much they earned, and while I'm not going to be a multi millionaire, selling 100,000 books a year meant I could at least afford to take my family abroad on holidays.
    Not now. Since the end of the Net Book Agreement, authors tend to be paid on 'net receipts'. So, when a publisher decides to discount by 85% to sell into a foreign market, it means the author's income drops by the same amount. I am not unique. In one year, by working hard, I increased my sales by more than 50%. The increase in income? None.
    This is the problem that will soon arrive. Authors will not be able to write for the decreasing amount of money available.
    However, ebooks may save us. With download charges so small as to be irrelevant, the percentage of receipts or cover value should mean that authors can again see reasonable returns on their investment. Don't forget, writing a book is not a case of an hour's work for a couple of months - it's usually man-months of effort, and with tiny returns. Top authors take a very disproportionate amount of the total income available.
    So sure, I hope ebooks work, and I hope my own electronic sales grow exponentially.

  • Comment number 37.

    Alleykid post 8.

    The Sony does play MP3s.

    My missus has had one for over a year and has read more in that time than she has in any previous year, by a long margin.

    She loves it, its size (being compact but practical) and the repository memory it provides.

    Alot of her reading is down to P2P I am afraid (much as the World of MP3 previously), however we would buy here in Australia if the E-book prices reflected a true cost which they do not. In most cases, buying from the U.S is cheaper to import the printed book than it is to download the electronic equivalent.

    She read 'The lost symbol' less than 2 weeks after it was published thanks to P2P, but, were it a reasonable price electronically (say AU $10 to $15 instead of $30 to $40) she would happily have brought the product. This E-book as an example was more expensive to download legally than it was to buy from the local general store chain.

    It doesn't make sence, and for this reason alone the market place is driving people away from their legitimate business model.

  • Comment number 38.

    To comment number 9. Perhaps if you were to spend a few years reading real books, written by real authors, instead of absorbing the large percentage of garbage on the internet that purports to be, but unquestionably isn't the outpourings of intelligent thought, you might be able to string together a coherent string of sentences that were comrehensible to those of us who have been properly educated. It's one of the essential pillars of effective communication, not that you would have the faintest idea of the importance of such a concept.

  • Comment number 39.

    Firstly, I agree that the cost is too high, considering that there are no printing costs, and the selection is small at present.
    But, it is all really about convenience.
    I work in Afghanistan ( 2 years now) and spend 3 months away from home and any source of purchasing paper books. The e-reader (Sony) that I use means I do not have to use my baggage allowance of 30Kg (Emirates) to carry reading material for the 3 month stay.
    In my situation this technology is the best thing that has happened since the internet, emails and Skype.

  • Comment number 40.

    There are books and libraries. An e-reader carries a library, if you only need one book then a book is probably a better alternative, more robust, no need for batteries etc. However, as an OU student who travels a lot, I often need to carry text books and papers to do work. For this an e-reader would be ideal and hopefully lighter than my laptop which is what I currently have to use. I have some 500+ books at home. Most are novels that I have read once and now they sit on a shelf. I do not need to carry these around with me and I would not buy them on an e-reader for many of the reasons stated by others on this discussion.

    The iPad will add momentum to a market that has yet to identify valid use cases. Students and perhaps professionals who need to carry a lot of books would seem to be the prime market for such a device, particularly one that allowed other work to be done on it. The casual book reader is perhaps not. Time will tell.

  • Comment number 41.

    Prices are ridiculous given vastly reduced overheads. Even worse is the plethora of eBook formats and DRM which restricts the devices you can read the overpriced eBook on. Then you add in geographic restrictions which limit what books you can buy if your British compared to the much wider choice if your American/Canadian.

    The industry is trying it's upmost to shoot itself in both feet whilst robbing customers blind.

  • Comment number 42.

    As I intend travelling to South East Asia frequently and am a heavy reader, I must be a prime target for e-books, but when I can buy print cheaper than e, in spite of reduced publisher overheads, there is absolutely no incentive to take them, other than weight in luggage, while the benefits of having the tactile experience of print far outweighs the experience of reading on an e-reader.
    So, so far no contest!!!

  • Comment number 43.

    The good thing about a book is that its a book. As long as you understand the language anyone can read it. Can the same be said of e-readers?

    If i own an iPad will i be able to read books made for the kindle?

    The other thing that worries me is the prohibitive cost. E readers aren't cheap and the E books are expensive. Its not like an author is hand writing or typewriting books anymore. He is doing it digitally so there is LESS of a cost to produce an E Book.

    Currently if i buy a book i can lend it to a friend or my brother or give it away to a used book store. If i buy a DRM laden E book what will i be able to do then??

    Sorry if i sound negative, im actually a techy but to me we are being sold a great new shining technology without any of the pluses of the older more physical versions of said technology.

    So whats the point ehh?

  • Comment number 44.

    As a general repsonse to the comments saying the cost for producing an ebook is virtually zero you are missing the point. The cost of printing a single hardcopy book _by itself_ is also virtually zero.

    The costs actually include things like authors advance, editors costs, typesetters costs, marketing costs, proof copies, review copies etc.

    That being said the price of a lot of ebooks is extorinate - however that is not true for all books by all publishers.

    In 1999 (yes over ten years ago, before eink screens were available) an american publisher Baen Books launched webscriptions - this service basically offered their publications for a month at $10 (this is now $15) in a number of electronic formats without any copy protection. They promised at least 4 books each month would be new to webscriptions (so for example in a month where a number of books were coming out in paperback that had previously been released in hardback this wouldn't count as one of the 4, if need be back catalogue titles were added to the electronic set to make up the numbers).

    Fast forward to now webscriptions is going strong and has led to a number of other publishers using the service.

    Baen are also responsible for a number of other initatives of interest to readers of ebooks - they have a free library of over 100 titles (these are not public domain titles ala project gutenburg, these are titles still available in shops) and have included cds full of ebooks with a large number of ebooks with some of their hardback releases (often including things like all previous books in a series with the new book in the series).

    From an author's point of view (as I understand it) they receive more royalties from a webscription sale than they do from a paperback sale, and one author who tracked it found his royalties for print books increased when some of his books were made available in the free library (even for the actual books included in the free library).

    I personally have been buying and reading ebooks since 1999 and have over 500 currently on my Sony Reader. One thing I have done though is only purchase books from stores that dont use any form of drm - I have read books on a number of devices over the years and the lack of drm means I have no problems moving my library to a new reader.

  • Comment number 45.

    I haven't had a chance to read previous comments but I suspect that most agree that ebook pricing is far too high. No way on earth should an ebook cost even the same as a print version, let alone more! I have a Sony reader but most of the stuff on that is freely available stuff, mostly legally. I will admit to having stuff I downloaded illegally. All books I own a print copy of, but are either not available in ebook format or for a price only an insane person would pay.

    There are so many formats that will only work with certain readers, and can only be purchased if you live in North America. I purchased a few titles from, but most of their titles now can't be purchased in the UK.

    Ebook sellers need to wake up if they really want the market to take off. At the moment it is as if they want it to fail. They need to increase availability, get rid of the stupid rules where you have to live in a certain country to be able to buy them, and have them in a format where changing your ebook reader doesn't mean you lose your entire library. If I buy a new shelf for my books I don't expect to have to replace my books, so why should I have to if I buy a Kindle to replace my Sony reader?

  • Comment number 46.

    I agree price is an issue. However probably just as important is the ability to easily and simply download books. This is not the case currently as anyone who has used the Waterstones site may confirm. Having spent an hour with their not so helpful call centre and variuos emails because a book would not download only to be told eventually 'there is a problem, dont try again!', I am not enamoured with the process! It needs an Itunes or similar to shake these companies into the 21st c.

  • Comment number 47.

    The only way I will buy an e-book reader is if I decide I am going to hit a 'critcal mass' of books to use with it.
    I have seen e-books that cost more that the hardback copy of it - this is clearly absurd!
    What might work is if every time I bought a new paper book (and I buy a LOT of books over a year) I got a free copy of the e-book (or got one for an extra 50p or some other nominal charge).
    When I had aqcuired my 'critical mass' of books - maybe 10? maybe 50? maybe the first time I want to re-read a book on the bus? - THEN and only then would I be tempted by a reader.

  • Comment number 48.

    So, a general concensus that eBooks are too expensive - something that's put me off buying into the market so far.
    One other thing that I'm not convinced by - so what if the eReader can hold hundreds or thousands of titles. Books take a while to read and so I don't quite see the advantage of having so many titles to hand. It's different from music as you can happily skip between songs and not lose any of the experience - however you can't really skip between books (except reference books). Well almost can't...
    To be successful I believe that there needs to be more short reads available (at sensible prices). There are already items that fit this description - short stories and poems are the obvious ones - and I believe that if these are offered separately (rather than being offered in anthologies etc) for download then there would be more interest in eBook readers.

  • Comment number 49.

    The price of ebooks is outrageous. Publishers save all the printing and distribution costs, so in theory, ebooks should be cheaper than printed books. They're not. Sorry, but if you're going to save all that money, you need to pass some onto consumers and not think of it as an excuse for bigger profit margins.

    And then there's DRM. Maybe I'm just old fashioned, but I find it a complete pain. I don't want to have to jump through hoops to unlock an ebook before I can read it. What if I want to share it with Mrs Disgusted? What if I buy a new ebook reader and want to transfer it? I understand why publishers use DRM, but they need to understand that it seriously puts off customers. I can't see myself buying an ebook reader while DRM is still widespread, even if the prices of ebooks come down.

  • Comment number 50.

    to Comment 47 - if you read science fiction check out Baen per my comment they have been including cds with some (not all - including a CD has a cost to the publisher) of their hardbacks. Whats more the CDs can be copied - they have the explicit statement 'This disk and its contents may be copied and shared but NOT sold' actually printed on them.

    to Comment 48 - you can skip between books - every e-reader I've used has the ability to remember where you were in one book while you read another (or if someone else wants to borrow it to read something). As for the use it depends how much you read - I carry mine with me, stuck in a queue in a supermarket I can just pull it out and read. If I go away on holiday for a couple of weeks I could get through a couple of books on a flight, plus more during the actual holiday. Pile of books or a single e-reader makes packing a lot easier ;)


  • Comment number 51.

    Kithran. Oh sure, yes you CAN do it, but if you skip between too many then you lose the plot. Unless you're looking at reference material it's not such a great experience for the majority to read multiple books at the same time. And even going on holiday for a few weeks, you're only talking about say 10 books - the majority would probably get through less. My argument is that short content could be more accessible and promote the growth of the eReader market - then the prices should come down.

  • Comment number 52.

    I think we may have missed the point, the price you pay has nothing to do with the cost of the e-book, it's set by how much we are willing to pay. The publishers don't want to cut their margins too early as it could destroy their business. A small high value market is better for them than a large agreesive market. For those of us that travel e-readers are invaluable and we know we only read one or two books at a time, so we buy them when we need them as the choice of good books is limited but growing. It's not like musice where we want thousands of tracks always available. However I agree that P2P networks will blow this market apart as soon as enough content is out there - it's harder to upload a paper book than it was a CD, so it's a slower progression but it is happening. within 3-5 years new ebooks will be £2-£4. But unlike the mp3 market it won't be an apple/amazon monopoly, proprietry formats are a dying breed.

    As for the readers all those of yoyu using your PDA or I phone are not aware of the difference e-ink makes. It is better than paper in many ways it really changes the e-read experience. Ill happily download a pdf article form my pc to my reader so i don't have to use an LCD screen, which is tiring

  • Comment number 53.

    I'm surprised that Apple iPod is held up as the gold standard for digital sales. Digital music sales seem to have taken off massivly with the plethora of DRM-less companies (such as Play) who allow people to pay a reasonable price for a music that they can enjoy, simply transfer to other machines - and if they want to; give to a friend that doesn't own the music.

    I'm surprised that none of the publishers have twigged on the idea of Public Library style Digital Rights Management where a purchased book can be transfered from user to user. NOT ONLY WOULD This would allow a book purchaser to legitimatly give their book to a friend or family member - but it would also allow public and accademic libraries to benifit from the digital media.

    Library rights would be a fantastic selling point for digital books (course, I'd like a cut of the profits).

  • Comment number 54.

    as a disabled person unable to manage ordinary books, the Sony has been a godsend, opening up a new channel of entertainment.

    However, I recently tried to purchase"the road" by cormac McCarthy, and it wasn't available on any recognized site. It was available on a torrent site though, and it seems to me that the publishing industry is making the same mistake that the music business made.

  • Comment number 55.

    "Their concern is that the arrival of e-readers and e-books could do the same to them. But hold on a minute - there's precious little sign yet that the digital revolution has really arrived in Britain's book trade. "

    Hmm let me see if I can explain why that might be...

    Books cost £10 for a paperback on average.

    E-readers cost =>£200 plus the cost for the E-books and will be obsolete very quickly, i.e. replaced by newer models that cost just as much.

    Perhaps Rory the majority of people in this country are better at mathematics than companies such as Amazon give them credit for.

  • Comment number 56.

    The publishing industry is horrendously protectionist and short sighted with its (as always ill fated) DRM protectionism. I tried to buy Dan Brown's latest edition in mobipocket format on the day of the tree-book release but it was only available in selected regions of the world all at different prices and most were more expensive than the diesel burning hand delivered copy.
    I settled to purchase in epub format then with my limited techno knowledge used the internet to find a solution on how to convert my DRM purchase into something I could use on my Sony Ericsson P1i....the equivalent of being forced to buy the tree-book in Japanese just because I couldn't get it in English!
    So short sighted by the Publishing Pimps, perhaps the new order will see these people replaced by authors having some control over their titles and profitablility with distribution being so easy.
    What about the freeloaders? Well if they wouldn't have bought the book in the first place you haven't lost anything, however you may have gained a fan that will purchase something in the future.
    I can hand on hearts say I've 'freeloaded' and I can hand on heart say that I have also gone and purchased the very same tree-book for a friend or family, not in every instance but if I've read it and enjoyed it and I feel that somebody I know will also a book is always a good prezzie.

  • Comment number 57.

    my Library is now doing eBooks - I was surprised to find I enjoyed reading like that.

    What deters me most from buying - longevity.

    I buy a book - I keep it.
    If I buy an eBook and the supplier folds or the format changes - I have nothing (and the DRM would stop me moving my purchases).

    The only publisher, I've found so far, which seems ok is O'Reilly. They promise multiple formats and upgrades for life. Still not cheap and apparently watermarked - but that's fine - I'm buying it for me - not for distribution!

  • Comment number 58.

    Been using eBooks for years now, ever since 1999. Great to have all the content in one place, accessible all the time. Mostly but SciFi for a few dollars a book, but access to the Gutenberg library means having a vast source of classics to hand. The company I mainly use for my books also has a free library usually containing the first book of a series or a compilation of short stories by an author. All in all I think most vendors do charge too much for ebooks, but a few good vendors don't. Best book so far in e format - Heinlein's "Farmer in the sky", great book, takes me back 25 years to when I first read it in paperback.

  • Comment number 59.

  • Comment number 60.


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