Should Publishers Lower E-Book Prices?

by Brittany Biggs

Though author Brady Dale’s article discusses the dilemma over e-book prices, he begins by saying something slightly heartbreaking: “you don’t need books.” I don’t know to which “you” he’s referring (certainly not me), and sure, I don’t need books like I need food or oxygen (physically, anyway), but I can think of multiple occasions in my life where I have truly needed a book. There were times in my life where books were my only escape, and I’m sure (I hope) they serve that purpose for others. However, he makes that statement as a basis for his argument: we do not need books [to survive], so publishers will need to lower e-book prices to some extent if they want to boost readership and overall sales.

Dale cites some examples of authors whose opinions fall on both sides of the argument. He tells of Russel Blake who went from selling his e-books at $5.00 to selling them at $2.99 and sold 70 more e-books a month. He also mentioned a writer by the name of Patrick McLean, who lowered his e-book prices to $0.99 — and sold fewer e-books than when they were $2.99. The author, McLean, surmises that prices do not matter; people will buy what they want, when they want to buy it, no matter the price. However, Brady believes McLean’s book could have sold fewer copies because, first, Amazon “discourages prices below $2.99,” so his book at $0.99 may not have shown up in as many searches; second, setting the price so low could be a sign of poor quality to consumers.

Dale concludes that the only ones benefiting from higher-priced e-books are bookstores, as they’re the only ones whose livelihoods are truly at stake. Publishers do not make as much money as they once did, and bookstores are still publishers’ primary source of income. Publishers have to protect bookstores to protect themselves, or so they think, but maybe they would do better not to; if their overall e-book income increases because they’re selling them at a lower price, but selling twice as many, perhaps the loss in bookstore income could balance out with e-book sales. Some bookstores would have to remain, of course, but publishers could potentially afford to lose a few and still make a profit.

The ethical dilemma of such a decision is not discussed, but Dale does mention that a major disadvantage with e-books is you cannot resell them; they’re licensed, not bought. If we do not truly own what we presume we own (since we did, after all, pay for it), then maybe that’s how bookstores will survive. Though there may come a day when Bitcoin will allow readers to own digital content, until then people will still want to “own,” and they will go to bookstores for that opportunity.

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