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.

Indie Bookstores: Not Quite Dead

by Brittany Biggs

According to author David Abrams in “Resurgence of Indie Bookstores Fueled by Connection, Community,” indie bookstores are not only prevalent (and growing more so), but they’re successful. Jessica Hullinger at The Week found that “the number of stores has risen 27%,” but even more surprising is her find that these independent bookstores outpace others in general book sales. These small stores focus, not on remaining in “the dark ages,” where all good reading must be done in physical form, but on experience, community, and connecting with the communities that support them.

Unlike large book-selling chains like Barnes & Noble, these small shops have the advantage (albeit a small one) in that they are better able to meet, get to know, and learn from the hundreds of readers who stop by their stores every day.

The Last Bookstore (pictured above), in an effort to create an atmosphere that would give customers an experience they couldn’t otherwise get online, has an archway of books, something you wouldn’t see in a chain store. The environment and atmosphere is what draws readers to want to socialize and curl up in one of their reading nooks, rather than entering a sales-first, customers-later enterprise.

The people in these stores also draw customers into them, not only the people who come up with innovations like the arch of books, but the sales people who see their customers every day and know what the reader likes and might want to read next much better than any computer could.

Key to the survival of indie bookstores, it seems, is holding community-wide events. For example, Andrew Unger, from BookCourt, says his company holds “30 events a month,” enticing “hundreds Brooklyn’s citizens to its door.” With author readings, events for different sectors of the population, and truly responding to the needs and demands of the community, indie bookstores are thriving and will continue to do so as long as they remain communicative and attentive to their audience while providing a welcoming atmosphere for those readers to stay, enjoy, and learn.