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Bad Math Among eBook Enthusiasts

The Amazon Kindle has excited a lot of comment from people who have long wanted portable electronic access to books. Amazon has put together a lot of the pieces that makes this holy grail seem reachable, even if not yet truly achieved. But in reading the commentary of some of the enthusiastic boosters of eBooks, I’m struck by just how much wishful thinking they display. For example, in an interview on Teleread with Marie Campbell of MarketIntellNow, Marie reports on a poll of 5000 “random” (actually self-selected) web surfers, and concludes: “Lower e-book prices, not gizmos like the Amazon Kindle, will be the big spur for book sales.”

I agree with Marie’s fundamental assertion that handheld devices are nice to have, not need to have — the real breakthrough is just making electronic copies available at a fair price. Eventually, those electronic copies will find their way to whatever devices we are currently using, whether it’s a PC or a handheld or some other future device.
Our Safari Books Online joint venture with Pearson, which delivers subscription access to thousands of computer and business books (admittedly an early adopter audience with a need for professional content), generates more revenue than is normally reported for the entire downloadable ebook business. For my company, O’Reilly Media, Safari is now our third largest reseller, behind only Amazon and Barnes & Noble. This didn’t take a handheld device (though handheld devices will certainly enlarge the market.) It just required making the content available with a business model and price that people were willing to pay.

But Marie’s poll goes on to conclude that “over half of people surveyed expected e-book prices to be $5 or less and 1 out of every 5 expected the price to be $2.50 or less.” She says:

We believe that the Publishing Industry will very quickly discover that they’re blessed with ELASTICITY. That is, the lower the prices of e-books up to a point, the more net revenue they drive (thus the cannibalization effect on traditional book sales will be overcome). E-books may start around $10.00 each, but come down in the 2008-09 timeframe and approach $5.00.

It’s true that new price points can sometimes attract new readers — that’s what happened with the rise of the paperback. But note that as paperbacks became the dominant format, outselling hardbacks, prices rose substantially for both paperbacks AND hardbacks. They didn’t keep falling. So if prices fall to $5 or less, as predicted, you can equally bet that they will rise if and when the electronic format becomes dominant.

What’s more, I think that the idea that there’s sufficient unmet demand to justify radical price cuts is totally wrongheaded. Unlike music, which is quickly consumed (a song takes 3 to 4 minutes to listen to, and price elasticity does have an impact on whether you try a new song or listen to an old one again), many types of books require a substantial time commitment, and having more books available more cheaply doesn’t mean any more books read. Regular readers already often have huge piles of unread books, as we end up buying more than we have time for. Time, not price, is the limiting factor.

And as for the kind of books that you don’t read from beginning to end, but just use to do a job like looking up information, or learning something new, the “all you can eat” subscription model may be more appropriate. With Safari, we’ve increasingly moved from a “bookshelf” model (in which you put books on a bookshelf and can only swap at month end) to an all you can eat model, because we’ve discovered that people consume about the same amount of content regardless of how much you make available. All you can eat pricing lets people take what they need from more books, but it doesn’t increase the total amount of content they consume. It merely changes the distribution, and in particular, favors the long tail over the head. (See my post from last year, Long Tail Evidence from Safari and Google Book Search, for details on how a searchable database changes the distribution of content that is viewed.)

Cable TV provides another argument for the subscription model for content types that, unlike music, require a time commitment once a choice has been made. “Channels” and subscription packages generate far more revenue than pay-per-view, which is the equivalent to the downloadable ebook.

Ultimately, I believe that we’ll see a variety of models for electronic content — just as we do in print: single copy sales, subscription, advertising, and even wacky hybrid models. I wrote about this back in 1995, in an article called Publishing Models for Internet Commerce.

But in understanding which model to apply, you have to do the math!

Marie goes on to say:

E-books will start sans ads, at prices of about $10/book. But as the $5.00 point-of-pain for publishers is reached, hybrid models will begin to flourish. And some outriders- likely VC-backed- will stake out the “free books supported by advertising” segment and drive earnings for all to see.

Marie obviously hasn’t read Jeremy Liew’s eye-opening post Three Ways to Build an Online Media Business to $50 Million in Revenue, which dissects just how many page views you need to drive to get to only $50 million in revenue — the size of a mid-sized publisher. Short answer: way more than most people ever imagine.

Obviously, the advertising model works famously for some kinds of content. But publishers are kidding themselves if they think that advertising will replace the revenue generated by current book sales. Current CPM (cost per thousand) rates for advertising range from $1 (the vast majority) to $20 at the high end, very targeted, high-value audiences. So if you have a 200 page book that sells 20,000 copies, generating 400,000 page views (assuming all 20,000 people read the entire book), you might generate a few hundred dollars from advertising even with an ad on every page. [Update: a number of people have pointed out my own bad math: that’s 4 million page views, resulting in a few thousand dollars of ad revenue. But that doesn’t change the fundamental point.] And that’s before you develop your ad-serving technology or pay someone else a slice for handling the problem. Publishers and authors have to get a LOT more readers to bring you up to the level of revenue you get today from a printed book.

Advertising works for aggregators like portals and search engines because they can amass billions of page views, often on user-generated (or computer-generated) content for which they pay nothing.

I’m sure there will be ad supported books, and ads as a supplement to other revenue streams, but it isn’t going to be enough to support publishing as we know it.

I see wishful thinking in other projections as well.
over In Business Week, David Kiley writes:

If I sell my Kindle book to a reader for $9.99, he has saved perhaps $20 on the price of a hardcover book. Let’s say I sell 40,000 copies of the book, and further assume that I can get at least 10,000 of the buyers to subscribe to periodically updated chapters and podcasts, or perhaps a blog, for an additional $9.99. As an author, I would like to control that end of the revenue stream, which I don’t need a big publisher for anyway. That’s another $100,000 in revenue to me, minus my costs and Amazon’s cut.

Leaving out the part that selling 40,000 copies of a book is very good to begin with, and that “Amazon’s cut” for author-published content is 65%, reducing that imagined $100,000 to $35,000, what basis does David have for assuming that 25% of his buyers will pay to subscribe to updates? In the late 90’s, we offered a product line called the CD bookshelf, collections of related books on CD that were sold through bookstores. We offered the opportunity for people to register their purchase so they could get updates to the books, and were shocked to find how few people took us up on the offer. We sold tens of thousands of CD bookshelves, and ended up with hundreds of people registering for updates. Anyone who’s ever built a subscription business knows that it takes a large investment to build up a subscriber base that produces a significant revenue stream.

Evidence from related fields like free software downloads similarly suggests that you’re lucky if a fraction of 1% converts to a paying customer. Or take Wikipedia. ClickZ claimed they had 189 million unique visitors in January 2007, and I’ve seen estimates that they get 7 Billion page views a month, yet their recent request for donations, which appears as an ad at the top of every article, has so far resulted in little more than 33,000 donations. (Just check the header of any Wikipedia article for the current tally.)

There are a lot of good ways to create user generated content that can produce significant advertising revenue streams. And there are lots of good ways to build a subscription business, just as there are lots of good ways to make a success out of selling information goods by the piece. But none of it is easy, and none of it happens automatically. Finding the right price to expand the market is also hard, and there are clear limits to the kind of growth you can get with radically lower prices.

My advice to publishers and authors is this: figure out what it costs to produce what you sell, estimate what kind of volume you’ll be able to achieve using the best available data, and then set your prices at a level that will deliver a reasonable profit from your efforts. Sound familiar? That’s what you do in business today. Don’t expect any suspension of the law of gravity. Leave that to the subprime folks, who followed on the heels of the dotcommers in coming up with new math that ultimately didn’t make any sense.

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  • “What’s more, I think that the idea that there’s sufficient unmet demand to justify radical price cuts is totally wrongheaded.”

    In my case, and the case of most habitual readers I know, the demand may not be unmet, but it’s met far more often at the public library than the book store.

    I read about 100 library books annually, but purchase fewer than a dozen. The instant gratification and other conveniences of digital books might lure me to pay for more books, but only if the price is low enough to “compete with free” (similar to online music stores vs. peer-to-peer file sharing).

    I don’t know whether subscription or iTunes-like business models will win my business, but I know that you could get to to spend significantly more on books… if the price is right.

  • Hmm. material costs (mostly paper) went up in that same timeframe. Also, the average length of a novel has gotten much longer.

    I have a feeling that the price elasticity will come with length elasticity. Isn’t this what O’Reilly has been experimenting with in it’s ‘short cuts’ PDF series?

    We may see the renaissance of the novelette and novela.

    With no physical production costs (and presumably long after a book has had a chance to earn out it’s advance), older and less popular works can be sold for less that popular new releases. This may in fact push up the price of popular new releases, and of paper books.

    Meanwhile, there are plenty of sub-$10 (and even sub-$1) books available in the Amazon Kindle store.

  • Very good point, Matt. Libraries are indeed a good source of unmet demand that might be tapped by much cheaper ebooks. But it seems to me that libraries still flourished when paperbacks were the price that are proposed for ebooks.

    Also, interestingly, libraries show the power of the “all you can eat” model.

  • “What’s more, I think that the idea that there’s sufficient unmet demand to justify radical price cuts is totally wrong headed. Unlike music, which is quickly consumed (a song takes 3 to 4 minutes to listen to, and price elasticity does have an impact on whether you try a new song or listen to an old one again), many types of books require a substantial time commitment, and having more books available more cheaply doesn’t mean any more books read. Regular readers already often have huge piles of unread books, as we end up buying more than we have time for. Time, not price, is the limiting factor.”

    I think this is at the heart of the issue. Book reading is slightly different from other content consumptions in a sense that it’s educational value is usually higher while more time is also spent on it. Book are also far more freely available than other types of content. Which means any new content has to compete with all the books produced in our history, many of which are still applicable and immortal. That’s not considering the explosion of free content on internet which gets easier to find and more targeted every day.

    So I can see that there is always a price pressure on books, because it’s difficult to compete with things that are free.

    Any business model you have that is going to consider your effort and your price to cover the cost should also consider what similar products are out there which are given for free or nearly free.

    Probably it used to be easier to make tons of money from a few of them, but the long tail certainly prevails now.

  • Michael,

    Paper, print and binding are a far smaller part of a book’s list price than most people realize. It’s usually less than 10%. Meanwhile, distributors and retailers claim well over 50% of the list price. So while paper price fluctuations hurt, they don’t explain price changes. The biggest factor that effects price is potential sales volume, so indeed, if there is unmet demand, prices can go down. Volume is also why large retailers like Amazon can offer big discounts — they have lots of margin to begin with, and very large volumes can offset any discounting they do.

    I was probably too strong in arguing against price elasticity. Dover, for instance, built a great business with very cheap reprints of classics — a business that Barnes & Noble later entered with a vengeance. I imagine that this will also be a big part of Amazon’s ebook business.

    I do want to address the idea that “after a book has earned out its advance”, prices can go down. The sad fact is that, for many authors, advances are never earned out. There was a great article about this in the Science Fiction Writers of America journal about fifteen years ago, after their audit committee did a deep investigation. Alas, it’s not available online.

    But it is certainly true that electronic copies of many books are likely to be introduced in a time series, just like the mass market paperback follows the hardback, and an enduring backlist title ends up in a trade paperback priced between the two.

    My point is that there will be lots of experiments done to find the right price to maximize revenue. And that is dependent on volume — and is independent of length.

    A good example of that is our Web 2.0 Patterns and Best Practices report or our Facebook Application Report, each of which sells for hundreds of dollars. Why? We thought demand would be limited, and that enough people would pay a high price to offset the low volume. We were right.

    Meanwhile, many of our short cuts have been an economic failure (with a few exceptions) because the low price (typically $9.95) isn’t generating enough volume to make them worthwhile. I’ve been pushing our publishers to do more high priced, short form publishing where the demand is high but the market is small. We’ve learned quite painfully that a low price doesn’t necessarily spur demand.

    Of course, we have counter examples as well. I turned Unix in a Nutshell, one of our first books, into a bestseller back in the early 90s when I dropped the price from $19.50 to $9.95. It was a killer price for a really valuable book, and we sold six times as many copies, easily justifying the price drop. But eventually, as we introduced more books at that price point, the surprise factor wore off, and many of the books ended up making less money, so prices went back up.

    To your point about length, though, I do agree that the internet is accustoming people to consume more short form content. Take video. Before YouTube, how many people watched short films?

    There’s a lot of innovation and discovery in both formats and business models to come.

  • Along with public libraries, there’s also the used market, which I suspect has soaked up a lot of the more price-sensitive readers, particularly as the Net makes it easier to find and buy used books.

    We buy most of our books used (and read a lot of the rest from libraries). Part of that reflects our interest in older literature that isn’t kept in print; but part of it definitely reflects that our book buying budget (and not just our reading time budget) is limited, as I suspect it is for many book-lovers.

    Cheaper new book prices might not result in us reading any more, but it might make us move up the value chain. I don’t know offhand if the shift would be enough to make more money for the publishers, but it might be a question worth looking into.

    It’s not clear the used market will transition neatly into the e-realm. On the one hand, there’s the desire a number of people have to keep “first sale” rights in the electronic sphere; that is, be able to give away or sell your copies when you’re done with them. On the other hand, doing this with a “soft” copy requires the seller or giver to delete their own copy if they want to honor the copyright. Let’s be optimistic and assume most people are honest enough to do this. But what about the fraction that *aren’t*? Even if they’re relatively few, they can disrupt the market: there’s little to keep them from underpricing the honest sellers (since they don’t lose anything from “selling” the same purchase over and over again) and it’s unclear what a buyer could do to verify that a stranger selling to them is acting ‘honestly’ (unless they’re all willing to live under a stricter DRM regime than the mass market seems to be going for now).

    So, are there ways to make a stable, workable used market, or another way of accommodating the more price-sensitive customers in the e-reading world? (Prices that start highish for new material and drop steadily over time might be one way to handle this, for instance. It’d accommodate the equivalent of the “nice, but I’ll wait for the paperback/the library to have a copy in/used copies to appear” judgments price-sensitive buyers make now.)

  • Future Converged —

    Your point about downward price pressure on books as a result of increased competition from the long tail (not only potentially ebooks, but also used books, deep backlist now perpetually available from print on demand, and free content on the web) compels me to make the opposite point more strongly. This type of competition will make some types of content more expensive, not less expensive.

    It’s a bit like the ideal gas law. Just as there’s a relationship between pressure, volume, and temperature, there’s a relationship between price, demand, and availability. More competition decreases the demand for some kinds of content, in which case the price goes up. For other types of content, more availability increases demand, in which case the price may go down. The variable here is the type of content and whether availability sparks more demand or not.

    Imagine a very narrow topic, important to only a few thousand people. Does raising awareness drive demand? Probably not. When we published Nancy Keene’s book on Childhood Leukemia as part of our Patient Centered Guides series, it quickly became known to everyone affected — all three thousand or so cases a year — and we sold to a significant fraction of them. No amount of additional exposure would increase the demand. And yet the book was priced cheaply, and as a result, never really became a financial success. The universe was too small.

    But there are certainly cases where making something cheap enough can hugely increase demand. But people need to be aware that it is not across the board. A low price strategy generally works if there are many fungible works aiming at a large market, and price helps people to choose you over the higher priced competition.

    Of course, when everyone is low priced, you no longer stand out. So you need to distinguish between low price as a temporary marketing advantage and true market expansion.

  • Hi, Tim. See detailed rebuttal at:

    http://www.teleread.org/blog/2007/12/05/e-book-prices-real-life-vs-publishers-wishes/

    While the self-selection (cheapskates favored?) would influence the results somewhat, the MarketIntellNow poll certainly jibes well with the sentiments expressed repeatedly by the visitors to the TeleRead e-book blog. They insist on low prices, and they’re generally not impoverished. In appropriate cases, you need to look beyond p-book readers used to paying big bucks. E-books offer the opportunity of reaching whole new customers, who, like it or not, are aware of the distribution economies of E and aren’t even put off by the existence of middlemen in the E word. They’ll just not buy e-books or go elsewhere if the markups are too high.

    As for your other points, see the rebuttal. I’m summing up just part of it here.

    I’m rooting for publishers to survive and thrive, but as you yourself know, it won’t be easy–especially in the tech area, where so much information is traded at no cost by techies who rate each other and who are discovering wikis and other tools as facilitators for crowd-sourcing. Plus, as Robert Nagle has observed in the TeleBlog, the info can be highly modularized.

    In general, much depends on the book. Ads are NOT the way to go for low-demand arcane titles, but just might be the ticket for, say, romances where the numbers can eventually be huge in some cases when the tech catches on.

    As for the BW article, I emphatically agree with you that the guy was naive. See http://www.teleread.org/blog/2007/12/04/kindle-naivete-in-bw-more-balanced-forbes-piece/

    Even with low prices and challenges aplenty, good and savvy publishers will have a role to play, including, I’m confident, ORA. But everything–prices, biz models, you name it–will be a category-by-category, book-by-book issue.

    Thanks and happy holidays,
    David

    David Rothman | 703-770-6540 | dr [at] teleread.org

  • Here’s where I stopped reading:

    > Advertising works for aggregators like portals and search engines because they can amass billions of page views, often on user-generated (or computer-generated) content for which they pay nothing.

    Look ma, the content publisher thinks Google and Yahoo and Ask get their index for free, out of thin air.

  • Tim’s mini-essay is an excellent introduction to the realities of ebook pricing. He understands the business and has vision about where it is headed. Some of the comments to Tim’s post here seem to me to based on a misunderstanding of what Tim is saying or are simply churlish. For example, the number of books in libraries, regardless of how many times they circulate, is not large enough to significantly enhance publishers’ sales even if they all moved to purchase from borrowing. Yes, do the math, and note that attention, not content, is the scarce commodity.

    Joe Esposito

  • I believe that high quality online videos will become a very large part of e-books in the next 5 years. I also feel that perceived value of e-books and how they are packaged are very important. How many people really want to read a digital book?

  • ‘Time, not price, is the limiting factor.’ – I don’t think that’s true alone. It is time, price, and book size (more relevance on less pages) what matters. Books are sequences of text chunks. In order for books to be comsumed more often, they will simply have to become more (appropriately) condensed and thus more useful in electronic formats. Why not think of a traditinal book as the source of 10 more focused electronic ‘books’.

    I myself developed a personal authoring / knowledge management system (www.artificialmemory.net) that allows for re-using / re-sequencing text chunks into sequences of texts formerly called books or articles or documents. If the process of writing and organizing texts changes, the electronic book market can change as well.

  • David —

    I read your rebuttal, and I mustn’t have been clear, or you missed my point. It wasn’t that ebooks won’t go for $5, or a dollar for that matter, or whatever the marketplace settles on. My objection was to the idea expressed by Marie Campbell that the resulting elasticity of demand would offset the lower prices. And the idea that there’s even sufficient demand to support free ebooks supported by advertising is even more untenable.

    Your “rebuttal” doesn’t actually do the math, except (I think) to assert that a romance novel with a million readers would be more profitable than one with 50,000 physical books sold. Yeah, but how many million copy sellers will there be?

    People win the lottery too.

  • Jeremy,

    I think your comment about video is spot on, at least for many categories.

  • L. Ludwig —

    This was our thesis regarding our “short cuts” program, but frankly, it hasn’t worked out as well as we hoped. None of our short cuts has begun to approach the volume we currently achieve with books.

  • Tim, thanks for your response, but actually keep in mind that it’s tough for typical publishers to stay sustainable even with paper books. This ain’t a high profit business even now, given the low entry points. Meanwhile I’ve further addressed sustainability issues of E.

    HH,
    David

  • Ken Beegle

    I’d imagine that publishers will benefit from selling ebooks because it will free cash invested in inventory and improve cash flows by speeding up the time it takes for cash to be distributed to the publishers and authors. I predict the greatest benefit will go to smaller publishers because ebooks eliminate many fixed costs (presses, warehouses, distribution networks) and reduce the money it takes to enter the market.

    I’m curious, is inventory and cash flow much of an issue to publishers or has it already been worked out (ie. the 10% cost to print mentioned above)?

  • bowerbird

    tim said:
    > My advice to publishers and authors is this: figure out what it costs
    > to produce what you sell, estimate what kind of volume you’ll be able to
    > achieve using the best available data, and then set your prices at a level
    > that will deliver a reasonable profit from your efforts. Sound familiar?
    > That’s what you do in business today.

    here’s _my_ advice to writers…

    forget about “business”. business is too sterile.

    do it for _love_. forget about getting money from your writing.
    forget about it entirely. do it for _love_, and for _nothing_else_.
    do it because you _have_to_, because the muse has you in her grip
    and will not let go of you no matter how badly you try to shake her.
    write because the story — _your_story_ — simply _must_ be told…

    write that story as well as you can. then have an editor friend edit it.
    then have other friends read it, and have them give honest feedback.
    then have it edited again, if you think it’s necessary. and when you’re
    satisfied with it — or sick to death of it, whichever one comes first —
    then mount it online. for free. with zero expectation that you will get
    _anything_ in return. and be happy with your accomplishment. it’s big.

    you can have a tip-jar if you want. doctorow is wrong, there’s _nothing_
    wrong with a tip-jar. it’s a way for people to give back, and that’s great…
    but do keep your head on straight. because most people won’t give a tip.
    it’s not in our blood yet to do that particular type of gift-giving to writers.

    now is the time to keep yourself busy. haven’t you got _another_ story?
    well, then, start writing it! (you know how long the last one took, right?)

    sooner or later — and it might be _much_ later, so remember you _must_
    keep your expectations at _zero_ — your book _will_ find its audience…

    and if it is a story that _resonates_ with people, then _will_ buzz you back.

    it might only be a half-dozen people at first, but don’t take ’em for granted,
    because that is the leading-edge of your audience, the people who will build
    it out even further for you. then, cultivate the relationship with your audience.
    this is your reward for writing the book, your _relationship_ with your people…

    if — keep yourself from saying “when”, at all costs — _if_ that audience grows
    to a sizeable level, then _perhaps_ you will find that it is kicking you back cash.
    but, realistically, what you’ll probably find instead is that it is providing you with
    something even more valuable — the kind of things that only _friends_ can give.
    perhaps it will be a house you can stay at, in italy, when you go there on vacation.
    perhaps it’ll be someone who says just the right words when you’re feeling down.
    perhaps you’ll find a lover, or even a spouse. maybe someone to make you laugh.

    it might even be something bigger. perhaps it’ll be a story about how you survived
    a bout with cancer, and other people will be inspired, and pay you to come and give
    a speech to their groups, and you’ll find yourself with a lucrative new form of income.
    perhaps it will get you a better job, one that makes you happier, and pays you more…
    but the key to all of this is to _expect_nothing_. so after you’ve said “gee, something
    like a new job _would_ be nice”, then right away make yourself take back that thought.

    whatever it is that you receive in return, it will make your _life_ much _richer_, and
    it will all be because you decided to tell your story, expecting nothing in exchange.

    -bowerbird

  • … having more books available more cheaply doesn’t mean any more books read. Regular readers already often have huge piles of unread books, as we end up buying more than we have time for. Time, not price, is the limiting factor.

    A really provocative point, though I wonder if we’ll see a trend to shorter books and perhaps more “cliff notes” versions for given topics that shorten the time needed to read by condensing the info into a quick read versions.

  • One of the biggest potential opportunities for e-books is to, in effect, bring back the fiction magazine. Each publisher has a few star authors whose fans will buy anything the star writes. With e-books, a publisher can afford to sell a bundle that includes the star’s latest, plus some new authors, to try to get the fan hooked on them too.

  • David —

    I agree that it’s tough for traditional publishers to stay sustainable with paper books. All the more reason not to tell them that low priced ebooks will drive huge new volume and that “the ‘free books supported by advertising’ segment … [will] drive earnings for all to see.”

    But again, I should repeat, I am NOT making the argument (which some seemed to think) that publishers somehow should be protected from the free market economics of ebooks. I’m just saying that the economics don’t look that rosy with the models that are being proposed, and that there are other models that do drive higher revenue and profit.

  • Alex Tolley

    I would endorse the time issue. I am in the category of readers that has a large pile of unread books and too little time to get through them all (although I don’t suppose the publisher/retailer cares).

    With regard to technical books, I have found the thinner, better written books better than the turgid large tomes. I particularly liked the O’Reilly “pocket reference” series for some books in this regard. Science books are similar, some of my favorites are quite slim, the author having thought carefully about what to include and what to leave out. Today I sometimes feel I buy books by the pound. One of my favorite books (coincidently I just evangelized yesterday at a meeting) is Moreville’s “Ambient Findability”, a delightfully written book that is -gasp- only 179 pages including lots of images.

    As already observed, novels seem to have gotten very long these days. As an avid SF reader, I am aware that this genre has expanded 2-3 fold in novel length over the last fifty years. I do wish authors could return to the more terse, shorter lengths.

    As regards eBooks, I don’t think there is that much value in having them as book substitutes. The value of digitized books is mostly in their portability and searchability. The former is useful to replace a technical book library, the latter is perhaps best done via Google books. Thus the former is the most compelling benefit for me.

    I would suggest that eBooks fall down because they try to replace static text. It would be far more compelling to create materials more like multi-media web pages than books, which is why I think the future of eBook readers is really as a portable web browser.

  • Michael Cader

    Tim:

    I appreciate a lot of your points, particularly as you have added in nuances in the comments fields. I agree with your underscoring that “there will be lots of experiments done to find the right price to maximize revenue” and “there’s a lot of innovation and discovery in both formats and business models to come.” All of this is too complex to support any single position.

    That said, I’ve found that traditional publishers are often fixed in some primitive notions about price–and perhaps even more importantly value–that are not necessarily grounded either in basic economics or marketplace experience.

    As you well know, most books don’t sell very many copies (made painstakingly clear in Chris Anderson’s analysis of Bookscan data in The Long Tail). There is unmet, or unexploited/unreached, demand for just about every book published. Price, and value, are part (an important part, but only part) of the formula for realizing some of that additional demand.

    A publisher like Workman proves this all the time; they can literally sell 10 to 30 times as many copies of a book as a standard trade publisher. They underprice to market, but they also overproduce (extra photos and illustration; extra interior color), overpromote, and discount aggressively to nontraditional retailers among many strategies. They deliver extra *value,* to consumers but also to middlemen.

    Other publishers like Chronicle and Sterling have also prospered mightily in underpricing and overdelivering relative to the market, realizing much higher sales per book as a result.

    Two whole sub-industries exist, in the reselling of remainders at deep discount but also in the reprinting of books for which rights have reverted, in which low price/high perceived value is a key tool in selling often very large quantities of books that by traditional measures were considered failures or at the end of their marketing lives.

    As you’ve pointed out, any single title can defy any rule we could construct. Some titles are “have to have” and not particularly price sensitive; other titles are deeply price sensitive.

    Writ large, though, the macroeconomic forces of the consumer trade business are clear, and brutal. Dollar expenditures in real terms are not growing. Unit sales are stagnant, or in decline. But the amount of unique product is growing quickly. So most individual titles sell less per title.

    And discounting is clearly a factor. In the UK, where there are no controls on the discounts offered to different vendors, unit sales are growing as supermarkets and other big retailers sell a small set of frontlist titles at deep discount. Lower prices for particular titles are clearly driving more sales. The publishers do ok because they’ve artificially inflated retail prices to make up for the 70 percent discount to Tesco. But they’re killing the traditional bookstores and chains as a by-product, and driving consumer dollars to a smaller set of titles. Oops.

    I think you should add nuance to your position on free ebooks supported by advertising. Standard cpms and page views, with standard ideas of circulation, indeed will not sustain a basic publishing model. But remember that Seth Godin generated well over a million page views for the free e-version of Ideavirus and still sold as many or more print copies thereafter as his regular books. A company like McKinsey could clearly get more value for their advertising dollars by providing free downloads of the next Tom Peters or Seth Godin book than, say, a Forbes advertisement, and even at a dollar per download as a fee the arrangement could bring solid six or seven figures and not necessarily impede (and perhaps would augment) a traditional print sale. So maybe Chrysler or Proctor & Gamble comes to the same conclusion about Nora Roberts, or the next Nora Roberts… That game certainly works better than cheap banners and AdWords.

    As to ebook pricing elasticity and demand, while you’ve effectively debunked the statistical validity of the survey, it still echoes in part what consumers have demonstrated again and again about ebooks. So far, it’s clear the average consumer doesn’t think an ebook carries the same value as a print book–the content without the container is worth less to them. That may change some day, but that day is probably far far off. (The notion certainly failed once with CD-Roms long ago.)

    Sure there are exceptions. I remember John Kilcullen explaining at BEA years ago that the e-versions of Cliffs Notes sold almost entirely between something like midnight and 3 am–that’s a market with a different price elasticity than your basic novel.

    But for the most part, regular trade consumers value an ebook less than a print book. And perhaps the most resonant thing about Amazon’s Kindle is to recognize that in a more meaningful way than anyone has before. As Jason Epstein demonstrated, the economics still don’t ultimately favor the consumer, but it’s beginning to feel more tempting. The lower those prices go, and the more they correspond to consumers’ notions of adequate value/trade-off, the higher the sales.

    As you rightly point out, the increase in sales may not in the end make up for the price cuts–because single title e-books (as opposed to subscription models, and other options) may simply not offer enough value to enough consumers at any price. Which brings us back to the possibilities of free–and subscriptions, and innovation. And the quest to stimulate demand beyond the accepted norm for any given title through a variety of means–price, value, promotion, format, and more.

  • John H

    Michael Cader: “But for the most part, regular trade consumers value an ebook less than a print book. And perhaps the most resonant thing about Amazon’s Kindle is to recognize that in a more meaningful way than anyone has before.”

    I think the biggest factor that makes an eBook a lower value item than a pBook has been the inconvenience of reading it. By moving to remove that inconvenience, Kindle (and devices like it) ought to increase the value of eBooks to the customer. Currently, an eBook is worth very little to me. If I owned a Kindle, an eBook would suddenly be worth a lot more. This is why some people are suggesting that Kindle pricing should follow the razorblade model. I think the cost of producing the device probably rules that out for the timebeing.

    Let’s hypothesise that there’s a universally owned eBook reader that is exactly as readable and annotatable etc. as a real book. Let’s also hypothesise that Bezos has got very close to his aim of having every book available as an eBook.

    With that out of the way, if I’m choosing between pBook and eBook, I have choice and instant gratification pulling me towards the eBook, DRM and concrete-object-ownership-fetishisation pulling me towards the pBook. The DRM won’t affect me for a while, whereas the instant-gratification element affects me, well, instantly.

    I think it’ll be a while before there’s a critical mass of ePaper owners, but once there is, I don’t think it will be reasonable to say that an eBook has less value than a pBook — unless that book is unsuitable for ePaper in some specific way (Taschen won’t be seeing a great deal of eBook sales; pop-up books are a dead loss).

  • Let’s assume for a moment that prices do fall to, and remain at, $5 a title. What publisher and author combination can make money that way? Book reading hasn’t been taking a market pounding because the prices are too high – books just aren’t that expensive. If you have a current business model under which most titles don’t even make back the pitiful advances that authors get, and where the cost of the actual paper is only about $1.50 a copy, then dropping the price by 60 to 80 percent is going to mean that publishers won’t be able to afford to print anything that isn’t going to be wildly successful. Current backlists may stay around (if the publishers have acquired the necessary rights), but forget the variety of titles coming out now. We’ll be down to a handful of authors who can generate the necessary sales. Then supply and demand will kick back in, because there are those corporate infrastructures to feed, and prices will head back up anyway. Some individual authors might be able to self publish, but if they’re getting 35 percent of $5, that’s $1.75. Take out costs of design and production, and maybe they’re at $1 a book if they’re lucky, which is like current royalty levels, only without an advance to fund the writing process – too low to support self-publishing. So $5 a copy, if really gutting the paper model, would really leave book publishing virtually dead.

  • Adam Hodgkin

    Wow — this was a fascinating post with lots of interesting comments. But there is one point of yours that seems completely out of place this:

    (re: advertising as a revenue stream for book publishers) “…..but it isn’t going to be enough to support publishing as we know it”.

    And nobody thinks that book publishing (as we know it) is going to be supported…..Its our starting point that the maths is changing and we will be finding new models for supporting many more new books. It wont be book publishing as we know it. I sense that you are, in discussion, moving to a more ‘elastic’ view of the possible demand for books. Here are a couple of reasons for supposing that there may truly be deep elasticity, and not just because reproduction and distribution costs are disappearing:

    (1) == Globalisation. American book prices already look very aggressive and low to European publishers. Add in 20% or 30% dollar devaluation and you have a very strong downward pressure on digital pricing in Europe. Its going to be impossible to maintain significant artificial regional price differences in digital assets.

    (2) ==Assuming that individuals maintain and even increase their book buying budgets when the digital book platforms become consumer-desired. Will this lead to an expectation for the size of the typical/average personal library to increase? Surely it will, especially when Moore’s law and near-zero marginal distribution costs apply. If the average affluent household library is now 1,000 volumes (rough guess) is it possible that the average household owned/licensed library will tend towards 100,000s volumes? I think that is possible and that is where a successful digital books culture will take us. Dont ask me why consumers may want to have/own more books than they can possibly read all of, unless you are also able to tell me why my children succeed in having many more tracks than they can possibly listen to.

    (3) == Production and manufacturing costs are not that significant for many publishers (but keeping production costs down is still one of your strong priorities? It is for all the book publishers we know). Yet for many desirable books the unit costs of production ARE important in real terms (eg large format colour or coffee table style books). Such BIG books look and feel spectacular in an appropriate digital environment. Will high value printed book publishers be tempted to price digital equivalents at 5% of the print price? This may well be an optimum strategy, not now, but when the digital audience is broad.

    High elasticity of demand is of more importance to a book which has a large and potentially global audience. Books with a narrow vertical audience will not benefit so much. But these books will also feel the pressure of competition from ‘free’. The report from which Marie Campbell quotes and which she co-authored costs $995. Its available as a PDF download and so has effectively zero marginal distribution costs for the publisher. The MarketIntelNow pricing strategy reflects a clear understanding that demand for some books is really quite inelastic.

  • d steele

    Speaking of ‘Bad Math’, 200 pages times 20,000 readers is 4,000,000 not 400,000.

  • Len Watson

    Hi. Seems like the math on 20,000 sales of a 200 page book would be 4MM impressions. Would make things look better by a factor of 10. Don’t know, though, if folks are ready for an ad on every page. Then again, I thought 5 minute commercial breaks wouldn’t fly in America…

  • Alex Tolley

    Can someone provide an approx cost breakdown for a book. If print costs for a novel are just a few $/copy (verified by Lulu self printing) then how much is simple overhead and “marketing”?

    Even the smaller bookstore chains offer books at very steep markdowns from new, perhaps 1/4 the retail price), which I presume must still be more profitable (or less costly) than returning them.

    I am interested in the issue of whether one needs to read all you buy. Subscription models for newspapers, e.g. the WSJ are quite high, yet I only read a fraction of the paper, discarding most of it, making it more like “all you can eat”.There are certainly titles in tech books that I only have for a few valuable chapters/pages. Dictionaries and other collections of items are really “all you can eat” models too.

    So I am not convinced that the ownership of titles is reading time dependent for me. Some of my constraints include cost per title and storage space. Therefore it might well be possible to increase my “consumption” without needing to use up all my time as long as I get value for what I am paying for.

  • Dear Tim,

    A Kindle buyer claims fraud:

    http://www.bookofjoe.com/2007/12/amazon-kindle-a.html

    Best,

    Joe Stirt, M.D.

    http://www.bookofjoe.com

    ‘World’s most popular blogging anesthesiologist’

  • I think the big problem is protecting copyright.
    Which at the moment is unsolved.
    May be the solution could be an ebook at price $0 with commercials inside.
    The more copies the more revenue.
    And of course the better the book the bigger the number of downloads.
    Patrizia http:/woip.blogspot.com

  • Len, you’re absolutely right about the number. It’s 4 million page views not 400,000, but that still doesn’t change the number materially. $4000 vs. maybe $100,000 to the publisher for selling the current book. So now imagine 20 ads per page? There isn’t a good way to make this work for most general books.

  • Chris

    For all the discussion on ebooks and publishers, I’m surprised that no one has mentioned Baen Books Webscriptions store. They offer both advanced reader copies for the diehard fans as well as full ebooks after print publication for people who want them. They also have a medium sized free library of titles geared towards pulling people into buying print copies of series.

    The prices for these are cheap compared to print books. The subscription is $15 / month and includes 4 books, released in parts, sequentially. The prices on an ebook vary around five or six dollars. This also helps with the long tail effect as all their new books are available this way. If you look at the free library main page, Eric Flint outlines his reasons for why they are pursuing the method that they are. http://www.baen.com/library/

    The last thing I’d like to note is that all of the releases that they put out, paid, subscription, and free, come with no ads, not DRM, and in multiple formats. I’ve come to see this method as successful and I wish that more publishers followed this trend

  • Chris —

    What Baen Books is doing is great — and not that dissimilar from Safari, except that with the Safari bookshelf model, you get ten books a month for $20, so it’s actually cheaper, despite the higher price of our print books. (We started out with Safari pricing starts as low as $9.95 for 5 books/month, but most people opted for ten books a month or higher, and we now offer the ten book bookshelf for $19.99 and a whole library with unlimited access for $39.99. We also allow for downloads, though not in multiple formats. (I’m pushing for that.))

    When you say, “the prices are cheap compared to print books,” that’s actually not that true, considering that Baen mostly publishes paperbacks from $6 to $9 or so, and the electronic sales are direct from Baen. I imagine they actually make more on each eBook sold (though in much lower volume) than they do on each paperback.

    Their discount off the list price of the paperback is thus much like the discounts offered by technical publishers like O’Reilly, or the Pragmatic Programmers, of 30 to 40% off the price of the printed book.

  • Time, not price, is the limiting factor.

    That for me is the largest problem with e-Books.

    It is not important to remember everything as it is to remember where to find it when you need it.

    O’Reilly– I wouldn’t purchase single e-Books but rather entire libraries on a specific subject.

    Dear Auntie Em–

    For Christmas, could you get me a device with a good RIA app that would allow me to carry, search, find, bookmark, manage, export sections and read entire libraries?

    Oh. And a gun to shoot this damn whiny lion?

    Thanks.

    Love,

    Dorothy

  • tim

    Some of the comments on here are spot-on but there is something that will keep even geeky tech guys like me away from products like the Kindle. It is the price of the reader that needs to be lowered, not the price of the books.

    We need more convergence here, more do-it-all devices that aggregate more functions into a single device for portability and economies of scale (as far as building the device).

    To that end, I do believe that Apple has the capability to get this started on a mass level. They have proven people will indeed view/read/watch things on teeny-tiny screens if you make content available. They offer publishers a huge developed user base and support their products. In addition, DRM is something Apple is very familiar with and that should make the authors and bean counters very happy. I think you all know they have a semi-popular store already set up.

    I’m not an Apple evangelist but I do think products like the iPhone/iPod touch are more likely to be used as ebook readers than a Kindle if the content was offered. e-Ink is great and looks amazing but it has a few issues right now – price to produce the screen and for the Kindle, no backlight. It seems kind of silly to offer an electronic device that people need to read just like a regular book. That means keeping the light on in bed when reading and that is sure to make some spouses less than happy.

    Make the reader technology “good enough” and cheap enough and people will give it a try.

  • Tim —

    I can’t help but agree that the Apple iPhone and sequels will play a major role in the emerging ebook ecosystem.

  • Bob

    If I had to paraphrase what you’re saying Tim, I’d probably say this: These book markets are only so large. That’s especially apparent in the niche market which O’Reilly finds itself. The volume of sales will not increase significantly enough to make up for the lower priced ebooks, therefore the market value for publishers will shrink.

    To add to the pain of a shrinking market, ebooks will lower the barrier for smaller and perhaps individual publishers to publish their own materials through Amazon and take a bigger piece of the pie (larger royalties to authors to make up for lower revenue due to lower pricing)

    Publishers should be careful what they wish for!

  • Bob

    On second thought, I don’t think O’Reilly will be affected much by ebooks. I mean, if you are using O’Reilly books aren’t you generally ON A COMPUTER since most O’Reilly books are about doing things on computers… like programming?

    Now suppose everyone starts consuming digital content from O’Reilly, wouldn’t they rather have it available on their computers instead of an ebook? Afterall, almost all O’Reilly books are about doing things on a computer so it’s pretty likely that when consuming O’Reilly content people are sitting at a computer anyway.

    However, the economics of digital forms of content are the same … ebook or no ebook.

  • Tim C

    Tim: have you ever thought of the traditional channels not as a way to make money but rather as a cost-effective customer acquisition vehicle for your subscription business?

    What if a summary of your facebook report was free and the full article was free with purchase of a one year o’reilly subscription that auto-renews?

    Fitness gyms figured out intro pricing long ago. VistaPrint figured out that they could lose $20 on business card orders because they got enough customers to come back for profitable repeat orders. If 2 million see it, and 1% convert to subscriberts, you have 20k subscribers hearing from you every day.

  • Tim — good to see you reading this blog.

    We actually have thought of traditional channels as a way to acquire subscribers. We generate most of our individual subscribers for Safari by appealing to our book customers. (And we do indeed start with a free trial.)

    We’ve always thought that the millions of books we ship would be a great conversion tool for online subscriptions too, but it just turns out not to be the case. We have “safari enabled” logos on all of our books, and a special offer in the back, and almost no one seems to use the codes we provide. (That being said, the offer in the back of the book isn’t that different from the one on the website, so that may just be bad offer design by the Safari folks.)

    But we definitely think this way. That’s why we’ve given away free copies of Release 2.0 to conference attendees. In fact, we gave free subscriptions to Release 2.0 (and Make) to TED attendees, with the hope of renewal. So yes, we are aware of this approach.

    For that matter, I started my conference business as a kind of subsidized marketing for the books (before discovering that it was a great business in its own right.)

    But there is always more to learn. And in the current environment, lots of people doing lots of experiments and reporting what works is really important. That’s one reason we started our Tools of Change for Publishing conference (http://www.toccon.com) — we want to share what we know, but we also want to convene others from whom we can learn. For example, there is some great work going on regarding pre-order pricing by one bible publisher. Price starts out high, and declines as more people order. Very cool model.

  • Toby Green

    And advertising has either a very small or no part to play in our world. There simply isn’t a large enough market for our content to generate revenues on any scale. We know this because our books are loaded on Google Books and we allow Ad Words to appear. The revenues wouldn’t pay for my annual coffee bill.

  • Justin

    Most of your argument is sound here IMHO. But your argument about how many page views reaching $50 million in revenue would take is a little flawed. What’s the profit margin of printing books versus serving pages? I’d imagine that if a book publisher makes 50% profit margin they’d be doing pretty good (just a guess). Though if you give away high quality content for free you’ll get your traffic for free and your server costs will be nothing compared to printing. Maybe the cost of paying authors is bigger than I think, but I’d be curious to see how the equation would change if you added profit margin to the equation instead of gross revenue.
    BTW I love the “all you can eat” idea. I have an impossible time getting through an entire technical book. I usually just need bits and pieces. I don’t have time to read entire books. I would pay way more per month for an “all you can eat” service than I currently spend on books. I subscribe to rhapsody and netflix for similar reasons.

  • Justin,

    As I’ve noted previously, manufacturing cost is a small part of the cost of producing books. It’s less than 10% of the retail price, perhaps 17-18% of our net receipts. So taking manufacturing out of the picture improves margin only by that amount. Unless you change other parts of the model (e.g. cutting out editorial development), that doesn’t buy you enough to make up the difference.

    On average, a book generates about $150,000 in revenue for us. (Some generate quite a bit more, some generate less.) So take out manufacturing, and you’re down to about $120,000. Generating $120,000 from page views at $1 CPMs (which is about what you get for technical content) means getting 120,000,000 page views from that same book, or, supposing you manage five ads per page, 25 million page views.

    But in fact, we know from Safari that in any given month, people typically use about 5% of the pages in books that they subscribe to. They don’t read them cover to cover. So better assume a best case of 1.2 million page views, or about $12,000. So you’d need to drive 10x the volume to break even on revenue.

    Meanwhile, you have to replace that pesky printing infrastructure with the cost of ad sales. You don’t count that towards gross margin, but my guess is that it’s going to cost you more than you currently spend on printing.

    The biggest cost of print books is distribution, not manufacturing. And yes, online can reduce that cost — if you assume that you sell everything direct to the end customer. But that’s unlikely. What the web teaches us is that laws of aggregation apply even there, so you’ll likely end up selling through digital distributors like amazon and google book search, thus giving up that advantage.

    My conclusion stands: there are some types of books that might be supportable via advertising, but they will be few. Advertising works for aggregators of user generated content who can amass large numbers of page views at relatively low cost. And there just aren’t that many of them. Book publishers need to find models in which people value the content enough to pay for it, rather than just assuming that they’ll somehow make it up in volume when content is free or very low cost.

  • Have been watching this thread closely. There are a lot things that simply do not make sense.

    Some thought and analysis needs to be made to the music industry over the last few years and the associated consumer behavior and changes. Might have to flip that coin over and look there and on its side.

    E-Book costs? Once developed with the publication of a hard-copy text, that cost has been expensed via Contra Sales or Cost of Goods Sold over the first production run. It is done and in the can.

    Marketing/Merchandising? That is piggy-backed on the publisher’s promotion and distribution of the hard-copy.

    Distribution costs? Any distributor with margins of 50% to 65% on the publisher’s selling price to them and the distributor will stay in business for about .. well, maybe, an hour and half. iTunes, anyone?

    Delivery costs? Incidental particularly for the distributor who can use the publisher’s servers for delivery of the product.

    Infrastructure? Minimal. How much does it cost to add another SKU to inventory .. and an inventory item that is digital. Remember that “it is the data, stupid” thing?

    Consumer Behavioral Patterns/Expectations? That is critical. However, any publisher worth their salt has that raw “it is in the data, stupid”.

    Back to the music industry. Diamond Multimedia Rio vs Kindle? Neither. Plenty of hand-helds are already in the market.

    That leaves the “it is in the use and application, fool” thing. Tie that to the e-Book application into the consumer behavioral patterns and expectations analysis. Cost? Start up, development, pre-promotional costs — don’t know. Those initial costs can be carried as an asset and amortized over five years. Opportunity to setup a separate division and profit center that can sell the publisher’s own e-Book titles and those of their competitors. [That may be a little iffy.] Analysis might be given to development and branding the e-Book application and subsequent licensing to other publishers. All potential profit centers should be given close scrutiny.

    Initial Distribution of Finished Product? That could be done with the publisher’s existing e-Commerce site and be done at an initial 10% to 15% additional price premium over product intended to be sold through distribution channels — would preclude bastardization of distributors.

    The DPP [Direct Product Profitability] analysis on such a SKU should be through the roof.

    Why let an Amazon do something that a publisher has the knowledge and customer base to do better.

    It is very rare to see opportunity to expand existing markets and use a brand extension, simultaneously.

  • Sorry for coming back to this so late in the conversation, but I wanted to clarify something:

    I do want to address the idea that “after a book has earned out its advance”, prices can go down. The sad fact is that, for many authors, advances are never earned out.

    Tim, that wasn’t quite what I said…

    With no physical production costs (and presumably long after a book has had a chance to earn out it’s advance), older and less popular works can be sold for less that popular new releases. This may in fact push up the price of popular new releases, and of paper books.

    To be clear, after a book has had a chance to earn out it’s advance (regardless of whether it has or not), it can make sense to lower the price to try and capture more sales.

    This is not so different from hardcovers vs. paperbacks, theatrical runs vs. DVDs, or even the fact that Safari makes various ‘out of print’ books available electronically, or how some readers pay for early access to ORA’s ‘Rough Cuts’. Timed price discrimination can work, and probably particularly well for popular serial fiction and for high-buzz technical topics.

  • David Smoot

    I’m probably not a typical consumer so I don’t know how my views affect a business model but here’s my $.02.

    You’re dead on that most readers are time limited. However I’m also “mass limited”. I have little snatches of time here and there that I could be educating myself with an O’Reilly book. But I don’t have big enough pockets to carry around my latest technical books with me.

    I have a pretty good technical library built up for work (embedded programmer), more than 50% O’Reilly books. I want to have my books available at work for reference but I also want them available at home when I have time to read them straight through. But I don’t want to be carrying 80 pounds of books back and forth.

    I’m not looking for a discount. I’ll re-buy my entire technical library at FULL price if I can download it in a cross platform, searchable, format. I want to be able to buy an E-book and copy it to every device I own (Apple computers, Symbian smartphone, and Nokia Internet Tablet).

    And as long as I’m dreaming, I want an application that lets me “synchronize” my collection across platforms, so every device knows where I last stopped reading on another platform and where my bookmarks are.

    The problem with DRM is that it stifles the kind of cross platform freedom I want but that is another debate all together.

  • David (Smoot),

    I hear you. We’re thinking on how to offer what you want…

  • Luis Gomes

    Tim,

    As a programmer like David Smoot, I too don’t have big pockets to carry around my technical books when I need them. Plus, my hips can’t take the beating anymore from carrying all my books around. I’m a new subscriber to Safari, because I’ve been buying a lot O’Reilly books lately ($$$), but which still confines me to my computer –it’s not as functional at times 🙁 That’s what makes the Amazon Kindle so appealing, it’s functional –plain and simple . . . I can take it practically anywhere without carrying a boat load of books around, and to me, functionality trumps price most of the time. So, I don’t mind spending $400 for the device and paying a subscription fee to O’Reilly, or whoever. And I don’t think I’m alone on this? Your help would be much appreciated!

    Sincerely, LG

  • Garance Drosehn

    I stumbled across this discussion today, which is to say I’m not sure I’ll find my way back to it anytime soon. But just as a buyer of books I thought I’d add some impressions of my own.

    I doubt the price of kindle-books will be discounted much more than they already are. There are a number of things about the kindle (as a device) that I don’t particularly like, but I’ll admit that I’m somewhat tempted to get one simply because of the cheaper price I see on some Kindle books. So then I look at the price of the kindle itself, and that temptation goes away.

    Apple could get away with the initial high-price for the first iPods, because the customer didn’t *have* to buy more music to use it. I could rip the CD’s I already owned. For something like the Kindle, it is utterly impractical to scan-in the books you already own. You *have* to buy new books to get significant use out of the device.

    I’d also predict that any book publisher who tries to put ads on ever page of their books will go the way that newspapers are currently going. At some point the reader gets weary of more-and-more ads, and less-and-less content per page. And if publishers format books for an iPhone-sized screen, ads will get really annoying really fast.

    As to carrying books around as Luis Gomes requested, some publishers have a deal where you can buy a book and also a PDF of the same book. They generate a custom PDF of the book with the customer’s name on every page, thus (hopefully) cutting down on people duplicating the PDF and giving it to people who never bought it. This works well for me, although it obviously does mean more cost for the publisher to generate it.