I was on a conference call recently talking about piracy with Joe Karaganis, Brian O’Leary and Ruediger Wischenbart. At one point someone mentioned that piracy can be avoided when content is made available at a reasonable price and in all convenient formats. That begs the question: What’s a “reasonable price”?
I asked the group if they felt $9.99 is the answer. All three of them said that’s too high. Maybe we’re too focused on the 99-cent phenomenon and, of course, it’s hard to state a “reasonable” price when talking generally about all types of books (e.g., trade, technical, etc.) Nevertheless, it’s disturbing to think that the future of ebooks features a race to zero on pricing.
As long as publishers are offering nothing more than quick-and-dirty p-to-e conversions we can’t really expect consumers to pay more, especially since the e-version loses functionality (e.g, lending restrictions, can’t resell). I mentioned when richer products arrive and they leverage the device capabilities they won’t have to be as cheap as the quick-and-dirty conversions. Joe and Brian weren’t very optimistic about that. Brian pointed out that $9.99 has become such a standard in consumers’ heads that it will be hard to break that price point.
Joe then brought up a very interesting point: Pirates tend to be ebook hoarders. He noted that the definition of a “personal collection” has changed from dozens or hundreds to thousands of titles.
That’s when I remembered that I’m an ebook hoarder too. Low ebook prices have caused me to change my behavior. When a book is $9.99 or less I don’t even think twice about clicking the buy button. The result? I now have more unread ebooks on my Nook than I ever had before. And the number is growing. Every week. I’m heading towards a situation where one day I’ll have bought far more ebooks than I can read in the rest of my life and I’ll bet I’m not alone.
What we’re creating here is a world where lots of content is purchased but much of it is never read. Is that really what we want? Is there actually a benefit to publishers and authors when consumers pay a higher price and therefore have more skin in the game?
Consider these purely hypothetical scenarios:
- Scenario #1: An ebook is priced at $1, sells 100 copies but only 3 buyers actually read it.
- Scenario #2: That same ebook is instead priced at $20, sells only 5 copies but every customer reads it.
Which scenario do you prefer as publisher/author, especially if you’re looking to sell the next book in the series?