High Cost of E-books
When I bought my Nook last winter, I was hoping to buy e-books at lower prices than hardbacks and paperbacks. But prices aren’t necessarily lower in the digital world.
Despite owning a Nook, I’ve recently splurged on two hardbacks and a paperback. They’re very different novels by three long-established, bestselling authors.
(Explanation: Sometimes I need a good book for emergency escape from the real world. Cost is almost irrelevant. A book from the library or an e-book on the Nook is good. But a real book that I can mark up with a highlighter brings instant relief. Paperback or hardback, makes no difference, as long as I own it and can highlight it. Crazy, I know.)
This rampage of reckless spending started when I noticed a new Lincoln Lawyer book at the neighborhood Hallmark store. Hallmark sells books at the full cover price, and carries a fairly wide selection of books. The book in question is The Fifth Witness, by Michael Connelly. It looks like a traditional “mass market” paperback, but it’s about one inch taller than the traditional mass market size. I wouldn’t call it a “trade paperback.”
How much for The Fifth Witness? $9.99 in paperback at the Hallmark store. Ouch! I put The Fifth Witness back on the shelf. I’d download it for less on my Nook. So I thought.
A quick check of my bookshelf at home revealed that I bought The Lincoln Lawyer, the first book in the series, in 2011 for $7.99. Turns out that Barnes & Nobel is selling The Fifth Witness e-book at $9.99. Same price for the e-book at B&N as for the paperback at Hallmark! The value of a Michael Connelly paperback has gone up $2 from 2011 to 2012! Quite an inflation rate. Amazingly, B&N has the gall to charge even more — $10.98 — for the paperback at its online store. The Lincoln Lawyer is 505 pages, and The Fifth Witness weighs in at 537 pages.
If the price is the same, I’d rather have the real book. So I returned to Hallmark and bought the paperback. For the record, Amazon is offering The Fifth Witness as a Kindle e-book at $9.99, same as B&N. And Amazon is selling the paperback version for $9.99, same as Hallmark, beating the B&N paperback price by 99 cents.
Anne Tyler and John Irving
The two hardback books I bought are In One Person, by John Irving, and The Beginner’s Goodbye, by Anne Tyler. They tell a different pricing story. I’ve always avoided buying hardbacks, even back in the day, when I was affluent middle-class. Hardbacks are definitely not in my budget these days. But for new books by excellent authors, I can make an exception.
- The Anne Tyler book, The Beginner’s Goodbye, I bought at the full list price at Hallmark. $24.95. I should have bought it online. Both Amazon and B&N are offering the hardback at $16.22. And they’re both selling the e-book for $12.99. What a coincidence. Amazon and B&N are discounting the 198-page hardback, but seems to me they’re price gouging on the e-book. $12.99 is a lot to pay for a virtual book, even a new release by an excellent writer.
- The John Irving book, In One Person, runs 425 pages and has a list price of $28. I bought it at a discount, $19.60, at Walmart. Walmart is the wild card in book retailing. Its megastores target the masses. The Walmart strategy is to carry the hottest of the bestsellers and sell at discounted prices. But Walmart’s selection is as thin as onion paper. They’re not competing in the whole, wide book market like Amazon and B&N.
Turns out I could have beat the Walmart price by buying online. Amazon is selling the In One Person hardback at $18.48, and the Kindle e-book at $12.99. Barnes & Nobel is selling the Nook e-book at $12.99, and the hardback for $19.32.
Conclusion: The surge in publication of Indie e-books has not yet had a major impact on retail pricing of hardbacks and paperbacks written by well-known authors and published by traditional publishers. If you haven’t heard about the e-book revolution, start here.
BTW, I can’t recommend Fifth Witness, Beginner’s Goodbye, or One Person because I haven’t finished reading them. Early indications are that all three will meet their authors’ usual standards of excellence. Maybe I’ll have time to write reviews later, but the way work is going this summer season, I sort of doubt it.
Paperback Prices In The Rare Old Days
For historic price comparison, I pulled a few old, yellowed paperbacks from my bookshelf. Here are the prices. Read them and weep:
- To Kill a Mockingbird, by Harper Lee, first published in 1962. A masterpiece, a Pulitzer Prize winner, a classic. Don’t know when it was bought, but it was after the film was made in 1962. Cover Price: $1.95
- Love Story, by Erich Segal, first published in 1970. A short and sweet novella, a sensational bestseller and a blockbuster film. Probably bought about 1971. Cover Price: 95 cents
- The Pearl, by John Steinbeck, first published in 1947, before I was born. John Steinbeck is an American Master, and The Pearl, a quick read with no wasted words, is one his most-loved stories. I saved it from my mother’s small book collection after her death. This paperback edition must have been purchased sometime in the 1960s. Cover price: 40 cents
— John Hayden
- As E-Book Demand Rises, Libraries Struggle With Publishers, Budgets to Deliver (pbs.org)
- The New World of Publishing: Book Pricing from Another Perspective (deanwesleysmith.com)