E-books By Bestselling Authors Priced @ $12.99

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.)

Michael Connelly

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

4 thoughts on “E-books By Bestselling Authors Priced @ $12.99

  1. Ooh…now this topic is right up my alley. My own collection (admittedly mostly romance novels) numbers around 1200. Although I prefer to read books now in the e-format (mainly for the convenience of the back lighting and the letter size adjustability), I miss being able to share them easily with others. Whenever my family gets together, there’s always a big book swap as part of the festivities. Once you can easily swap e-books (B & N is experimenting with that capability), I will probably read e-books exclusively.

    In the meantime, however, I scout out books at yard sales as a fun activity on weekends. I carry a copy of my personal library list with me on my iPad. A quick check helps me avoid making purchases of duplicates. Our local libraries also have a “books for sale” section where you can purchase like-new books for a fraction of their original cost (paperbacks…$.5; hard covers…$1). Additionally, we have a group of stores called “Savers” that resells used items. They have a ton of books and you can pick up a nice hard cover for around $3. Paperbacks are less.

    I do love a good bargain and searching for copies of books from the authors I collect is a bit like a treasure hunt. Of course, I’m retired and so have the time available for such pursuits!


  2. 1,200 books! Good thing you have high ceilings for tall bookcases. I don’t know how many I’ve got left. I’ve given a lot away over the years. After reading a good hardback, I usually turn it over to my sibs to pass around. We have an amazing used bookstore here in OC. It’s got high ceilings, it’s dark and musty, with long aisles that are almost impassable because of the books piled on the floor. Amazingly, it’s somewhat organized, and the handful of people who run the place usually have an idea of where to search for any title or author. But the place is so magnificently cluttered that I get a defeated feeling soon as I walk in the door.


  3. I love a good used book — sometimes you can really sniff history in them — and I still own some of those 25 and 40 cent books from back when, bought with my own hands and ice cream money.

    But… “Love Story?” Ewww. I know I am a cynical old spinster, but that thing was written by the Great Automatic Grammatisator.


  4. Hah! Caught you. “Grammatisator” is probably the best word you ever made up! Sounds like a name you might give one of your cats. But the “Great Automatic Grammatisator,” that would be the fictional superhero of an intergalactic war a million years in the future. Right?

    Ms. Sled, you give yourself away. How could you possibly know what kind of book “Love Story” is? Unless you actually spent 20 minutes reading the entire story yourself, back in 1971. It’s nothing to be ashamed about! The statute of limitations has expired. I not only read the book, but also saw the movie. At the theater, and again on TV! BTW, you are not a spinster, and you are not even all that old (it’s all relative). But you are cynical, I’ll give you that. If the cute engineer ever disappears, please get in touch with me.

    I confess to hopeless nostalgia for books, movies and songs that were popular in that strange time warp between 1966 and 1972. “Greening of America,” “Slaughterhouse Five,” “Catch-22,” “The Last Picture Show” are a few that float up from the subconscious. “Mrs. Robinson,” the movie and the song. “MASH,” the movie. “Whiter Shade of Pale,” “Alice’s Restaurant,” “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band,” “Hey Jude,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water,” “Leaving On A Jet Plane” . . . .


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