e-Books should cost no more than physical books (and maybe less)

I own a lot of e-Books. I don’t read paper books anymore if I can help it (with the exception of graphic novels and other texts which have strict layout requirements). I’ve purchased most from Amazon (I have a Kindle Keyboard, which I love reading on), and a few from other retailers.

I didn’t expect to be able to transfer ownership of these e-Books; I knew that going in. I just tell friends about the great books I’ve read and they can buy the book themselves or borrow it from the library. Authors tend to make more money this way, I think, which is good.

But it sounds like I don’t own the e-Books anyway; it sounds like I’ve purchased a licence to read them on digital devices. (Aside: A greater concern for readers, but maybe not publishers, might be the legal terms like “Amazon reserves the right to refuse service, terminate accounts, remove or edit content, or cancel orders in its sole discretion” which might instantly cancel your licence to read. DRM makes this possible. A little scary, and good reason to purchase from non-DRM e-Books retailers like Baen, which also has DRM-free books on Amazon.)

But there is still the matter of my ability to resell a hardcover book (and recoup some of my costs) but not a digital book. Is that the essential difference? e-Books are non-transferable but physical books are?

Here’s an example of some book pricing on Amazon. Note that the publisher set the Kindle Edition price at $16.10, which is why it’s not listed in the “Amazon Price” column:

Sample book pricing on Amazon.

Sample book pricing on Amazon.

Right now, many e-Books I consider buying licensing cost as much as or more than their physical counterparts. I can’t resell it, and there are no significant per-unit production and shipping costs, so I think it should cost less than the cheapest available print book (less than $11.55 in my example). I’m not buying a copy; I’m buying a non-transferable licence. I can even choose to revoke my own licence if I want to (I recently deleted a short story that was not very good because I don’t want it cluttering up my library). On the other hand, I like the convenience of e-Books, so that’s worth something too, but enough to justify charging more than for a hardcover? I don’t think so.

I’m fine with not being able to share, sell, and transfer the e-Books I pay for, but pretending that there is no residual value in a physical book or that it’s free to produce and ship that physical book is ridiculous. Make it easy to buy e-Books at a reasonable price and I will buy them (and keep them). I read about twice as many books now as I did pre-Kindle, even with the price discrepancies. I’m interested in reading great books and supporting great authors (and their publishers!) so they can create more great books.

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