Technology · Thoughts

When Ebooks Became Pricier Than Paperbacks

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Once upon a time, you could count on ebooks being cheaper than their print counterparts, if only by a few dollars. This was always reassuring. Over the last few months, I have noticed that Kindle ebooks are more expensive than paperbacks now.

I have never been a fan of paying more than five dollars for an ebook, especially when the ebook price is a few dollars short of the print book price. I would rather have the physical book. I have paid more than five dollars for ebooks (college textbooks or a book I really wanted), but I do not do it often.

Let me begin by listing the prices (USD) of different books. The prices listed are from Amazon on January 31, 2017.

Book Hardcover Paperback Ebook
City of Bones by Cassandra Clare $12.59 $8.53 $9.99
The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins $16.56 $9.68 $9.99
Heartless by Marissa Meyer $11.85 $5.89 $9.99
Hidden Figures by Margot Lee Shetterly $13.99 $9.59 $10.99
Landline by Rainbow Rowell $17.38 $9.51 $9.99
Leaving Time by Jodi Picoult $16.80 $9.52 $11.99
Paper Towns by John Green $12.75 $7.99 $9.99

The books I listed show an average $1.75 difference between the paperback and ebook, but I do not want to pay more for an ebook than a paperback. I am one of those weird people who would rather own a physical book instead of keep it in cloud storage. I know ebooks are convenient in accessibility and storage, but I would rather have the real book.

What makes ebooks more expensive than paperbacks? BooksAvenue answered this question in 2013. In sum, the publisher either chooses the price or forces the retailer to set a higher price so both can make money. I understand that everyone involved wants to make money, but I would like to save mine.

I wonder if this is the start of a shift to make ebooks more expensive or cheaper. BooksAvenue says that ebook prices have been dropping, as of 2013, and that there has been an issue for quite some time of ebooks costing more than paperbacks. I haven’t personally witnessed this, so I wonder if the prices are going to climb.

Would you rather pay more for an ebook than a physical book? Do you think that ebook prices are generally going up or going down? If you read ebooks that are not formatted for Kindle, have you noticed prices like the ones above or are they lower than print book prices?

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15 thoughts on “When Ebooks Became Pricier Than Paperbacks

      1. Actually, you’re not paying for the cost of the paper, which isn’t that much. You’re paying for the author, the editor, the copyeditor, the cover artist and/or illustrator, the marketing department, etc. They all did work on the book and need to be paid. (They also tend not to make that much. Editors might make $30,000/yr and that’s not a lot in NYC.) If you convert the book into an ebook, now you also have to pay for all the people who did the coding, etc. So the prices should be roughly equivalent. They were only ever less because retailers were forcing publishers to sell them too cheaply and, indeed, for a long time Amazon was actually selling books at a loss to themselves in order to take over the book market. I know it doesn’t feel like you have a real product and that you thus shouldn’t have to pay, but you’re paying for the labor, not the paper.

  1. Thank you for the mention. Even though that article was written in 2013, we are still feeling very strongly about the pricing discrepancy.

    Of course, there is also a view that readers are paying more for the convenience as a result of content digitisation. Probably that will be for those readers who are more IT savvy and wanna do away with carrying physical books.

    Will do up an article on that one day. 🙂

    1. I know that convenience is a strong consideration, but it seems to me that most of the convenience should be paid for when you purchase an e-reader. It’s the e-reader that determines how many books you can “carry” with you without an internet connection. That’s how I look at it, anyway.

      I’ll be on the lookout for that article.

  2. I interned with a major publishing house a few years ago, and they told me that the cost of printing a book is marginal (assuming you’re doing a large print run; if you’re only printing 100 copies or something, yes, that will cost more per book). I don’t remember the specifics, but I’m pretty sure they said the cost of printing is under $1 per book. The paper and ink simply aren’t that expensive in most cases. Doing something fancy, like making a pop-up children’s book, will cost more, of course.

    When you pay for a book, you’re not really paying for paper, but for the labor that went into it–the author’s, the editor’s, the artist’s, the designer’s, the marketer’s, the publicist’s, the contract lawyer’s, etc. After the author writes the book and finds a literary agent to represent it (which probably take years), it will often take 2 years on the publisher’s end to work on the book and get it to market. So you’re possibly looking at 5 years’ worth of work and maybe 10 people who directly worked on the book who need to be paid.

    1. Now I’m curious as to why small batches cost so much to print? I mean, self pub authors have to charge like $20 for their paperbacks sometimes just to make money, so obviously it’s not costing them $1 even though they’re also using paper and ink just like the books printed in large quantities. Unless those on-demand printing presses are just seriously hiking up the prices and making a killing.

      1. I think it’s just a marginal cost thing. If you produce a lot, the cost per item goes down. I don’t know the details, but I imagine there are initial fees like set-up costs but once you have that covered, printing the books themselves isn’t too expensive because the paper itself isn’t too expensive.

      2. I know it’s generally cheaper to buy in bulk, but I’m not sure how much plays into a publishing house working with a printing press.

  3. I’ve noticed this too, and I think it’s crazy! I’d definitely much prefer to have the physical book, so if it’s going to be cheaper I would choose it every time! As convenient as ebooks are, it never feels like I actually own the book when it just exists somewhere in cyberspace. It’s definitely not the same as having a physical copy of it in my hand! 🙂

  4. I would definitely choose the paperback over the ebook unless there was significant cost savings, but I do understand why the prices are the same (or could even be slightly more for ebooks) since, as people mentioned, it’s the labor involved you’re really paying for, not the materials.

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