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Why does this e-book cost $14?!

While most books in Amazon's Kindle store are priced at $10 or less, some are barely less expensive than their print counterparts. It's high time publishers gave some thought to lowering e-book prices.

Rick Broida Senior Editor
Rick Broida is the author of numerous books and thousands of reviews, features and blog posts. He writes CNET's popular Cheapskate blog and co-hosts Protocol 1: A Travelers Podcast (about the TV show Travelers). He lives in Michigan, where he previously owned two escape rooms (chronicled in the ebook "I Was a Middle-Aged Zombie").
Rick Broida
3 min read
Amazon inexplicably charges nearly as much for the e-book edition as for the hardcover. Amazon

Dear e-book publishers: stop gouging us.

Look, I'm your biggest fan. I've been reading digitally distributed fiction and non-fiction since the early days of the PalmPilot.

The most frequently used apps on my iPhone, bar none, are Kindle, eReader, and Stanza.

But I'm getting increasingly frustrated with e-book prices, which rarely represent a savings over their print (aka dead-tree) counterparts.

Case in point: I just read a glowing review of Jonathan Tropper's "This is Where I Leave You." I'm sold; I want it. But something's amiss here: Amazon's hardcover price is $15.57, while the Kindle edition sells for $14.01.

Now, I understand books cost money. There's editing, publishing, and distribution. Paper, ink, trucks, gasoline. Storage, shipping, shelf space, sales staff. And the countless people involved in all those transactions.

E-books, on the other hand, consume zero trees. They weigh nothing, occupy no physical space, and don't get shipped in the traditional sense. Middlemen are few and far between. So you're left with, what, editing costs and the pittance you pay the authors?

Explain to me, then, why the e-book edition of "This is Where I Leave You" sells for $14.01. The $.01 suggests there must be some calculation at work, some formula you use to determine that Kindle and iPhone owners get to save all of a buck-fifty-six when they read green.

(By the way, bargain hunters, eReader.com sells "This is Where I Leave You" for $9.95--still disproportionately high, but more reasonable at least.)

This isn't a new phenomenon. For as long as I've been reading them, e-books have cost nearly as much as their print siblings.

It's time for that to change.

I'm no businessman (English major, natch), but even I understand the economics of volume. Want to sell more e-books? Lower the prices. Forget how things work in the physical world, where selling more books means more production, more shipping, more consumables. E-books require none of that. The only real "consumable" is bandwidth, and there's no shortage of that.

I also understand the concept of perceived value. If you make e-books cheap, that cheapens the value of books in general, right? No. Wrong. Hogwash. That's 20th century thinking.

Let's get some perspective. Publishers have vast libraries of old, forgotten books that are generating zero income, or close to it. Why can't I buy e-book editions for 99 cents? Last I checked, some revenue was better than no revenue.

Why aren't best sellers priced at, say, $2.99? That's an impulse-buy price, one that would encourage readers to pony up instead of waiting weeks or months to check out the one print copy the library bought.

Apple figured out that 99 cents was the magic price point for songs and managed to strong-arm record labels into letting it sell at that point. Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony--it's time for you step up and convince book publishers to do likewise.

Readers, it's time for you to step up and letter-bomb both booksellers and publishers, to let them know you've got money to spend on books, but want fair prices.

I will not buy "This is Where I Leave You" for $14.01. At $9.95, I have to think about it. For $2.99, publisher Dutton Adult, by way of Amazon or eReader or whoever, would already have my money. And probably a lot more, as I'd be snapping up books left and right.

One final thought: at the same time you're raking in newfound profits, publishers, you'll be creating a more literate, well-read society. Not a bad perk, eh?

That's the end of my diatribe. Over to you, readers. Would you buy more e-books if they cost just a buck or two? Would you be more likely to buy, say, a Kindle if cheap books were part of the deal? I eagerly await your thoughts on the subject.