Multigrain Discussion: The Confusion Over ebook Pricing

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 Consumers Upset and Confused Over E-Book Pricing a recent article in Digital Book World by Jeremy Greenfield starts with the widely held consumer perception that “publishers are making a killing on e-books because they cost nothing to produce, distribute and sell and are almost 100% pure profit.” It provides a number of other quotes from consumers like  “With today’s pricing, the profit in e-books is crazy,” or observations like “There is no printing, no shipping, no warehousing, no retailer. There is simply the transmission of the content through the Internet. Someone is making a ton of money.”

The other side of the coin is represented by publisher responses like “We still pay for the author advance, the editing, the copy-editing, the proofreading, the cover and interior design, the illustrations, the sales kit, the marketing efforts, the publicity…”  The article also makes that point that ebook staffing demands can be unique and costly. “The median salary across the U.S. for a low-level digital project manager is $73,678… Counting benefits and taxes to employ such workers, the cost to a small publisher in having a two-person project management team starts at around $200,000 a year.”

Are consumers being unfair?  Surely they are oversimplifying matters.  Perceptions of ebooks providing 100% profit with little to no production costs are not grounded in reality.  However, given that a number of publishers’ 2011 earnings followed a similar pattern: flat sales, increased income maybe these perceptions are not a total fantasy. The article goes on to say that “Digital Book World and others have speculated that higher profit margins on e-book sales are the culprit.”  (And all of this is further complicated by the recent Department of Justice suit against Apple and the “big publishers.”)

Regardless of your take on the issue, it’s a topic that is not going away – and we haven’t even started talking about how ebook pricing will impact libraries.

SPEAKING  OF WHICH, what’s your opinion? How do you think libraries should adjust to the uncertainty surrounding ebook pricing?  Are there specific pricing models that will work best for libraries and ebooks?  Should we be buying directly from the publisher or via folks like ebrary? Is there anything that libraries can do proactively to impact prices?  Should they try?  Or should the market decide?   These are just a few questions that spring to mind, we’re sure there are others.  Let us know what you think!!

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