Ebook Trends: The Year of Living Digitally
including the notion of letting patrons buy certain ebooks through their libraries. In the BISG study, libraries were the third most popular sources for ebook acquisition among Power Buyers (weekly ebook acquirers), at 24.9%, only 0.5% behind Barnes & Noble.
Obstacles and Opportunities
On the issue of price, new ebooks clearly have the advantage over their print counterparts, as highlighted by Apple’s controversial attempt to implement agency pricing. This does not take total cost of ownership into account, however. While the price of dedicated e-readers is falling rapidly, the price of tablets—the increasingly preferred e-reading devices—is still a barrier for many consumers. Tablet prices must drop, or smartphone screens must become larger—and still remain affordable—before ebook reading can overcome print, regardless of income levels.
Ebook pricing is, on its face, a reflection of the cost savings realized by eliminating print manufacturing and distribution. Consumer sentiment reflects this. Respondents in the BISG study were asked about acceptable price points for an ebook when the hardcopy list price was $30, but available at most stores for $17. Respondents indicated that they would consider $9 as “a great value,” $13 as “expensive but within reason,” and $18 as “too expensive.” The “great value” and “expensive but within reason” numbers have risen—albeit very slowly—since May 2012. This may signify a gradual change in the public’s perception of books themselves, regardless of format.
It’s important to remember that content development, editorial and marketing costs are not different for print books and ebooks. Low ebook prices are—arguably—a public overreaction to perceived cost changes, made worse by the aggressive strategies of etailers like Amazon. Publishers are already streamlining their internal processes—in some cases eking out profitability despite lower ebook prices. In the end, however, authors and publishers need to develop new sources of value (both content- and marketing-related) that cannot be duplicated by a reseller.
John Parsons (email@example.com), former Editorial Director of The Seybold Report, is an independent writer, ghostwriter, and editor. He is the co-author of the interactive printed textbook, Introduction to Graphic Communication, on the art, science and business of print, which has been adopted by Ryerson, Arizona State, the University of Houston, and many other schools and vocational training centers. Custom editions of the book are under consideration by major printing companies and franchises for internal training purposes.