At last week’s Digital Publishing seminars, we touched on the topic of how to price an ebook. There are many ways you can arrive at a price. It’s a really important issue, affecting the publisher’s profitablility, the author’s livelihood, and the consumer’s willingness to get on board with ebooks.
So I was interested to read this thoughtful post by Teleread’s Joe Wikert in which he reviews some recent coverage of the issue. The post covers several of the well-travelled approaches to pricing.
From my own point of view, I think that whatever pricing model we adopt, it has to start with identifying the value proposition that the consumer sees, not the proposition that the publisher believes they should see. You then have to assemble a business model around it. In other words, build the product to match the price the consumer will pay. This may be a very high price with a very low cost (many academic journal publishers and reference database providers enjoy this advantage). Or it might be a low price point that we have to build to.
One advantage we have at the moment is that acceptable production values are low and most ebooks are simply facsimiles of p-books, cheaply produced at a low marginal cost. That gives a lot of pricing flexibility to publishers. Wikert makes this point in his posting, too. This is an ideal time to test and grow the market by ensuring as many consumers as possible can enjoy good books digitally. As the cross-subsidies disappear over time — the ebook becomes the primary edition, quality and feature expectations are higher, and the digital edition has to bear most of the book’s total costs — the price will probably need to rise. And so it should.
But right now, we often seem to be trying to defend ebooks’ high prices in the face of consumer protest out of fear that, once cheap, they’ll never be expensive again. And to defend this position, maybe we’re offering early adopters a raw deal — high cost, low quality, cumbersome experience, but you can still pay full price — when we should be rewarding their tenacity.