Since the beginning of their commercial life around 1999-2000, corporate publishers and their allies have priced trade e-books out of the mass market:
Wade Roush in MIT’s Technology Review: “ ‘A Good Read’ – The new Sony Reader is the coolest e-book device yet–for those who can stomach the price of e-content” (8 November, 2006) highlights the problem that is STILL happening: http://www.technologyreview.com/read_article.aspx?id=17766&ch=infotech
“The other flaw, as already mentioned, is the price of e-books at Sony’s Connect eBooks site. The site offers a decent range of titles, including many current bestsellers. Most of the publishers working with Sony charge less for electronic editions than for print hardcovers, and Sony further discounts these prices. Walter Mosley’s Fortunate Son, for example, lists at $32.95 in hardcover, while the electronic edition is discounted to $17.95, and Sony Connect sells it for $14.36. But I just can’t see average readers paying that much for e-books, which, after all, have about as much physical substance as the digital signals that flit through your PC. A $5.95 paperback may have onion-skin-thin paper and almost invisibly small type, but at least it’s a concrete thing you can hold and put on your shelf. E-books may not be seen as a viable alternative to print books until they’re so cheap that their ephemerality doesn’t matter. Until publishers and hardware makers can turn e-books into a sensible economic proposition, the way Apple’s iTunes Store has done with $0.99 downloadable songs and $1.99 TV shows, I fear the technology will languish.”
In my upcoming: ‘Power Over Publishing: organised publishing’s strategic suppression of the trade e-book’ (and in an article for the next LOGOS, Journal of the World Book Community 17/3, ‘The Trade e-book frenzy of 2000’) I track the comments of shrewd observers of e-books, some of them knowing full well even then that price was ‘the strategy’ – making it impossible for e-books to perform in the marketplace (see also LOGOS 14/4, 2003).
Corporate publishers set out to deceive consumers on e-books, using luxury pricing to hide behind. M.J. Rose wrote and commented on price in 2000 (Mayfield’s article http://www.wired.com/news/culture/0,1284,41633,00.html) challenging Henry Yuen and Gemstar’s odd policies), saying that high e-book prices would virtually guarantee that “demand would never arrive”. Corporate publishers must have grinned reading that. [Why would Yuen price his own products out of the market? Start with the U.S Department of Justice’s web page (2003) “Justice Department Reaches Settlement with Gemstar-TV Guide for Illegal Pre-Merger Coordination” http://www.usdoj.gov/atr/public/press_releases/2003/200740.htm ..and join the pixels.]
Here is M.J.Rose talking about e-book pricing and other issues in a March 2001 PBS Newshour interview: http://www.pbs.org/newshour/media/ebooks/rose.html
M.J. ROSE: My trade paperbacks are $13.95. And the price of the e-books are right now about $11.00, which, if I was pricing them, it’s not what I would price them at.
TERENCE SMITH: Where would you price them?
M.J. ROSE: I would make them $4.95.
Penguin’s Allen Lane showed the way with the paperback in the 1930s. The logic of price for innovative products is: lower them fast if you want them to succeed, at least in publishing. Lane priced his early Penguins at 6p, one twelfth of the cost of the hardcover, then retailing at 6 shillings. Even that was no guarantee of success. Allen also had to get a mass distribution deal; Woolworths gave it to him.
The publishing corporations know that the distributor for e-books is already in place – The Internet and World Wide Web nexus – why they are so fearful of it, and dishonest in their dealing with the e-book. Meanwhile they are scrambling to get control of the Net and Web scenario.
Price is the internally organised publishing strategy against the e-book. Technology has always been the patsy, the fall-guy. As Roush tells us now and Rose said five years ago, whether the e-book takes off or not is all about price.