April was an interesting month for the book industry.
The United States Department of Justice announced that it was suing five major publishers, along with Apple, for a price-fixing scheme. As Apple launched the original iPad, they allegedly colluded with Harper Collins, Penguin and other publishing companies to raise the price of ebooks. Just as that news hit the media, Amazon announced that it was planning to lower ebook prices.
From the perspective of the consumer this seems like great news.
After all, why should an ebook be priced similarly to a paperback? There's no paper, no printing and no shipping - the ebook should be cheaper. Furthermore, with self-publishing being easier than ever, many authors are hiring their own editors and releasing their work exclusively as an ebook, effectively cutting out the traditional publisher.
This self-publishing approach is particularly appealing because it results in the majority of the revenue actually reaching the pockets of our favorite authors (as opposed to most traditional publishing companies who usually pay the authors around 15%).
Like any innovative company, Amazon has a number of critics who are frantically waving red flags. Amazon can afford to lower the price of ebooks because they want to sell more Kindle devices - traditional print publishers don't have this angle at their disposal. The red flags are being waved because some believe Amazon will simply turn around and raise ebook prices if they can achieve a dominant share of the market.
Personally, I don't think Amazon is the enemy here. e-readers and tablet devices will get cheaper over time, making it easier to jump to a new platform. If Amazon was to raise ebook prices there will always be alternative options for the consumer (and for the author).
With easier self-publishing options and lower ebook prices, avid book-readers should be in for a treat as more content becomes available for less.
Of course every upside has a downside. The traditional publishing companies need to adapt to survive. Beyond that, book stores may not be able to sustain themselves as the price gap between ebooks and printed books grows.
One thing is for sure: if the publishers don’t respect the price expectations of the consumer there will always be the threat of piracy.
About the author: Brad Parsons is the owner of Sticky Consulting, a web consulting company based in Kelowna, BC.