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How much are you willing to pay for eBooks? (Macmillan wants $15)

The Gathering Storm
For the last few days Amazon and Macmillan have been waging a tiny little war over the future of eBook pricing. You may have missed it, because unlike most wars, the stakes in this battle aren't all that visible. Digital book sales still make up a relatively small portion of the digital media world and pale in comparison to the growing markets for digital music and movie downloads. But as eBook readers including the Amazon Kindle, Barnes & Noble Nook, and the upcoming iPad make it easier and easier to find, purchase, and read eBooks, sales are likely to pick up.

You'd think that would be a good thing for book publishers. But here's the thing: Amazon, one of the driving forces behind physical and digital book sales, has been refusing to charge more than $9.99 per eBook for new release titles. That price is significantly lower than the price of most new hardcover books. And that makes sense. There's no printing, binding, paper, or distribution cost involved. Sure, someone still needs to pay for the writing, editing, marketing, and other costs. But it's hard to make a case that it costs just as much to produce and distribute another copy of a digital book as it does a physical one.

But Macmillan, which is one of the 6 largest publishers in the US, is rather unhappy with the $9.99 pricing. The company wants to be able to charge as much as $14.99 for eBooks sold through Amazon. In protest, Amazon pulled all of Macmillan's titles from its store this weekend. And when I say all, I mean it. Not just the eBooks, but the paper copies as well.

Of course, that hurts the customers at least as much as it hurts the publisher. Nobody wants to login to an online bookstore and find that 1/6th of the titles from major publishers are suddenly gone -- especially since most readers probably have no idea who publishes the books from their favorite authors. They just know that suddenly the selection has become much more limited.

Today, Amazon admitted that it can't keep up this fight. Because Macmillan has a "monopoly over their own titles," if Amazon wants to be able to sell those titles, the company will have to allow the publisher to set its pricing. But Amazon management makes it clear that it strongly disagrees with Macmillan's proposed pricing.

In other words -- Amazon wants eBooks to continue selling for $10 or less. And since the store seems to be losing the ability to set its own pricing, it's asking customers to vote with their dollars. If you think $15 is too much to pay for an eBook, then don't pay it. Publishers may need to lower their own pricing to meet customer demand.

On the other hand, if you're willing to pay almost as much for a digital book as for one printed on paper for the convenience of downloading your copy from the internet and having a digital copy that you can perform a full text search on, resize the fonts for, and perform all sorts of other digital tricks without fear of tearing a page, then by all means pay up.

Me, I'll probably keep picking up old paperbacks from used book stores and thrift stores for a couple of bucks per book. It's cheaper than buying new books or eBooks.

How much do you think eBooks should go for? Sound off in the comments.
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Tags: amazon, digital books, DigitalBooks, ebooks, macmillan

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