Been there, read that, passed on the t-shirt: The ebook pricing false comparison
March 23, 2014 | 1:27 pm
As a follow-up to the ebook pricing discussion, here’s a piece from Digital Book World that makes a completely false case for society’s undervaluing of ebooks. Why false? Because you could have exactly the same debate about print books. “Why are T-shirts more valuable than Ebooks?” asks Beth Bacon, and she instances her brothers-in-law’s new t-shirt sales website that “sells comfy, cool T-shirts for $25. I fully support their entrepreneurial launch. But I couldn’t help thinking about it in comparison to publishers, selling ebooks for a just couple of bucks. It struck me as odd that our society values ebooks at a fraction of the price of a T-shirt.”
Well, yes, few ebooks sell at $25. But the same applies to the vast number of print books. Take the debate back 20 years and the same would still be true. The average mass-market paperback sells at nothing like $25, and to that degree, reasonably high-quality t-shirts have always commanded higher prices than cheap paperbacks. And we haven’t even started on the Dover or Wordsworth Classics paperbacks that disseminated the great works of literature for prices far closer to the $2.99 that Beth Bacon bemoans as the sweet spot for ebook pricing.
“I settle into the uncomfortable conclusion that our society simply values things like clothes higher than books,” she complains. “Why else would we shell out $25 for a T-shirt but balk at buying a mystery for that price?”
Well, as it happens, the situation is even more dire than that. Because Project Gutenberg is offering, with Amazon and most other ebook platforms following suit, the truly deathless monuments of world literature, for free. Follow Beth Bacon’s argument, and this should show that society places no value on them at all. Is it really so? Perhaps rather our cultural heritage should be free like the air we breathe. It’s that important.