Libertarian think-tank the Ludwig von Mises Institute is carrying an article by self-published author Genevieve LaGreca about “Dead-Tree Luddites”. But it’s not, as you might expect, about those people who insist they love “the smell of books” and won’t ever read an e-reader, which is the image that phrase immediately brings to mind for TeleRead regulars (or at least for me). Instead, it’s aimed squarely at the agency pricing publishers and their insistence on clinging to the dead tree business at the expense of e-books.
The low pricing of ebooks, scorned by the traditional publishing interests, is the emerging writer’s new ticket of admission into the book industry. While readers may be highly reluctant to risk $25 in a bookstore to try a new writer’s hardcover work, they are buying the ebooks of new writers priced at or around $2.99 on Kindle. Writers are finding their fans and making money at these prices, and readers, judging by Amazon’s “customer reviews,” are happy with these low-cost books.
But then she gets her arguments a little mixed up, because she spends the first part of the article talking about how great it is that “writer-publishers” (in the grand tradition of great Americans such as Benjamin Franklin, who self-published Poor Richard’s Almanac, and Thomas Paine, who self-published Common Sense) have an outlet for their reasonably-priced books. But then she turns around to rail at publishers who pull their books out of Amazon or decry the antitrust actions that favor Amazon while restricting publishers’ ability to enforce agency pricing.
It doesn’t really seem to me that the two arguments have that much to do with each other. The agency pricing thing is only related to books from those professional publishers. There’s nothing in it that prevents self-publishers from selling their books for $2.99. In fact, those self-publishers are basically using “agency pricing” themselves, save that they’re choosing to set their e-book prices low enough for people to be willing to buy them. In fact, from the point of view of those self-publishing authors, it would probably be better if the publishers were allowed to keep their e-book prices high, because it makes their own books that much more attractive to consumers.
As an interesting side note, this isn’t the first time I’ve mentioned the Ludwig von Mises Institute together with e-books. Economic commentator Gary North noted that the Insitute found that giving away e-books for free increased the sales of printed copies of the same books, and used this as proof of what he called “Picard’s Syndrome”—the idea that people generally prefer reading printed books to e-books. But that has to do with that other kind of “Dead Tree Luddites” I mentioned in the first paragraph.