barnes.jpegThe focus over the last couple of weeks –rightfully so- has been cast on the battle between Amazon and Macmillan. It appears that as the dust settles, the collateral damage is more widespread than initially thought.

Barnes and Noble has recently begun raising its e-book prices leaving many of its loyal Nookers exasperated. Their sense of betrayal is a theme becoming more and more common in the e-book world as customers are feeling like victims of the classic “bait and switch” tactic: the bait being the purported savings to be found in e-books and the switch being the DRM-laden, increasingly over-priced books they are getting. Take for instance Denise PW who writes:

Shame on B&N for this outrageous price increase! This is totally unacceptable! You finally got your ereader product in some semblance of working order, & this is how you reward your customers? You jack up the prices so beyond the realm of reason? If this is the result of publisher pressure, then B&N should tell us. Otherwise, I will lay the blame at B&N & their greed. Which reminds me why I really stopped going to B&N & preferred Borders…

Many of these Nook users are raising the same concerns Kindle users have already raised regarding the feasibility of charging more than 9.99 per e-book.

Their objections center around the DRM that Barnes and Noble insists on using as well as their pricing practices which result in e-books that sell for more than even the hardcover. Reading Bum captures the growing sense of frustration that Nook users are feeling as he states:

“Think about it. We don’t even own these books. We’re only licensing them. But yet we’re still being charged more than a paper back and in some cases a hardcover. That’s ridiculous and far from fair. I’d rather them withhold the e-book until the paperback comes out, and then charge us a fair price! I’ll wait”

When the Nook came out some people—this writer included—speculated that Barnes and Noble was planning on using a “copier cartridge” approach to e-books, in which the reader would eventually sell for less than a Kindle but be subsidized by higher e-book prices. This plan was delayed as Barnes and Noble attempted to compete with Kindle e-book prices.

But now that it has built a relatively strong e-reader following for its device, it has chosen to raise its prices. There are many possible explanations but the most salient has to be its attempting to not cannibalize paper book sales. Sadly, Nook users could serve as a control group while Kindlers could serve as the experimental group, for us to finally test whether or not “actively” boycotting is truly more efficient at holding down prices than “passively” boycotting: the latter being nothing more than allowing market forces to dictate price elasticity. There appears to be considerably more resistance to boycotting higher prices in the land of Nook than presently exists with the Kindle. Slaughter S. captures the prevailing consensus:

“I ain’t going to boycott squat. I am going to read what I want to and need to. Price is only part of the equation … probably the smaller one. I would rather pay double for a really great read than screw around with some piece of cheap trash. The publishers know that and, you know what? They charge what the market will bare. Your logic is eminently assailable. For example you would have someone fail to read something that can benefit them because it costs $15.00 instead of $10.00? That’s really and quite literally stupid. By your logic, you should be reading comic books. Cheap knowledge … yeah that’s how to get ahead.”

If I were a Nook user I would feel a strange sense of commonality with a Snook, because you are probably about to be hooked by unfair pricing and DRM.

Editor’s Note: You can find the discussions on this topic at the Barnes & Noble ebook discussion forums here.


  1. I an early adopter (12/9) nook user and have been purchasing eBooks since 2004. Looks like the list price of the eBooks are now the same as the list price for hardcovers and then B&N gives you something between 20% -70% off depending on the book. I believe paperback and mass market back-lists ebooks should be 50%off the list price across the board and hardcover back-lists should be 50% – 75% off the list price with 75% off list prices higher than $24.99.
    New releases is a little harder, ok so an ebook cuts into the sales of print books. But all of those print book sales are based on discounts given by the retailer, why can’t a new release ebook get the same consideration as the print book. If you discount the print book, discount the ebook with additional incentives to drive sales. I as a consumer only want fair value for my dollar. New release list price $15.00 (large paperback) ebook price $7.99. Since I do not have the physical book and sometimes, I don’t even get a valid book cover, I think $7.99 is a fair value price.

  2. This blows my mind. I guess I don’t get the panic or angst here, except that Slaughter S. is so condescending toward comic books.

    nook owners may acquire and side-load eBooks from any compatible eBook vendor, including but not limited to Overdrive-participating libraries, Kobo, Fictionwise,, and various small presses. The nook owner has far more discretion as to where to buy eBooks and how much to pay for them than Kindle owners. (This is one of the big reasons I bought a nook.)

    If someone decides to pay $14.99 for a BN book, that’s his choice, but BN certainly isn’t forcing anyone to thumb on the “Shop” button. If someone decides not to buy eBooks from BN because of price or DRM, that’s her choice.

    Frankly, I think $9.99 is too much for BN’s DRM. The only eBooks I’ve downloaded from BN on my nook have been freebies and books cheaper than $2.99. I have far, far more books in the “My Documents” folder than in the “My Library” one.

    I’ve bought far, far more books from non-BN vendors than from BN to use with my nook.

    By choice. My choice.

  3. i agree with beth, i too own a nook and i got it because of all the formats that it supports: bn drm, adobe adept, fictionwise, and non-drm formats also. if i think the price of the bn book is too much, i can opt to buy it elsewhere: kobo, fictionwise, ereader, or even the sony ebookstore.

    to those nook users complaining: shut up, shop elsewhere, you have a choice.

  4. I beg to differ with the masses then.

    At least 5% of my wish list at BN was on sale for at least 50% off last night. As in new mass market paperbacks going for $3.99 in e.

    Places where the prices were higher were comparable with the prices on the Sony eReader Bookstore, Kobo, and BooksOnBoard.

    Only one book stuck out on the Sony eBookstore as unusal because the price was still $9.99 – Joe Hill’s Horns.

    One thing that I have noticed however, is that B&N ebook prices have been quite a bit lower than other stores since the release of the Nook – at least on the books I want to read. Those prices are going up now, but I would think that you would need to be hiding under a rock to not understand why…

    B&N never promised that the lower prices were permanent. In fact, the big banner splashed across the website advertising 1000s of lowered prices is now gone.

    Oh, and then there’s all the market shifting hype that accompanied a certain upcoming Apple thing. Apparently, Steve has enough power to move market values all by himself.

    At the end of the day, there are always going to be people who will find something to complain about. So is it “news” to report this type of activity, or just more material for the hype machine?

    I’m not defending higher prices, BTW, I like a good deal as much as anyone else, but I definitely don’t feel “Snooked” since I knew what I was getting into when I bought my Nook, just like I knew what I was getting into when I bought my Sony Readers. I’ve been paying full price for books off over my entire reading life. Why would I expect things to be different just because I bought a store branded eReader?

    -Jean K

  5. I agree with the comments here. Publishers set list prices and distributors pay publishers based on the list price. If the publisher sets a list price of $19.99 and BN sells the book for $19.99, is it really BN’s greed at work, or is it the publisher over-pricing her work?

    As Beth and Jean say, there are books available for less than $9.99–including eBooks in the BN catalog (I know this because books are included in the BN catalog and all of our books are priced below $4.00). Nothing wrong with complaining, I guess, but how about supporting publishers who make their books available at affordable prices as well?

    Rob Preece

  6. Why are booksellers and publishers freaking out about ‘cannibalizing paper book sales’?!! What does that even *mean*? They’re freaking out because people are excited about reading, and buying books? *Why do they care about format*!!? “Ack! They’re buying our stuff! — But that means they’re *not* buying our other stuff!” An age-old conundrum. These guys really aren’t thinking very hard, are they.

  7. I believe that publishers are becoming a bit too agressive in the prices that they are asking e-book readers to pay. A universal point of agreement between boycotters and non-boycotters is that indeed an e-book can be over priced. As to how to keep e-book prices in check, is where the fireworks fly. Ultimately, readers must decide whether or not undies consumer action will be necessary to control prices.

  8. Nook owners aren’t the only Barnes & Noble customers who feel betrayed. Prices on (which along with is owned by Barnes & Noble) have recently gone through the roof, and this very soon after Fictionwise had huge Micropay promotions that encouraged customers to rack up Micropay credits to use for future e-book purchases. Now that the promotions are over, discounts have mysteriously disappeared and most e-book prices are ridiculously high. At the same time, Fictionwise has suddenly shut down its discussion group on Yahoo and directed users to Barnes & Noble’s Nook user forums instead. This is strange, since they previously said that the Nook and Fictionwise would remain unrelated and refused to answer questions about interoperability, for example. To anyone considering buying a Nook, I say try a Kindle first and then take a look at a Nook at a Barnes & Noble store. Amazon’s return policies are very liberal. Personally, though, I don’t see why anyone would choose a Nook over a Kindle. And Amazon, despite the many complaints we read about it on this site and elsewhere, is standing by its customers and keeping prices reasonable. I think they’ll be richly rewarded for doing so.

  9. I love ebooks because they give me access to authors that I would never find at my local bookstore, and the old pricing sometimes enabled me to take the risk of trying out someone I wasn’t too sure about.
    I agree that I will buy what I need to. I will still buy my top 10 or top 5 – a 5 to 10 dollar increase in price won’t change that. What I won’t be able to do is take risks on other books. I’ll have to be more that 90% sure that I’ll love the book before buying it which is a shame because a few of my top 10 came from authors that I wasn’t too sure about but now love.

  10. I am very selective of which ebooks I buy vs. Print Books. 3-6 authors in print book and almost anythink else in the genre I like in ebook. I have always shopped around for the best price for my ebooks at fictionwise,,, the Reader store, and B& So for me being a nook owner, ebooks priced higher at B&N than I am willing to pay means I buy somewhere else. No big deal, but I am disappointed that side-loaded content does not have all the functionality that the B&N library has.

  11. Sell ebooks for $2 with no DRM and I’d buy 500 a year.

    Sell ebooks for $10 with DRM and I won’t buy any.

    The logic of this escapes conventional publishers. Like most American businesspeople they are so consumed with the idea of wringing maximum dollar out of existing markets that they can’t even see an opportunity to grow into new markets.

    Have you seen how many people have hundreds or thousands of songs on their iPods? Well there are plenty of readers, like me, who would love to build up a large library of ebooks.

  12. I’ll definitely be buying a small fraction of the number of e-books I currently buy if prices go up significantly. And just in case anyone thought my comments were biased against Barnes & Noble, I will add that I’ve been finding that CDs are often less expensive on than on Amazon these days. Also, is offering free shipping today (Sunday 2/21), and free shipping on orders over $10 through April, I believe.

  13. I agree with “Bill Smith”…a Russian website,, sells individual songs for 15 cents each…at that price, you don’t worry or even think about whether the music is any good or not — a few bucks ought to net you at least a few decent songs…margins might get thin but evolution demands either adaptation or death…

  14. I assume (based on the limited sample I have researched) that much of this price increase is fueled by the publishers (as the author supposes, in an attempt to prevent hardcover sales cannibalism).

    What the publishers seem to be blissfully unaware of (besides the failure of the music industry, and the impending failure of the movie/television industries to prevent the dissemination of e-media) is that many people have a long list of books that they are interested in. For myself (and Slaughter S’s asinine comments notwithstanding), I will simply buy the books on my wish list that are cheaper. The comparison is not between the cost of a book at $10 or $15, but rather the cost of book A at $22 (!!) or book B at $6, both of which I am interested in reading.

  15. The cost the books, and general lack of sharing ability are why I haven’t bought an ebook. When I buy books, I share themth my friends and family. Furthermore, the books I’m completely done with I donate to my local library and get a tax deduction.

    With an ebook I have none of these abilities.

    Today, I buy very few books and simply check them out with which it doesn’t have it on its own shelves can get from 7 or eight city libraries. Someday I may buy an ebook but, not until these issues have been addressed.

  16. Hey! No physical product…no physical cost…Author’s royalty+publishers profit+cost of download=way less than hardcover book. We are being RIPPED OFF! Paperbacks are less than nook books! I wasted the money i paid for my nook thinking I would make up the cost in savings. Costco -$15.19 Nookbook $12.99 NO FRIGGIN’ WAY!

  17. My nook was new enough that I just returned it…I’m glad I saw the signs before I ignorantly sunk major money into buying ebooks. I will not pay these prices for an ebook and not have a hard copy in my hands.

  18. My main gripe is that B&N is higher than Kindle on many books. For instance, “The World’s Healthiest Foods” is $14.39 for Kindle and $22.75 for Nook. Over eight dollars more at B&N? Seriously?

    I’d say more than 50% of the books I get ready to buy on my Nook at lower (by at least $2) at Amazon. Hate to say it, but I’m in the process of selling my Nook. I don’t like the higher prices for ebooks vs paper, but if they were consistent, it is what it is.

    To see B&N charge 58% more for the same thing is ridiculous.

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