So, as seems to be customary this time of year, I’ll go back to one of my favorite topics — ebooks.
I think the new Kindles are cool, I think the ones before them were good as well and to be honest, there’s really nothing to complain about my – now aging – Kindle either.
I still like all the things I used to like about ebooks and I still dislike all the things I used to dislike. But there’s something that really bugs me more and more: pricing and release dates.
Let’s pick for example, the last book in The Wheel of Time series, probably my favorite fantasy series of all time.
Finally available for pre-order, you can find it on the Amazon webstore in Hardcover and Kindle format.
Notice first of all, the pricing. The hardcover is £13.10 and the ebook is £10.99.
This is wrong in my mind for two reasons, both related to how cost should get calculated.
1. Production process
I have not been involved in the book publishing process of either paper or digital books, but here’s what I guess is a reasonable high-level description of the process.
- Trees are cut
- Paper is made from said trees
- Books are printed on pages of said paper
- Pages are tied together
- Big heavy books are hauled all over the world
- Books are placed in bookstores which require physical space and all the pains and costs of a physical storefront
- Some conversion is done from the original digital format the book is in from author/editor to the ebook format it will be released under
- The ebook is placed on the publisher’s servers for download
Now I’m no expert in any of these, but it seems like the ebook version is a whole lot easier and more cost effective. Not to mention greener.
2. What you pay for
A physical hardcover book can be used for the following:
- Reading the content inside
- Lending said book and content to a friend
- Door stop
- Ammo against annoying mosquitos
- Last-resort flammable fuel in case of a zombie outbreak
- Many more things that I can’t think of right now
An ebook can be used for the following:
- Reading the content inside… unless you decide do move to a different ebook provider
So… does the small discount justify the reduced production cost of ebooks and the reduced benefits that come from buying an ebook instead of a physical book? I don’t feel it does. I really really don’t. I think they should be a lot cheaper than they are. I find numerous examples where the ebook is more expensive than the paperback and that’s just wrong.
But what I find it even more annoying is the release date. If you look back to my previous example, you may notice a detail so small that I nearly missed it when I was preordering. The ebook comes out three MONTHS after the hardcover.
Before I noticed that I was debating between the hardcover and the ebook. I was debating whether I want to own this wonderful series in physical form, out of fandom more than anything else, or whether I want to go for the more practical approach of getting it all on my Kindle and not taking up an entire rack of my bookcase with the WoT books. I would’ve maybe blogged about that internal debate and what it means to a book fan like me, who also happens to be a practical geek.
But I won’t blog about that. I won’t blog about that because I want to own A Memory of Light as early as humanly possible and I will not wait for nearly an extra quarter of a year for the ebook version. I won’t blog about it because if I want to get the previous books, I can pick between getting them at about £0.60 each in paperback (and I mean new) or £4.99 in Kindle format. I won’t blog about that because that debate is pointless in a world where ebooks are second-class citizens for publishers, so instead I’ll have to stick with this mild rant for this year.
But there is hope though… So, until next year, happy reading, no matter how you like it.
Clearly the regular posting is off to a slow start, but I swear I am trying, haha
So here’s a short note about customer service (and I guess it’s also about LEGAL MP3 downloads). Now, given that the price difference between the regular disc and the MP3 album is often small and that I play discs in my car, I usually go for the disc instead of the MP3 (and rip it myself to play it on my computer and throw the CD in the car collection). But, I did make an exception twice.
First time I bought an MP3 album from Amazon, all was good. I liked the great quality, it was DRM free, so thumbs up for Amazon, thumbs down for iTunes. The second time I bought from Amazon, which was about a week back, things didn’t go so well. The download went good, but then the tracks were skipping (I’m guessing the original CD they were ripped from was dirty or scratched). So in other words, another small but terribly annoying problem, just as I had previously with iTunes. Now here’s the difference. When my iTunes album was messed up, I tried to contact them about it and I never heard back. This small failure in customer service ensured that I will never buy a track from iTunes again. On the other hand, Amazon responded fantastically fast (I think in less than two hours every time I wrote to them), were very polite and offered me a whole bunch of solutions. Now, the solutions themselves looked as if an automatic answering system spit them out because they were all solutions for download problems instead of messed up tracks, but with a service as big as Amazon, some preset answers don’t surprise me much, you have to keep things going, I can understand that – even if it doesn’t make me very happy. Eventually, unable to get things figured out, I requested a refund and again, very quickly, I received a confirmation that I will get refunded AND I was invited to try and get the MP3 album again in a few days, after they try and get a corrected version up (finally an acknowledgment of the real problem).
Now sure, I am still upset that the whole thing didn’t work right and now I have to get the disc instead and wait for it to be mailed and all, but their responsive customer service made me happy. Yes, I will think twice before buying an MP3 album again, but I might nonetheless. And I will definitely still consider Amazon my number one choice for Internet purchases as long as they keep up the good work like this. Everybody makes mistakes and that’s normal. It’s how you react to those mistakes that sets the difference, especially when it comes to mistakes towards your customers.
A little note here: the OVERALL quality of legal MP3 sales has got to go up, otherwise you will never convince people to stop doing it illegaly. If you download an album illegaly and it’s messed up, you don’t lose a cent, but when you start paying for it, you have some expectations and if those are not met, ethics alone will not keep people on the right track. Actually, they probably will increase the popularity of illegal solutions if anything.
Just in case anyone’s curios, this is the album I am trying to get. I highly recommend it: Bach:Concertos