Why are Amazon eBooks suddenly so expensive, and will the prices go down again?
August 1, 2012 2:01 PM   Subscribe

Alright. Why has the price of ebooks in the Kindle store (suddenly?) risen so dramatically? Will this trend reverse?

A book I wanted to download from Amazon and read on my Kindle app has risen from $12 to $18 over the course of a week. Angry, I started looking for some alternate reads and I can see that all the ones I want seem to be between $14 and $20! Not very long ago, I remember that Kindle books were generally $9.99. What's going on? Are the prices going to stay high like this?
posted by kitcat to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I think it's something that has gradually changed over time.

When I got a Kindle about two years ago, most books were $9.99. The prices have gradually risen, in my understanding due to pressure from the publishers. That said, most Kindle books I buy are still in the neighborhood of $10. I haven't seen any over $15, which in my experience is the average price of a paperback.

I feel pretty comfortable with the idea of an ebook costing a little less than a paperback, and a paperback costing significantly less than a hardback. The physical cost of printing a book in paperback is a tiny percentage of the total cost to publish a book.
posted by Sara C. at 2:44 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Looking at the last few books I've bought for the Kindle, they all seem to be cheaper now than when I bought them. Are you sure prices are actually going up?
posted by The corpse in the library at 2:48 PM on August 1, 2012

Quick takeback/correction.

I just noticed that Haruki Murakami's 1Q84 is priced at $15.99. Which is the most expensive kindle book I've seen so far and/or can find easily. Below the price on the book's page is a note that reads "This price was set by the publisher."

There's no good way to search the Kindle Store by publisher, but it wouldn't surprise me if Random House prices all their ebooks based on some other metric than "an ebook should cost about $10".
posted by Sara C. at 2:50 PM on August 1, 2012

Books that are in high demand, such as Murakami's recent novel, will sell for more than books that are in lower demand.

This is basic pricing theory. What is happening is precisely what you should expect to happen.
posted by dfriedman at 2:53 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's not Amazon, it's the publishers. And sadly, in ebooks, there is no remainder table where you can pick up a recent hardcover for eight bucks instead of 25.

If you skim over the front page for each section (best sellers, history, etc.), you'll see that prices are all over the map; many are $9.99 and many are free, and a some are above the $9.99 threshhold. So it's not "all Amazon ebooks." As to when they'll go down? Who knows.
posted by rtha at 2:55 PM on August 1, 2012 [4 favorites]

Is it possible that your location in the Kindle store suddenly switched to Canada? I'm not sure if the price disparity still exists on eBooks but my instinct says that we Canadians still get unnecessarily and unfairly different pricing on those too, along with just about everything else.
posted by mireille at 3:00 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

Demand is up-- I'm no tsure whether it's book-count or dollar amount, but in some sense, ebooks outsold paper books last year. Publishers have caught on to this.

Also note that Publishers are still deeply invested in the paper book business-- they have a perverse incentive to drive ebook prices above market to drive business-- the people who were on the fence between the two versions, to get the paper book. "Gee, that's a pricy ebook-- for just $4 more I could have a paper version, which I can trade, and keep forever...[and more commonly just do things with that one can do with ebooks]."
posted by Sunburnt at 3:01 PM on August 1, 2012

It's likely due to Apple's agency model deal with publishers. The history as I understand it:

1: Amazon used a wholesale model where they brought licenses at a discount and fixed the $9.99 price point. This gave them a competitive advantage over other ebook retailers, such as the Sony store. Publishers were not happy, but willing to deal because the Kindle Store was the biggest thing going at the time.

2: Apple offered an agency model where publishers could set their own prices and Apple paid them a flat percentage of that price.

3: Some influential and high-volume publishers threatened to give Apple an exclusive if Amazon did not offer comparable terms.

4: Amazon now allows some publishers to set higher eBook prices.

Currently, I think we're back to pre-Kindle Store confusion about what price the market will bear. Some publishers are going a bit lower than $9.99. Some publishers are going a few dollars cheaper than the hardcover or paperback price. I think the worst right now are the technical and academic publishers, who are facing something of a backlash and revolution for extorting ridiculous prices from what was research built on tax dollars.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 3:05 PM on August 1, 2012 [2 favorites]

Just a note - yes, Random House Digital and Simon & Schuster Digital (just two examples) seem to be doing this. I'm blown away by the fact that The Glass Castle (often recommended here) is $19.33 for Kindle yet $9.60 in paperback right now.
posted by kitcat at 3:11 PM on August 1, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've noticed that if I buy a number of books by an author, the price of books I am charged rises.

I remember that they used to do this, maybe they still do?
posted by winna at 3:11 PM on August 1, 2012

And yes, I'm in Canada. Could someone in the US please tell me if the above Kindle price bears out for you too?
posted by kitcat at 3:12 PM on August 1, 2012

$9.99 for Kindle ed. of Glass Castle here in the U.S.
posted by rabbitrabbit at 3:14 PM on August 1, 2012

Most of the books in my Kindle wishlist have dramatically fallen in price, but they are mostly academic and nonfiction books.
posted by perhapses at 3:20 PM on August 1, 2012

Here in the U.S., Amazon wants $9.99 for The Glass Castle.
posted by rtha at 3:37 PM on August 1, 2012

> Looking at the last few books I've bought for the Kindle, they all seem to be cheaper now than when I bought them. Are you sure prices are actually going up?

I'm an idiot: I was looking at the prices I paid, which includes the sales tax, vs the price Amazon charges not including the tax. Taking that into account, though, I'm still not seeing prices having gone up.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:39 PM on August 1, 2012

WTF Amazon Canada. Seriously, WTF. Sorry for assuming my experience was universal, all.
posted by kitcat at 3:44 PM on August 1, 2012

Yes, WTF all companies in Canada. I've heard of a trick for Amazon purchases, no guarantees, but check your MeMail.
posted by mireille at 6:11 PM on August 1, 2012

CBrachyrhynchos's timeline is good, but out of order. Kindle books used to be much cheaper than 9.99 (like, around $3). The current prices were due to the Apple agreement - as I understand it, publishers began refusing Amazon licenses unless they agreed to the same terms as Apple proposed (so sell at 9.99 or have no books to read). You can see the difference in that the books through the participating publishers all have the high price tag, while other ebooks are still around $3.

So using CB's timepoints the history is more: 2, 3, 1, 4

So yeah, I'm guessing any price increase is down to publisher's asking for more, because they know they can.
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:02 PM on August 1, 2012

(erm, well, 1 could be first, but the 9.99 price point wasn't set until after 2 and 3)
posted by Lt. Bunny Wigglesworth at 8:03 PM on August 1, 2012

That's why I use both kindle and kobo apps. Glass castle for kobo is 16.99. Still higher, but at least you don't support blood sucking.
posted by Yavsy at 5:56 AM on August 2, 2012

Kindle books used to be much cheaper than 9.99 (like, around $3).

I don't recall this being true. The big deal with the original Kindle books was that Amazon set current bestsellers (listing at $25 and Amazon shipping hardcovers at $15) at the $9.99 price point. In some cases, Amazon was selling below cost, in order to drive e-book sales. This was much cheaper than earlier e-book stores, which usually had prices equal to hardcover list.
posted by smackfu at 6:39 AM on August 2, 2012

Do they charge VAT on books in Canada? In the UK, there is none on children's books but there is on adult books.
posted by mippy at 9:22 AM on August 2, 2012

It's not VAT. This is the closest thing to an answer I can find. It dates back to February 2012 and the source is the CBC:

Shoppers angry about the higher cost of books in Canada can blame old regulations that were meant to help U.S. publishers cover extra costs when the dollar wasn’t on par, industry representatives told a Senate committee Tuesday.

The regulations originated in 1999, when the Canadian dollar was worth a lot less than the U.S. dollar, in part to offset the cost for U.S. publishers of shipping and distributing books in Canada, where the market is smaller and more spread out.

They allow importers to charge booksellers the price of the book in the country of origin, plus the difference in exchange rates, and an additional 10 or 15 per cent, depending on the country of origin, organizations representing booksellers said. American publishers can charge an additional 10 per cent on books shipped for sale in Canada.

Canadians are used to paying more for books. So despite the fact that our dollar is basically on par and has been for quite a while now, I suppose the publishers know that they can get away with charging more even on a freaking eBook. It's unfair, but we just continue to take it up the schtoopa.
posted by kitcat at 10:41 AM on August 9, 2012

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