Tuesday, March 6, 2012

eBooks Should Expire So Prices Can Come Down

The American Library Association said today it was "deeply disappointed" in the price increases recently announced by Random House on eBooks designated for library use.

Random House said it was dramatically increasing the price of eBooks for libraries due to the fact these editions could be easily shared among uses. Their price 300 percent price increase, they said, reflects the costs associated with distribution of these digital copies and the costs incumbent about a product supplier which does not recoup a significant portion of the proceeds their business requires for said product.

Ok, enough mumbo-jumbo. The fact is, Random House knows that for every eBook they sell to a library they are essentially marking a number of sales off their bottom line. When you consider that unlike paper copies these digital copies will likely never need to be replaced, that sounds like a good business decision.

This brings to mind a point I made a few months ago concerning eBooks: There is a real need to update the technology used to create them. What publishers need is an electronic version of their eBooks which will expire after a predetermined amount of time. Otherwise, everyone will flock to libraries where they can get free copies of books, putting libraries in the awkward position of either have to charge for the privilege or pay more for their copies.

Tough choice.

It is ridiculous for anyone to assume that publishers should not be able to make sustainable profits on digital editions of their books. This defies logic. Publishers, like everyone else, are in business to make a living. If they just keep handing out their eBooks they risk losing market share.

The solution is quite simple. An eBook is essentially software and software can be written in just about anyone for which there is a need. It wouldn't take much effort to produce an eBook which simply erases itself after a certain number views. Prices could then be adjusted to reflect the fact that these digital editions would indeed need to be replaced eventually.

If this is not accomplished then what we will likely see is an ever increasing cost for digital books that libraries will have to bear. With libraries around the country facing sometimes drastic budget cuts, this will force them to either eliminate or at least limit the number of eBooks which they can make available to their patrons. It also would not help the eBook market grow and mature to eventually replace the profitability of the print book market.

And that's not good for anyone.

1 comment:

Kaari said...

This technology is already in use. I borrowed an ebook from the library, and once the loan period expired I could no longer open the file. (I apparently can't delete it from my device either, but that's a different problem.)

The issue I think publishers are trying to address is that now I've borrowed the book, I'm not planning to buy it. That goes the same for paper books, although in either case if I really liked it I'll go buy it after reading it so I can re-read it whenever I want. Library editions of paper books are also more expensive than what consumers pay. I thought that was because they had a more durable binding, but perhaps not.