The Turbulence of eBook Pricing

Mill Stream

I’ve owned a Kindle for a good while now and it’s become my preferred way to read most books. I’m reading more than at any time of my life, and buying more. Note to publishers: “buying more.”

What I don’t get are the crazy prices some publishers charge for e-books. Admittedly I got used to the introductory Kindle $9.95 price which many publishers claim make them sell books at a loss. I must admit I’m among those who are skeptical about this. It really takes very little work to prep a novel or nonfiction book that is mainly text for e-book publication. I’ve done it myself with Recreational Writing.

Nonetheless I’m willing to bend a little on this and will pay up to $11.99 for an e-book if I think it’s warranted. Bear in mind that I’m on a retirement budget and I’m not willing to pay more for an e-book than for a paperback version of a book. So I looked at the possible purchase of some books that interested me recently and what I found was some outlandish grasping by certain publishers.


A Widow’s Story: A Memoir by Joyce Carol Oates: Hardcover, $11.06, Ebook, $16.96. HarperCollins.

11/22/63 by Stephen King: Hardcover, $19.25, Ebook, $26.48. Simon & Schuster.

Under the Dome, by Stephen King: Hardcover, $22.39, Paperback, $11.43, Ebook, $16.12. Simon & Schuster.

Admittedly these are star authors and the publishers like to make their maximum profit from them, but this kind of pricing is short-sighted. Many of us who buy the e-book edition don’t buy it instead of the hardcover edition. In truth we wouldn’t buy the book at all in hardcover edition.

Publishers are having a hard time of it, and I have some compassion for them. But I think their approach to e-book pricing nothing short of hostile toward the format that may save them from extinction.

Flip this around and look at what else is happening.

The Forever War
, by Joe Haldeman: Paperback, $10.17, Ebook, $4.95. Ridan Publishing.

Playing for Keeps, by Mur Lafferty: Paperback (Swarm Press), $14.95, Ebook: $4.99.

These two titles are published by an Indie press in the case of Haldeman, and by the author (for the e-book) in the case of Lafferty. The Forever War is a Sci-Fi classic, and Playing for Keeps is a good SF novel by a popular up-and-coming author.

Then there are the authors who publish their works for free, for $0.99, or for $1.99-$2.99. Yes, some of them are first authors and not all these works are good, but publishers don’t kid yourselves. There’s some real talent coming through who are picking up a serious following among readers.

The issues may be complicated, but what I’m basically saying to the big publishing houses is this: “Don’t shoot yourself in the foot.” Bring down those inflated prices of e-books. Because if you don’t, readers will take other options and they won’t be contributing to your bottom line at all.

Note: The prices quoted above are subject to change at any time.

Blue Nights


I’ve recently read two remarkable nonfiction books, Blue Nights, by Joan Didion and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot.

In Blue Nights, Didion reflects on the death of her daughter, Quintana, and the difficulty of coming to terms with it and understanding it as well as the increasing fear of frailty and loneliness as Didion herself turns 75. A New York Times review said, “It is a searing inquiry into loss and a melancholy meditation on mortality and time.”

A Culture review quotes Didion on the writing: “I’m not talking about it being easy because of the difficulty of the subject, or the sensitivity of the subject, I think it was a difficult book for me to write because it was an entirely different kind of book than I’ve ever written. It wasn’t a narrative, it was a reflection.”

The description of the The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks explains it this way:

“Her name was Henrietta Lacks, but scientists know her as HeLa. She was a poor Southern tobacco farmer who worked the same land as her slave ancestors, yet her cells—taken without her knowledge—became one of the most important tools in medicine. The first ‘immortal’ human cells grown in culture, they are still alive today, though she has been dead for more than sixty years. If you could pile all HeLa cells ever grown onto a scale, they’d weigh more than 50 million metric tons—as much as a hundred Empire State Buildings. HeLa cells were vital for developing the polio vaccine; uncovered secrets of cancer, viruses, and the atom bomb’s effects; helped lead to important advances like in vitro fertilization, cloning, and gene mapping; and have been bought and sold by the billions.

Yet Henrietta Lacks remains virtually unknown, buried in an unmarked grave.

Now Rebecca Skloot takes us on an extraordinary journey, from the ‘colored’ ward of Johns Hopkins Hospital in the 1950s to stark white laboratories with freezers full of HeLa cells; from Henrietta’s small, dying hometown of Clover, Virginia—a land of wooden slave quarters, faith healings, and voodoo—to East Baltimore today, where her children and grandchildren live and struggle with the legacy of her cells.”

Both books are highly recommended.