Saturday, April 4, 2009
The Kindle e-boycott
A new manifestation of aggrieved privilege has erupted over the prices of Amazon.com's Kindle e-books: Some disaffected customers have called for a boycott of all Kindle e-books that cost more than $9.99.
Some Kindle e-books, the revolutionaries say, are more expensive at $9.99 than the paperback versions at $7.99. Some Kindle e-books are more expensive than the tree-book versions you can get at discount emporiums. It is absurd to pay $18 for an illustrated e-book whose color photos look like hell on a black-and-white Kindle screen.
And when you are finished with a Kindle e-book, you can't pass it along to a friend or your public library or sell it at a used bookstore. You can reread it on your Kindle (or iPhone or iPod Touch), but that is all.
Worst of all, these rebels say, an e-book requires no paper, glue, shipping or printing, so it has "no production costs."
Pardon me, but that last is absolute nonsense.
It costs money for publishers to acquire books, sometimes big money. Authors expect to get paid for their labors, and some of them command hefty advances. Editors and designers must be paid. Promotion personnel must be paid. Insurance and rent must be paid. Stockholders expect a return on their investment.
What's more, Kindle e-books are purchased and downloaded via wireless, saving their consumers considerable time and gas for trips to the bookstore. Convenience has a price, like everything else.
Still don't want to pay more than $9.99 for an e-book you can get in an instant via wireless? Call the library, put in your reservation for a new novel, hear six weeks later that it's finally available, then drive 20 minutes in your gas-guzzling truck to pick it up.
Or drive to Barnes & Noble and buy the tree-book -- at a discount if it's popular.
Or don't buy it at all. Nobody holds a gun to your head and says, "Read this book or I'll waste you."
Big bad Amazon.com doesn't set the prices of the e-books it sells -- the publishers do. The formula is a percentage of the tree-book cover price, usually about three-fifths. Is it surprising that a thick illustrated history that sells for $50 in hardcover will go for $22 as an e-book?
In my opinion, this silly rebellion is part and parcel of the shortsighted selfishness at the heart of the dark side of the Internet: People want things for free, never mind what it costs to produce them. They expect their news for no charge, although gathering and disseminating it is expensive. They rip off writers and photographers without paying a nickel.
The cultural commons of the Internet is a wonderful thing, but we must never forget that it always comes at a price.