by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
drm, ebooks, pricing

Ebook Publishers Never Learned: DRM & Ridiculous Prices

from the history-repeats-itself dept

One of the reasons we talk so much about the recording industry is that, in some ways, it's an "early warning system," for a ton of other industries. I had hoped that, in calling attention to things done poorly and the things done well in the music industry, some of those other industries starting to face the same issues would be able to avoid the same mistakes. However, as we've watched the movie industry, the newspaper industry and the publishing industry start down those same rapids, a part of me is wondering if they're simply destined to make the same mistakes anyway (and just wait until other industries, such as healthcare, energy and finance go through this process as well...).

In fact, watching the ebook market in action is like watching a slow motion train wreck that parallels the music industry. Here are two examples. First, some publishers have apparently decided to price ebooks higher than hardcover books. Customer are protesting (and giving the books one-star reviews on Amazon), but the publishers don't seem concerned. Meanwhile, publishers are still insisting on ineffective and annoying DRM which only serves to harm legitimate buyers, without doing anything to prevent unauthorized copies from proliferating. We've seen this story before... How is it that folks at these publishers haven't been paying attention? Or do they really think "but, with us, it's different"?

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 5:16pm

    I'm knew to the ebook and e-ink reader thing.

    Recently I bought an ebook, 'Diamond Age' from sony's ebook store. Wouldn't run on my sony reader. Sony's store knew which reader I had. It sold it to me anyway. Then I set out to learn how to crack sony's DRM-laden files so I could reformat the text to work on the reader. That ended up being a pain, and I ended up losing the first letter of every chapter for some reason, but it worked.

    Anyway, long story short: burn me once, shame on you. It won't happen again, and you now have a 100% pirate on your hands, until a few years pass and I feel like wading into your cesspool of a business model to try again and see if you've learned your lesson. Ive certainly learned my lesson.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. icon
    fogbugzd (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 5:22pm

    Lots of legally free ebooks out there

    There are lots of inexpensive and free ebooks available. Some need a bit of polishing by an editor, but some are very good.

    I would much rather discover that I don't like a $2.95 book rather than a $29.95 one.

    If you shop at the right places you can get nicely edited and packaged books for $3 or $4. Free books often need the touch of an editor, but sometimes it is kind of fun reading a book that is in raw form.

    Let the major publishers set whatever price they want. I will vote with my dollars. If enough people do that, prices will drop.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. icon
    interval (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 5:34pm

    Why publishers don't care (A Guess)

    I'm suspecting they believe if we don't want to pay these ridiculous prices for the ebook we'll go ahead and buy the hard book which I think they'd rather sell anyway.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. icon
    lostalaska (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 5:49pm

    I love reading, but ebooks so far...

    I love reading, but so far ebooks have come across as underwhelming and a totally immature format. I get a lot of my books from the local library and there doesn't appear to be any option to be able to check an ebook out at my local libraries. Then there is the fact that I rarely buy hardcover, unless I know it's an amazing book and will be reading it over and over. I own less than 10 hard cover books in my entire library. So I'm a $5 - $10 soft cover buyer most of the time and thats generally only if I really need a book and can't wait for the library to get it. Also, if I'm really passionate about a book I have read I'll usually end up passing it on to a friend once I've finished it to get them hooked on it as well. With most ebooks once you've read it you can't give it to someone else to read, unless you're willing to loan them your ereader. Thing is a lot of the books I really like that I've gone out and bought the whole collection (or what's currently available) was due to getting the first book in the series from a friend who was a big fan. Many of my favorite books only came to me from friends who passed on a book to me and I wound up loving the story which then caused me to actively go out and find the rest of the books in the series.

    My only "testing of the waters" for ebooks has come from loading up a free ebook reader on my iPhone and downloading a bunch of free older books (public domain?) from Project Guttenberg. That works pretty well when I'm on a trip and don't have another book to read I can use it as a stop gap. I have a friend who swears by her Kindle, and the screen is really easy on the eyes, but their pricing and DRM leave me wholly disinterested in the format for the time being.

    While reading is often considered a solo activity, those of us passionate about books tend to give our books away in the hopes of getting someone else into a series or exposed to new ideas, or just to see something from a whole new angle. One of my fondest memories was when I was a kid and on a family vacation we went to visit my moms sister who had recently gotten married. When I met my new uncle he was showing me some game on his new Apple ][ computer and he asked me if I like reading then he showed me his library and said I could take any two books from it I wanted. I looked through the books and ended up taking Robert A Heinlin's The Cat who Walks through Walls (I liked the cover) and Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game I'm pretty sure I turned into a lifelong Sci-Fi fan that summer and have since spent hundreds if not thousands of dollars over the years buying all kinds of books, but that all happened because someone who loved reading on a whim gave some snot nosed kid a couple books from his library. That's not something that could happen with our current ebooks, and that is a damn shame.

    Crap, sorry this post was long and I started to sound like a curmudgeon at the end of it. Now get the hell off my lawn, ya damn kids listening to your records all day and wearing those fancy dungarees... eh? I'm.. going .. back ... to sleep... now...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 5:53pm

    Re: Lots of legally free ebooks out there

    Hows that voting with the dollars working with CDs, movies, and Games?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. icon
    Blatant Coward (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 6:02pm

    Re: Re: Lots of legally free ebooks out there

    Working fine for me, but there's still a lot of idiots out there making Katy Beiber or whatever her name is famous.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. icon
    Blatant Coward (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 6:06pm

    Re: I love reading, but ebooks so far...

    Actually gives away a lot of free books, and can work with most any ereader, including iTunes, and iPhone.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. icon
    Chris Eastvedt (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 6:08pm

    Ostriches in the Sand

    Major publishers (not all- O'Reilly gets it, and a few others) refuse to see themselves as anything but monopolistic B2B companies. Readers as customers really don't factor into their mindsets. Publishers are aware that they're pissing readers off with their price games, but feel that if they can just educate readers as to why things like format windows, DRM and the zero-difference output between paper and digital are good for publishers, they'll agree that publishers charging whatever the hell they want is necessary for continued high quality product, and thus good for readers. That's the theory anyway.

    Like all dinosaur companies, publishers are comfortable in their condescension. As long as they can control everyone's behavior, all is well. Until they let go of the delusion that they're the best game in town, nothing will change on their end. At this point, the outsiders and indies have the best chance of restoring sanity to this industry.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. icon
    fogbugzd (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 6:13pm

    Re: Re: Lots of legally free ebooks out there

    It's interesting that you asked about "CD's" instead of "music." Despite what the RIAA would have us think, CD's are only part of the music industry, so I'll address how I vote across the industry: I don't buy CD's. Based on CD sales, I would say that lots of people are voting with me. I have gone to two concerts in the past year, both for bands that provide free downloads of their music. The tickets cost more than several CD's, so I guess I cast some affirmative votes there.

    Games: The only games I bought in recent years are from They are old (but fun) games that re DRM free and under $10 each. They shut down for a while, but seem to be back.
    Movies: I go to a small number of movies in theaters. I generally skip the $30 recent releases. I'll wait the 28 days and get them on Netflix or Redbox. Otherwise it is whatever strikes my fancy in the $5 - $10 movie bins.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. icon
    Book Guy (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 6:30pm

    EBooks Generally Cost More

    I don't get it, you should never buy an eBook reader to save money. Paperbound overall tend to cost less, as long as you buy used. and there are so many ways to find the lowest paperbound books, like the new browswer add-ons [for firefox or IE] offered by; they let you search for the lowest book prices on the fly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 6:48pm

    Re: Re: Lots of legally free ebooks out there

    Pretty darn well thank you

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. icon
    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 7:06pm

    Re: Why publishers don't care (A Guess)

    Which would work fine if the annoyance at them for being asshats didn't quash any feelings of guilt their chased away consumer felt about pirating their product.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 7:30pm


    so, you didn't understand your equipment, did not know the formats needed etc.. bought it anyway, and you blame them???? rtard much??

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 7:35pm

    Re: Re:

    Yes, DRM makes retards out of all of us.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. icon
    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 8:40pm

    No thanks

    I purchase a lot of ebooks from a publisher that does get it. Books are $6 USD, available in just about every conceivable format (including online), and without any DRM whatsoever. They get my business. Amazon, B&N, et al do not. It's as simple as that.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  16. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 9:10pm

    Just Say No To DRM

    Do not buy any ebook reader which has any DRM facilities in it at all. Do not buy anything at all from any publisher who engages in DRM in any product. Publishers have to learn that DRM is a business killer.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  17. identicon
    Daniel, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 9:29pm


    I am amused that the link in your opening comment is to the NT Times, and behind their failwall so I can't even read it.
    I am surprised at you Mike.

    And No, I will not register with them just to read the stories that I can find elsewhere.

    Here's a link to elsewhere, (ya, I know huffpo, whatever.)

    and of course, amazon...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  18. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 9:30pm

    Re: Re: Lots of legally free ebooks out there

    Good ebooks and sound-books.

    All DRM free made by people like you and me for yours entertainment.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  19. icon
    Michael Ward (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 10:17pm


    Publishing is in total confusion as to the best way to survive the upcoming changeover; that is, from shipping objects, to distributing data streams. The publishing industry is not as greedy and evil as the music industry, but they're just as confused.

    Lots of VP's will have to retire or be fired or go down with sinking companies before their replacements take over and craft a reasonable approach. Meanwhile, it's anybody's guess what the right price should be for an e-book -- the Publishers Don't Know, and argue among themselves. I'm not making this up.

    Anyone who is interested in what's actually going on should subscribe to two free daily newsletters: the one put out by PUBLISHERS WEEKLY, and Michael Cader's PUBLISHERS LUNCH.

    And... follow for a daily insight from the trenches.

    There are many more sources, but these three will cover the story pretty completely.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  20. icon
    sehlat (profile), Oct 11th, 2010 @ 11:07pm

    Re: Re: Why publishers don't care (A Guess)

    I can understand that absolutely. When the Amazon-Publishers War broke out, I had a very large collection of purchased ebooks (I'm adding the emphasis because it's relevant), and frequently bought entire book series as "stocking up" on future reading. My collection included thousand separate pieces of fiction of all lengths from short stories to David Weber-length anvils.

    Then the war broke out, and an ebook I'd pre-ordered for $8 was yanked from my supplier and never returned there. It showed up on Amazon and B&N, though, at $12. To be fair, I got my pre-order money back, but the short-sighted greed evidenced by the publisher's behavior rather soured me on the Big Names.

    So what were my coping mechanisms?

    1. I buy occasional stuff from the Big Names if it's something I really want to read badly enough to put up with giving them money for it.

    2. My major purchased book suppliers these days are Baen and Harlequin. I'm a long-time Baen fan, and they've got reasonable prices, good stuff, and DRM-free. Harlequin's got reasonable prices, good stuff, and DRM that doesn't lock me into having to read the books on any given ebook platform. If it sounds like an odd combination of tastes, convenience plays a part. Also, they don't attempt to make me their financial bitch in the prison sense.

    3. With the exceptions named in item 2, I never pre-order books anymore. Period. Paper or electronic. EVER.

    4. And finally, although the quality varies all over the place, I finally convinced myself to start browsing friendly little shops in New Providence, Tortuga, and Port Royal.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  21. identicon
    frosty840, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 11:32pm

    Luxury goods

    A book, to me, is a luxury item, as I believe I've said here before.
    The text of a book is what I want, not the physical object; as far as I'm concerned, the whole wood-pulp-and-cotton-and-mineral-ink construction can go into the bin once I'm finished with it.
    Ebooks give me the text of a book without the associated, unnecessary physicality of the physical medium. This is a cost saving, not a luxury. It's the elimination of a luxury. It is, as I've said, a luxury I don't want, but it is nonetheless a luxury. Like diamonds, I guess. I don't want diamonds either; I don't buy diamonds; I don't have to pay for diamonds. Bit of QED there, or something latin.
    So, having determined that with an ebook I'm getting less, to have to pay more is somewhat confusing. To have to pay more for a digitally limited, locked, less-accessible version is utterly bewildering.
    Pay more, get less, be more inconvenienced in practice and in pocket than the pirates.
    Piracy beckons, I think...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  22. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 11th, 2010 @ 11:56pm

    Re: Re:

    My device supported the format provided. Due to a bug in the device, it was unable to display chapters larger than a certain size--a size contained in a book that sony sold me, knowing which device I had on my account, which its software synched to my device without error. I discovered all this on my own.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  23. identicon
    ccc, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 12:41am

    Books can be free--and should be

    Books are less than a commodity. Most people have to ship them out of their houses in boxes and dumpsters. As someone with over 5000+ books, who's given away at least 250 books in the last year, and as an avid thrift-store book shopper, I know that the cost of disposing of paper (in energy and waste and $) is way higher than they're worth as a product.

    In Baltimore we have this awesome solution--the Book Thing. It's an enormous warehouse of books. They're all free. OK, not categorized, no Dewey system, no catalog. A lot of treasures. Each book is stamped on the inside "THIS IS A FREE BOOK--not for resale!"

    Since the economy tanked and I lost my job, The Book Thing has saved my ass from literary boredom every single day. And when I'm done with that piece o' crap mystery, I bring it back to The Book Thing. No borrowing fees, no membership, nothing--just goodwill and the realization that books are heavy and you just don't want most of 'em after a while.

    I don't understand why ANY seller of content--words, music, moving pictures, pictures, illustrations--believes that there's some "originality" to the copy we hold in our hands that makes it inherently valuable. If it's a rare edition of anything, or beautifully done, that's one thing. But a paperback that falls apart in your hands on first read? Come on. Furthermore, I used to have a Kindle. Wait, I have 3 kindles! Each one broke when I looked at it crosswise. Props to Amazon for replacing them no questions asked--but all those books I bought? Don't have 'em any more.

    Every city should have a Book Thing. It's like your elementary school book swap with legs. And as much as I want e-books to grow into a mature and responsible market, 'cause I'm a reader with a capital R, I have no faith in that given the RIAA and the Hollywood fucknuttery (see: Blockbuster, DRM). Sorry, but I hope books continue to be huge doorstops so I can get the free or super cheap.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  24. icon
    The Rust Belt (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 2:03am

    Bought Kindle, not Buying ebooks on Amazon

    I bought a Kindle and I love the device. However I am not buying anything that is DRMed to be read using it. It is just against my personal notion of what a book is.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  25. icon
    taoareyou (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 2:20am

    Price Differences

    I bought The Second Book of Tao by Stephen Mitchell from I got it new, hardcover for $3.50, the ebook version was $9.99. I will never pay more for an ebook than a physical printed book. Ever.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  26. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 2:48am

    Re: Books can be free--and should be

    Holy shit, I've been wondering where to move next when my itchy feet make me wander on...thanks to you, Baltimore just made the list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  27. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 4:39am

    DRM = Digital RENTAL Media

    You will never own it! Most DRM turns software into a RENTAL! Why would anyone want to pay full price, or more, for something that is nothing more than a RENTAL!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  28. identicon
    Michael, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 5:41am

    Re: Re:

    If the Sony eBook store cannot display (or at least warn) titles that work with your device, they have a serious usability issue.

    Beyond the first issue - why there would be any eBook format that the readers do not support, there are a few standards and every book they sell should be available in the big ones - they should have no trouble making sure what they sell a consumer will work on the device the consumer has registered with them.

    This is a case of: garbage hardware + horrible software = former customer

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  29. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 6:24am

    ya too bad

    i now download non drm free ebooks of all there stuff without paying , and as more people learn they will be gutted like the music industry instead of not worrying about pirates and selling the digital NON drm at a fair price say 2-3$
    as it costs zero to copy.....and then pennies to distribute online....

    i'm done trying to get solutions cause they aren't listening.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  30. icon
    Kingster (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 6:47am

    Re: Just Say No To DRM

    Does such a thing exist?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  31. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 7:23am

    None of them know how to read.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  32. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 8:59am


    I don't understand the geek love for Ender's Game. It felt like a cheap mystery novel where the entire book is spent looking for a clue that was right in front of you the whole time. Meanwhile, you spent the whole book focused on that clue and not the characters (which were weak, the plot (which was weak,) and the ending (which was a massive letdown.)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  33. identicon
    Lark LaTroy, Oct 12th, 2010 @ 10:37am

    Wrong end of the telescope folks.

    Actually, as an e-published author, I can tell you that you're all looking at this in the wrong direction. This time around, unlike music, video, and software, the old school publishers are doing everything they can to KILL e-publishing. They want e-books to fail, e-publishers to fail. They want the e-reader to be a paper weight as soon as possible. And what is the best way to kill off a technology?

    Price it out of existence, and make it hard, or impossible to use. It doesn't mater that they are making money off the e-books while they are killing them, they are still doing everything they can to protect their outdated business models.

    However, they will fail. Print, despite the horror stories, will not die. A book does not require power, upgrades, or virus protection, in order to be used. Technology fails, we all know that. But some methods of entertainment are virtually timeless. Print, happens to be one of those forms. The e-market for authors and publishers is not killing print, it is augmenting it. Television and motion pictures did not kill theater, they helped bring theater to the masses. Radio and recorded music did not kill live performances. They gave performances to people in a more convenient venue. As the fine folks here at TD have stated so many times, those who adapt, succeed. Those who don't adapt, go extinct.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  34. icon
    Michael Long (profile), Oct 12th, 2010 @ 11:06am

    Re: Why publishers don't care (A Guess)

    Everyone is missing the point. Why? Because the story is flat-out wrong.

    The publisher is NOT pricing the ebook higher than the print version.

    The primary example from the article is Ken Follet's 985-page opus, Fall of Giants. It sells from Amazon at $19.99 as an ebook, And it's $19.39 as a print book. Thus the ebook is slightly more expensive.

    But wait. The $19.39 price for the print edition is Amazon's DISCOUNTED sale price. The PUBLISHER'S list price is $36. So in reality, the ebook is 45% off the publisher's retail price.

    The PUBLISHER did, in fact, price the ebook at nearly half the price of the print edition. Good for them.

    AMAZON, however, made a choice. and CHOOSE to discount the physical book's price below that of the publisher's ebook price.

    The question is why? Loss-leader? Make it up the difference in shipping charges? Or perhaps it's publicity, as everyone and their kid brother (including Mike) is blogging and writing about the discrepancy. "Greedy publishers are pricing ebooks higher than the print version!"

    Let's lynch the bastards! Yar!

    Or does AMAZON, currently the largest seller of ebooks and electronic reading devices, and owner of the largest ebook reader platform, have something to gain from forcing down price points???

    Think about it.

    (And Mike, please try not to miss the real story next time, okay?)

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  35. icon
    Hephaestus (profile), Oct 13th, 2010 @ 7:38am


    'Diamond Age' A young ladys illustrated primer is a great book!!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  36. icon
    LeBleu (profile), Oct 13th, 2010 @ 9:55am

    Not decided by book publishers

    Per Charles Stross's insider take on ebooks,
    The second handicap hobbling the Big Six publishing multinationals is that they're owned by multimedia conglomerates, and group level policies are set at a level above the publishers — who get very little say in said policy compared to the movie, TV, and music corporations that are also part of the conglomerates. Consequently, dumb, idiotic, stupid policies get imposed by decree ... for example, that Digital Rights Management is mandatory.

    So it may be the same people who are making the foolish decisions in the music and movie business who still haven't learned, not new people who might have learned from previous examples.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  37. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Oct 13th, 2010 @ 10:20am

    Re: Not decided by book publishers

    Ah-- this explains a lot.
    Thanks for the link. There's lots of good information about publishing on Mr. Stross's blog.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  38. icon
    BigKeithO (profile), Oct 13th, 2010 @ 3:19pm

    Re: No thanks

    Care to share who said publisher is?...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  39. identicon
    Dick Rickley, Oct 1st, 2011 @ 1:56pm

    Ebooks and readers

    100%. DRM is bullshit. You sell me a book then I should have the right to resell it when I am done. You want to take away that right then the value for me drops to 25 cents each. When ebooks are 25 cents I will consider it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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