An Open Letter to Penguin Publishing (cc: Jim Butcher)

Dear Penguin Publishing,

I didn’t intend to write this letter. When you decided to up the pricing of your Kindle books, I was irritated, but you’re the publisher.  I resolved to purchase your Kindle books when the prices lowered, as we readers were led by various publishers to believe would happen much in the way that hardcovers are more expensive than paperback books. I felt it was a shame, over the past few years I have gotten used to buying new books for series that I am reading the day they are released (and even pre-ordering some books). However, I was returning to school, grad school to be exact, and my finances were going to be tighter, so if your e-book prices were increasing through Kindle, then I would have to wait until you lowered them.

Despite the fact that I am training to be a librarian, I am extremely bad about returning books to the Library on time, this means that I don’t check a lot of books out from the local public library. In order to avoid paying fines, I just don’t go to the library much. Sad but true. So I haven’t read the most recent Dresden Files book, Changes by Jim Butcher. It’s too bad, I was eagerly anticipating the book, and the anthology of short stories, and the book Ghost Story when it is released…can you see where I’m going with this? Let me be very clear, I’m not opposed to buying books. I didn’t even convert to Kindle because I was so eager to join the e-book revolution. I did it because along with paying for grad school, I was going to have to downsize to a smaller apartment to save money. I was running out of room for physical books in my previous apartment, and I was forced to weed books from my collection upon moving due to a lack of space. I got a Kindle, so that I could continue to purchase and enjoy books, without having to find a space for those new books in an apartment that was already overflowing. That said:

I WILL NOT PAY MORE FOR AN E-BOOK THAN THE COST OF THE PAPERBACK!

I don’t have time to sit over in Barnes and Noble (or other bookstores) and read the book, as I’ve already stated, checking it out from the library is out, so what is left? That’s right, not purchasing the book. Amazon’s page for Changes indicates that the paperback is currently selling for $9.99, the Kindle edition is $12.99. Perhaps this is an oversight on your part? Maybe you meant to lower the price of the Kindle book at the time the paperback came out and just forgot. But somehow I doubt it. You are counting on technophiles purchasing the e-book regardless of the price. But even more, you are hoping that e-books will just die out. You hope that if you price your e-books unreasonably that the e-book phenomenon will go away.

Worse, you fail to understand that for those who purchase books, the value is measured in more than just the story within the pages. Book readers regularly loan, trade, donate, and sell books that they no longer read. Local used book stores, Paperbackswap and other similar programs indicate that users see a value to books beyond the actual story. Kindle books don’t have this benefit. Once I purchase a Kindle book, I cannot give it away, donate it to the local library or thrift store, trade it in for a used book credit or even loan it to a friend. This could lead to the argument that I wouldn’t even want to pay as much for an e-book as I would for the paperback. I’m realistic though. I realize that you the publisher are unlikely to be willing to charge less than the paperback for the e-book. I’m okay with that (although many other e-book readers are not).

You need to understand that you have alienated a customer. I will not purchase e-books that cost more than the corresponding paperback. If you want to wait to lower those prices until the paperback is released, that’s fine. I can wait to buy it, but you will not make any revenue off of me as a customer until the price for the e-book matches the price of the paperback.

And Mr. Butcher, I’ve been a fan of your books for several years now. I hope you realize that this means that someone who gladly supported your writing by purchasing your books on a regular basis, will no longer be sending you any revenue either. Oh, I’ll still read your books. They’re on my wish list over at Paperbackswap. But you don’t get any revenue for that. It’s not my intention to punish you. I wish there was a better compromise than that. Unfortunately, those $3 that I save between the e-book price and the paperback is enough to buy me two weeks worth of cereal at WalMart. I can’t blithely throw that away. I urge you to make Penguin aware that you are losing business as a result of their policies on e-books. Encourage them to reconsider their policies. I’d love to start providing you revenue for your wonderful stories again.

Sincerely,

The Thirty-Something Grad Student

Update (10/13/10): I’ve just discovered that the paperback copy of Changes isn’t due out until next March. The price for the paperback is a pre-order price. Currently, recent books by Mr. Butcher appear to be selling for $1 less than the paperback price. However, while the prices for previous books are being set by the publisher, the paperback edition of Changes will be the test as to whether Penguin will lower the price of the Kindle book with the release of the paperback. I’ll be sure to let you know one way or the other next March! Interestingly, now that Penguin is setting the pricing, the cost of e-books have increased even for older titles. Fool Moon the second book in the Dresden Files series sold on Kindle for $6.39 on 6/8/09 when I purchased it. Today it lists for $8.99, an increase of more than $3 over the previous price. The corresponding mass market paperback price is $9.99 on Amazon, which strikes me as high. $8.99 is more what I would expect from a trade paperback. Indeed, if you click on the cover image of Fool moon on Amazon, the list price for the paper back is showing as $6.99 US and $9.99 Canada. Is this an error? Or is Amazon selling paperbacks for more than cover price in order to make the Kindle books look less expensive by comparison? If I have time while running errands later today, I may stop in a bookstore and see if they have a copy of the mass market paperbacks for any of the books, and what the actual cover price is.

Update 2 (12/6/10): Thought I had updated this and apparently never got around to it. I did stop in at a bookstore to look at the newest paperbacks and it appears that the books have been resized. They are now about as tall as a trade paperback, while maintaining the width of a mass market paperback. This is likely the reason for the increased price, and the discrepancy on Amazon was likely due to a photo of the old paperback still showing in the listing.

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1 Comment

Filed under Books and Reading Lists, Grad School

One response to “An Open Letter to Penguin Publishing (cc: Jim Butcher)

  1. Mandar

    Great post. Can I say that I agree and was ALSO very furious about both items

    1) Penguin/Amazon has such a high list price on a e-book !!! It should be half the price 6.39 is reasonable …12.99 is insane and yes that is why I won’t buy a copy of Changes either.

    2) Raising kindle prices on older Jim Butcher books – this is unheard of and daylight robbery. Makes me want to throw my kindle away entirely.

    Please pass these comments along to Amazon as well as Penguin … I totally support your letter. Thank you for the paperback swap link.

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