Should eBooks Cost Less Than Paper Books?


It’s quite common to hear people complaining about the price of ebooks, especially when it comes to popular best selling titles.

It’s not unusual to find an ebook priced higher than its paper book counterpart. For example, the #3 most read book on Amazon Charts right now, The Late Show by Michael Connelly, is priced at $14.99 for the Kindle ebook, but the hardcover is only $12.17.

Some people argue that ebooks should naturally be less expensive because there is no cost to print the book, there’s no cost of paper, and no shipping expenses.

Those are good points but there are some advantages to ebooks as well.

Like the fact that they don’t wear out over time, they don’t take up physical space like paper books, ebooks are more portable and customizable, etc.

So in some ways you can make the argument either way, but one big difference with ebooks is that you can’t resell them or give them away like paper books.

Often times ebooks are priced lower than paper book copies, but newer titles from big publishers can get pretty pricey. Amazon used to push to get Kindle ebooks priced at $9.99 or less, but lots of popular titles from big publishers cost upwards of $14.99 these days.

So what do you think? Should ebooks cost less than paper books?

35 Responses to “Should eBooks Cost Less Than Paper Books?”

  1. If they want to sell it to me, then it has to be cheaper than paper.

  2. I think they should be much cheaper than paper books that’s why I borrow from library most of the time.

  3. They should be cheaper. Lower cost of production. Cannot loan or resell.

    So cheaper on the make side, less value on the finished, same license and editorial costs.

    And somehow we think it should cost the same or more than a physical product?

  4. They should definitely cost less than paper.

  5. I am only getting a license to access the book, which can be revoked, and I am not free to resell/donate like I can with a paper copy. That’s why, with rare exception, I won’t spend more than $5 on an ebook (and most frequently $2 or less).

  6. The high cost is partly advertising. It cost money to get a book out there so people can see it. Without advertising no one will see your book and buy it and none would be sold.
    If you think an ebook is too expensive don’t buy it. Buy from an unknown but deserving author in what genre you like, Instead of buying from big publishers who have a whole lot of interest in keeping the costs high.
    I say ebooks should cost less for sure.

  7. eBooks should cost less. The same amount of prep work goes in to making it (or less) and there are no physical costs as you say (ink, paper, binding, etc). Plus, I can’t share it, trade it, loan it, or re-sell it (or at least not easily). If I don’t like the book, I’m completely stuck with it.

    If a hardcover or paperback is cheaper on Amazon, I’m buying the physical copy. If it’s a great book, I can share it or loan it out, and hopefully get friends hooked on a particular author. I can trade a book at my local used book store, or even sell it to them (for pennies on the dollar), but I can at least use it in some way to get another book.

    When I see higher ebook prices my first thought is “greed” by the publishers.

  8. Considering the cost of paper and printing, the negligible residual valve and the lack of disposal cost logic suggests that ebooks should be cheaper. But, ask a lawyer or free market economist and you’ll be told that the publisher can charge what he or she pleases. I personally wait until the price is to my liking or I don’t buy at all. Fortunately, my taxes support two good libraries nearby and I can check out best sellers if I don’t like their price.

  9. I thing for me the value is the cost of paper books at Costco. I can buy (sometimes eventually) any paperbook for basically the cost of shipping… $4.00.

    What frosts me is something like: John D. McDonald’s Deep Blue Goodbye (Travis McGee), printed in 1964, Kindle for $11.99. Even a very basic course in Economics would tell them they could make a lot more money for selling them for $2.99 or so.

    I have all these in hardcover or paperback for a total of maybe $50.

  10. Probably they could be cheaper. I won’t buy an ebook if it’s more than $9.99 (a price that’s also annoying since any intelligent person realizes it’s $10). The most annoying aspect of expensive ebooks is that you can’t lend them to a friend. I tried and the rules are ridiculous. If it’s a book I paid money for it should be MINE with the right to lend it to anyone for as long as they want. So yes, they should be cheaper.

  11. Yes they should be cheaper . I do not buy a book if it is more than 5€.I live in France and do not have access to library’s. We have just tried to give our paper books away and no one wants them

  12. Yes, they should be cheaper. Some of my favorite authors have ebooks coming out that are listed at $19. As much as I love and enjoy the series I refuse to pay that much. I usually price check between Amazon, Kobo, Apple and Google. Whoever has the cheapest price even by a few pennies gets my business as long as it doesn’t go over the $9.99-$12.99 cap I have set for myself. I refuse to raise the amounts of that cap.

  13. Rarely do I buy an e-book over $3.99. Mostly I stick to $1.99 and below. There are other alternatives to buying high priced e-books. Local library is an example and other subscription sites

  14. they should also sell them both in bundle, verso books is doing this. You buy the paper book and you get an ebook as well

  15. I remember this discussion a while back. The difference is that the $14.99 ebook also carries a $14.99 MSRP on the print book (or higher), but Amazon buys in bulk, and once they have their palettes of books, they can set the price as they see fit. If they are “losing money”, it’s Amazon’s money to lose, but the publisher already got the payment they negotiated for. So it doesn’t really have anything to do with the cost of materials but the MSRP as set by the publisher and how much Amazon is willing to shave off of the print copy to get the sale. Consider, also, that the publisher has to pay Amazon something like 30% of the selling price when it’s sold. So it’s not like the publisher is getting that whole $14.99. Logically, it seems like ebooks should be cheaper because of the cheaper costs associated with producing it, but that’s just not apparently how they set book prices.

  16. They should be less expensive. I want the authors to receive fair compensation for their books, but i seldom re-read a book, and it’s VERY rare I’d buy a hard copy book for $15. Or even $10. I generally look for ebooks in the library. Since I can’t loan then or give them away, I don’t want to pay $15 for a book I’ll read once and can’t share.

  17. It is obvious much cheaper for ebook, how does free economy correct for this?

  18. It’s just plain old profiteering.
    The only way to stop it, is to boycott these large publishers.

  19. In the age of Amazon Prime, when beautiful ink-and-paper copies of any book on the planet are just a couple days away, you better make the ebook cheaper or it simply isn’t going to sell that much. People still like filling shelves and passing books along to friends.

  20. When you look at the so-called terms, they are not really selling. They are renting. And from the “seller” point of view, they are doing it to one single thing over and over, in contrast with hardcopy products that they have to physically multiply in order to sell more of them. This is why ebooks should be way cheaper, near-free. This goes for all software.

  21. e-book should ALWAYS be the same or less than a paper book. If I ever want a book and the e-book version is more expensive than the paper book version, then I will always buy the paper book.

    Also, I tend to buy a lot of used paper books. Save a ton of money! 🙂 One of the advantages of paper books is you can buy used.

    Also — public domain e-books. Free!!

    …and like someone already said — the library, both paper and e-books.

  22. What a lot of people don’t realize is that publishers sell e-bestsellers to libraries at ridiculously high prices. For example, Michael Connelly’s “The Late Show?” $84.00 to a library through Overdrive. You’d think publishers would be a bit more friendly to libraries.

    • Every company rips off the government so why not publishers of ebooks as well?

      I’m going to guess that publishers will claim piracy as justification for the high ebook prices. I would love to see accurate market research numbers to see if this is the case. But then, it’s not like everyone who reads a particular print book bought that said book. People borrow, buy it used, get it from hand me downs, etc. All of these can’t be done with ebooks as many have mentioned. Ebook prices are set by publishers, and it’s an not due to market forces. There’s no real competition in the industry, so the price is just what the publishers say it should be. It’s an industry that screams to be overhauled. Not sure why we need publishers anymore. Direct from authors should and may be the way of the future no?

      • Diana, [i]What a lot of people don’t realize is that publishers sell e-bestsellers to libraries at ridiculously high prices.[/i]

        Plus libraries have to pay royalties for each lending of an e-book, something they don’t have to do with paperbooks. What I don’t get is how libraries ever came to accept these terms. Did they not notice anything fishy?

  23. The cost of a paper book reflects the fact that more than one person is likely to read that paper book. It will be read, and then passed on in some way, and passed on again. If you assume a paper book is read by 3 people then that $15 price really reflects 3 people paying $5 (even though all the money came from one of the people.) Since ebooks can’t be legally shared it only makes sense that they would cost less.

  24. Yes, they should. And the reason is that they “cost” less in production, but the fact tharntjey are “modern times’ content”

  25. This has been my beef since I have had an ereader! That ebooks need to be cheaper in order to entice people to pay for them instead of pirating copies. Especially if the book has been out for several years, it should be cheaper than a book that is new and only now out in hardcover. And they should make collections more affordable. If a series of books is released by an author, make the series package a whole lot cheaper. Most of the packaged series there is little or no savings if you buy them all together or as individual titles.

  26. Yes, in a truly free market ebooks would cost a lot less than physical books. Despite all the squid ink that’s been poured on the issue, it’s simply obvious that producing an ebook is vastly cheaper – and easier – than producing a printed book.

    Yes, all the editorial costs are the same (including the penthouse offices in Manhattan), but production costs for ebooks are nearly nonexistent (pour the text into a software program which makes the ebook), though a little effort is required to do the job well – and I’ve seen quite a few overpriced ebooks from establishment publishers that look really shoddy. But from that point on, producing 10,000 copies – and transporting and selling them – costs only pennies more (if that) than producing one. And they are produced only on demand, no “inventory” required.

    Physical books otoh require factories, forests harvested, printing plants, ink, transportation, storage, etc. And, of course, for publishers it’s always a gamble deciding on how much to invest in what size print run, hoping they’ll sell. Often enough a book bombs and the publisher has to eat the excess inventory – not a problem with an ebook.

    Big Publishing is a racket.

    Even before eBooks existed, I noticed long ago that the big houses would always publish a hardcover of a book first, then wait a year or so to release a paperback version – of fiction books which most readers would read once and sell as used or give away. So if you wanted to read the book when it came out you had to buy the hardcover; otherwise you had to wait. (I would wait.) A huge waste of money – and resources, especially since in those days there was no way to recycle books (nor is it easily done now). Why did they do this? Because they could. In other words, simple greed; and in the market as it was, there was no check on it. They were the gatekeepers.

    I remember when there were dozens of book publishers. Now there are about three (?) giant international corporations (with, I expect, interlocking directorates and ownerships, like the giant corporations that control other industries), which have bought out all the formerly independent houses and imprints – and which, like all corporations, are soulless entities concerned first and only with profit, whatever highfalutin’ language they may use in their PR.

    Obviously eBooks are the future, though printed books will remain for those who want to own physical objects – as many still do. Despite dire predictions of DOOM from the traditional publishing establishment, physical books are not going to disappear entirely from the world – but they will eventually find their natural place, if the free market of natural demand is allowed to operate. Meanwhile, establishment publishing is dragging their feet as hard as they can.

    Steve Jobs famously forced the music industry to face the reality of the 21st century – and what has been the result? An open market, piracy nearly ended, a lot more music for everybody, and even the traditional producers are doing fine – those who were willing to adapt. Unfortunately, however, when it came to books, Jobs let Big Publishing set the terms, and though Amazon made an effort to open the market, they were somehow stymied (I didn’t follow the details), so we’re left now with the ridiculous situation where an ebook costs the reader more than its physical counterpart.

    Note that at Amazon, whenever you see an ebook priced higher than the physical version, there’ll be a note that the ebook price was “set by the publisher”. Amazon would sell it for less if they could, but somehow the cartel prevents them. Looks like “combination in restraint of trade” to me, but in the current economic/political climate where huge corporations control everything (including both political parties), nothing will be done about it.

    Nevertheless, so long as at least some form of free market persists, eventually the situation will be corrected. That’s how natural law works. Traditional publishing has not been good for writers either – except for the few Big Names who are guaranteed sellers, and who, by an odd coincidence, were the loudest voices on the establishment publishers’ side of the argument a few years ago. If you weren’t one of them, getting your work published was pretty hard.

    Now, however, it’s not hard at all, if you’re willing to put in a little effort – especially if you’re willing to start out in e-format. You can self-publish at Amazon pretty easily, and there are many new publisher startups.

    For instance, one recent startup independent publisher offers its books in e-format first, then in printed formats if there’s demand. Their first big hit was an epic fantasy novel (compared favorably with Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series); it appeared first as an ebook, selling at Amazon for $7.99. It has been very successful, and many readers asked for a physical copy to put on their bookshelves, so the publisher has produced softcover and hardcover versions, which sell for $27 and $35 respectively – for a book over 800 pages long. So the ebook costs about 30% of the price of the paperback. That’s about right, seems to me. They’re not going broke, by any means – these days they seem to release two titles a week, and nearly all are very successful. Amateurs in the true meaning of the term.

    Meanwhile, looking at another book I have in paperback but would prefer to replace with an e-version, I see that the paperback sells for $12, the ebook for $16. Ridiculous. This is a 500 page book; at a reasonable ratio, the ebook would cost $4 or less. Frankly, if I can get a bootleg, I will. And this is from what was once a small, independent publisher, now owned by Random House – which is now owned by Penguin, which is in turn owned (along with numerous other whole industries) by international conglomerate Bertelsmann. This is called “diversity”.

    For my part, I really like ebooks, as I’m strongly motivated to pare down and simplify my life. For years I’ve bought only a few reference books, and gotten my casual reading from libraries. Now even the reference books I have on my computer (e.g. a Chinese dictionary), and I’m working on putting my entire library on my Kindle. Which means replacing a lot of physical books with e-versions. But I’m not going to pay more for the e-versions. So I just don’t buy books. Throttle the free market, that’s the result. But greed never learns.

    • Also: Ebooks (especially the overpriced ones from the big publishers) are also encumbered by DRM, preventing the “purchaser” from reading them in any software other than that supplied by the seller (e.g. Apple’s Books, Amazon’s Kindle). So even if you “buy” the ebook – often for more than the printed version (especially when you can get a “like new” copy of the latter for less than the list price) – you don’t really own it: you can’t read it where/when you want, you can’t resell it “used”.

      And the seller can revoke your “license” at any time (as Amazon famously did in 2009) – or go out of business, leaving you with unreadable “books”.

      For instance, the classic history of Buddhism in the West, How the Swans Came to the Lake by Rick Fields (1942–1999): at Amazon the ebook is $25.99 (“Price set by seller”), the paperback $27.19 (discounted from list price $34.95; “new” copies from other sellers at ~$20). Author is deceased, not benefiting from inflated price; so who gets the profit?

      Meanwhile, ebooks from the startup publisher mentioned above are sold on Amazon (and .epub versions from their own website) without any DRM; they seem to be doing fine.

  27. Ebooks should be much cheaper than hard copy books, as they cost less to produce and you can’t resell it or give it to another person. Not to mention selling ebooks at a higher price than a hard copy book makes it harder for those with visual or reading difficulties who can ONLY read the ebook version to afford to read as much as they wish. I reread books I like a lot but can no longer read hard copy books because I am legally blind. I have many hard copy books I’d love to repurchase in ebook form, but the higher prices for them makes it unaffordable. For example, I bought all six books of the first Warriors series by Erin Hunter for less than $5 a piece. The ebook prices range from $5-8. The six book hard copy set costs $10 less than the ebook set. The prices are just too high on disability pay. And borrowing from a library is not the answer, as most of the genres I like to read are not available from the library.

    • I found the reply button to reply to Lynn’s post:

      Hi Lynn,

      I also agree that the ebook prices are high. However they are still cheaper than new large print books and readers can get ebooks right away on the first day of publication. I am legally blind (vision impaired) too. Have you considered using to get popular books in ebook format? This is a special site where users need to prove they have a print disability (such as blindness or low vision) in order to have access. I think the yearly subscription is $50 a year, and if you are a student in school or college, it is free for several years. Bookshare books can also be read aloud using screen reader software. I use Bookshare often, and it is a great resource to get many popular titles in a format that I can easily read. Hope this helps!

  28. It’s a simple reason why they cost so much. When Amazon buys physical copies of a book at about 50% of the MSRP, it can then sell the book for whatever it chooses. Amazon sells new release for less profit, with the understanding that they are Amazon and will sell more than the rest of the world. Ebook prices are set by the publisher. Amazon can’t set the price. Amazon actually shot itself in the foot with this just a little bit because of the not being able to share the books. You don’t buy an e-book, you buy a license to read it. Therefore since Amazon doesn’t own the book, it can’t set the price.

    Bottom line is that many voracious readers will pay for the product. While I grumble about the pricing as much as anyone, I have 500 books on my Kindle with no end in site. I far prefer reading on my Kindle, so I pay for the luxury.

  29. I know the manga company which sells drm-free digital copies cheaper than physical. I prefer not to mention the name because of the nsfw content.