An Analysis of an Electronic File

[This is taken from a rough draft of a longer article.]

Part of this is an erroneous perception that buying something online is less expensive. (For a years, I had a rule in our Albany store of only listing for sale online those books that could be sold for twice the in-store price!) The ebook phenomenon is another perception of value. What is value? An electronic file is a lower quality product than a well-made book in many ways: its resolution is less, it requires constant maintenance in the form of power, it cannot engage the senses in the ways a book does, it cannot be given as a gift or heirloom, etc. (The kicker for me is how bad children’s books look as an electronic file. Not only do you lose the tactile enjoyment—especially for books with moving parts or alternating textures—but the very layout is less appealing. Why do we accept for ourselves what we don’t for children? Are electronic files like smoking—bad for kids, but okay for adults?) Oftentimes, value is mistaken for price. Here’s a breakdown of one of today’s most popular books, Twilight by Stephanie Meyer.

New mass market paperback price: $7.99
Trade-in value: $2.00
Net price: $5.99

New trade paperback price: $10.99
Trade-in value: $2.75
Net price: $8.24

Nook/Kindle edition price: $8.99
Trade-in value: $0
Net price: $8.99

So, in this case, buying the pocket book at your local bookstore actually saves you a buck. If you are willing to trade in your book at a used bookstore, you are three dollars ahead with the pocket book, and you are still slightly ahead if you prefer the trade paperback. I personally can’t stand the appearance of files on the Kindle and although I find the color Nook more palatable (just to name the big two), I’d still list “unpleasant to read” as my big complaint. However, the complaint I hear most often about these two platforms is the cost of electronic files. Sure, you can get Moby-Dick for free, but you can also check that out at the library for free. The big sellers on electronic readers are popular fiction: people are buying bestsellers on these devices and they are paying dearly for it.