Office of Fair Trading launches eBook price investigation

I’ve written quite a few pieces on this blog over the last several months about the pricing of eBooks, and in particular the price war that has failed to emerge following the launch of the Kindle in the UK.

In fact, prices have gone up, due in no small part to the publishers attempting to introduce a digital equivalent of the old Net Book agreement, in the form of Agency Pricing. This, essentially, allows them to force sites like WH Smith or Amazon to sell the electronic editions of books at a specific price, with no discounting allowed.

Discounting is still allowed on the printed editions, and the net result – aside from some dramatic increase in the prices of some eBooks – is that it’s quite common to find that the electronic edition of a book will cost more than the paper edition.

Now, I’m not one of those people who thinks that the cost of an electronic book should be more or less nothing, because as a writer I actually enjoy being paid for what I do, and the cost of producing a book involves a lot more than just printing it – design, typesetting, proof reading, and editing, for example. Those are all important if, like me, you prefer that when you read a book, characters’ names are spelt consistently, line breaks don’t appear half way across a line in the middle of a word, and chapter or paragraph breaks actually make it into the book – all problems that crop up in various eBooks, and make people even more annoyed when they’re forced to pay a higher price for a poor quality product.

You can’t take all the costs out of producing an eBook, if you want it to be of good quality. But you could probably reduce some of them, and I can’t honestly see a reason why shops should be allowed to discount print editions, but not electronic ones. Or indeed why you can’t get an electronic, searchable edition, when you buy the hardback.

So, I welcome the announcement today by the Office of Fair Trading that it’s going to investigate the pricing of books. Though, given colour of the current government, I doubt they’ll actually decide to do anything that’s in the interest of consumers, rather than shareholders.

For more on this topic, you might want to look at The Register’s take on the news, and the piece I did for them about eBook pricing a couple of months ago.

My roundup of eBook price changes from August to November 2010 is also worth reading, and if you want an insight into the collective lunacy of the publishing industry when it comes to eBook lending, then read this article.

There’s also an article about this at eBook Magazine, which is well worth a browse.

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