It may not be the equivalent of the sans-coulottes rising en masse during the French Revolution or a student facing down a tank in Tiananmen Square, but there appears to be a grassroots uprising of sorts developing around the pricing of e-books sold through Amazon for use on their Kindle readers. According to Galleycat, a group of almost 250 Amazon users have initiated a boycott of Kindle titles priced at more than $9.99. These currently include bestselling titles such as The Secret, David McCullough’s biography of Harry Truman, and the new novel by Harlan Coben.
There are currently 808 titles on Amazon with the “9 99 boycott” tag, including some (like Breaking Dawn by Stephenie Meyer) that are sold at $9.99 on the nose.
Not surprisingly, most of the online commentary supports the rebellion: it’s another example of the people making their voices heard against the greedhead publishers and corporate behemoths. And to be fair, many of the arguments the boycotters are making have merit: Kindle e-books are not as permanent or as versatile as actual books (they can’t be marked up, lent out, or printed out), and there is a tradition of electronic content on the Web being priced more modestly than its physical counterpart (one reason why iTunes became so popular).
Still, it’s fallacious to presume that e-books don’t cost publshers anything to produce (even without the cost of paper, printing, and warehousing, there are acquisitions and editorial costs to be factored into the equation), and they are still getting gutted on their margins for regular books by sites like Amazon, which demand steep discounts on the titles they sell. Mark-ups for e-books may seem like price gouging on the part of publishers (and this may indeed be the case), but the bottom line is that this segment of the market is still negligible, and publishers need to make money if they want to survive. Perhaps the solution is to sell more e-books at a lower unit cost; whether or not the Amazon boycott has this effect remains to be seen.