Just a couple of days after I posted a video of the director of the Ayn Rand Institute, that organization sends out this release:
Apple Should Be Free to Charge $15 for eBooks
WASHINGTON–Apple and five top book publishers have been threatened by federal antitrust authorities. According to the Wall Street Journal, they are to be sued for allegedly colluding to fix ebook prices.
According to Ayn Rand Center fellow Don Watkins, “Traditional books may come from trees but they don’t grow on trees–and ebooks and ebook readers such as the iPad definitely don’t grow on trees. These are amazing values created by publishers and by companies such as Apple. They have a right to offer their products for sale at whatever prices they choose. They cannot force us to buy them. If they could, why would they charge only $15? Why not $50? Why not $1,000?
“There is no mystically ordained ‘right’ price for ebooks–the right price is the one voluntarily agreed to between sellers and buyers. Sure, some buyers may complain about ebook prices–but they are also buying an incredible number of ebooks.
“What in the world justifies a bunch of bureaucrats who have created nothing interfering in these voluntary arrangements and declaring that they get to decide what considerations should go into pricing ebooks?”
Read more from Don Watkins at his blog.
I didn’t know what the Institute was on about until I saw this Wall Street Journal piece:
U.S. Warns Apple, Publishers
The Justice Department has warned Apple Inc. and five of the biggest U.S. publishers that it plans to sue them for allegedly colluding to raise the price of electronic books, according to people familiar with the matter.
Several of the parties have held talks to settle the antitrust case and head off a potentially damaging court battle, these people said. If successful, such a settlement could have wide-ranging repercussions for the industry, potentially leading to cheaper e-books for consumers. However, not every publisher is in settlement discussions.
The five publishers facing a potential suit areCBS Corp.’s Simon & Schuster Inc.;Lagardere SCA’s Hachette Book Group;Pearson PLC’s Penguin Group (USA); Macmillan, a unit of Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH; and HarperCollins Publishers Inc., a unit of News Corp. , which also owns The Wall Street Journal….
This is truly a fight in which I do not have a dog. I think. And it should please the Randians that my own attitude has to do with market forces. I can’t conceive of paying $15 for a book when, after the transaction, I don’t actually have a book.
So I can approach this dispassionately, and ask, to what extent is this a monopoly situation? After all, Apple has competitors — such as Amazon, which actually pioneered this business of selling “books” to people electronically. The WSJ story addresses that:
To build its early lead in e-books, Amazon Inc. sold many new best sellers at $9.99 to encourage consumers to buy its Kindle electronic readers. But publishers deeply disliked the strategy, fearing consumers would grow accustomed to inexpensive e-books and limit publishers’ ability to sell pricier titles.
Publishers also worried that retailers such as Barnes & Noble Inc. would be unable to compete with Amazon’s steep discounting, leaving just one big buyer able to dictate prices in the industry. In essence, they feared suffering the same fate as record companies at Apple’s hands, when the computer maker’s iTunes service became the dominant player by selling songs for 99 cents.
Now that sounds more like what I would think the market would bear, if the market were like me. $9.99 sounds closer to what I might conceivably be willing to pay in order to have access to the contents of a book without actually getting a book. But it still seems high.
Yes, I can see advantages to a e-book. You can store more of them in a smaller space. They don’t get musty, which for an allergic guy like me is nothing to sneeze at. And you can search them, to look up stuff you read, and want to quote or otherwise share. That last consideration isn’t that great for me because I have an almost eerie facility for quickly finding something I read in a book, remembering by context. But… once I’ve found it, there’s the problem that if I want to quote it, I have to type it — which is not only time-consuming, but creates the potential for introducing transcription errors. Far better to copy and paste. (At least, I think you can copy and paste from ebooks. Google Books doesn’t allow it. See how I got around that back here, by using screenshots of Google Books.)
But I still want to possess the book. Maybe it’s just pure acquisitiveness, or maybe it’s a survivalist thing — I want something I can read even if someone explodes a thermonuclear device over my community, knocking out all electronics.
In any case, all of us are still sorting out what an ebook is worth to us. Let Apple set the price where it may, and try to compete with Amazon. Then we’ll see what shakes out.