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Are Kindle E-Books Getting More Expensive?

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Are Kindle E-Books Getting More Expensive?
An informal survey found Kindle bestsellers often priced higher than paper versions.

"Goliath" costs 20 percent more as a Kindle e-book —what's up with that?

Screenshot from Amazon.com (September 20, 2011)

The latest volume from the Leviathan Trilogy by Scott Westerfield, "Goliath" came out today and I immediately hit Amazon.com to purchase the Kindle version. I had to do a double take, because the Kindle edition was significantly more expensive than the hardcover version: $14.01 for Kindle versus $11.75 for a hardcover copy. E-books are supposed to cost less than the paper version — there's certainly no way I can think of that production and distribution costs for an e-book would exceed that of a dead tree version, let alone command a 20 percent premium. I decided to do a quick check to see if this was some sort of mistake.

I opened up the New York Times bestseller section on Amazon.com and checked the first four titles in the Hardcover Fiction Bestsellers and Hardcover Nonfiction Bestsellers sections (the titles that are prominently displayed on the section page). I used only the Amazon pricing, not the marketplace pricing (which is topically lower than Amazon's own pricing for books).  One of the four fiction tiles was not available as a Kindle version, so there are only three listed below, but here's how the pricing worked out:

FICTION

"The Race"    Hardcover: $15.81 vs. Kindle: $18.45

"A Dance With Dragons"    Hardcover $18.80 vs. Kindle: $9.99

"Kill Me If You Can"     Paperback: $10.19 vs. Kindle: $12.99

NON-FICTION

"In My Time: A Personal and Political Memoir"    Hardcover: $19.20 vs. Kindle: $24.53

"That Used To Be Us"    Hardcover: $15.23 vs. Kindle: $16.66

"Unbroken"    Hardcover $13.49 vs. Kindle: $9.99

"Stolen Life: A Memoir"    Hardcover: $14.99 vs. Kindle: $17.52

I decided to take it a step further and check the Trade Paperback Fiction Bestsellers.

"The Mercy"    Paperback: $10.19 vs. Kindle: $7.99

"Room"    Paperback: $8.99 vs. Kindle: $13.77

"Sarah's Key"    Paperback: $8.37 vs. Kindle: $12.95

"One Day"    Paperback: $9.97 vs. Kindle: $8.67

What's going on here? While it's hardly a scientific study and a very small sample, I was surprised to see that as often as not, the Kindle version of these bestsellers was priced higher than the printed version, usually by a significant margin. Where Kindle e-books were cheaper, they were considerably cheaper, but I wasn't expecting to see this pattern. I would have expected Kindle titles to be less expensive across the board, and in a worst case scenario, equal to the price of the paper versions.

Perhaps now that Kindle e-books are outselling paper versions, Amazon –or the book publishers — are taking advantage of the demand. Maybe these titles were priced differently due to the prominent position on Amazon's website. Or maybe it was a statistical anomaly. It certainly warrants further monitoring though, because if e-books equal or exceed the cost of traditional paper books, then a big part of the e-reader buying proposition (money saved on buying books eventually pays for the cost of buying the hardware) goes away. One take-away for Kindle owners: it's definitely worth watching for those Kindle Daily Deals.

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