Friday, January 30, 2009

Pay twice for the same book

I was recently browsing the O'Reilly online store for ruby books and I came across this great deal.

That's right, the price of the pdf version of the book is only 10$ or 20% cheaper than the printed version. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think the cost of printing a book and shipping it is only 10$.

But before blaming O'Reilly (and several other book publishers) for ripping off their customers, lets consider the actual cost of selling pdfs. First, you need to make the pdf. That's easy. Having worked in the print industry before, I know that all publications are made into pdf before printing. It's the de facto standard of the industry. So O'Reilly already have the pdf of the book because they need it for printing it. Then, you need an online store. Nowadays, all book publishers have one for selling books online. So they already have all the technology in place to bill customers for a product. So all they needed to add was a download pdf feature. I'm pretty sure, most web developers would consider the task trivial. I would and I don't have much experience with web development.

As far as I can see, there's is very little cost in selling books online. This leads me to conclude that the profit margin on pdf is much higher than on the paper version.

But what really ticks me off, is the "Print+PDF" option. For a 30% markup, you get to have the pdf version of the book. Having the pdf of a book if great, because you can search the book and have your entire library on your laptop of iPhone for when you need them. I want pdfs of all my books, period. But 15$! For a book I already paid for! Are you telling me I've got to pay extra for the same thing, just reformatted and all this to no expense to the seller?

So why not give it away freely? A publisher giving away a free pdf with all the books it sells would have a significant competitive advantage over its competitors. I sure would be more incline to buy from him.

Now, lets talk about the elephant in the room: piracy. O'Reilly's pdf are DRM free for now. I haven't been able to find any reference to this on O'Reilly's web site, but most book publishers will add your name and email at the bottom of each page of the ebook. This is no where near as bad as DRMs, but this is still very restrictive. Mostly, it removes your freedom to transfer ownership of the book or to lend the book. In my opinion, this is unacceptable. You bought the book, you own it, you have to do whatever you want with it, including selling it.

I'm fairly certain that any court would grant you that right. But your name is embedded in the book! So if you sell it to someone who distributes it illegally, you're the one the publisher will blame.

The only reason this is considered acceptable, is because most people don't understand the implications of copyright laws. Think about it this way, what if a car dealership was to write your name on every piece of your car and made you sign a contract preventing you from selling your car. Would this be consider acceptable? Of course not! The only difference is you can't make a copy of your car. Well, you could, but not in any practical manner. Copying a file is so trivial, you do it without even thinking about it.

So would removing ALL forms of copy protection to ebooks make them more easy to pirate? Yes. But pirating ebooks is already ridiculously easy, the meager attempts made by the publishers does nothing to prevent the spread of piracy and only ends up restricting their paying customers.

I would argue that the publishing companies would be better of giving away the pdf with the paper version of the book or selling it at a reasonable price. In the long run, better customer service will improve the publisher's reputation. Making me pay extra for something I know is free does nothing to improve my opinion of O'Reilly.

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