One of the problems with the provision of ebooks at the moment has been the perception that they are not significantly cheaper than old fashioned paper books. For ebooks to really take off, there needs to be a significant price differential to encourage people to ditch the paper and take up e-readers. Curious to find out the actual price difference, I took a sample of 40 books and compared prices between electronic and paper versions. For the electronic versions, I took the prices from the WHSmiths ebook website (in my experience they have been very reasonably priced) and for the paper versions I used Amazon. Whenever there was a hardback and paperback version on Amazon, I used the paperback as the comparison. I also ensured that the same edition was compared to ensure parity between the formats and I used the EPUB standard for ebooks. A wide variety of texts were compared. Old and new. Ficiton and non-fiction. So what did I discover?
Well, overall there was a slight difference in price that was favorable to ebooks. Overall, the paperbacks totalled £296.74 and ebooks totalled £291.30 – a total saving of £5.44. Out of forty texts, eleven titles were cheaper in paper format than electronic (27%). The biggest price difference in favour of paper books was £4.85 (where the ebook copy was £12.76 and the paper version was £7.91). The biggest difference in favour of electronic books was £1.75 (ebook: £5.24; paper: £6.99). Overall, the e-books selected were generally under a pound cheaper than the paperbacks. A very minor saving between the two formats. In fact, taking the price difference between the formats, ebooks were on average only 13.6p cheaper (total saving ÷ 40).
Clearly pricing needs to significantly improve for ebooks to really take off. There is a slight saving overall from the purchase of ebooks, but it is very slight at best. We are certainly not seeing the kind of price differentials that developed with the emergence of mp3s – not yet anyway. When one paper book edition is selling for nearly £5 cheaper than its electronic equivalent, there is clearly something wrong. For ebooks to really take off, the price difference should be consistently and significantly cheaper than their paper counterparts. Until that happens, ebooks will remain on the fringes of the publishing world. Should this change however, ebooks could really fulfil their potential and breakthrough into the mainstream.