Amazon is Not the Problem

Dean Dad today is blaming booksellers for the fact that you can’t resell your used e-textbooks. This is wrong. Most ebooks are already being sold as loss leaders. Think of it this way–printing, paper, and binding (the things that seem to make a book a book) count for usually less than $3 of an individual book’s final cost (unless you’re publishing a book of antique Spanish porn, color throughout. Then those costs will make you want to throw up every time you think of them). So, if all things were equal, an ebook would cost about $3 less than a “real” book.

But Amazon sells a shit-ton of ebooks for $9.99 or less and the corresponding print versions aren’t $12.99.

Amazon makes their money off of Kindles. If they could legally let students swap or sell ebooks to each other, even if Amazon made nothing off of those ebook sales, they would totally do that, because it would drive Kindle sales.

The sticking point is the publishers. And, sure, I have as little sympathy for the “Here’s your $150 textbook which we will make needless updates to every three years, thus ruining the used book market” as anyone else. But most universities don’t wholly subsidize university presses. In fact, I don’t know of any university press that doesn’t get any income from book sales.

Now, sure, if we’re switching to a model in which the important thing is the dissemination of ideas, great. Then it’s fine if 50 students share or resell one ebook to each other. That would weigh the same for the university as selling 50 books does in the “bottom line” model. Shoot, then, why would university presses sell books at all? They could just put everything up at Scribd and call it a day.

But university presses do have budgets they have to meet. And universities don’t seem likely to change that.

So, we are where we are.

3 thoughts on “Amazon is Not the Problem

  1. I’m surprised that someone hasn’t come up with a hack for sharing e-textbooks. It’s been 30 years since I went to college (it was a community college) and I bought my textbooks, didn’t have to turn them in at the end of the semester, and I sold my textbooks for much less than what I paid for them when I was through with them (of course, we didn’t have ebooks back then, I don’t think anyone had even thought of ebooks yet, let alone readers for them).

  2. Vesta, I’m sure they have. My suspicion is that it’s a generational thing. It’s just so self-apparently not obvious how to do it to “old” people that they’re not worried about it and so self-apparently obvious how to do it that young people are doing it without worry.

  3. A) there is a hack for sharing e-textbooks. Any DRM-stripper will do.

    B) I think Dean dad is blaming the book sellers because it’s the DRM code, placed by the booksellers, that ties any piece of writing to the purchasing device. The problem here is that the publishers will not allow the booksellers to retail the books without the DRM attached. So yeah, they put it there, but they wouldn’t have the books in the first place without it.

    C) If people were smart they’d start a KindleText market. Get one Kindle for all your textbooks and just resell that. With the price of Kindles so low it isn’t that big of a stretch, honestly. That’d solve the problem of broke students wanting money without selling pints of blood.

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