Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The wacky world of ebook pricing

Living in South Africa we tend to be somewhat behind in certain areas, especially when it comes to technology.  As a matter of interest I decided to see how the local ebook pricing compares with international sites.

South Africa currently only has one major online site (Kalahari.net) selling ebooks and the selection they offer tend to be very sparse.  Due to idiotic geographic restrictions most international sites don't allow South African buyers to purchase from them.  It has become increasingly difficult to find sites willing to sell to us people at the tip of deep 'dark' Africa.  The few exceptions are Amazon (for Kindle users), The Book Depository and a handful of others with steadily dwindling selections.

For this comparison I used novels by Neal Asher.  Surprisingly he was one of the very few science-fiction writers whose ebooks were available from the local site and to SA buyers on the other international sites. Local denotes Kalahari.net and  BD denotes the Book Depository.  All prices were converted to US dollars.

Title Local BD Amazon
The Technician (2010)$33.58$20.77$15.77
Orbus (2009)$28.58$17.68$10.90
The Gabble (2008)$29.12$18.05$10.90
Line War (2008)$29.12$18.05$10.90
Shadow of the Scorpion (2008)$14.88$9.22$8.66
Polity Agent(2006)$12.71$7.85$10.90
Brass Man (2005)$12.71$7.85$10.90
Cowl (2004)$12.71$7.85$10.90
The Skinner (2002)$11.08$6.87$9.59
Gridlinked (2001)$11.08$6.87$9.59

It's not a pretty picture.  In all cases the SA site is more expensive than the international sites.  With older releases the local price is about $3 more expensive.  The real shocker comes with newer releases (if you can call 2008 'newer').  Here it seems madness reigns with titles being double the price of international sites.

I don't know why local pricing shows such a large discrepancy.  Could it be due to outright profiteering or are there other factors at play?  I thought agency pricing was a way of 'fixing' the ebook price so there's no competition amongst sellers.  What I do know is that until this mess is cleared up or publishers decide to forego geographic restrictions I'll be sticking to physical books.

At least with the good old printed version you can buy from wherever you want at the best price you can find - discounts on printed books are still allowed.  Best of all - you don't have to suffer from any DRM restrictions.  Once you have paid for your book you are free to lend it to friends, sell it, give it away or donate it to a worthy cause.

I love the idea of ebooks, I own an ebook reader (a Cybook Opus) and I have bought many ebooks.  Unfortunately after the 'Agency 5' fiasco it seems that publishers want to make it as difficult as possible for legitimate buyers to throw money at them using 'piracy' as a convenient excuse for all the restrictions. 

The last straw for me was being barred from buying ebooks I wanted due to my location and that ebook prices skyrocketed.  Given the choice between a DRM infested file, limited selections and geographic restrictions I'll take the freedom of buying printed works.

I'll be keeping my eye on the ebook world hoping that some common sense will return within my lifetime.


  1. EXACTLY! I really don't understand why they're so expensive compared to normal paperbacks... Makes absolutely no sense to me.

  2. It definitely doesn't make any sense at all. I'm not going to pay more for something that has MORE restrictions than the physical counterpart.

    Instant delivery is a huge plus for ebooks, but it doesn't outweigh the scourge of DRM.


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