Grumbles in Kindletown

I have written before about my satisfaction with my Kindle, and even hope to write a couple of book reviews on new discoveries. However, not all is well in Kindletown at the moment, and reason is prices for Kindle editions.

I’ve been wanting the second book in Mercedes Lackey’s Obsidian trilogy, but Amazon only offered the first and third books. A few days ago, I noticed that the second book, To Light a Candle was available…for $22.63, which was equivalent to about 300% the price of the paperback (currently at $7.99).

I was astonished and more than a little peeved at the price, and posted a note about it in the Kindle forums. Not long after my note, another reader noticed that another Tor book by Mercedes Lackey, The Phoenix Unchained was also set to a price more expensive than the paperback ($16.61 as compared to $7.99). What’s even more odd about The Phoenix Unchained, it was originally set to a discounted paperback price of $6.29, and the price only jumped in the last week or so.

Today, To Light a Candle was reduced to $7.19, which compared to $7.99 for the paperback was an acceptable value. However, The Phoenix Unchained is still set to $16.61, effectively 150% the cost of a paperback. Though incidental to this discussion on books prices, I also noticed that the third volume in the Obsidian trilogy has vanished from the Kindle lists, which is odd considering that it makes no sense to “sell out” a digital book.

What seems to be happening with The Phoenix Unchained is that the Kindle volume is being offered at a discounted value…discounted from the hard cover price, not the paperback. Not for all of the books, either, but enough to generate some concerns.

In addition, I noticed my own Painting the Web has a discount of about 9% for the Kindle version, which is different from O’Reilly’s 20% discount it offers for the eBook bundle at the O’Reilly site. However, my paper book is discounted by Amazon, while the Kindle book is given less of a discount, so again, we’re talking about difficult to understand variations in Kindle pricing.

Another reader mentioned wanting to read the Janis Ian Autobiography, but the Kindle price is $16.01, while the hard cover is $17.79. Both are discounted from the retail cost of the book, which is $26.95. However, what happens when the paperback of the book is offered? Will the Kindle then become discounted from the paperback cost? Or discounted from the original hard cover?

Chances are, the pricing issues we noticed with the Tor books are related to Amazon being a bit overwhelmed with trying to load books, and making mistakes in the pricing. I can’t see how a publisher would expect to charge more for a Kindle book than a paperback, though I’m not sure I should make this assumption. Without any understanding of how the pricing schemes work, with books appearing, disappearing, and then appearing again, as prices vary significantly between publishers, we readers have become the ebook version of a Wall Street trader: forced to continuously check book prices, and be ready to scream out “Buy!” when the books we want hit that sweet spot (as O’Reilly has defined it).

I never knew book buying could be such an adventure. Or so stressful.

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