Why Are Ebooks More Expensive Than Paperbacks?
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When people purchase ebooks on Amazon for the first time, a question often crops up: why are Kindle books more expensive than paperbacks? Surely a few hundred kilobytes of text should cost less than a printed copy.

We looked into this issue and discovered there’s a lot more to the pricing of books than you’d think. Read on to find out why ebooks can cost more than real books.

Why Are Kindle Books More Expensive?

When you compare the effort needed to make both a physical book and an ebook, the price difference can be insulting. Why are Kindle books more expensive than physical ones? A physical book requires printing, constructing, and shipping, whereas an ebook is uploaded to the servers and sold directly.

While some disgruntled readers are quick to call Amazon greedy over the pricing of Kindle books, there are legitimate reasons why ebooks are more expensive.

1. Physical Books Aren’t Expensive to Produce

A printing press manufacturing books
Image Credit: pkproject/DepositPhotos

It’s easy to imagine physical novels taking a lot of money to make, but that’s far from the truth. In reality, a physical book takes around $1-2 to produce. If this is true, however, then why are they priced a lot more than that?

Everything makes sense when you imagine all of the people who helped make the book who need paying. For one, the author has to get their agreed royalty cut from every sale. From there, the editors, proofreaders, cover artists, and marketers all need to be paid. These obligations don’t leave the publisher with a lot of money for themselves.

Of course, all of the above are involved in making the ebook, too. That means ebooks can’t be priced very low; if they were, the publisher wouldn’t have the money to pay for the people they employ. This problem explains why ebooks are sold at around the same price point as physical ones; but why do they sometimes cost even more?

2. The Agency Model Keeps Ebook Prices High

Another factor to consider is that ebooks use a different pricing model than physical books.

Physical books get sold to retailers at around half the list price. The retailer can then sell them for whatever they like. When Amazon sells books for lower than the recommended retail price, that discount is coming straight out of Amazon’s profit margin. Amazon is gambling that the low price will equal more sales, which will make up the lost profit margin.

However, ebooks utilize the agency model when sold. Instead of letting the retailer choose the price, the publisher states what they’re selling for. The publisher gets 70 percent of each transaction, and the retailer gets the remaining 30 percent.

Unlike with physical books, Amazon has no control over the price of ebooks. If someone has performed the steps required to publish an ebook via Kindle Direct Publishing How to Publish Ebooks on Amazon With Kindle Direct Publishing How to Publish Ebooks on Amazon With Kindle Direct Publishing Wondering how to publish an ebook on Amazon? Kindle Direct Publishing is the answer, and we'll take you through it step by step. Read More , they set the price as they please, with no exceptions.

This constraint is the reason ebooks sometimes cost more than paperbacks. For example, a publisher can list the price of their physical book at $27.95 and the ebook at $20, which is a reasonable 30 percent markdown.

Instead of selling the hardcover for the list price, Amazon choose to sell it at under $20. They can’t touch the ebook price, so that stays the same. As such, the paperback will cost less than the ebook.

3. People Are Willing to Pay for Value and Convenience

Someone paying for goods online with a credit card
Image Credit: LDProd/DepositPhotos

On top of this, ebooks are very convenient for the readers buying them. Buying a physical book involves going to a bookstore and hoping they have it in stock, or ordering it online and waiting for it to arrive. For ebooks, you go to a website, click the “Buy” button, and download the book to your PC or reader.

This convenience often means that invested readers don’t care about the price. Once they’ve finished one book, they can instantly load the store page, buy the next book, and continue reading. For some, that level of convenience is well worth the asking price of an ebook, regardless of how it compares to the paperback.

4. Ebooks Don’t Suffer Wear-and-Tear Like Physical Books

If you’re an avid reader, you may know the pain of losing or damaging your books. Ebooks, however, don’t share this problem. As long as you back your data up correctly What's the Best Way to Back Up Data on a Computer? What's the Best Way to Back Up Data on a Computer? Worried about losing your vital personal data? Data backups are essential. But what's the best way to back up your data? Read More , ebooks can technically last forever.

As such, people do sometimes re-buy physical books from the same store due to their copy becoming damaged, lost, lent out, or sold second-hand. Ebooks, however, tend to be a single purchase. As such, they ask for a higher price to cover the fact that re-buying isn’t as prevalent as with physical books.

5. Pricing Keeps Paperback Books From Becoming Redundant

A lot of big publishers have ties within the paperback world—it’s how they became prominent in the first place. With the popularity of ebooks, the focus moved away from bookstores and towards online stores.

As such, big publishers aren’t fond of making their ebooks cheaper than paperbacks. If ebooks become the more affordable option, people will ditch the physical book in favor of saving some money, leaving paperbacks in the dust.

By keeping the price of ebooks high, publishers keep paperbacks as a valid option for readers. That way, the world of physical books isn’t under threat of becoming extinct due to ebooks.

6. Some Countries Tax Digital Products—Like Ebooks

Calculating tax with pen and calculator
Image Credit: elenathewise /DepositPhotos

Finally, as explored in this article on The Telegraph, countries such as the UK tax digital products differently to books.

Physical books, newspapers, and magazines are all exempt from VAT in the UK. Digital products, however, aren’t. This lack of exemption means that retailers are supposed to pay 20 percent VAT on any ebooks they sell—a cost they invariably pass along to the customer—and which they don’t have to spend on hardbacks or paperbacks.

Given that the production costs of physical books are about 10 percent of their list price, this extra 20 percent tax is more than enough to wipe out any savings. Amazon and other major retailers currently do their best to get around these additional taxes, but governments are closing the tax loopholes. Which means that in the future, additional charges like these will make a big difference to prices.

Breaking Down the Price of Ebooks

Given how ebooks are simply data, it’s easy to assume they “should” be sold cheaper than physical books. However, there’s a lot more to ebook pricing than the methods used to distribute them. These elements of publishing explain why ebook prices equal—and sometimes outprice—physical books.

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  1. Doug
    July 20, 2019 at 11:03 am

    Blah blah blah, a lot of writing when the truth is: because they can. Publishers can choose whatever price they want.

  2. csp
    June 12, 2019 at 9:10 pm

    Think you are wrong on two counts. First, prices are often stamped inside the cover or on the back of a printed book showing it's price in USA & Canada, so for the most part, a seller of a printed copy is confined to the price printed by the manufacturer. Second, Second, the e-book copy doesn't necessarily stay with you as technology advances and makes them outdated or unusable in the future and you have to purchase it over again. As long as you take care of that hard copy it will last centuries. I seriously doubt that e-book will be around a hundred years from now.

  3. Steve Nordhauser
    June 12, 2019 at 12:37 pm

    My biggest problem with ebooks is that they are not the same level of ownership. I can take a paper book and loan it, give it, donate it, or sell it. It has real value. That is important for something that I will probably not reread or even want to keep. For the most part, buying an ebook is a payment for the use of the book. There are some limited exceptions, but for the most part, a library of 1000 ebooks is not a commodity.

  4. classicGG
    June 11, 2019 at 5:43 pm

    I am an avid reader and prefer to read print books, but when ebooks came onto the market I found some publishers stopped publishing their mass market authors and went to the trade paperbacks and hardcovers only. Many authors went to self-publishing their books in e-format. So if I wanted to keep up with some series and/or authors I had to buy an ereader in order to get their books. In a few cases that was okay with me, until they prices went up.

    On a fixed income I cannot afford to pay alot of money for short stories touted as books. I will not pay alot of money for the so-called books with no read storylines, but instead have insta-love and ista-sex as their main story. Nothing to hold the interest and the emarket is glutted with them. The authors rely on sex and many of the younger readers seem to want this, actually giving not so good reviews when authors actually write a good story, in novella/book, not short story size, using more words than many readers want to sit down and digest for more than a few hours.

    Then there is the quality of writing, very little/no editing by author, story not translating to ebook correctly by whoever/whatever method used, condensing a classic or having an arrogant author go in and changing a classic then charging readers. In other words by skipping publishers some authors have skipped the formatting, editing, ans set-up of books thinking their writing is just fine without that. Authors who have been published previously know about the importance of all that and have their ducks in a row so to speak when they self-publish.

    All-in-all I prefer the print books to ebooks, but when an author publishes a novel many times that author will then write short story fillers that do actually go along with/explain in more detail something in a book, like a wedding or how some people met. What's sad is when you get authors charging three dollars for under 150 pages; some actually charge that much for 50 pages and there are readers who will pay it. I paid that much just once and felt scammed after reading the story. Will not do it again. That's what needs to change.

    Don't want to get started on the quality of reviews, especially on Amazon...that a whole other topic.

  5. dragonmouth
    June 10, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    "Why Are Ebooks More Expensive Than Paperbacks? "
    One word - GREED! The publishers make ONLY 70% on each transaction?!

    What a crock! Poor, exploited Amazon! They are not making enough profit on e-books. Boo, hoo, hoo! Jeff Bezos goes to be hungry every night.

    "3. People Are Willing to Pay for Value and Convenience"
    To paraphrase a saying by the US Marines "If you've gottem' by the gonads, their mind and wallets will follow!" If people refused to buy e-books at these extortionate prices, the publishers, such as Amazon, would have to drop the prices.

  6. Barry Kintner
    June 9, 2019 at 2:41 am

    A recent profile on a local news program - of one of our large printing companies reveal their facts are quite different than what is represented in this article. - I also used to publish a 32-page maga-letter some time ago. - The printer profiled in that story stated flatly - his costs DROPPED overall - by 70% and more. - My costs dropped to near zero (as I was the entire 'company'). NOT ONE I've looked into comes close to what is written here - do not understand how this is factual at all.

  7. me
    May 6, 2019 at 5:46 pm

    I will never ever pay for ebook same as paperback. WTF??? This is just a rip-off. Anyway I can buy any real book in our value village stores (goodwills etc) for 60 cents up to 1 dollar - we have plenty of them and I can find literally any of what I need, just need time. Can find there any book within 1 year gap or less, just have to wait a little bit, sometimes it is less than a year. Have pretty good collection of books with history. 10 bucks for digital edition! What do they think???

  8. Shaun
    May 4, 2019 at 2:00 pm

    I personally won’t pay the same as a hardcover. The article breakdown on costs associated with the book are the exact reason. In digital you only have the author, the retailer, and publisher. All the others are cut out and should then lower the cost. Digital should be a boost to authors a way for people to purchase books cheaper but still purchase. I know many people that buy books at thrift stores or do book swaps. If digital was cheaper the way it should be it would bring in some of that revenue

    • PSUBill80
      June 11, 2019 at 1:24 pm

      No, you still need all of the behind the scenes people, the editor, layout artist, cover artist, etc. I'm also wondering what different coding needs to go into the ebook version because my Kindle books seem to rearrange themselves to still flow correctly if I change the font (the size, not the typeface, mind you).

      I've seen books without proper editing and it's a nightmare. You always need an attentive second set of eyes on a document. Don't scrimp on the editors.

  9. Adrob
    April 16, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    But wait there is more. Aside from the principle the retailer has to ship the book for free in the case of Prime and that also cuts the profit of the hardcover. And for the Kindle I have to put up with the ads so Amazon is getting revenue from that to augment its overhead.

    I’m not buying an e-book that costs more than a hardcover.

  10. Lisa
    March 14, 2019 at 6:11 am

    It doesn't make me happy because I still feel an ebook should not be more expensive than a physical book but if the difference isn't big and I really want the book I still get it. But there is a limit. "Night and Silence" from Seanan McGuire in example, the 12th installment in a series, is priced 13,99 Euros on Amazon.de (double the price of the previous installments) while the paperback is listed at 7.99 Euros. This doesn't make me buy a book, it makes me angry. It feels like the publisher is trying to rip me off because they feel they can (assuming that so late in a series anything will be paid by the people who have followed a story this long).

  11. R.M. Hodegson
    March 13, 2019 at 3:16 pm

    Most of the comments about digital format are rubbish. There are free apps that will reformat a book in about 30 seconds. Any format you want.
    What you see in book prices is a very old model being retrofitted to the new era of digital books. People, for the most part, have reconciled themselves to paying outrageous prices for hard and softcovers. Except outside the USA where the prices are 50-100% higher. The fact that the production costs are fixed for the first run of books seems to be ignored in the article. Publishers have been known to reprint books many times, even sell the rights many times. They are not making a small amount of money on a good first run. How could they pay six digit advance royalties? Digital books have very little cost because all hard/soft copies are already in digital format. The fixed costs of production, promotion, distribution, and middlemen are done. Perhaps royalties are paid to the writer depending on the individual contract. The only cost is storage and server space. When I want to by Frankenstein; Or, The Modern Prometheus by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley at the Project Gutenberg site it is free. Online you might pay $0.99 at Amazon or more elsewhere. The cost is insignificant to the price of ebooks. All the heavy lifting happens as the original book is released. What you see in the e-book price is the calculated demand and how much they can charge for it. Greed. They know they can always release it again and price it less or sell the rights to someone else. Do not be deceived at all levels it is greed that makes a book worth a dime or $1,000. The costs are insignificant to make a book compared to the monetized rights of the original manuscript.

    • Quentin
      May 5, 2019 at 10:19 am

      When you buy an ebook, you own it as you would a paperback or hardcover edition. You have paid to own it.

      That said, I am not familiar with all of the ebook readers - i use Kindle.

      With a Kindle, I can buy and download an ebook to my Kindle or use the Kindle app which is available for Windows, Mac, etc.

      When using the app, the ebook is downloaded to your PC in a format compatible with your e-reader. That file can be shared just as any other file can be shared. The other reason I use a Kindle is the 'send-to-Kindle' feature. This feature allows you to email a .pdf version of a book to your Kindle (again, app or physical e-reader makes no difference).

      So yes, the model seems to be broken. Ebooks should not cost more. But you can borrow ebooks from friends or find books in other formats and convert them. For the very expensive new books, I wait for the price to drop and find other books to read in the interim.

    • PSUBill80
      June 11, 2019 at 1:28 pm

      When I got my Kindle, a lot of the classics were available for free in the Kindle store. If you're paying for them there, either you need to look at a different edition or Project Gutenberg (as you said).

  12. MarkM
    February 9, 2019 at 1:12 am

    Bottom line, using the author's numbers, 70% of the suggested list price on a hardback never make it back to the publisher and author - 50% for retail, 10% for distribution and 10% for production costs. Provided the book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99, that 70% gets reduced to 30% for the ebook. On the example $25 suggested list price hardback, the publisher and author would make only slightly less if they priced the ebook at $9.99 per copy ($7.50/copy versus $6.993/copy ... and the above analysis ignored the capital costs associated with printing the book upfront as well as any return costs). Net, net, the $9.99 ebook price is very sustainable for the publishers.

  13. LMHill
    December 8, 2018 at 8:37 pm

    I had an original Nook device when the ebook trend first started. I chose nook over Kindle because nook had the option of lending the books to other nook owners. My grandmother and I were fast readers and we would read and switch books, so I bought her a nook as well so we could share, plus she was house bound so it was easy for her to access new books. Within a year of purchasing the nooks, the lending option was gone. The price of ebooks has increased, and I remember one of the main draws for purchasing an ereader was that the ebooks were cheaper. I think publishers are setting the prices high because people are lazy and will pay it, not because they won't make profit if they set the price lower.

  14. Lynn Lanning
    March 28, 2018 at 4:12 am

    I won't pay more for an ebook than I would for the physical book. As much of my reading is of the mystery-thriller genre, that means I won't pay more than the paperback price of the book. I've got a long list of books I'll buy if the price becomes reasonable. Some have been on the list for years. There are some I prefer to listen to, and I like to buy the audio CD sets for those. I'll pay whatever those cost, up to a point (which varies by how much I want a particular book). But most of my reading is now on my Kindle, and I'm finding plenty of lower price offers while I wait for prices to drop on my list.

  15. Lee Keyes
    March 12, 2018 at 12:50 pm

    I believe the answer is hogwash. If you factor in printing, handling, and shipping the paperback or hardcover book cost appreciably more to get to the consumer. Also this book can be shared and resold. Kindle books are finite. To share them you either have to give someone your account information or shre your device. In my opinion they are more expensive because they have niche audience and are taking advantage of it.

  16. Jacqueline Johnson
    March 6, 2018 at 11:31 pm

    As an adult on-set epileptic who can now only read digital material, I have found this practice to be discriminatory. No, I have not complained, but my reading is now limited. I can no longer look for books at yard sales or used bookstores. The library is a still great for resource materials, but fictional ebooks by popular authors is sorely lacking, nearly non-existent. In order to continue reading anything longer than a short newspaper article without having a seizure, an e-reader was a necessity and not a convenience. The high price tags make it difficult. Sure, I could stop reading altogether, but recreational reading as well as keeping up with what they are doing in neurology, any medical discoveries for epilepsy is a good thing. Although the brain is not a muscle, it does need exercise.

    • Lillian O'Malley
      June 12, 2019 at 3:48 pm

      https://www.overdrive.com/ is a free digital source of e-books. It is available through most libraries and the only thing you need to access it is a library card from your local library. They have a free app called Libby that lets you download free material on phones and tablets and on your pc too. I don't know if it is available on Kindle or Nook or Kobo. Most libraries have this resource as well as audio books. Some of the most recent popular books are handled the same way as the physical circulating library books in that you may have to get in line to read them, but most older recent books are available immediately. The catalogue contains fiction, nonfiction, magazines and other sources of reading material. I think they have books that they may charge for, but that is only if it is not in their own catalogue. Almost everything is free to you and your mother assuming you have a way to get a library card. Know that there may be a 3 week period to read a book, before you have to either renew a book or return it, just the same rules as a regular library card. You can do it all online and by telephone. Some charge a $2 fee for just the library card but many don't. Phone your local library or look at your local library online. They now have an amazing reading selection for every almost every disability. You can rent movies and music and other sources such as audio books and for those they will supply the player, but for that you have to go into the library yourself and be able to return the audiobooks like a regular physical book on loan. I don't think you get to keep the copy of the books on Libby as permanent though. Most libraries have a mobile library that will deliver books and movies and music cd's to you if you are disabled. You would have to ask the librarian. Good luck and healing to you.

  17. Clifford Blizard
    December 19, 2017 at 5:35 pm

    One issue missing from the discussion is the problem that ebooks often cannot be loaned. Physical books have a huge advantage in that they can be passed along to others. Then there is the natural discount for most used books, often to a small fraction of the original price. A book might be $19 as a Kindle ebook, $15 as a paperback, and $3 as a condition very good used hardcover.

  18. L. Howard
    December 1, 2017 at 8:42 am

    Currently on Amazon the ebook for the Great Gatsby is $12. The paperback is $5. It's completely outrageous.

    When you say 'people pay for convenience', remember that at the same time publishers are getting access to a larger market; more people are buying their books, and they ought to reflect that in the ebook price.

    But, they realize that to lower the ebook price devalues their already inflated IP from physical books so they keep the prices high.

  19. Laurence Goldman
    October 8, 2017 at 9:55 pm

    What bullshit.

    • D Booth
      January 9, 2018 at 1:11 am

      Not

  20. Laurence Goldman
    October 8, 2017 at 9:54 pm

    what bullshit

  21. Lynn
    August 21, 2017 at 10:51 pm

    Unfortunately, I have no choice in the matter. I am legally blind and can only read books in ebook form, as I can change the font size, font type, and contrast to enable me to read (I find white on black much easier than white on black). Personally, I feel publishers are discriminating against people with certain disabilities with the current ebook pricing, as some people can ONLY read the ebook form.

  22. James L.
    July 28, 2017 at 12:41 am

    I have to agree with Lee for the most part. Except for a very few favorite authors, I refuse to pay the high price of ebooks from large publishing houses. Ebooks come with some pretty severe drawbacks. Most of them require a dedicated (and different reader) from each bookseller. Most of the readers are horrible, the best I have run into is Kindle and except on their own PaperInk models the applications are horrible on all the various devices. Therefore, unless you are willing to be locked into a particular bookseller you can't combine your libraries easily.

    This also gives them captive markets and allows them to charge roughly whatever they want and basically price fix. I read four to six books a week which makes that few dollars of difference per book add up very quickly. The fact that the publishing houses weren't satisfied with 50% of the price of a book and have upped that number to 70% and also deprived the booksellers of the choice of how to use their 30% just highlights the problem.

    • Lynn
      August 21, 2017 at 10:55 pm

      One of the reasons I like iPads better than the other ereaders even though they cost more. I've found an app for every ebook retailer I use. Now if only the price of ebooks would get more reasonable so I can actually AFFORD them, as I can ONLY read books in ebook form!

  23. Lee Butler
    July 22, 2017 at 8:42 pm

    There are to many great authors selling their books a $5.99 or less. I have stopped buying books from the big authors. I refuse to pay more for an ebook than a paperback.