E-books should be faster, and cost more

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If book publishers could build a time machine and prevent the e-book from being invented, they probably would. But they can't, so instead they're stuck with finding ways to defuse the new technology's potentially fearsome impact on their business model -- even it it means antagonizing some readers.

Their newest idea is to delay the release of a given title's electronic version until the hardcover edition has been on sale for at least a few weeks or months. Sourcebooks, an independent publisher, is withholding the e-copy of a much-anticipated young adult novel, Bran Hambric: The Farfield Curse, for at least six months, and new books due out this fall from Da Vinci Code author Dan Brown and Sen. Ted Kennedy may get similar treatment.
Steering readers away from e-copies towards hardcovers carries a big payoff for publishers: A new hardcover usually costs $25 or more, versus $9.99 for an e-book. And publishers can claim, with some justification, that the practice of using staggered release windows isn't unprecedented: Movie studios never sell DVDs until a film's out of theaters.

But books aren't quite the same. An e-book consumer has likely already invested $299 in a Kindle; he's not going to be gulled into paying an extra $15 to $25 for a product that's less portable than the one he really wants, and shouldn't be expected to.

The real problem here is with the retailers. Amazon and Barnes & Noble are insisting on selling e-books at a loss in hopes of establishing permanent dominant market share. Publishers hate this regime, fearing its long-term effect on pricing power. With no control over pricing, they're left with little choice but to monkey around with the one variable they can influence: timing. If publishers could set the prices for their own titles, they wouldn't be tempted to create an artificial scarcity that ultimately hurts themselves, the retailers and the readers.
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