Electronic texts and rent-seeking publishers

By Kristopher A. Nelson in

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prs300-5 Frightful Kindle | TPM:

Finally, only a few months ago, I purged a decent chunk of my collection. And most are now in storage. But in our living room we have two big inset shelves where I keep all the books I feel like I need or want ready at hand. And last night, sitting in front of them, I had this dark epiphany. How much longer are these things going to be around? Not my books, though maybe them too. But just books. Physical, paper books. The few hundred or so I was looking at suddenly seemed like they were taking up an awful lot of space, like the whole business could dealt with a lot more cleanly and efficiently, if at some moral loss.

In response Dave Hoffman writes at Concuring Opinions,

It’s certainly true that there’s something reassuring about having lots of books in a room, but I suspect Josh is right that their day is ending. And this is probably for the best. My books weigh me down: they make me less flexible about traveling, they take up space in the house, they are hugely expensive, and they are inefficient.

After noting some of the “rent-seeking” behavior of traditional publishers who justify, on the basis of problems binding large books, splitting up said books into additional volumes (and end up selling more to a captive audience), he writes, “Bring on the revolution.”

Much as I too appreciate the physicality of paper, I am quite fond of my (inherited, old) e-reader from Sony. I find myself wishing that textbook publishers would move to the format. Granted, some textbooks just work better in paper format, but after spending $140 on a single law book last quarter (cost justified, at least in part, by it’s huge size), I couldn’t help but wonder if an electronic version wouldn’t have worked much, much better.

How much of the cost goes into binding such a volume? Certainly there are editing costs, plus author payments (not huge, I’m sure), but beyond that, shouldn’t such a book in electronic form be a more reasonable $20 – $40, perhaps? I suppose publishers are scared of students simply sharing the text with other students, but honestly, set at the right price, it would be easier to buy it than share it, I suspect.

I wonder how long it will be before law books reach e-readers? Longer than it should is the only prediction I feel comfortable making.