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Pricing Dan Brown's The Lost Symbol and other ebooks

The growing popularity of e-books has complicated some major decisions for publishers: setting a book's price and release date. The first big test was the upcoming release of Dan Brown's "The Lost Symbol." Read Streeter and author Gail Farrelly, wrote this guest post on the topic:

Communications guru Marshall McLuhan died in 1980, but his mantra, "The medium is the message," discussed in Understanding Media (1964) lives on. That phrase popped into my head recently when I read that publishers were thinking that perhaps the lower price tag for an ebook warranted a delayed release date.

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What? No way. Don't publishers know that "the medium is still the message"? The medium of ebooks is one that emphasizes the immediate. Instant gratification is the name of the ebook game. Do publishers really think that ebook owners, having shelled out quite a few dollars for an electronic device, will now be eager to buy expensive hardcovers because the ebooks are not available in a timely fashion?

I don't think so. Nor will these customers wait passively for dated ebooks to be released. More likely, they will simply move on to the wares of publishers who make ebooks available at the same time as the printed ones.

In July, The New York Times reported, "No topic is more hotly debated in book circles at the moment than the timing, pricing and ultimate impact of e-books on the financial health of publishers and retailers." When that article was published, the release date for the "The Lost Symbol" ebook had not yet been announced. Security as well as pricing concerns were at issue, according to Suzanne Herz, a spokeswoman for Knopf Doubleday, the book's publisher.

By August 13, Knopf Doubleday had made it's decision, announcing that "The Lost Symbol" ebook will be released on Sept. 15, the same day as the hardcover. The Amazon Kindle price will be $9.99, the standard Kindle price for a bestseller. Whew! Score one for ebook readers.

This issue shows that publishers and a bookseller like Amazon are dependent on each other. Who wants a Kindle if it doesn't give you immediate access to the latest books? To choose to buy a print book is one thing. To be pressured into it because the ebook simply isn't available is another. By the same token, if most bestsellers are available "instantly" on the Kindle, who needs to buy the works of a publisher withholding such books until they are yesterday's news?

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