Thursday, April 8, 2010

E-Book Ethics

This week on the internet:

Controversial post from The Ethicist, followed by some interesting points on both sides, notably by Nathan Bransford and John Scalzi.

My take:

I think part of the controversy is about what you are paying for when you buy a book.  Are you buying a product or are you buying the content in the product?

Those arguing for a full payment for each version of the book that you buy are often arguing the product approach: it's a separate product each time; each product has production costs; each product is unique.

Those arguing for a free e-book version after buying a hardback or paperback are often arguing the content approach: they are the same words regardless of version; if you're buying the right to read those words, does it matter what version you read them in?

I've also seen a few people who are looking for a middle ground: buy a hardback or paperback copy and get the e-book at a reduced cost.  I think if the author and all the other people involved in producing the book are amenable to this it isn't a terrible idea.  If they are willing to give you the e-book for the cost of production (which it would appear is more than nothing), perhaps even the cost of production plus a little something but still less than the original cost, then that's probably a good compromise.

Perhaps some books could come with a cd or website code or something along those lines (tucked away and sealed so you would know if somebody has tampered with the book) that would contain access to an e-book version.  And those books could be sold at a price higher than the plain book but lower than the price of that copy and the e-book copy combined.


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  2. I think of books as products, but I would argue that hardcovers are a "luxury" item and as such should have value-adds. If you buy a hardcover version of a book I think you should get a voucher for a digital copy as well. I don't think publishers would lose too much money doing that, and people might buy more hardcovers.

    If you buy paperback, the price should be close enough to a digital version to warrant not getting a freebie.