My bungled book boycott

My resolve never to pay more than $9.99 for an e-book lasted about a week.

Mark Lennihan/AP
"The trouble with those free Kindle book samples is that they make me just want to read the whole book right away."

I decided to take a stand while sitting in my recliner.

It was time to fight the slings and arrows of outrageous e-book pricing schemes. No longer would I pay more than $9.99 for an e- book on Kindle. No more! I'd show those greedy publishers who's boss.

My boycott lasted oh, about a week. Sigh.

Let me explain.

My fixation with e-books began last year when I downloaded free Kindle software onto my iPhone and a new world of literary pleasure appeared before my eyes. Thanks to Kindle, I can download samples of hundreds of thousands of books – typically the first chapter or two – for free. If I like what I read, I can buy the whole book.

It's like browsing through books at Borders without having to glare at the annoying people hogging the comfy chairs.

The great thing about Kindle on a smart phone is that you can read it wherever you are: in line at the store or the Department of Motor Vehicles, sitting at a diner or on an airplane. (Kindle software is also available for free for desktops, laptops, iPads – the best experience of all – and on those clunky Kindle devices.)

To my mind, the $9.99 price that Amazon prefers to charge for Kindle e-books is perfect: it's less than a typical trade paperback and much less than a hardcover, just as it should be.

After all, publishers are saving a bundle because they don't need to print the book, put it on a truck and get it to where it needs to go to be sold. And an e-book is hardly the same as a hardcover. At least for now, I can't resell an e-book, trade it for other books at a used bookstore, or donate it to the local library's book drive.

But some publishers have balked at Amazon's pricing system and jacked up their prices for e-books.

Take this year's "The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898" by Evan Thomas, for instance. With Amazon's hefty discount, the hardcover costs $19.79 instead of $29.99. The e-book is $14.99.

I might as well cough up the extra $5, buy the "War Lovers" hardcover, and reap the extra benefit of being able to give it away or sell it or keep it on my bookshelf where it might make guests think I'm extremely intelligent.

Amazon is fighting back. Last month, it posted an open letter to British customers telling them to avoid overpriced e-books: "Based on our experience setting consumer prices for many years, we know that these increases have not only frustrated readers, but have caused booksellers, publishers and authors alike to lose sales."

But the Guardian reported that at least two publishers, Penguin and Hatchette, will ignore Amazon's entreaties.

Publishers could try to explain to the public why an e-book should cost almost as much as a discounted hardcover. But so far, their arguments have been vague and weak.

So why did my bold boycott fizzle? Because sometimes I'll be impressed by a free Kindle book sample and want to read the whole book right away – now now now! – even if the e-book price is over $9.99.

Sure, I could wait a few days for an Amazon shipment or head down to Barnes & Noble and buy a hardcover at full (gah!) price. Instead, I hold my nose – and pay through it.

It turns out that boycotts aren't easy, even in an easy chair.

Randy Dotinga regularly reviews books for the Monitor.

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