A book by one of my favourite authors, Lois McMaster Bujold, has just been released as hardcover and eBook. The Hardcover retails on amazon.fr for €20.36 and amazon.com (for US readers) at $17.13. In France delivery is included in the cost, in the US it would be included if combined with any book that prods the total up above $25. In other words any $7.99 paperback will do. Also in the US the book is reported to be in stock and ready for next day delivery (though that may be a premium service).
So what you say? well this is what. Harper Collins sells the eBook direct from its own website for listed price of $19.95. In other words it costs more than the hard cover from amazon. The only people who will pay $2.82 more to buy the book electronically are the chronically impatient and those very very rare souls who actually prefer electrons to paper. Obviously this is nucking futs and no one will actually buy at that price so as soon as you click on the "buy this book" link you get to a place where it is actually sold for 20% off (i.e. a mere $15.96). But how many sales are going to be lost by the upfront sticker price? If I hadn't been investigating because I thought I'd write about this idiocy I would not have got beyond the first page, I'd have gone to hardcover then amazon and never looked any further.
Furthermore I'm still not going to buy the eBook at $15.96. I don't consider $1.17 to be a worthwhile difference between a paper price and an electronic one. In fact I don't even consider the difference between $15.96 and €20.36 (approx US $10) to be a worthwhile difference as $15.96 is still approximately the top end of prices for a paperback in the UK (at US$2 = UK£1 that is £8) and far more than the paperback price in the US. Something tells me that I will not be alone in this choice, particularly amongst people who live in the USA and who can get a paper version for a mere $1.17 more than the electronic one.
In other words Harper Collins are apparently trying to ensure that no one buys the eBook. And as if this were not enough there is more....
I thought that it might be fun to see whether there were any other flaws with the process and discovered shedloads of them. The first and most bizarre is that it turns out that Harper Collins have outsourced the eBook part of the business to a company called overdrive and have, for some unknown reason, decided that there will be UK, US, Canadian and Australian sites. And if you read the small print it seems like there may be trouble if you don't have an address in one of these countries. Although maybe not because I registered at the US site with a French address, but I'm not going to actually hit "buy" to find out if this is OK or not. What I did find "interesting" was that the list of Bujold books in the UK site was limited to Paladin of Souls. So if I'm a UK resident who prefers to pay for things in £ rather than some form of $ I'm going to be missing 5 out of 6 of the Bujold oeuvre published by Harper Collins. And umm seeing as Paladin of Souls is the sequel to Curse of Chalion the lack of the latter is particularly odd. But I digress.
In sticking to the US site I've encountered enough "we're tying to help you but you have to be a loyal microsofty" roadblocks that if one of the suits who commissioned the site were in front of me I'd be arrested for assault if not attempted murder. Harper Collins have deviced that books must be sold as DRM crippleware but they do provide you a choice of crippleware formats. Adobe PDF, Microsoft LIT or mobipocket. I decided, in my youth and innocence, to select the Microshaft reader format for my hypothetical purchase because in the past I bought a couple of .LIT books from fictionwise. However there is a problem. Microsoft's DRM scheme requires you to have an "activated" MS Reader to read the book and, which I had forgotten, also requires you to use Internet Exploder to download you crippleware. Now I've just switched computers and never installed, let alone activated, MS Reader on my new laptop so clearly I couldn't actually read the book I was pretending to purchase but I didn't see why that should stop me trying to buy the book. But it does. You see the overdrive folks attempt to see if you have MS Reader on your computer before letting you buy the book. This is almost a good thing, but not quite because the way they check involves trying to run an ActiveX control and if you use a browser other than IE this doesn't work. I use Mozilla Seamonkey, which is I admit a little obscure, but there are a lot of other people who prefer not to use IE as their browser. Taking a look at the Instapundit's blog stats I see that while about 90% of his visitors have a windows OS, less than 60% use IE (YMMV the numbers fluctuate but those limits seemed pretty consistent). Windows users who do not run IE are going to find the error screen (which says download MS Reader) to be less than helpful because you still get that screen even when Reader is up and activated (I just checked) if your browser is not IE.