How much is an ebook worth?

A book reviewers review of the Kindle

There are a number of debates going on around the internet at the moment about the ebook market and how people's perceptions differ regarding the actual value of an ebook. In essence the actual media that a book resides on shouldn't effect it's true value, it's the actual content that matters, the slice of life that the author has invested in their creation. This is explained very well by Lee of Angry Robot Books.

There is however a general perception that electronic media is less valuable than it's physical counterpart and there are a number of good reasons for this.

The first, and probably the biggest reason is that the music, film and software industry has been convincing us for years that when we purchase anything in an electronic media we are paying for a "licence to use" rather than the ownership of a copy. This has in the past extended to ebooks, most notably when Amazon removed George Orwells books from customers Kindle's without prior warning back in 2009.

Amazon's reason was that they were added to it's store by a company that did not have rights to them. It would be inconceivable to imagine that this could happen with physical copies of books, being removed from people's homes across the country.

Until this perception changes any digital version is always going to have a lower perceived value.

Another reason for this perception stems from the widely held belief that anything on the internet should be free, and while people do accept that e-commerce is a viable entity it is still stuck in the back of people's minds when they think of electronic media. One way that retailers like Amazon and Apple try to overcome this by allowing their devices to connect directly to the store and bypassing any visible connection to the internet.

One of the main issues here is the sheer number of torrent sites that host illegal copies of ebooks, and ironically the biggest advertiser (albeit unintentionally) is the search goliath Google. Do a search for any popular work of fiction and the chances are you will see tons of torrent sites in the search results, so much so that the first page of results can be dominated by these illegal websites. As an example a reader enquired the other day if the popular fantasy series "The death Gate Cycle" were available as ebooks, not knowing myself I did a quick search on Google using the term "death gate cycle ebook" the results are staggering with the top 5 being torrent sites and out of the 10 results only 2 appear legitimate websites.

When the biggest internet company in the world shows results like this it can only bring harm to an ebooks perceived value.

Lastly there is also the very simple fact that we human's are still very much tactile animal's, we see value in the physical, a nicely sleeved hardback book with an attractive cover all adds to this. We also use more senses than we reaslise when making the most simple of judgements, despite the adage never judge a book by it's cover - we do, at the very least as a first impression and subconsciously. Then there is the smell of books, as the natural chemical's bound within the paper are naturally released over time books develop the faint vanilla / grass smell which makes second hand book shops and libraries so naturally relaxing places.

Personally I love my Kindle and read just as many ebooks as I do physical books but I also haven't stopped buying (even now I am trying to avoid using the term "real") paper books and do so with the same volume I always have. Will this change in the future? only if I run out of room and can't physically store any more...