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The Absurdity Of Pricing

Mark Mzyk | March 14, 2008

Today, I read Steve Yegge’s newest blog post on what you need to know for an interview at Google, should you choose to interview there (he also generalized the content, so it should be valid for almost any computer science position).

In the post, Steve mentions the book The Algorithm Design Manual.  Being the curious type, I looked the book up on Amazon.

It’s not a cheap book.  Of course, computer books, for some reason, never are.  It’s listed for $64.30 on Amazon as I write this (Hardcover, 1st Edition – 2nd Edition isn’t out yet).

Amazon also offers a Kindle version of the book.

For $57.87.

I don’t own a Kindle, so I’m not going to be buying Kindle books any time soon, but my reaction to this: Are they crazy?

Price gouging is the only explanation I can think of.  If you’ve already payed a premium for the Kindle, they figure you can pay a premium for books on it as well.

Why isn’t this book available for $15 to $20 dollars in a Kindle version?  All the production costs are eliminated with an electronic version.  I would also think that for about $20 the author can still get the same royalty while the publisher and Amazon can take their cut from what’s left and still have the same margins as with the print version.

Apple sells songs for 99 cents.  I’m not asking for books to be priced at 99 cents, but a savings of only $7 dollars for the digital version of a book is ludicrous.  Digital books will never take off until the price point falls to a reasonable level.  For a difference of a few dollars, I’ll pay the extra cash for the feel of paper between my fingers.

Technology is finally making electronic books feasible.  It isn’t technology that is holding electronic books back.  It’s the stubbornness and stupidity of humans.

To end on a somewhat related tangent: what was Amazon thinking when they named the Kindle?  I associate kindling with burning.  Did Amazon intend for me to think of burning books every time I hear the name?  Fahrenheit 451 leaps to mind.  I don’t think that is the connotation Amazon wants.

Filed in: General.


  1. Comment by richard:

    “Of course, computer books, for some reason, never are. ”

    While a novel writer/publisher might try to sell a book for $65 – few readers would buy the book because the availability of other good novels for $10-20/book are widely available – and few people “have to” read that $65 novel – as the book is read solely for enjoyment. So charging more than the going rate for a novel means very rapidly declining unit sales – means the writer/publisher make less money.

    Computer Science books address a specific field of interest compared to mass market books. So if the “The Algorithm Design Manual” costs $65 why not buy “Algorithms” by Sanjoy Dasgupta for $33 instead? BTW, “The Algorithm Design Manual” sells more copies than “Algorithms” by Sanjoy Dasgupta on Amazon (based on sales rankings)

    If “The Algorithm Design Manual” is the better book to learn from – and the book is being read for getting a degree or professional reasons the “The Algorithm Design Manual” is the better buy especially if one considers the 10-100 hours you may spend with this book. So higher book prices don’t hurt unit sales very much.

    In case you think this is a matter of “evil greed” think about this. Would you accept a accept a different job with similar working conditions, hours, people, advancement opportunities, commute, etc. – at 20% less pay? If your answer is “no” you are acting the same way as the writer/publisher of “The Algorithm Design Manual”

    March 14, 2008 @ 12:20
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    March 21, 2008 @ 00:04
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