eBook prices investigated

We compare prices from leading retailers to see where the cheapest eBooks can be bought

23 Nov 2011

With no pages to print, no heavy books to cart around and no shop needed to sell them, you'd expect eBooks to cost less than their printed cousins. However, there's often little between them in price. One reason for this is that, incomprehensibly, eBooks are subject to VAT (currently a whopping 20%), while printed books are not.

You might also expect that they'd be available sooner for similar reasons to those above, but the reality is somewhat disappointing. Generally speaking, you can only download an eBook on the day that the hardback equivalent lumbers into shops.

In mid-August, we took the top 10 bestseller list as compiled by Neilsen Bookscan and compared the price of each in paperback and eBook formats sold online by Amazon.co.uk, Waterstones and WH Smiths. We also compared the hardback release date against the Kindle and ePUB releases. Nine of the 10 bestsellers had been available to download on the hardback publication date, but in the case of Kathy Reichs' Spider Bones, electronic users had to wait more than 10 months after the book had appeared in shops.

eBook prices investigated

This chart summarises our investigation into the summer's best-sellers - click to enlarge

All 10 bestsellers were paperbacks with an RRP of £7.99. We weren't surprised that all three resellers discounted heavily on this, but in each case the average price of a paperback was actually lower than its electronic equivalent. Amazon was the cheapest for both formats, averaging £4.03 per paperback and £3.98 for Kindle editions. However, it's worth remembering that you can always take the cheapest of the ePUB prices, as with an ePUB reader you're free to shop around.

Interestingly there seemed little correlation between prices and editions across retailers: At WH Smiths the paperback was cheaper than an electronic edition half of the time. Amazon sold six of the bestsellers cheaper than the Kindle editions, while at Waterstones the paperback cost less in seven out of 10 cases.

Generally speaking, ePUB prices have been falling recently to meet Kindle's. Whether this continues to happen, and whether Amazon will start to raise prices once they've got enough consumers aboard their format, is very hard to say. It's certainly worth making your investigation before buying an eBook reader though, find the last five books you read and check out their availability and pricing on these sites.

You might also want to read the Ultimate Guide to eBooks and if you're considering buying a Kindle you try our Top 10: Things you should know about your Kindle.

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