Wednesday, May 17, 2006


My problem began when I realized the Australian version of the iTunes store sucks. It just doesn’t have the content that I want and can find at the American store. I had already downloaded two audio books by the time I figured out that the American store has a whole lot more of what I am looking for. For example the only George R. R. Martin book I can purchase is Skin Trade at the Australian store. Skin Trade is a short story published in Night Vision Vol. 5. While at the American store I can also get A Game of Thrones and A Clash of Kings, the first two books in his series “A Song of Ice and Fire.”

I purchased A Game of Thrones from the American store for $51.95 USD. Looking up the book on I see the cassette unabridged* audio version lists for $54.95 USD but they are offering it for $34.62 USD plus shipping. Shipping, even shipping to Australia isn’t going to make this cost more than $50 bucks!

Now according to iTunes I am only purchasing the ability to download the book once and I can only authorize a maximum of 5 computers to play it. When I bought and downloaded the book I was using my laptop in a hotel in LA after signing up for another account using a credit card with a US billing address. Now let’s suppose something happened to my laptop between there and home, tough cookies. Granted if I had bought the book either in paperback ($3.99 USD from Amazon btw) or the cassette/CD audio version and had it stolen out of my suitcase (as was the case with CD audio version of Anansi Boys by Neil Gaiman my previous trip) I would also be screwed.

So what am I paying that extra money for then? Downloading the audio version of a book cost the publisher much less money than either the print or physical recording of the audio version.

Let’s break it down:

All versions of the story have the same basic costs to the publisher: producing, editing, author’s cut, etc. Once that is done you have a collection of words that make up this story. There is also the basic cost of paying an artist to do a cover and what ever money you spend on marketing. Again no mater what version of the story you are talking about these things are exactly the same.

The print version has the cost of actually printing it; ink, paper, binding and what ever cost are incurred by running the printing press itself.

Now for the Audio version of the book there is the additional cost of recording the reader. Money paid to the voice actor, recording studio, producer, and audio technicians. I am not so naive to think that you would get anywhere near the same quality by just having your friend read the book into a mic. There is a good deal of money to be spent doing that right, but that is a one time cost. Once that part is paid for it is done. No mater how many versions of the audio version you sell you never have to pay any of that again.

For the cassette and CD version you have to get the masters to a duplication company. I don’t know the difference between how much it costs to burn a CD, record and audio tape versus a printer. I do know that burning a CD is quicker and cost a hell of lot less than making cassette versions. Somewhere in here you do have to have a printer make your package and then assemble it with the CDs or cassettes.

Then there is the real costly part, shipping. The product is shipped from the printer/package assembler to the distributor and from there to all the stores across the world. Paper books are heavy and therefore cost more to ship than either CD or cassette version. Once at the store there is a slight mark up so that the store actually makes some money. Remember they have to pay rent for the store space, pay employees to stock the shelves, man the cash register, etc. I do believe that most of the cost of the paper version of the book is taken up by how much it has cost the publisher to get it from the printer to the store.

In general the CD or cassette audio version costs more than the print version because they sell more versions of the print version. Less profit per item more profit via volume. The publisher cannot afford to take as big a risk with the audio version and I understand that. If the publisher produces 1 million copies of the story on CD and sells only several thousand he is screwed. This will change if the audio versions increase in popularity.

But now let’s compare that to the download version of the story. Download version has no printing/duplication cost. Download version has no shipping cost. The two biggest chunks of the pie have been removed. Granted there is bandwidth cost which is hardly anything per download. All that cost has been removed and yet no reduction in cost has been made. That is just plain greed on the part of the publisher. I’m not against greed. I am a capitalist. But I can’t help but wonder if all the problems the music industry is having now isn’t all related to the bad karma they generated when they started selling CDs. They charged more for CDs even through records and cassettes cost more to produce.

So back to the audio book download. As the final consumer I am paying MORE for the digital download from iTunes than I would pay for the same audio version on cassette from Amazon including shipping which cost more to make than the same audio version on CD AND I have to put up with their terms on how I am allowed to listen to the story AND I can only play it on their iTunes or iPod player AND I have nothing physical to show for my purchase nor any guarantee that if something were to happen to my computer that they wouldn’t let me re-download it. They suggest I burn my own copy onto CD for backup which I wouldn’t mind so much if they didn’t have their own proprietary audio format and convoluted directory structure that prevents me from just copy files back and forth into the iTunes directory.

I bought the collector’s edition of the PC game Halflife 2. I got the book, the crappy tshirt and a physical CD. Now I have separate issues about how I have to have the CD in the drive as well as log into Steam to play the damn game, but I do have something physical in my hands. If their company goes away I still have the CD.

If Apples goes away how would I authorize another computer to play the stuff I have downloaded from them? What if the computer I want to authorize doesn’t have net access? What if I just said fuck you Apple and went to all the hack sites out there and did what I want with the items I have purchased.

This is all brought on by the fact that I wrote an email to iTunes customer support. I don’t want to have to keep my Australian iTunes account just to be able to play the two things I purchased from Australian store. Both those items are offered from the American store. I asked to have the authorization of those two items transferred to my American store account. The nicely copy and pasted response was more than happy to point me toward the web site with their terms of service. I disagree, I paid for it and I will do with it what I like which incidentally does not include letting other people copy it because I feel that is wrong.

*You can assume I am always talking about the unabridged version of audio books unless I say otherwise.


Ramsey Piazza said...

Joseph I don't disagree with any of the points your making. You always get these ridiculous methods when companies try to maximize profits. Apple has a great product and they want to squeeze every dollar out of you. It the same thing with these strange copy protections that just make life harder on legit users. I make a decent wage I'll pay for the work of software designers. At the same token I know idiots who won't pay hack everything and use it without consequences. I can't do anything about it but I get punsihed for it. So Iif I have a range of keys I have to get up and switch disks and in the meantime people are beating the copy protections left and right. With happened to good faith and fair use.

Joseph the Fourth said...

I understand it all too. I had a 2 hour discussion with one of the neighbor kids a few years ago who was trying to convince me lend him all the games I worked on so he could copy them. He assured me this wasn't stealing.

I am just very annoyed at the moment and had to vent. I’ll probably buy the other books in George R. R. Martin’s series from iTunes because I tried to read the latest book in the series “A Feast for Crows” and since it’s been so long since I read the previous book I’m completely lost. I am right in the middle of another novel so I don’t want to try and re-read the paper versions plus I like having something to listen to at work.

Drew said...

I agree that uGotScrewed, and don't disagree with any specific point. However, pricing is one of those nasty beasts that is not as simple as you break down above.

For example, The ludicrously informative Joel Spolsky has two great articles on how pricing works. The first (Camels and Rubber Duckies) explains why the same thing costs different amounts in different places or markets, and the second (Price as Signal) talks about why even though a product may be cheaper in downloadable form (he talks iTunes specifically) you need to price in the same ballpark as the physical versions.

Of course, you mention HL2, where you have a physical CD, but I've got a physical CD for WoW too, and I expect that the day Blizzard files for Chapter 11 it'll be just as useless as your iTunes download :)

I've made my peace with the neuregime.

Drew said...

erm, link for camels and rubber duckies should have been

this one

i blame society.