WTF, Amazon. What The (Price) Fix?

Hi Amazon,

I love to read, and so it should come as no surprise that I am a huge fan of your Kindle. It’s wonderful: it’s portable, I can load it with thousands of books, and the battery life is amazing. It’s the device that every reader should seriously consider.

However, here’s what I am not in love with: the ridiculousness of e-books in your store.

I understand that e-books may or may not be cheaper than the paper versions, for whatever reason, but people have to feed their families. I understand.

What I don’t understand is, what the heck are you trying to pull with us loyal customers?

Background: I am in the middle of reading this amazing series, The Malazan Book of the Fallen by Steven Erikson, and I just finished book seven: Reaper’s Gale. Despite being the longest series I have ever read, the books have managed to keep me captivated thus far and I was very excited to start the next in the series, Toll the Hounds.

There was a link, at the end of the Kindle version of Reaper’s Gale, to go buy Toll the Hounds in the store, so I clicked on it and noted the price for the book was $12.65. Wanting to make sure that the price was correct, I go to my computer and look at the listing, and I can confirm that it is the same price.

Oh okay, everything checked out.

However, I am a rather cautious fellow. I opened up Incognito mode in Chrome and Googled ‘amazon toll the hounds kindle’ and… what’s this?

Hold on, why was there an option that I was never shown? Why was it significantly cheaper than the one shown to me, someone who has bought 48 e-books in the past year and a half that I have owned my Kindle?

Here are the key differences between the two listings:

  • Cover Image
  • Publication Date

They are virtually the same otherwise. Just to prove it, I sent myself a sample of the more expensive version after I bought the cheaper, older version. Older version on the left, newer version on the right.

Can you spot the actual difference? Yup, the font.

So Amazon, please answer me this: as a loyal customer, why would you want to sour my experience with this practice?

UPDATE: It was pointed out on Reddit that, in the area that shows all of the different types of mediums that the book is purchasable on (Kindle, Hardcover, Mass Market, etc), you can click on the plus sign next to the medium type to get an expanded list for that particular medium.

As I responded on Reddit, I consider myself rather technically capable and observant, and I still had no idea that existed. Now you know!

  • Vildiur

    Hi, I saw this posted on reddit and did a little search of my own. I get two different books too, but both of them are priced $13.21. So there is a third price apparently…

  • Joeblough

    Went to Reddit for the boobs…left with a hatred of Amazon’s shady pricing practices.

  • http://twitter.com/thDigitalReader Nate the great

     Amazon didn’t link you to the more expensive book. The publisher did.

    And that more expensive copy is now priced at $10.

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    I realize that the publishers are doing this, and in fact, they’re showing different pricing across the board. Vildiur in a comment here two hours ago said he sees $13.21, meanwhile top comment on Reddit says the two are $0.50 apart.

    I still see it at $12.62, for the record!

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    I feel terrible that I took you away from boobs. May I point you toward r/nsfw? :)

    Thanks for reading!

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    I think they’re showing different prices everywhere. Possibly geographically segmented. You don’t see a $9.49 version at all?

  • http://twitter.com/thDigitalReader Nate the great

     Press F5 to refresh your browser. It’s now showing up for a number of twitter users as $9.49 and $10.

    And to be honest I’m surprised that you’d buy an ebook from your Kindle. I haven’t found the on-device ebookstore to be usable.

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    I am still seeing $12.62, regardless of refresh or incognito. I believe it’s because I am Canadian. :(

    I actually only do it for this series, because they link me to the next one automatically and it’s convenient enough to use! Most of the time I browse and buy on a desktop OS though.

  • http://dilsplace.net Dilpickle1

    I see $9.99 and when I click the + to expand I see the older $9.49 book. 

  • Patrick Dura

    Just tried from France.
    Two different prices for the exact same book.
    Right : normal mode / Left : Incognito mode

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    Whoa! Now that’s not right, at least my prices stayed the same with the same book.

    Do you have any other books where you’ve noticed this happening?

  • Simonas

    If you have had clicked a small [+] icon near Kindle Edition, you would have gotten an older edition as well.

  • Guest

    These cases are generally not intentional, and a result as an error in Amazon’s de-dupe system. If you contact customer service about it, they should take care of you and fix any errors.

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    I don’t think it would run afoul of the de-dupe system, other commenters on here, Reddit, and Hacker News have pointed out that they’re from different publishers!

    Just the game they play, I guess.

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    Yup! Updated the post to reflect that fact, but it didn’t seem evident to begin with. I had no idea you could do that, and I would hate to think of how many other people don’t know that either.

  • Vildiur

     No, not at all. I’m from Sweden, so it seems to be a geography thing too

  • ProGrammar

    One factor in the price difference is taxes. 

    Take a look at the first screenshot and notice that it states “includes applicable taxes”.  I am not sure if you were logged in when the first screenshot was taken or if Amazon might be using geolocation to get an estimate of the taxes that would be owed, but either way, the taxes are being added in.  The second screenshot does not mention taxes, so we can assume that they are not being added in.

    Another factor is publisher-set prices. 

    Again in the first screenshot we see “This price was set by the publisher.”  The second screenshot does not have that phrase.  Furthermore, the expanded listing of prices shows the cheaper prices as the “Amazon price”, whereas the more expensive prices is simply “New from”, suggesting that the price was not set by Amazon.

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    In regards to taxes, I would just like to say that the price of both remained the same regardless of logged in or logged out, so I don’t think taxes play a huge role.

    As for the publisher set prices, I agree. It’s definitely set by the publishers, and it makes me sad that they have this kind of effect on prices!

  • http://www.jonlim.ca/ Jon Lim

    Definitely. They don’t seem to like anyone outside of America haha.

  • ProGrammar

    Taxes:  Amazon may be using geolocation to estimate the taxes.  Does the “includes applicable taxes” phrase still appear when you are logged out?

    Publisher-set prices:  As a Kindle owner, I personally hope that the DoJ lawsuit against the publishers and Apple is successful.  (http://www.webpronews.com/macmillan-ceo-john-sargent-responds-to-doj-lawsuit-2012-04)  I don’t think that the Agency Model itself is an illegal way to price books, but the “Most Favored Nation” clause of the contracts that eliminates price competition is definitely illegal and undermines the free market.  

    I believe that Apple suggested the Agency Model to all of the publishers involved in order to help Apple make a beachhead in the ebook market and stifle the growth of ebooks so that the publishers could preserve their profits in the paper book market despite consumer demand for ebooks.  I do not think that Amazon is a ebook monopolist since there is competition in the Nook and other e-reader devices.  Amazon has simply been the most successful in building and marketing the e-reading experience to consumers.  Sony had e-readers out years before the first Kindle, but no one cared.  Similarly, Steve Jobs dismissed the Kindle when it first came out saying that no one reads anymore.  Only after Amazon entered the market and grew consumer interest, did Apple change its mind and publishers started to realize that consumers might want more than the paper books they were selling.

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