At last check, Amazon is offering 272, 092 books on sale. Amazon calls these the “bargain books”, and it describes them thusly
“Bargain books are top-quality publishers overstocks and out-of-print titles that we purchase in bulk quantities and offer to our customers at deeply discounted prices. Bargain books include best-selling fiction and nonfiction, childrens books, classics, and fine illustrated books on a wide variety of subjects, including cooking, home and gardening, the arts, and more. Occasionally we also offer import editions of popular titles at great savings.
The slight mark or stamp that may be present on the edges of a bargain book’s pages is an industry’s identification that it is an overstocked book and is not to be sold at the full price. Bargain books are not used, previously-read, defective, or inferior in any way.”
So bargain books are basically remaindered books, or books that publishers have printed too many copies of, books physical retailers deem to slow-moving to keep on their expensive real estate and the publishers judge too costly to accept as returns. These particular Bargain Books found refuge with Amazon where they are offered at “great savings”.
Given the genesis of these great savings — overproduction — it’s no wonder than that the books in the bargain bins are print books and not ebooks. In fact, as the print versions go on sale, their prices regularly drop below that of the e-version.
So we have the irony that some of the chief cost advantages of e-books — that they cannot be overproduced on the extensive margin, that they cost nothing to store, that they can be “transported” for nothing except for the slight expense of electricity — have translated into higher prices for the end products. Ebooks cannot be overproduced, so there are no surplus copies to them to be remaindered. Ebooks do not need not shipped to retailers in large quantities only to be returned when they are not sold, so there is no sale copies resulting from this inefficient process. Ebooks take up no room at the stores, so retailers and publishers do not feel as acute of a need to reduce prices to move inventory more quickly.
Finally, ebooks cannot be resold as used copies, so there’s no secondary market on which to acquire them cheaply, and (some) ebook publishers have insisted on selling the books on the agency model, so retailers like Amazon have less scope for subsidizing their sales to the consumers. Although the last two factors reflect legal restrictions and broad business models rather than production costs per se, they combine to frustrate e-book bargain hunters like myself.