Book Prices, Redux

The Kindle edition of Alan Dershowitz’s book, Is There a Right to Remain Silent? Coercive Interrogation and the Fifth Amendment after 9/11, is a steal at $1.24. $1.24! This is amazing considering what a good book this is. Content aside, other factors about the book indicate that it should’ve been priced higher: its author, Alan Dershowitz, is a superstar academic and trial lawyer. He’s the Felix Frankfurter Professor of Law at Harvard Law School and the author of “more than 100 articles in magazines and journals such as The New York Times Magazine, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal” and “7 fiction and non-fiction works with a worldwide audience”. Perhaps more famously, he’s also the (successful) defense lawyer for Claus von Bülow. This is such a famous case that Dershowitz’s account of his involvement has been made into a Hollywood movie starring Glenn Close and Jeremy Irons. (Check out the trailer for the movie here.)

In addition to Dershowitz being a big-name author, this particular book is part of the prestigious Inalienable Rights Series. As you may recall, I’ve written a post on another book in that series that I thought expensive (partially) for being part of a premium brand name. Yet, here is Dershowitz’s book selling for $1.24 in electronic format.

What explains this incredible deal? A relevant fact is that a new copy of the book in hardcover is also selling for the unbelievable price of $1.30. This may explain the $1.24 price of the electronic version in two ways. First, the cheap hardback may the the reason why the e-book is so cheap. However, I don’t think that a cheap p-book always translates into cheaper prices for the e-version. I’ve mentioned before that Amazon has bargain book sales whereby only the print copies are heavily discounted, with the result that the e-books now routinely exceed the remaindered p-versions in price. Alternatively, it could be that there is a third factor driving down the cost of Dershowitz’s book in both electronic and paper format. Although this third factor is not obvious to me — Is There a Right to Remain Silent? isn’t out of date, having been published in 2008, and none of Dershowitz’s other books are priced so low — it cannot be ruled out. For instance, the book price may be set by robo pricing, in which case reason or rhyme is more difficult to discern.

My little pet theory for why this e-book is so cheap is that it’s is so badly formatted. While the print version looks as well typeset as all the other books in the series, the e-version of Is There a Right to Remain Silent? is a mess. The font is some kind of ugly typewriter font; the alignment is inexplicably set to justify so that the spaces between the words are uneven and jarringly too big in many places. The table of contents does not link to the content; there’s no way to skip from one chapter to the next without going through all the individual pages. The footnotes are completely missing in the text itself,  leaving the notes section without precedent. There are no page numbers; the typeface cannot be adjusted; there are smudges on the page, unwarranted hyphenation,  and so on and so forth.

It seems the case then that this e-book, instead of being the product of a document properly marked up in XML, is a scanned, OCRed copy of the paper book. It’s not a pretty e-book, and although it’s a great book, it’s a cheap book. Of course, if the poor formatting explains the low price, then this only pushes the question one step back. Why is the formatting so poor? Thoughts?

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One Response to Book Prices, Redux

  1. After some sleuthing, I now think that Dershowitz’s ebook looks so poorly because it’s in HTMLZ format. This makes my hypothesis from before . . . completely wrong. Sorry for that, folks!

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