1. that too-cheap ebooks (i.e., full-on novels for less than $5.00) promote an idea of books as disposable entertainments; but,
2. that cheap ebooks can provide a kind of “advertising” for a small publisher like Open Letter, helping move people up the ladder to the $13.00 paperbacks
I do think there’s something to the idea of ereaders promoting an idea of books as disposable, though I don’t think it’s overly related to price. My own take is that our culture is sufficiently awash in remainders, garage sales, huge library booksales, used mass market paperbacks, etc, that we’re already rather comfortable with getting a real book for $1.00 or $2.00. Sure, 99 cent ebooks with further promulgate this idea, but I think it was already pretty fixed in the mind of your average book lover pre-ebook.
But then there’s the actual ebook product, something I’ve discussed on this site before. As much as I’ve gotten used to reading books electronically, I just can’t get my brain to consider it an ebook a real book. If I really like an ebook that I’ve read, I’ll want to go out and buy a “real” copy. It’s interesting to note that I don’t have this same kind of dichotomy with bound galleys and finished books (even though, theoretically, the galley isn’t actually a “real” book since there will be subtle differences between it and the finalized, printed book). Clearly, to me, this is something to do with having a printed thing to read versus having a bunch of computer code that will be displayed as a book in the presence of a certain device.
But anyway, I think Chad’s idea of using ebooks as loss leaders sounds about right, and I like how it essentially gives primacy to the printed book as the final repository of value, both for a reader and for a publisher. Maybe in the end low prices will be what saves us from a world without printed books.