Tuesday, 2 November 2010

Publishers price fixing for ebooks

Yesterday a group of big publishers started to put into practice what they call 'Agency pricing' of ebooks. This means that retailers are no longer allowed to discount the price they decide to charge. Amazon has reacted by adding the tag This price was set by the publisher below agency prices - though it's also easy to identify these books by their higher price usually ending in 99p.

When this happened in America, sales of those books fell. The same will happen here. Publishers are okay with this, as they think that if the dead tree book is cheaper, readers will buy that, which suits them just fine. They are comfortable with the status quo. They'd really, in their heart of hearts, prefer ebooks to go away.

However, what they are leaving out of the equation is piracy - the illegal downloading of ebooks free from the internet. Right now, you have to search to find the book you want, but as more Kindles sell in this country, it will become as easy as downloading a film or music is today. (Not sure how to do it? Ask any teenager.) Kindle owners don't want to buy the paperback, they want the Kindle version. And they get annoyed if they feel they are being ripped off, particularly when they have paid £149 for the Kindle in the first place.

Caroline P said on the Kindle forum: I can't believe I'm saying this... because I have never ever downloaded files illegally. Not even once. And now I'm considering it. Because if publishers want to rip ME off, maybe it's not so wrong to rip them off?

I have to say I'm watching the publishing industry shoot itself in the foot with some enjoyment. Their loss is my gain, and the gain of any independent with a realistically-priced ebook to sell.

*See also the Bookseller's article.


  1. How confusing. So it's as if the book pricing agreement is back, but not? The one good thing is that every time I click on your blog, your Amazon rank has gone up!

  2. Lol! My ranking bobs about a bit.

    I think the publishers have a clear idea of what they want to happen, and the reasons for Agency Pricing; but there's that elephant in the room called Piracy, and he's not going to go away...

  3. "Caroline P said on the Kindle forum: I can't believe I'm saying this... because I have never ever downloaded files illegally. Not even once. And now I'm considering it. Because if publishers want to rip ME off, maybe it's not so wrong to rip them off?"

    But you're also ripping the author off. Bad form.

    I don't think this will help indie authors who e-publish. It will hurt them as it may well put people off buying an e-reader in the first place.

    I was thinking of buying a Kindle, but I'm not prepared to pay close to or more than the paper version of books, so I won't bother with the Kindle after all.

    Perhaps e-readers will end up going the way of Betamax or other technologies which failed to live up to their initial promise?

  4. Anon, trust me, ereaders are here to stay.

    They are ideal for students who are moving around and so don't want to lug heavy books, brilliant for anyone wanting to read on holiday or in hospital, and useful for an ageing population, who like being able to increase the text size to suit their eyesight.

    Publishers need to deal with it. Betamax didn't make it, but we all watched videos till DVDs came in.

  5. Ebook sales get bigger all the time. The publishers need to sort their act out or they'll go the way of the dinosaurs. Meanwhile, the situation can only be good for authors, since big business is losing its near-monopoly.

  6. Robert, I think you're right about it being good for authors. Amazon Kindle store provides the nearest we are likely to get to a level playing field where indies can compete with big publishers for readers.

  7. I think it will be your gain, because some books I just won't buy because they're too dear. I'll buy books like yours instead!

  8. FH, I'd better hurry up the WIP.

    Should you be commenting here? Shouldn't you be tapping away furiously for NaNoWriMo?

  9. I'm done for the day. With the CFS I have to pace myself (as I found out yesterday by not doing that!). So I'm doing half hour stints, and when I hit 2,000 I'm stopping. And I have so I did.

  10. Well I'm impressed. Pour yourself a large one and drink to a good day's writing.


  11. It's not just the Kindle. There's Sony, Kobo and others and of course the Ipad, plus the fact that you can get a Kindle app for the Iphone. I read as many books with that on my phone now as I do in paper.
    The problem that the paper publishers have is, I guess, a pile of costs embedded in publishing machinery and a history of know how, of sorts, in advertising ect. I don't think anyone knows how all that works on the web. We've discussed before the way the industry changed by off shoring some functions to agents but this now feels like a real game changer - or disruptive technology, to use the management jargon. (I'm teaching management on a masters course all week),
    I still can't quite decide whether to buy an Ipad or a Kindle. Do I want to listen to music while I read?

  12. Rod, in theory I sell Remix for all those other ereaders via Smashwords, but the sales are titchy compared to my Kindle sales. So my very subjective opinion is that the Kindle will emerge triumphant.

    People do seem to love their Kindles once they have them. An Ipad doesn't have virtual ink, does it? And the screen is tiny.

  13. I wouldn't be too sure about Kindle's triumph in this ereader revolution, although they will certainly remain an enormous player. The limitation of their proprietary format and what is actually a much smaller number of available books compared to say, Barnes and Noble or even Kobo (although it must be said that much of what is available on Kobo is of dubious quality as far as how the text looks on the reader.) Although Amazon offers applications for iPads and a lot of other machines, including the good ol' laptop computer, other retailers have it over them when it comes to compatibility and even things like being able to "borrow" ebooks from libraries. I imagine Amazon is working on it, and they are no doubt a determined giant in the marketplace, but I doubt they will shove everyone else out.

    I know my sales are a fraction of yours so far, but I am very glad Boomerang is available through Barnes and Noble, as it has gotten close to 200 sales through them in just the past four months. That is slightly higher than what I've had at Amazon during the same period.

  14. Alan, you didn't declare an interest in that you are a happy Nook owner. I'm not sure the Nook is available over here (I've just checked and it isn't). That really leaves the iPad and the Kindle - and if you want a dedicated ereader in the UK, right now it's the Kindle.

    Not that I'm an expert, owning neither a Nook nor a Kindle...

  15. Yes, I do have a nook and very much enjoy it. Although I doubt that the fact I own one has contributed to Boomerang's modest success at B&N. I'm just glad that no matter where someone likes to do their ebook shopping, they can get a copy of my book. Amazon is great, but I would not do as some and limit the distribution of my book to Amazon alone.

  16. And I just had a look: Remix must have sold at least a few copies at B&N so far. Every reader is precious, and you never know which one(s) will go out of their way to tell others about their latest discovery and thus lead to more sales!

  17. I've just checked, and the only Smashwords sales of Remix are from Smashwords. All the other outlets are (why, why?) at zero.

    It's true I haven't done any promoting geered towards those buyers, so they probably don't know my book exists.

  18. Sales reporting from the other retailers can lag quite a bit. It's not nearly as bad as reporting from traditional publisher for Dead Tree Books (I just got my report for Jan-Jun for the paperback of Boomerang), but for anyone who loves the nearly instantaneous reporting with Amazon it can be a bit frustrating. You wouldn't have a ranking on B&N if you hadn't sold anything there yet. Boomerang has been hovering around 28,000 to 32,000 for a couple of months, which from what I can tell translates to between one and three sales a day. Not Remix numbers, but I'll take it!

  19. Apparently I can't spell 'geared'. Dear me.

    Thanks for the info. I have little faith that I'll ever see my dollar earnings - it all seems a bit notional. Not sure they've worked out a way to send them over here.

  20. I haven't researched much at all about the e-book road yet . . . so I am relying on you to correct me. You mention piracy . . . is it not just as possible to pirate an independently produced piece like Remix as it is one that is mainstream published but available in e-book?

  21. Yes; but my feeling is it's much less likely to happen to an unknown author. People are looking for books and writers they have heard of. Also, if a book costs less than a pound, there is a smaller incentive to buy an illegal copy - you're not saving much.

    Having said which, in the eighties my jewellery designs were ripped off a lot, and who has heard of Lexi Dick Jeweller? But the desirability of a dragon ring is easier to assess than that of a novel.