“It is easy to give up something if you are
failing, [but] almost impossible to do if you are almost succeeding.”
— Julian Fellowes, Snobs
As we saw in the recent Department of Justice antitrust lawsuit against five major publishers for their alleged collusive price-fixing of e-books (all five publishing companies have chosen to settle out of court), publishers have been keen to keep e-book prices high or drive them higher.
“According to publishers,” TechCrunch says in an article dated April 5, 2013, “the $9.99 standard [e-book retail price] created with the introduction of the first Kindle is not enough for newly released bestsellers.”
This same article reiterates a rumor I’ve heard ever since the proposed Penguin merger with Random House was announced some months ago, namely that the union will provide leverage for the massive new house to negotiate the retail prices of its e-books. Romain Dillet’s TechCrunch piece concludes: “If Penguin Random House threatens to remove its entire catalog from the Kindle Store, Amazon will have no choice but to agree to higher prices again.”
If so, I predict this would be an unwise use of the publisher’s newfound giganticness. (Why don’t they ask my opinion? Why? Why?)
In an April 16th article titled “The e-book Pricing Sweet Spot,” Digital Book World’s analysis of e-book sales found that the current ideal price point for an e-book is $4–$8. Two weeks earlier, a similar piece in DBW found $3–$8 the most popular range. “Ideal” and “popular” from the perspective of the consumers who buy e-books, that is.
The traditionally published e-books of novels released straight to mass market paperback tend to be priced the same as their mmpb editions ($6.99–$8.99), so many of them are in that “sweet spot” range. But who prices e-books above $8? With very few exceptions, only traditional publishers, not “indie” writers.
Who occupies most of the range that lies below $8? Writers who self-publish and set their own prices.
So if book consumers are veering en masse toward a price range of $4–$8 (or $3–$8), that gives selfpublishers a competitive advantage over publishing corporations that are pricing so much of their stock above that range.
Now, obviously, whether or not you want to read a book, rather than its cover price, is what determines your interest in buying it. But price plays a role in book purchasing decisions, as in all other things. Most readers selectively reserve their hardcover purchases for favorite authors and “keepers.” Paperback print runs are comparatively larger than hardcover print runs because more readers choose to purchase the less expensive format. DBW’s articles on the “sweet spot” for pricing suggest to me that similar decisions play a role in digital purchases; $8-and-below is evidently the range in which it’s easy to decide to buy an e-book.
Meanwhile, on April 11, Forbes described a “significant slowdown from years past” when reporting on ebook sales growth data as compiled for the year 2012 by the Association of American Publishers. Reviewing the same data, writer-editor-epublisher Dean Wesley Smith postulated on his blog that growth in indie sales, a phenomenon which lies well outside the AAP’s scope of data gathering, is a factor in this trend: