03 November 2010

The uproar over ebook prices

Much has been said about ebook pricing, particularly in recent times as Amazon is forced to move to agency pricing.  And haven't their customers revolted!  Not surprisingly - we've all been getting books at ridiculous prices.  Why would we buy hardcovers or paperbacks when they are several times the price of the ebook.  Fine, if you are like me and you want the printed work as the PREMIUM product, something to share, something to keep, something to treasure - and not a digital file!  But the US 9.99 price point did create demand.  Amazing demand.  Even at 11.99, 12.99, 14.99 the price points are still good.  Where is the balance? 

I must say ebook pricing is getting ridiculous.  The US Sony Store has Tony Blair's My Journey still available for US 9.99.  What is absolutely ridiculous however is local pricing.  Local site Readwithoutpaper.com has the book for $35.58 - that's what the local distributor has set the price at.  AU $35.58.  On the Random House Australia website the Hardback is $59.95.  The ebook is also $59.95.  Sorry guys, you know I love you but where do you think I ordered the book from?  (Yes I know, I usually order from work at staff rates but when it comes to ebooks it's a different kettle of fish).

To make matters even more confusing, ebook vendors aren't familiar with how bibliographic data works.  For all of us in the booktrade, we've had to sigh, heave, yell, scream, moan and groan over what the metadata looks like.  We've worked through 100s editions and versions of the Harry Potters and Dan Browns of this world.  It is confusing.  It's awful.  And now you're yet another victim of it.  On today's Sony newsletter I saw a book entitled Cleopatra.  For those of you that know me, I have several grand loves.  Tudor History, War of the Roses, lives of famous poets and painters, and Ancient History - particularly Egyptian.  The first thing I do is link on the title and what happens when I get into the Sony Reader Store - two different prices for the same bloody ebook. It's an EBOOK people - it's not a hardcover or a paperback.  There should be one price UNLESS the book specifically mentions an enhanced edition.  And on old Sony readers, an enhanced edition doesn't do anything.  It's an electronic reader only. 

This is just going to get worse folks.  It's bad enough having "e" and "p" prices all over the place, locally and internationally.  More mature ebook markets like the US doing crazy things, the UK market having a play, and then us not wanting to cannibilise print in any way.  it's going to happen.  The consumer will decide how they want to read.  We've seen it in the library market for years.  Library budgets for print massively cut back so they can purchase more ebooks, online databases and journals.  We've HAD to work with ebook vendors to survive.  And it does come with a cost.  Economically you operate with different margins - or not at all.

When will publishers start looking at price points, look at the readers, look at the business models, and find something that helps SELL the work - regardless of format.  Give the reader what they want - at a price suitable for the product offered.  Or lose the sale.

In industry alerts today there was an upcry when Amazon started listing the publishers ebook prices in the UK.  "Increase in piracy" "people will go elsewhere" "ban the agency publishers".  The peasants are revolting folks.  But publishers, you've only got yourselves to blame.  You got out the content to the market, played with the big boys, let them build up the demand (and where demand had never gone before!) at a price point soo unbelievable it became mainstream, then said sorry and clawed it all back. 

Personally I think the price points are way too high locally - but that goes for the printed product too.  I've been in this industry a long time and I've seen the picture from all sides.  But price it better and sell more.  Be prepared to play, be prepared to give up margin, but don't lose the sale.  Don't become irrelevant.  Adapt or die.

Oh, and try not to piss off the customer.  In the digital world, they have more power than you know.


  1. It astonishes me that local (Australian) pricing is so out of step with international pricing on eBooks. For years "they" told us that we had to pay more for print books due to the tyranny of distance but I have yet to hear any kind of excuse (let alone a vaguely credible one) for the difference in pricing on eBooks. I am prepared to accept that there is a cost of producing a book in several different e-formats but I will never believe it costs more to do that in Sydney than in New York or London.

    As for me, I'm seriously considering going the pirate route.

  2. How much flexibility do we have here in Australia to order ebooks from overseas sources? Will they work on our e readers? I have just been lucky enough to purchase an ipad will amazons ebooks work or are they exclusively for kindles only?

  3. Janine's comment was responded to privately. Am often responding to these sort of enquiries. If anyone knows a good site to refer consumers to, let me know!