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Indoctrinated Into Discounts: Will the Agency 5’s Gamble Payoff

Do you buy books at full retail price (no discount)

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Are you sick of the talk about pricing? It’s my current obsession, as you can see by the propensity of my midday posts to include something the topic but as it affects us within the reading community so tangibly, it’s hard NOT to be frustrated with the current state of affairs.

Here is what I believe is the publisher’s position:

1. Hardcover, specifically the sale of front list titles, form the core of the Big 6 (who in turn sell about 75-85% of the fiction market). Publishers have the highest margin per unit of sale from print hardcovers which are sold to the trade (wholesalers, booksellers, etc) at discounts of 30-60% off the list price depending on the account. Independent bookstores with low buying power get smaller discounts and wholesalers with the ability to move hundreds of thousands of copies garnering the largest discounts.

2. Digital books, perceived to be of lower value to consumers, cannot provide publishers with the same amount of overall revenue because a) the margin per unit of sale is lower (even with “agency” pricing) and b) volume cannot make up for the loss of per unit margin of sale.

e.g. While the growth of digital music purchases grow exponentially each year, the increase in volume has not made up the difference in the loss the CD market has presented to the music industry.

3. Thus, publishers believe that it should do two things:

a) slow down the rate of ebook adoption

b) increase the margin of an ebook sale

By slowing down the rate of adoption and increasing prices, the belief is that new entrants to the digital market will be less inclined to demand a $9.99 price point made popular by Amazon.   I read an article at Psychology Today that refers to this as anchoring:

At issue is the phenomenon of "anchoring," discovered by Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman. When people don't know what a fundamentally new product should cost, they are strongly influenced by the first price they encounter.

Further, any individuals pushed from the digital market back to the print market is considered a plus for publishers because the print margin is larger.

The margin under digital books was the same under the previous business model which was the same as under the print model. However, the danger publishers perceived was that

a) customers would become inculcated to the $9.99 price point and less
b) Amazon would become such a dominant force in the market that it would be able to push the retail price of a digital book lower so that Amazon would no longer be taking a loss on its discounted digital hardcovers.

I believe the first is true but the second not true. Regardless of what the price was going to be, Amazon was not going to own 75-90% of the book market much like Apple owns the digital music market. Apple and Google would be too powerful for Amazon to wholly own the digital market as it does now. In fact, this is what Random House is banking on. (As an aside, the iBooks App in the App Store is the number one free app and Kindle App is the 22nd free app for the iPad).

In any event, the publishers have decided that to forestall losses that do not resemble the music industry’s CD revenue loss is to take control of pricing and raise the prices. Remember that the digital market as of the end of 2009 was approximately 4%. It’s likely grown since that time given all the Kindles and iTouches given at Christmas time, but the publishers are banking of behavioral shifts in to their benefit. This strategy works if the following is true:

1. The change of readers’ buying habits from “buy” to “wait, rent, buy used, or pirate” represents a negligible amount (and by negligible I mean the percentage of revenue lost is of no import).

2. Some portion of the digital reading market is pushed to buy paper books.

3. The incoming market of readers are willing to buy at the higher price. I still remember the point of BISG survey was that when the digital book market increases by 1/3 at least every 6 months, publishers have an opportunity to reindoctrinate people at a different price.

Subpart 3 is what I am wondering about. Anchoring presupposes that this digital book is a new product and thus the value assigned is unknown to new entrants. However, if most readers buy at a discount and are predisposed to believe that a digital product is of less value than the physical counterpart, isn’t there already an anchor?

Most readers buy books at discount whether it is at Wal-mart, Target, Costco, grocery stores. I have heard that retail sales at national chains like BN, Borders represent sometimes as low as 5% of a front list book’s sales. Most people, the great majority of people, buy at a discount. If you are used to buying a discount in paper and then move to digital, you expect not only to get a discount but a greater one.

The perception of all digital products is that it is less costly than a tangible one. You see this in the pricing of all digital products. I think you would be hard pressed to find one digital product that is priced higher than the physical one prior to this the wholesale adoption of the Apple Model.

Subpart 3 is affected by two things. First, the public’s indoctrinated desire not to buy books at full cost. Second, the perception that any digital good must certainly cost less than the comparable physical good. No matter how many times that publishers and others tell people that there are only minor cost differentials between the creation of the physical good and the digital good, very few people believe this. The concept doesn’t match the consumer’s own reality.

I think that the publisher’s success at keeping digital prices higher than they were prior to April first depends a great deal on Subpart 3. Publishers are making a gamble here. What I perceive will be a blow to publishers is if books are replaceable. Because if individual titles are replaceable by a lower cost good offered by a publisher that allows discounting (Random House, Harlequin, Indie pubs, digital first houses), then the Agency 5 are sunk. However, if the frontlist titles are not replaceable (i.e., you have to have that Briggs/Roberts/Butcher/Brown/Sparks hardcover), then the publisher gamble might be successful.

What do you think? Is my theory all wet? Does your consumer behavior match that of the publishers? Are certain titles irreplaceable to you? Will higher ebook prices mean a difference in buying behavior?

*Sidenote, I have heard the backlist also makes up a great portion of sales, but I don’t know how much. I also think some publishers are going to be better able to whether the pricing storm. For instance, Penguin is clearly in a financial position and a publishing position to demand greater concessions from Amazon. Others in the Agency 5 may switch back to wholesale if Random House shows a nice profit and ebook sales figures continue to rise precipitously.

**Sidenote 2, my library has an express option where you can pay $1.00 per title to not wait for a copy of a new bestselling hardcover. This might be one way for libraries to raise funds and readers to have quick access to those must read titles.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She self publishes NA and contemporaries (and publishes with Berkley and Montlake) and spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com


  1. Statch
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 06:00:04

    I think it would be worthwhile to add a question to the poll to indicate how many books per year the person buys. I buy hundreds, so perhaps my answer of ‘never’ to the question about buying non-discounted books might mean something different than the person who buys less than 25, say.

  2. Elaine
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 06:04:12

    Some more about price anchoring:

  3. Tae
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 06:25:30

    I worked for a public library and we rented out bestsellers at $2 for one week. I’m not sure how much they made from that, but I do know that they actually didn’t get to keep the books – they had to return the books to the publishers after they came off the bestseller lists. We had complaints from patrons that there were always ‘rental’ books available but huge waits for the bestsellers and the explanation was that the rentals didn’t belong to the library. So … I have no idea if the library even made money from the said rentals.

  4. Stacy Boyd
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 06:28:20


    I love this point:

    This strategy works if the following is true:

    1. The change of readers' buying habits from “buy” to “wait, rent, buy used, or pirate” represents a negligible amount (and by negligible I mean the percentage of revenue lost is of no import).

    Publishers might hope the folks who buy hardcovers don’t decide to wait or borrow, but as a lifelong reader who isn’t one of those hardcover buyers, I had hoped ebooks might make it easier for me to go from “wait or borrow” to “buy right away.”

    I rarely buy books at full price and I even more rarely buy hardcovers. (When I do happen to buy a hardcover I sell it on Amazon for half price after I’m done.) Even before ebooks, publishers were losing my sale by making me wait for a cheaper version. If it was an irreplaceable title, I did not wait and buy the paperback. Instead, I borrowed from a friend, from the library or got it at the used bookstore.

    Relatively inexpensive ebook versions of “must-have” titles have allowed me to buy right away sometimes. Higher priced ebooks are not the way to push me to buy hardcovers at that atrocious $25 and up price, even at a discount.

    Also, enjoyed your point about readers already expecting steep discounts with printed books. In a way, publishers seem to want to use ebook pricing to backtrack from their own devaluing of their product.

  5. Stephanie
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 06:28:34

    At this point I am still so mad about the pricing that I will gladly wait until the “must have” books from the Agency 5 are at my local used book store before I buy.

  6. Sally Wilburn
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 06:33:41

    I think one area that hasn’t been addressed is the fact that the Kindle et al could very well be outdated in a year or two. Some format that no one has heard of may be the future of publishing. This happened to TV and music.

  7. Christine M.
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 06:41:31

    What I wonder about is how big their HC market is. I guess I’m not part of their market. There have been 2 authors I bought in HC other the last 3 years. Kelley Armstrong (the UF, not the YA) and Patricia Briggs. And I never paid full price. I sometimes pay full price on mm though.

    Veru interesting article Jane!

  8. Mireya
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 06:45:42

    A lot of people out there don’t even refer to ebooks as books, they don’t consider them “real” books. Those people are not willing or ready to move to the digital options be it for that reason or because they can’t afford a handheld ebook reading device. Once people do get a handheld ebook reading device, they still don’t perceive the ebook as a tangible thing: there is no paper involved, they are not holding something that had to be printed using big machines, paper and ink. Readers are not stupid and they do see that it is impossible that the kind of cost involved in making an ebook would be the same involved in making a print book. I am not even talking about distribution, a subject about which the average reader is most likely not even really aware of (I know I wasn’t until I started reading blogs like this). The whole deal with readers not being considered the actual customers still baffles me.

    The hardcover thing baffles me as well. Everywhere I go people say that, when and if they buy hardcovers, they get them at a discount. Do publishers really think that what they are doing is going to help increase revenue on hardbacks. Ebook sales are minute in comparison to overall book sales, would it even be noticeable if they succeed to push people away from buying the ebook version of hardcovers? And even people that can buy hardcovers regularly, once they adopt ebooks out of convenience i.e. portability, they don’t want to go back to hardcover, not because of the pricing, but because of the convenience factor (people like me under normal circumstances).

    I buy ebooks for the convenience. I am not going to change that.

    I SELDOM buy a hardback. I think I am only getting hardbacks related to 2-3 of my autobuy authors, and I am close to reducing the number as the last couple of hardbacks from 1 of them left me on the flat side of the scale. Fact is that I have plenty other authors to discover, and it does not stress me out to wait for a new release originally published in hardback, to be re-issues in MMPB.

    I rent books and use the library too, and I am NOT going to stop doing so.

    Will higher ebook prices change my buying behaviour? No. I was never willing to pay $9.99 for an ebook, ANY ebook, to begin with. And as a matter of fact I never did. I am willing to pay up to $8.99 (the cost of the most expensive MMPB out there) for the equivalent ebook. I did that with most of my ebook purchases. I bought them at the equivalent MMPB price from my Sony store. I really don’t mind that.

    I am willing to buy direct from a publisher e-store, even if that means I have to visit ten different websites from ten different publishers, to take advantage of any discounts they may give. I was doing that anyway for years when I got hooked on romance, as erotic romance was the genre that introduced me to romance and I could only find a wide selection online from places like Ellora’s Cave, Loose Id, etc. I am in a minority, am sure. But if the price is right, chances are that others would do so as well.

    It will be interesting to see who is right and who is wrong, though I do admit that, as an ebook reader, I am upset at all this.

  9. Christina B.
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 07:26:13

    I guess I’ve kind of ignored all this talk of pricing until now. The only hardcover books I buy are non-fiction, and even then I see if I can get it at the library first. I’ve never bought a hardcover fiction book because I either wait for paperback or get it from the library. There are so many books out there I want to read and so little time in the day to do the reading, if I have to wait a little while I usually just shrug and move onto the next book while I wait. That said, I do buy A LOT of paperbacks and digital versions of paperbacks at full price, increasingly more on the digital side since that’s my preferred reading format and it saves my bookshelves from completely taking over the room.

    So I guess my question about all this pricing stuff…does it affect people who don’t buy hardcovers in the first place?

  10. Bonnie
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 07:34:49

    Well, I have to say that I must have my Nora. I buy all her books, then also get them on Kindle (I know, crazy). Can’t get them on Kindle anymore, so I’ll have the physical books.

    Others… nope. If it’s not available on Kindle at a reasonable price, I’m not buying it. I’ll be saving a lot of money.

  11. Vicki
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 07:34:59

    I buy almost all genre fiction on my kindle these days. I was buying about 5 times my pre kindle purchases until the publishers decided to try and force me into their buying models. At this point, if an ebook is available at the same time as the print and with a reasonable discount, I’ll buy it. If a title does not fall under those dictates, then I will get it from my library or PBS. I am not paying more for an ebook and I resent publishers delaying ebooks hoping to force me into buying print. I should also point out that thanks to Amazon’s free ebooks offers, I stumbled onto at least 4 new writers and then went on to purchase their backlist. My buying has definitely slowed since the new publisher driven pricing models have come into play. I’m using the library again, which is probably overall better for my pocketbook, so I guess I should be grateful.

  12. Sunita
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 07:46:41

    Slightly OT: That original Tversky and Kahnemann article in Science is so awesome. You can skim the psych-specific stuff and still get the gist of what they are saying.

    Back to topic: I don’t think that the anchoring behavior publishers are hoping for will be dominant in the medium term, let alone the long term. People are going to compare the price of ebooks to print books, and once they get familiar with the DRM restrictions they’re going to expect lower prices for ebooks. Some people will always be willing to pay more for the convenience of having ebooks, and some will be willing to tie themselves to the Apple proprietary format because it will be easier and they won’t have to think. But will those people make up enough of the reading population to allow prices to remain high? I kind of doubt it.

    When iTunes came out and had a proprietary format, people put up with it b/c iTunes was for many a good program and the Apple store had as much choice as any mp3 store. But as soon as Amazon came along with non-DRM tracks, Apple had to cave. And if I remember correctly, iTunes didn’t really take off until it was ported to Windows.

    Great column, Jane. I think you’ve really nailed the issues.

  13. DS
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 08:14:24

    Unless you count a couple of $.99 ebooks I bought because I enjoyed posts by the authors on another blog, I cannot remember the last book I paid full price for– digital, audio, or paper.

    And I do buy a lot of books in a lot of genres.

  14. Sammy
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 08:35:25

    I will come back and answer in more detail, I’m on the road. With that said I think my buy list for April was 30 pre-ordered books to my Kindle. That included mmpb, trade and a hardcover. Only 3 books were purchased and they were from HQ. I was unable to purchase the rest of them in the format I wanted. I saved a ton of money and I have been reading from my tbr. Which will remain that way until I plow through 300+ books.

  15. Edie
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 08:40:46

    I can’t comment re US, but we have some ebooks in Aus, well very few.. and they are the same price as the AUS print release, and I don’t touch them. It is cheaper to import the print books from the US. *sigh*
    I actually think the smaller markets like Oz are shooting themselves in the foot a little bit. I would think a push on ebooks and smaller print runs etc would help them grow the small market which is currently struggling. (Since a lot of heavy readers like me now just import – and also the explosion of online secondhand stores and ebay for books.)

    Sorry, that is probably not too pertinent to your post, but I needed to squeeze my weekly rant in, LOL.

  16. Keishon
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 08:45:37

    My list of must have authors has shrunk over the years to a tiny list but then at full price even they are not worth buying full price. I have other options like the library or resale stores like Half-Price books to find them at if I really want to read their books.

    I’ve been an ebook reader for *too* long to just turn back to print books. Sorry. I refuse to buy them now more than ever now. My shopping for books has slowed down a lot. Just not a big paranormal fan so that is a deterrent in itself and the pricing scheme that has been adopted by the agency 5 is another big turn off since none of them can seem to price them right.

    It’s a gamble for them big time and I hope it blows up in their faces. I have family members who read ebooks too and they refuse to buy the paper equivalent as well. I am mad that the agency 5 do not care for ebooks as that is MY preferred choice of reading. How dare they take that option away from me with higher pricing schemes. At the of the day, books are replaceable goods.

  17. Bronte
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:06:03

    I paid AUS $55 for JR Wards lover avenged last year in hardcover. I will not be forking out the same this year for lover mine. The trouble is that unless masses of people say to publishers ‘screw you, I’m not buying til the price comes down”, they really don’t give a toss.

    I’m no longer buying (except in rare cases) physical books. If the big 5 don’t want my money thats fine. There’s always the second hand bookstore and library.

  18. Sean Cranbury
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:17:49

    What a great piece, Jane. really well constructed and ultimately, who knows what is going to happen in terms of pricing for books, digital files or whatever in the future.

    You can only charge the public an amount that measures equally to what the product is worth in their opinion.

    1a) How do publishers convince people under 35 that their digital product is worth anything more than say $4.99 (High-end estimate)? No matter what the ‘book’ is and/or who it’s written by?

    1b) You have a captive audience of people who have bought in right now to the idea of ‘agency’, iBook, whatever. How long until that window closes as the demand for digital efficiency increases from an entire generation that grew up with P2P file sharing and bit torrent technology – how’s that for ‘anchoring’!? That seems like a very small window to me. And legislation, ACTA or whatever will be useless.

    2) So it’s a gamble with a short window and pricing will only work if the customer agrees to the price because the less expensive or free alternative is ever at hand.

    So, if as Kevin Kelly posits, that “When copies are free, you need to sell things which can not be copied” then the real question for publishers isn’t pricing in the near term – though, obviously it’s critical for now.

    The real question is how do publishers make a product that holds real value for consumers in the digital age going forward?

    How do you make a book that people want to buy, want to own that possesses enough allure and craft to woo the money from the wallet?

    Full price/discounted/whatever, I’m talking about the physical object here.

  19. meoskop
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:39:07

    I upgraded my Nintendo DS to a Nintendo DSiXL with the money I haven’t been able to spend on e-books in the last two months, so I follow your pricing posts with great interest. There were a number of books I wanted to read in the last 8 months, but I won’t be forced back to paper.

    Now if Nintendo brings the HQN comic to North America…. I’m ready to go!

  20. Linda
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:39:23

    Ditto. I have no more room to store paperbacks. But if the big 5 want to play the waiting game in order for me to get the latest Lora Leigh in digital, I will. I rarely go to the movie theater, so if I’m used to waiting for a film to hit DVD, I can do it for books.

    On an aside about people saying they won’t spend $9.99 for an ebook, I’m assuming they mean for a single title. My publisher releases a “boxed set” of 2-3 ebooks from an author’s backlist, and sells them for $9.99. But in this case, the reader is getting at least 200K words worth of reading pleasure.

  21. Gill
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:45:34

    Whether I buy in ebook or paperback depends on the author/series. I’ve never paid more than $8 for a (novel length) ebook, and certainly won’t start now. I never buy hardbacks, they are way too expensive, and not very portable. The authors I read in paperback will stay the same as it was before.

    My buying habits won’t change – if an author I read in ebook is with the big 5 and brings out a short story/novel, I just won’t be buying it unless it’s sensibly priced. And anyway, the way the geographical rights are now being enforced by big publishers, the odds are I won’t be able to buy it anyway, as I’m not in the US!

    Mireya, you are not alone! I only started to use Fictionwise because it was convenient and they offered good membership discounts. But I will go back to directly buying from publishers like Amber Quill, Samhain, Loose Id etc if Fwise really don’t keep their discounts going. Viva la Indie publisher!

  22. Jane
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:49:25

    @Christine M.: The AAP releases statistics and generally hardcovers and trade paperbacks are a great portion of their revenue. Some houses really don’t have a robust mass market department and from what I hear, some publishing houses kind of look down on their mass market departments.

    I’m really uncertain why the four of the Agency five decided to price the digital versions of the mass markets at the same price as the print. I’m thinking that the idea is the same – push readers toward print purchases.

  23. Jane
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:51:14

    @Elaine: Thanks for that article. I had never heard of anchoring before but it makes sense. I want to read the original scholarly piece.

  24. Mireya
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 09:53:27

    @Linda: in my case, I have only bought 3 bundles of books and they were actually on sale. All HQ. Can’t recall the exact amount I paid for each as this was over 2 years ago. They are still in my ebook TBR pile now that I think of it.

  25. Ros
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 10:00:57

    Here’s what I don’t get. Most romance novels (in common with most genre fiction of any kind, and even quite a lot of non-genre fiction, as far as I can tell) are not ever published in hardback. So I can’t see that the comparison with the margins on hardback pricing is at all relevant to the sale of most of the books I want to buy. If I can’t buy the ebook, I certainly won’t be buying the non-existent hardback, I’ll either be buying the paperback or borrowing it from the library. $9.99 is more than I would expect to pay for the paperback.

    I can see the argument for a model that prices ebooks of books that are out in hardback at a higher price until such time as the paperback is released. What I can’t see the argument for is a one size fits all model of pricing for ebooks, when there isn’t one for hard copy books.

  26. Lynn
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 10:05:04

    Interesting theory.

    If they persist in this higher ebook pricing, I will still wait to buy used paperbacks or hardbacks or even resort to torrents until the publishers pull their collective heads out of their asses. My TBR is huge as it is. I can wait this out.

    When they started all this crap with Apple and Amazon I started downloading some ebooks and audios from my library. No, I don’t get to keep them. But if they are ‘keepers’, I’ll find a used copy eventually or an ebook at a decent price.

    I think the publishers will be seeing ebook piracy go up. They can’t monitor that as much as they’d like, so I don’t see their stats as accurate on that anyway.

    If I were going to pay 10 or more dollars for an ebook, which I’m not, I’d expect a much better quality ebook than what I was already getting. I was paying around the same price or below paper for ebooks. They aren’t the same quality as paper. If I got a copy of a paperback with all the editing issues I have in an ebook I’d be able to return it, but I’m stuck with what I have. I don’t want dozens of blank pages in my ebooks, or paragraphs running together, sentences alljammed together, hyphens stuck in just for grins here and there, or especially all the gaps in words. I’m already getting a lesser quality product in an ebook than paper and they want to raise the price on a already shoddy product? I don’t think so Agency5.

    Oh yes, my buying behavior changed the moment they started this crap. Now I only buy used papers, go to the library or virtual library, do my B&N ebook Lend. But I haven’t resorted to torrents–yet, but you never know.

    I just might forget reading all together and dig out the old etch-a-sketch to amuse myself between appointments. It’s about the same size as the iPad,Kindle, or Que and weighs about the same.

  27. TKF
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 11:56:48

    I guess I’d like to see the difference between HB readers and those of us who mostly buy genre fiction in MM addressed.

    I just don’t feel like this whole pricing war story has much to do with me and the books I buy.

    I simply don’t buy HB fiction. Period. I’ve always been one of the readers who waited the year for the MM to come out. So yeah, I buy most of my books at “full price”, and I’m more than willing to spend that same $7-$9 for the ebook version.

    Edited to add: I see that Ros beat me to my point, LOL!

  28. Tabby
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 11:59:30

    Who’s the person who checked off always? Where do you go to buy books that they’re never discounted? The same question for the frequently crowd–how do you avoid the discounted prices? I couldn’t always/frequently pay full price for the books I buy even if I tried.

    I’m honestly curious where you’re shopping and what they have to offer that keeps them in business when there’s so many stores with great customer service offering discounted books.

  29. LisaC
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 11:59:31

    I have bought more books since downloading Kindle for iPhone. However I will not pay more than mmpb price for and ebook that I cannot lend or sell. I had Patience pre-ordered from Amazon,but we all know how that ended. I will now just wait to get it from Half Price Books. I do purchase hb for my book club if that is the only format available, but get them at discounted prices.

  30. Suze
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 12:42:27

    I voted “frequently” because I’m a stupid shopper, and don’t pay too much attention to sales and discounts. On the other hand, I also don’t buy anything if I think it’s too expensive, whether I want it or not.

    Having invested in an e-reader, I don’t want paper books. I don’t have space for them, I have to purge them too often, and I have to move them too often. I go through bookstores and write down the books I’m interested on, and then go on-line later to buy them. Most of the time, they’re not available in e-book form, or they’re grossly over-priced, or they’re not available in Canada. My book purchases have gone down since I’ve gone electronic. However, I have discovered some new authors that I’d never come across before. And thank you, Dear Author, for introducing me to K.A. MItchell. I’ve glommed her whole backlist in the last week.

    I was all set to buy the new Briggs last weekend, even in hardcover, but it wasn’t available. I’ve since borrowed it from a co-worker (who got it on her trip to the big city a week before), so I’m set now. I can wait for the e-book to be available in Canada, and at a reasonable price. And I will buy it, because I re-read everything by Briggs at least once per year.

    There are actually quite a few authors I enjoy that I don’t buy anymore, simply because they’re either not available in e-book in Canada, or the e-book is over $8. Seriously, Anne Bishop, talk to your publisher. $14 for an e-book when the mmpb is out for $8 is costing you sales.

    I have a rant building in the back of my head about price margins versus value, but I’ll spare you. At least until it’s coherent.

  31. Camille
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 12:51:45

    The thing that publishers are overlooking when they compare themselves to the music industry is the print industry is dependant on a huge used market. The cost of a book is just way too much for single use – so people trade and sell and buy used. That’s what the high margins are for.

    When someone buys paper because the price of the ebook is too high… they’re buying USED books. So the publisher still lost a sale.

    If they were to price ebooks like used books, they could make huge gains in audience. And if they don’t do it soon, small presses and the authors themselves are doing it, and the audience will still not get used to higher prices.

    I believe there will always be a place for paper books – though not in mass market for much longer. I expect fine editions and library editions will remain. (A lot of us who read ebooks will go out and buy the hardback of a book we love.) But if the big publishers don’t watch out, they’ll become a place for “subsidiary rights” and the producers of collectibles.

  32. Suze
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 12:59:23

    I'm honestly curious where you're shopping and what they have to offer that keeps them in business when there's so many stores with great customer service offering discounted books.

    When I bought paperbacks, I bought them mostly at grocery stores. Some stores had automatic discounts, some didn’t, and I didn’t pay attention. There’s only 1 bokstore in my town, and they sale-price remainders. You have to buy a membership to get a discount card, which I did, but again–didn’t pay attention.

    It’s not that I’ve made a philosophical stance to “frequently” buy books with no discount, I just find coupon-clipping and comparison shopping a tedious exercise, so I don’t bother. If I feel I can afford what I’m looking at right now, I buy it. If it’s too pricey, I don’t.

  33. Lisa J
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 13:01:48

    My buying habit has always been discounted books. Target and Wa-Mart have standard 25% disounts on paperbacks and I use coupons when I shop at Borders. I can wait them out on the e-books. Before the pricing went into effect and tile became “unavailable” I went on a spending spree for my Sony and now I have a large TBR on it to get me through the lean times.

    I will also continue to buy direct from the publisher (LI, Ellora, Samhain, and the like) for my books since their prices are reasonable and I know the product I will get.

    Th publishers are being penny-wise and pound foolish if they think people will pay more for something they can’t loan to another, resell, or donate IMHO.

  34. Castiron
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 13:18:34

    Question for people who say you’d never spend more than $9.99 or $4.99 for an ebook: Would this apply even if the book you were interested in was a work of scholarly non-fiction with a narrow audience whose paperback list price was $24.95, and the ebook was, say, $15?

    What about textbooks for a university class? If the pbook was $90 new, and even a used copy ran $50, would you spend $40 for an ebook version? Or would your upper price limit still be $9.99?

  35. Robin
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 13:49:44

    First of all, I can definitively say that the price changes have already *downwardly* affected my buying behavior. Nothing deters me more effectively than “this price was set by the publisher.” That simply catalyzes my own new mantra: “this reader is not going to pay more money for fewer rights.”

    One of the biggest mistakes I think publishing is making in regard to using the music industry as its guide (in a negative or positive way) is that times have changed since the era of cds, and digital products are much more enmeshed in our social consciousness. For example,

    The perception of all digital products is that it is less costly than a tangible one. You see this in the pricing of all digital products. I think you would be hard pressed to find one digital product that is priced higher than the physical one prior to this the wholesale adoption of the Apple Model.

    Exactly. And how many readers will simply choose another *type* of digital product to replace a more expensive digital book? These days I have all sorts of digital options — cable movies on demand, video game downloads, books from dedicated digital publishers, downloading some songs/albums on iTunes/Amazon, etc.

    I guess it depends on how *new* digital really seems to the public. IMO publishers see it as more novel, while I see it as less so. While digital books may not be as veteran as digital music, the fact that there are multiple digital offerings in other entertainment venues that are so easily acquired (click, pay, download, all without leaving the couch/desk/whatever), may be getting a higher proportion of reader dollars.

    I get that the margin of sale is highest for hardcovers and that trying to sustain that model is seen by publishers as key to their survival. But is it really digital growth that is threatening the profitability of the hardcover book, or is it a whole host of cultural, technological, and economic factors that publishers need to be addressing to get back into the black? I obviously believe that it’s the second, but it will be interesting to see a) whether their strategy works, and b) if they really are working to re-think their business models in whatever time they think they’re buying with this higher pricing model.

    In the meantime, I’m buying fewer books, especially from those pubs subscribing to the Apple Model.

  36. Robin
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 13:51:57


    Question for people who say you'd never spend more than $9.99 or $4.99 for an ebook: Would this apply even if the book you were interested in was a work of scholarly non-fiction with a narrow audience whose paperback list price was $24.95, and the ebook was, say, $15?

    I am applying this pricing discussion only to fiction, particularly new release fiction (and maybe some non-fic bios).

  37. Mireya
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 13:57:20


    In scenario #1, I’d buy print.

    In scenario #2, I’d shop around for 2nd hand, in print.

    I am not willing to spend on an ebook more than what I already stated I would: $8.99 (or to give a round number, $9) which is the equivalent price for a top priced MMPB, new.

  38. Lynn
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 14:06:08

    @Castiron: My answer was for fiction only.

  39. library addict
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 14:10:57

    First, the public's indoctrinated desire not to buy books at full cost.


    I will continue to buy my favorite authors in hardcover. But this is a very short list of authors, at the moment only two: JD Robb (2 books per year) and Jayne Ann Krentz. And even then I don't buy every book they publish each year new. I normally wait and buy the Nora Roberts annual single title and the historical JAK writes as Amanda Quick in hardcover used once my library puts them up for sale. The other books Nora writes each year (usually part of a trilogy, but this year the remaining books in her wedding quartet series which is trade pb) and the futuristic JAK writes as Jayne Castle are usually published in mmpb, so I do buy those new. 99% of the other authors on my faves list don't have hardcover books. Their new releases are in mmpb.

    But I am a firm believer in getting a discount on books. If I buy at Target or Wal-mart, it's automatically 25% off. But they don't usually carry all of the authors I like, so I shop at Borders. I use those 30% and buy-one-get-one-50% coupons. They also come in handy on pre-orders.

    I do not yet have an ereader, but I joined Fictionwise in December and went broke “saving” money with their micropay discounts, etc. I bought over 50 books in the 3-1/2 months I was a member there before this agency pricing kicked in. But even though I have a lot of micropay left, I haven't shopped there since, as many of the books I want are not available.

    And I shop at eHarlequin for their ebooks, but again it's when they have one of those extra 10% off sales or something.

    As a shopper, I like discounts and coupons. I like sales. I would be willing to buy ebooks directly at the publishers' websites if they gave me a discount or some sort of buy-4-get-the-5th-book-free type of deal. And if (and it's a big if) the books are available in the format I want. But that's not the case.

    I was and am willing to try a new author in e because I don't have to lament my lack of shelf space and when I feel I'm getting a deal on the book it's easier to hit that buy button than to get on the waiting list for the library. But when the book isn't discounted it means I am going to take that extra step and time to read the library's copy or not read the book at all if my library doesn’t have it.

    I am not a reader who has gone completely digital yet, so the agency pricing won't affect my buying habits as far as my favorite authors are concerned. I'll still continue to buy them in print at a discount. But I won't be trying as many of their new/new-to-me authors that would turn at least some of them into faves of mine. So all this higher ebook pricing means is that I won't buy books that I would otherwise be tempted to get. I’m not nearly as tempted by the paper version. That's lost sales for the publisher.

  40. Gill
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 14:14:36

    @Castiron: I would probably buy both those examples in paper rather than electronic format, depending on why I was buying it in the first place.

    My $8 limit is based on buying fiction, and specifically romance/erotica.

  41. Tabby
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 14:14:44

    It's not that I've made a philosophical stance to “frequently” buy books with no discount, I just find coupon-clipping and comparison shopping a tedious exercise, so I don't bother. If I feel I can afford what I'm looking at right now, I buy it. If it's too pricey, I don't.

    I buy the same way but I would actually have to go out of my way to pay full price–if I could even find a place to pay full price. Or maybe I’m just out of touch with the brick & mortar stores and that’s not the case anymore? I do the majority of my buying from Amazon now so I’m accustomed to their discounts. But even when I started buying from them I did it because it was convenient to have stuff delivered. They weren’t actually offering a price that was noticably cheaper than what I was already paying for my books.

    It’s funny that I even care about the Agency 5 BS because price was never that big of a deal for me as long as it wasn’t too expensive for my budget. But there’s just something about the publisher taking away the retailers ability to offer discounts, promotions or what have you–at the retailers expense–that pisses me off to the point I refuse to buy from them. Go figure.

  42. TKF
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 14:25:01


    I don’t go out of my way to pay full price, but since I don’t buy hardcovers (which are usually where the big discounts are) and I don’t buy books at places like WalMart or Target (cause I just don’t normally shop there and going all the way out to where one is for their tiny book selection seems silly) I mostly pay the actual cover price for my MM fiction.

    I buy my paper books from a local shop that specializes in romance (yeah, I’m big on supporting actual book stores) and I buy my ebooks mostly from the Mobipocket store.

  43. Camille
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 14:31:04

    Castiron asked about exceptions to people’s price limit:

    Basically, I will spend more for something of durable value. I will pay a lot for a reference I expect to use a lot. While I won’t pay new book prices for most novels, I will not only buy the hardback of a beloved book – I may buy multiple editions of a classic that has interesting differences in the editions.

    But just for the experience of reading it once? I generally go to the library or buy used. An inexpensive ebook would compete with that, but not a full priced book.

  44. Robin
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 14:46:59

    Basically, I will spend more for something of durable value.

    Oh, I really like this statement; it seems suited to so many aspects of this price/value discussion. “Durable,” while not necessarily physical in nature, does imply a long-term usability that is definitely important in understanding how to differentiate between value as a function of price-setting and value as a function of purchasing.

  45. Jane O
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 14:56:30

    I do almost all my reading via the public library. When I buy fiction, it is almost always a book I have already read and liked enough to know I will want to reread it after the library copy has vanished.

    Other than that, I buy reference books that I will use and reuse.

    For an ebook to compete, it would have to be no more expensive than a used book for fiction and easily searchable for a reference book. In both cases, I would have to be assured that it isn’t going to vanish on me.

  46. meoskop
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 15:25:04

    @Castiron: Depends. Does it have DRM?

  47. Brian
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 15:25:27

    I think one area that hasn't been addressed is the fact that the Kindle et al could very well be outdated in a year or two. Some format that no one has heard of may be the future of publishing. This happened to TV and music.

    Which is why IMO it’s a good idea (legal or not) to buy only formats where the DRM can be removed (pretty much all of them now) so the book can be converted to other formats in the future (and to fix all the errors/typos that ebooks from the big pubs have a lot of the time).

    The 5 have already lost 6 sales from me because under the new pricing the books I was going to buy went up in price quite a bit. I don’t buy paper (haven’t since ’07) so they, and the authors, are just SOL on those sales. I read about 350 books a year on average, guess I’ll be checking out more and more new authors from other pubs.

  48. Suze
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 15:27:48


    I could pretty much ditto your entry. I chose “frequently” because I just didn’t pay attention to the prices. I probably got a discount on most of the paper books I bought. Because I didn’t go looking for discounts, I, well, discounted them. I didn’t feel like I was getting a discount, just assumed I was paying full price. (Like I said, stupid shopper. Or, more accurately, lazy shopper.)

    Like you, the agency pricing initially got my ire up because of the principal of the thing. It’s insulting to consumers, completely irrational, and if there’s some form of acceptable logic behind the pricing scheme of e-books, nobody’s yet been able to share it with me, the general book-buying public.

    What’s outraging me most about the whole schmozzle is the unavailability of books that I would be buying, perhaps even at inflated prices (although I doubt it), but nobody seems to want to take my money.

  49. Robin
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 15:31:05

    The 5 have already lost 6 sales from me because under the new pricing the books I was going to buy went up in price. I don't buy paper (haven't since ’07) so they, and the authors, are just SOL on those sales.

    Too bad we can’t devise a way to let people centrally indicate any book purchase from the so-called (but not really) “Agency 5” they chose not to make because of the price. Like that pulsing red Domino’s Pizza online tracker bar, but with lost sales instead of time to delivery/pick up.

  50. ShellBell
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 15:34:51

    Until the publishers actually listen to what is being said, rather that talking out of their ar$es, and finally determine a fair price for eBooks I am more than happy to continue whining about the ridiculousness of charging hardcover and trade prices and geographical restrictions for eBooks.

    I do look for discounts but I generally don’t mind paying the full mass market paperback price for an eBook. Due to the exchange rate a US$7.99 eBook works out to be around $14 or $15 in New Zealand dollars, and this is a lot better than the price of paperbacks in New Zealand – our small market results in high prices. I won’t pay hardcover prices for eBooks and only occasionally pay trade book prices for eBooks

    The main publishers have already lost sales from me. I used to spend between US$200-300 per month. Now I spend around US$50 – and that $50 is mainly with the likes of Samhain etc. I am slowly learning some patience and have a long list of requests at my local library plus I have a TBR pile of around 150 eBooks to catch up on so I won’t be doing too much shopping anytime soon!

  51. Ros
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 15:39:20

    @Castiron: I would totally buy my academic books as ebooks at reduced prices if I could! I frequently find myself looking at things priced at over £50 which I just can’t afford. If there were an electronic version at, say, £30, I’d be all over it. And I think a lot of libraries would be too, especially if they could get multi-user licenses for them.

    Which is why I say again, why does ebook pricing have to be done in some kind of one-size-fits-all model? The book market is diverse and complicated and I think it’s not unreasonable that the ebook market will be too.

  52. Darlynne
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 16:07:04

    [I]f the frontlist titles are not replaceable … then the publisher gamble might be successful.

    I haven’t purchased any books in any format from these publishers since the agency outrage started and (with one exception) had no intention of doing more than tackling my TBR pile and moving into our public library for the duration.

    Jane, you’ve made this point before and as much as it’s going to kill me hurt, I have canceled my Amazon order for the hard cover of Lover Mine (46% off!).

    My puny act of defiance doesn’t mean much to these publishers, but I either take a stand or I become complicit in the potential success of this new model. I hate having to choose between supporting the hard work of authors I enjoy and respect, and fighting back in the only way I can, with my business. This sucks on too many levels to count.

  53. Suze
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 16:08:52


    That would be cool! Or maybe a button to click for the bookstore to “alert me when the price is $XX or goes on sale”. It would make my shopping easier (I’m all for that!), and give bookstores an idea of what expectations are.

  54. TKF
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 16:36:46

    I guess I’m just not that enraged by the whole thing. *shrug* I want the authors I love to read to continue being published so I can read them, and that means I’ll continue buying their books and I’ll happily pay full price (it’s still less than going to see a movie for heaven’s sake).

    For example, I just (as in yesterday) bought all of Patrica Brigg’s Mercedes Thompson backlist (from Mobipocket). I didn’t buy the new HB, but I’ll buy it when it comes out in MM next year.

  55. Stacy C
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 17:16:57

    I’ve also changed my buying behavior, which is probably a good thing
    for me, since I was a little out of control :->, but I can’t imagine
    it’s what the publishers were going for. I’m not paying full price for
    the ebook equivalent of a MM paperback (and certainly not above that
    for the equivalent of trade size), and I’m only buying from
    Fictionwise, my usual source, if I can use my Micropay account (so I’m
    not taking advantage of their current sale, for example). So basically
    — I’m not buying.

    I’m building a wish list of books I’d like to get if things change for
    the better, but I have a large stockpile of unread ebooks, and I’m
    working on reading through that list and getting accustomed to buying
    books when I’m going to read them, not stockpiling them, after I’m
    done with the TBR list, so the publishers may have influenced me to
    reduce my book-buying habit permanently.

    I honestly don’t think they care, though. I’m guessing that the
    business realities they’re facing mean that they either have to
    convince the book-buying public to accept higher prices, or they’ll go
    under. Sort of a ‘price-gouge or perish’ model. My bet is on the
    latter outcome, so it’ll be interesting to see what comes out of all
    of this.

  56. romsfuulynn
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 17:18:40

    For me the publishers are losing the ebook sales. Some that they had already made!

    I had a bunch of preodered books disappear from Fictionwise.

    My purchases are also very time sensitive – for things I really wanted, I have bought upper end hc and ebook so I could read on the train as well as at home. They haven’t moved me from ebook back to hardcover, they’ve moved me from both back to just hardcover.

    That window is a sweet spot though. Once I’ve read the book once I’ll wait a year or two to get it a reasonable price point.

  57. Janet P.
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 17:47:34

    Do I pay full price for books? Only when stuck in an airport terminal with my Kindle, iPhone, and laptop all dead and I’m unable to buy digitally … and I must purchase from the airport bookstore or risk 5 hours of brain dead flight staring at the seat back in front of me.

    Otherwise – no. no. and no.

    I have so far in 2010 paid over $10 for a book twice. One a new release ebook that I had to have .. not release day, but release second. The other is a traditional paper book that the author wants in eBook but her Publisher isn’t getting it done. Truthfully I bought the book more because I like the author…as a person and I want her to succeed.

    There will be two to three books like that a year. If you are one of those 2 to 3 authors that are going to get that kind of money from me, good for you. You’ve probably earned the right to those prices by giving me something other authors aren’t.

    My other hundreds and hundreds of dollars in eBook purchases over the last year have been 1. eBook and 2. value priced.
    A large percentage of them are books that I probably never would have bought at all before owning digital readers but I see them and think “Hey – $6, looks interesting, I’ll read it someday!”

    Like most digital reader owners my Calibre is starting to runneth over with “hey $6 looks interesting I’ll read it someday” books. At this point I could hunker down for years without making a new book purchase.

    The thing about these publishers is they keep throwing up blocks and difficulties in me buying their products. I don’t like blocks and difficulties. They don’t entice me to buy a product that 10 seconds before I saw the book on the webpage I had no interest in and frankly if I’m going to struggle and feel disgruntled about obtaining a book — then I’ll struggle and feel disgruntled over at my public library reserve system webpage for free.

    But I really don’t need to do that either. There’s still plenty out there to buy in my price range and most of those cheaper priced authors and publishing houses dance with glee over getting my money.

  58. Hot Like Sauce
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 17:48:02

    I personally think delaying ebooks publication is absurd. It doesn’t make me any more likely to get a paper copy. If I can’t buy the ebook version, I’ll get it from a library or a swap site. If anything I think publishers should release ebooks before the paper versions because what I’m paying for with an ebook is convenience. I eagerly wait for books to come out and like that I can download books in the middle of the night before the bookstores open. I think I would probably buy even more ebooks if I could get them the weekend before the paper copy comes out. For some books I don’t even think I’d mind if they were priced a little bit higher than the paper copy.

  59. Statch
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 17:59:37

    I thought I had posted but it didn’t take — hope this doesn’t show up twice!

    I’ve definitely changed my buying habits in response to both the change in ebook prices and the current lack of availability at Fictionwise. I had been a very active buyer there, but now I’m working on getting through my very extensive list of unread books, and building a wish list for the future, in case things change for the better. I’m re-reading some favorites as well to slow down my reading. If the ebook pricing and availability situation doesn’t improve after I get through by TBR list, I’ll just read less and/or use the library, rather than go back to buying print books, which I don’t have room for.

    I honestly don’t think the publishers care that this small group of ebook readers may reduce their buying habits. My impression is that they’re facing business realities that dictate that they either have to persuade the larger book-buying public to accept higher prices, or they’re going out of business. Sort of a ‘price-gouge or perish’ model.

    I’m betting on the latter, I’m afraid, since I’m not sure there is a large enough book-buying public to make a difference, and the whole situation makes me very sad. It’ll be interesting to see how it all comes out.

    I do buy print books in an academic field I’m interested in. I still prefer print books for those purposes; my ebooks are mainly fiction and lighter non-fiction.

  60. Statch
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 18:00:25

    Oops, I did end up posting twice — sorry!

  61. Ridley
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 18:04:13

    Man, I don’t buy anything at full price, and I don’t know anyone who does. I use grocery coupons, wait for Old Navy’s sales, drive used cars, shop at Building 19/Marshalls/TJ Maxx, map yard sale routes, and am a Micropay Millionaire at Fictionwise.

    I’ve never ever bought a new hardback at full price. I *love* Lisa Kleypas, but her Travis books were library reads. I read a lot of non-fiction, and that’s all library or UBS procured. $25+ is just too much for me, and we’re childless and make six figures. I would imagine the Wal-Mart crowd finds $25 laughable for a book. I mean, that’s half a cable bill. If you’re average income with 2.5 kids, you’re not paying $25 for fiction. It’s a very silly number.

    I am not buying ebooks for the cost of a new MM paperback. If I really must have a new book from an Agency 5 pub, I might buy the paper MMPB from Amazon as part of their ongoing 4-for-3 sale, then torrent the ebook, but I’m not going back to paper books. I just really prefer the ereader experience. Paper books, at least for fiction, are a pain in the butt.

    I hope my reaction ends up the majority one. I bought a lot of books once I got the ereader. Whenever Fictionwise did their 40-50% rebate sales, I stocked up by the dozen, then bought the marked down non-DRM books with the Micropay rebates. It was a very sexy system, and I’m going to miss it dreadfully.

  62. TKF
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 18:25:26

    @Ridley: Too bad FictionWise is now effing useless. Their selection is pitiful and what they do have seems to only come in two formats (neither of which is useful to me). And their customer service sucks the white wonder out loud.

    Yes, I’m p.i.s.s.e.d and I want my membership $$$ back!

  63. Ridley
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 18:47:01


    Thankfully, I bought my membership when it was a 100% micropay rebate, so I don’t feel too put out.

    Also, I buy the MS Reader format for secure books. It is stupid easy to strip off and convert to whatever in Calibre. It made my options many times greater.

    I’m not sure why DRM exists, really. It’s not too hard to strip off, and if I were inclined to seed my books for torrents, I wouldn’t be inclined to buy them in the first place, now would I?

  64. illukar
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 21:06:06

    I will pay full price for paperback books ($15-$18 AU bought locally, or considerably less on import). I prefer to pay UK prices for hardcover books (Book Depository, free shipping!) because it is invariably cheaper than buying a hardcover in Australia ($50+ a true exploitative price).

    For an ebook I am comfortable with paying the same or less than whatever the current physical release of the book is (because I consider the value is in the currency, not the delivery method).

    So I am comfortable paying $15US for an ebook which is new release hardcover. Before ebooks I would wait for a paperback and buy that.

    I am _extremely_ reluctant to pay $15US for any ebook which is already out in paperback. If it’s a straight to paperback book, then the brand new ebook should be the same or less than the paperback.

    I am not someone who could say “I won’t ever go back to hardcopy” because I am a reader and I can’t imagine stopping reading. If something I really really want isn’t available in ebook and isn’t going to be available in ebook, then I will buy it in hardcopy. I don’t consider “available, but not available in my preferred format” a sufficient excuse for piracy and – much as it bugs me – nor do I consider the ridiculous region restrictions sufficient excuse either – because I can buy the thing as a physical book.

    [Really wishing they’d all just adopt Baen’s model though.]

  65. MaryK
    Apr 11, 2010 @ 23:43:32

    I vaguely remembered buying a full price paperback and finally remembered what it was. (Though I used my 10% off member card so it doesn’t really count after all.) It was Angels’ Blood. :D I had the store order it because I was really, really looking forward to it and didn’t know if my WalMart would stock it. (They did.)

    Since then I’ve kept better track of upcoming releases so I can pre-order en masse and use a coupon.

  66. LG
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 00:04:21

    @Stacy Boyd: “Even before ebooks, publishers were losing my sale by making me wait for a cheaper version. If it was an irreplaceable title, I did not wait and buy the paperback. Instead, I borrowed from a friend, from the library or got it at the used bookstore. ”

    I hadn’t thought about it that way, but that’s been true for me, too.

  67. MaryK
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 00:16:04

    @Castiron: I doubt I would buy scholarly non-fiction as an ebook. Come to think of it, I just passed one up yesterday. One of the Dorothy Dunnett Companion books is out-of-print and pricey, but there’s a Kindle version for 9.99. I didn’t buy it. Partly because I’m just not ready to use reference-type books in e-format; and partly because if I pay that much, I want a copy on my shelf.

    And I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t buy an e-textbook at all. I highlight and take notes in my textbooks because it helps me learn, and I don’t think doing it electronically would have the same effect, especially if I were doing it in class. I’d need to see more of the book at a time than a screen could show me. I’d have to be convinced that the e-text is not only as good/useful, but better/more useful.

  68. Kristine
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 00:33:58

    I have paid full price for some books, but in most cases the book store either had a coupon on the book or buy 3 get a 4th free offer. I have never paid full price for a HC and have no plans to start now, at least for my fiction I will do if it is a refrence book for my career(I am planing to go in academia and I am in grad school at this time). This whole affair has made me angry in general and I place a large amount of the blame on the publishers that have decided that there will only one price on digtal books and this “agency model” that had been shoved down readers throat makes me angry. I think what the publishers are doing may be illegal,but I don’t think anything will done about it at least in the short term. My biggest fear is that this agency model of pricing is going to go quickly beyond e-books into retail market place and then everybody is going to be forced to sell the books for nothing lower than a certain price. Most likely it will pegged on the price that Wal-Mart is selling the book for at and no one can see it for lower than that under any circumtances, that means that that you can not get a discount or use a coupon to buy a book anymore. I would not even mind paying full price, at least the Mass Market price, but the publishers have raised the price so high. I mean I used be that the avarage price used be between $4.50-$5.99, which was the range most of the e-books were priced in before April 1st that is, until recently when they claimed that they had to pay more for paper so now some paperbacks are as much as $8.99 new which means that I have to make very hard choices, at least among non-Harlequin, the Harlequins are still cheap enough that I can take a chance on a something that sounds interesting, this means unless the reviews are very good, I know and like the author work, or it is a story line and era I prefer. I have no choice but to see if I can find it at the UBS because my book buget is very small and I have to divide that between the books I want and the ones that I need. If this agency model goes into the retail market, and this is my greatest fear about this, readers are going to see book prices shoot though the roof and it be very hard to afford to read anything new. I hope that my worse fear does not happen but I have a sick feeling that it will.

  69. Edie
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 05:51:47

    The thing that gets me the most the more I think about this issue, is if you take out the trade/hardcover titles and just look at the mass market pbs, why mess with those prices? I would have thought that is one area that the publishers wouldn’t lose on, that in encouraging ebook sales of MMP they could be a bit more economical with print runs of mid listers etc…

  70. Deb
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 07:03:42

    Speaking of discounts….

    Amazon Kindle store and B&N ebook store are selling Neil Gaiman’s Fragile Things for $.99. This is a wonderful collection of short stories and poems. I’m sure this is a temporary discount.

    I think we are in a wait and see mode. The agency 5 will I’m sure, see a drop in ebook sales, which is one of their goals.

    A link to what a 21 year old vision of the future of books: I can’t see this kid paying $13.00-$15.00 for a book. Here’s Paul Carr’s views on the iPad vs. Kindle debate: Kind of bleak.

  71. Kathleen Dienne
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 07:11:07

    @Ros: Yes! That! All this industry twitching about hardcovers is totally irrelevant to me. I have never in my life been able to afford hardcovers at full price. The hardcovers I own are all remainder bin finds, or “70% off sale” treasures. But even for authors that I love, I wait for the paperback.

    I am simply not going to pay more than a paperback’s price for a digital book I can’t share, lend, write in, keep on a shelf, or leave in the bathroom.

    I’ve never understood why the powers that be want to equate digital with hardback. Well, I understand WHY, but I don’t understand why they think anyone else would feel as they do.

  72. Alla
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 08:02:24

    I am one of those readers who will buy hardcovers of the authors I love (used to be either Amazon or B&N), but as somebody else said the list of such authors had shrunk significantly for me and is now extremely short. For example, was I annoyed that Jim Butcher’s “Changes” was not available for my Iphone kinddle application? I was, but I was not willing to wait one extra day for this book and with Amason offering it for $9.99? Oh yeah, I was not cancelling my preorder. But if I think about it, off the top of my head right now I cannot think of the authors for whom I will do the same thing. Well, there was Harry Potter books (shhhh), but nothing else comes to mind which I would be willing to buy hardcover and not wait for better price if hardcover is in full price.

  73. HeatherK
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 09:11:25

    I have four authors I read in hardcover. Only one of those authors did I purchase new (at new release prices) last year in hardcover and that was from Walmart. Two, I bought when they hit $6 on the bargain table. The last one, I’m still waiting for because I’m just not paying new hardcover prices for it or I’ll just buy it in paperback when it’s released in that format. And that pattern will most likely repeat with this year’s upcoming hardcover releases by these same authors. And sadly, three of those authors are with the ones forcing the prices up. I guess you know what that means, huh?

    Truthfully, I prefer ebooks, but I’m not paying hardcover prices for ebooks. Not going to happen, and truthfully, if one of those authors doesn’t improve (she’s gone downhill lately, IMO) then I’ll probably mark her off the list altogether. Money’s tight and there are many other authors out there to pick from. If the writing falls to a level I’m not happy with, I’m going to move on. If the pricing isn’t right, sorry but the same goes, I’m going to move on to another author and another book that IS priced right. I realize pricing isn’t the fault of the authors, but it is what it is. Pricing goes up but the amount I have to spend stays the same so something has to give. I only get so much money a month to spend on books because my husband views them as a luxury (even though I could strangle him for that opinion) so I have to make those few dollars I get count for all I can.

    Higher prices on books means either fewer books or different, cheaper books. I already take advantage of free reads and I’m now starting to use the Kindle store’s “Free Sample” as a way to find new books without sinking any money into a book I might not even like. Yes, a free sample will help me there, because if I’m not into it by the end of the first chapter, odds are I’d never finish it without skimming for dialogue in the first place. Or I get books from my mother or yard sales or fleamarkets or thrift stores. I got two paperbacks for a dime each at a yard sale and two others for fifty cents each at a thrift store this weekend. Not the digital I prefer, but at least it’s something new (to me) to read.

    And though I use the Kindle store’s preview feature, I don’t buy from Amazon. I prefer to read on my Sony reader rather than on my iPod Touch with the Kindle App. Easer on my eyes that way, but I can tough it out long enough to get through a chapter or two.

  74. Maili
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 09:44:43

    I’m not sure if this fits in:

    I recently was surprised to find that almost every new YA novel is released in hardback (by the look of it, have similar prices to those of adult fiction in hardback), and there are very few YA novels digitally available. This, I admit, boggles my mind because it was usually paperbacks in my time. Is this a common practice nowadays?

    I’m not familiar with the YA market (it’s a new adventure for me) so sorry if this is not news to some of you.

  75. Christine M.
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 10:05:26


    I can’t speak for what happens on the other side of the border but here in Canada a lot of YA is released in HC first (i’d say about 40%?) but the price is about half of the ‘adult’ HC books (say, $15 to $20 for a YA HC whereas ‘adult’ HCs range from $30 to $45 (CAN$, of course)).

    Also, to comment on may earlier posts re: paying full prices for your books, I used to work for a small, independant English bookstore in Quebec City (it’s the only one in the province east of Montreal) and we couldn’t afford to lower the prices of HC books very often so yeah, many of our customers paid full prices for books. But then we would always go the extra mile in terms of customer service, offering to make special orders if the desired book wasn’t in store, even finding used/OOP books for the clients. The clients knew to what length we were willin gto go to help them and they were willing to pay “the price” to get that sort of service and, of course, to support a local, independant store. Some of our customers were going as far as digging the book info sheet from Amazon and bringing it to us to have us ordering said book (they didn’t want too make purchases online) and thus were prepared to pay the full price for the convenience of the service provided. I’d also say that HC books (all genres) made up about 35-40% of the floor/shelves space.

  76. Christine M.
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 10:08:21



    Is cable TV also a ‘luxury’ for him?

    Seriously? That’s kind of sad.

  77. HeatherK
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 10:26:00

    @Christine M.:

    He’s gotten better lately, though not by a whole lot. I admit, it floored me when he confessed that to me and I let him know how wrong I felt that opinion was and just how little I appreciated it, especially since I write!

    But I can’t complain about him too much. He does help me look for OOP books by my favorite authors when in fleamarkets and stuff since many are on low shelves or way up high where I can reach comfortably. He also takes wonderful care of me, which never ceases to amaze me since I’m sick more often than not. He supports me in whatever I decide to do and helps with it where he can.

    Oh and since I let him have it with both barrels, he’s not repeated the luxury line. Not even hinted at it. I think he fears for his manhood. hehehe

  78. Sammy
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 10:34:17

    I just wanted to add, I bought my Kindle NOT so much about price but because it was easier to store and carry my many, many books. Would I have paid a higher e-book price for a book I wanted? Yes. If that book was a hardcover and I loved the Author, I would have bought the Hardback as well. The Publisher wants to dictate to me how I should buy format, for that reason alone I won’t buy any book in any format. There are tons of books I want to read this month and the next but I won’t buy them.

    Publishers are handing out huge advances to Celebrities, Politicians and the “reality” TV stars and using the Romance Authors and Book buyers to do it. I feel like we as a community are paying the price so that they can keep up with the other publishing houses catering to the celebrities. Of course that’s just my opinion.

  79. brooksse
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 17:48:10

    There are a few times I’d pay full price for an ebook. But I mostly comparison shop for the best price available. If I’m interested in 2 or 3 ebooks, I try to find the best price for purchasing all three. And then I look at total savings and average savings per ebook, rather than actual savings per ebook.

    But I won’t pay more than the current paper version, which is usually mmpb. If the current paper version is trade paperback, I usually won’t pay more than $8.00 or $9.00 for the ebook version.

  80. rebyj
    Apr 12, 2010 @ 19:29:23

    I’m with the posters who don’t mind waiting for the price to come down. I do it for movies too.
    No way do I pay full price for any hardback new release. There’s always somewhere to find it discounted.

  81. Maili
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 03:51:17

    @Christine M.: Thank you.

    Earlier while at Book Depository’s ebook section, I stumbled across an urban fantasy novel priced at £2.30. I had never heard of the author (Maurice Broaddus) and since the price seems super-low and the cover looks interesting (plus, I rarely see a black male on an urban fantasy cover, which makes it even more interesting), I bought a copy of ‘Kingmaker’ on impulse.

    Just after that, I was surprised to see another entry for ‘Kingmaker’, on same page (same ebook format/cover/author/publisher), but priced differently at £5.98.

    I realised then that had I seen the second ebook entry first, I would bypass buying a copy because the author is completely new to me. It’s not the first time it’s happened. Examples: I bought Cherie Priest’s ‘Boneshaker’ when it was available for $2 or thereabouts at Diesel Books, and a bundled book package of Liz Williams’s Inspector Chen series (three books for $6 or $9?) at

    In spite of the fact all these authors were completely new to me, all those books I bought were impulse buys.

    This probably means, for me as a digital reader (I can’t ever go back to being a print reader), the biggest deciding factor will be – when comes to trying debut or new authors – low prices from now on.

    It’d certainly make me feel less guilty about being such an impulsive buyer. I mean at that price – if an impulse-bought book doesn’t work for me, then fair enough. I think I’d react differently and negatively if I bought it at full price. (I don’t know if this is common among genre readers, though.)

    And it’s certainly a step-up from days of being a print reader because I used to buy second-hand/used books when I wanted to try those by new-to-me or debut authors.

    This has to be a plus for authors and their publishers, surely?

  82. Brian
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 10:05:08

    I thought this new pricing scheme was supposed to mean uniform prices in all stores, but I guess that’s not the case…

    Someone recommended ’31 Bond Street’ by Ellen Horan to me so I went looking for it. At Amazon and B&N it’s $12.99, at Sony it’s $13.46 and at Books On Board it’s $9.99! It wasn’t available on Fictionwise, Kobo or Diesel. Harper has it on their ebook store for $7.99 ($9.99 less 20%), but it can’t actually be purchased (I’m assuming they aren’t set up for the new selling setup with tax and stuff yet).

    As a side note I found that MN residents do have to pay sales tax on Harper titles.

    On another side note I do wish these big pubs would give us the actual cover on their ebooks instead of the crappy generic thing they seem to use increasingly.

  83. Lane
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 11:27:52


    I'm not sure why DRM exists, really.

    Mostly because when e-books started taking off, they did notice that unauthorized copies were being made, panicked, and demanded that Something Must Be Done.

    Whenever you get a demand like this, there are two general responses:
    1: Do Something that will give the illusion that something has been done, and just make people feel better/safer.
    2: Do Something that will actually minimize the ability of the threatening behavior to be carried out.

    Usually when you get panicked demands to Do Something Now, you see a whole lot of option 1, with a smattering of option 2. It’s usually cheaper, easier, and simply involves creating litigation that makes the behavior ‘punishable’, and thus Someone Else’s Problem.

    Part of the problem, of course, is that you will usually get a solution that looks like a 2, but turns out to be a 1. Current DRM is a good example.

  84. Brian
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 11:44:12

    Mostly because when e-books started taking off, they did notice that unauthorized copies were being made, panicked, and demanded that Something Must Be Done.

    AFAIK the big pubs have used DRM from day one haven’t they (Peanut Press (aka eReader and Mobipocket being some of the earliest)? It’s not something they added later, it’s something DRM companies scarred/talked them into from the get go.

    Unauthorized copies have been being made (scanned/OCR’d) since before there was any kind of actual commercial ebooks.

    You’re right about it being an illusion to make authors and pubs feel better, even though pretty much every form of DRM can currently be removed pretty easily.

  85. XandraG
    Apr 13, 2010 @ 12:34:54

    @Castiron I buy PDFs of RPG gaming books and access to online tech manuals. I mostly expect the PDFs to be somewhere around 30-50% off the price of the physical book because I know that the print cost of something with maps and graphics is huge.

    The tech manuals act more like a subscription, which we don’t mind because this stuff gets updated frequently, and often one purchase nets you access to multiple related books.

    I think the publishers are making a huge mistake in raising ebook prices. They are making a direct-to-consumer decision when the direct consumer is NOT THEIR CUSTOMER. Publishers sell to distributors, wholesalers, and book buyers for large and mid-size chains and libraries. They don’t sell to end-users (end-readers), and consequently, they don’t know jack about reader habits. That’s what they count on the retail/library buyers to know.

    They’re also focusing too narrowly. They’re looking at “book-buying” habits when they should be looking at “entertainment habits” and “online shopping” habits. People are indoctrinated into finding The Cheap online. It’s what small, local businesses have been flailing over for years. “It’s cheaper online” probably beats out “I love you” for three-word phrases most often spoken in the home (but maybe still comes in second to “clean your room”).

    The Big 5 are also thumbing their noses at romance readers. We buy in bulk, we read in bulk, and we’re buying more while everyone else is spending less. So what do they do? raise the price of the one genre and format that’s in highest demand, instead of really examining it and thinking, “Gee, maybe it’s *because* romance mmpbs are so low on the price-totem in entertainment spending that they’re selling well while the $60 video games and $40 blu-ray movies aren’t.”

  86. Stumbling Over Chaos :: In which the linkity thing gets incredibly out of hand (yes, even more so than usual)
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 01:02:47

    […] Dear Author has a really good post about book pricing. […]

  87. Seanna Lea
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 08:28:13

    I’m just getting into ebooks now, and because I don’t have a reader yet (reading on my laptop), I am slowly building a collection of free books from online promotions. If I enjoy reading the first book, then I will possibly buy additional books at an undiscounted rate.

    Additionally, I do not expect books in niche markets (like craft books) to be available at a discount or much of a discount even in print. I wait till I have a coupon to buy a more expensive book, but I buy 1-2 craft books and 3-4 non-craft books at full price each year. I don’t know how many discounted books I buy, because I don’t keep track.

  88. Mia Harris
    Jun 20, 2010 @ 11:57:12

    Where do you download some blue ray movie trailers in HD ?*:’

  89. Jonathan Todd
    Aug 21, 2010 @ 20:30:15

    I am an avid reader (7+ books per week) I am an avid collector of books, largely paperback. Why? Partially because it is easier to carry a paperback around with me, they weigh less, and are easier to find space to store. And partially because at a rate of 300+ Titles a Year I simply cannot afford HB prices. I would happily pay a price for e-books that was inline with Paperback price. But! I WILL NEVER buy an e-book for MORE than the price of the same book in trade paperback.

  90. Jane
    Aug 22, 2010 @ 08:15:07

    @Jonathan Todd I think a lot of readers feel like you do.

  91. Mandy
    Nov 21, 2010 @ 23:41:46

    As someone on a low income and a huge reading habit, 5 to 7 books a week, I get most of my books from the library or a used bookstore. That’s actually why I like my Kindle, I could get a great deal of the books I wanted for less than a new hardcopy & only a bit higher then I’d pay at the used store. I love the ease of use with the ebooks, 100s on one little device, etc. etc. and I didn’t mind paying that little bit extra that would actually get paid to the author. However if it’s a question of feeding my habit or only being able to afford 1 or 2 books a month, I can wait for that new book that just came out & buy it used or get it at the library. It fact some of the publishers have gotten so annoying to me with what they are doing to their ebooks, that I have put them on my “Do not buy new anywhere” list. Because they are not getting any of my money.

  92. Why do ebooks cost so much? | Dear Author
    Jan 16, 2011 @ 04:01:21

    […] Indoctrinated into discounts […]

  93. Heather
    Jan 17, 2011 @ 00:17:21

    This blog makes me slightly miserable. I work in an Australian publishing house, which is actually not-for profit, and I can’t even afford to buy half our books – because my job pays terribly. This is because there is now money in the industry.

    I see people horrified at a US$9.99 price point. This is not expensive. Publishers must cover their costs if they can ride out the change from pbook to ebook. If you want to keep reading new material, you need to understand that you have to pay for it. Publishers are already drowning, and trying super hard to keep their heads above water.

    I am also a psychology graduate. If you want to talk about anchoring, please bear in mind that this numerical dragging effect works for every aspect of our lives – not just new products. Americans are lucky enough to have the large population that pushes standard hardback prices down to next to nothing (here we pay $39.99 for a normal hardback). Compared to these already low prices, you expect lower prices still. However, this anchoring effect doesn’t acccount for the bottom-line basic needs of publishers.

    Ebooks might offer publishers the chance to do something we all need – produce cheap products that can be priced in a way that will provide small amounts of profit. This profit does not, in the book industry, line greedy pockets – this money needs to be made to fund the risky projects that are new writers and new work.

    Please stop and think before you are disgusted by $10 ebooks. They are feeding your love of reading.

  94. Mindy
    May 02, 2011 @ 14:41:13

    There are enough author based, author run sites out there to satisfy my reading habits which is quite prodigious. I’ve just purchased my last kindle book until the publishers get a clue. Hm, time to ferret out all those new authors I’ve missed out on I guess at the public library!

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