Pricing

eBook pricing resembles three dimensional chess

6 September 2016

From veteran publishing consultant Mike Shatzkin:

The current round of reporting from major publishers contains some danger signs. Their ebook sales are declining (in dollars and even more dramatically in units) in an ebook market that is probably not declining. The “good” news for the publishers is that print sales are pretty much holding their own, or even growing. And profits are being maintained, which is probably the most important metric in their board rooms. But the bad news is that total revenues are down. And print sales have been buoyed by the consumer excitement for adult coloring books(now spreading to adult “activity” books), so the combined results for many author-driven titles don’t necessarily reflect growth and total unit sales of print plus digital for many titles are almost certainly falling behind expectations

In a complicated marketplace with large unknowns around indie authors and indie books, particularly those that are Amazon-only, it is hard to be definitive about what the cause of this is. (Author Earnings does yeoman work trying to put the two overlapping markets in context.) Certainly, barriers to entry have come down and there are many more books in the marketplace competing for readers that don’t come from the companies the publishers think they’re competing against. But the publishers’ “success” in establishing agency pricing — where the price they set is the price the consumer pays — combined with Amazon’s decision to “respect” agency (at first with no choice but subsequently, after contracts were renegotiated, with apparent enthusiasm) and offer no pricing relief from their share of the book’s sales revenue is almost certainly a major component of the emerging problem.

Amazon doesn’t need big publisher books to offer lots of pricing bargains to their Kindle shoppers; they have tens of thousands of indie-published books (many of which are exclusive to them) and a growing number of Amazon-published books, that are offered at prices far below where the big houses price their offerings. That probably explains why Amazon can see its Kindle sales are rising while publishers are universally reporting that their sales for digital texts, including Kindle, are falling.

. . . .

This is putting agency publishers in a very uncomfortable place. It has been an article of faith for the past few years that there is revenue to unlock from ebook sales if only the pricing could be better understood. Just a bit more revenue per unit times all those ebook sales units is a very enticing prospect for publishers. After the agency settlements liberated publishers from the price limitations Apple had originally insisted on, the immediate tendency was for publishers to push ebook prices even higher.

And since ebooks are sold in a less price-competitive market than we had before agency, Amazon can devote its marketing dollars to cutting prices on the print editions. This undercuts the publishers’ intention to support a diverse (and store-based) retail network and, at the same time, often embarrasses them by making the print book price (set by Amazon) lower than the ebook price (which Amazon makes very clear was set by the publisher).

. . . .

It is maintained by many people that there has been a reduction in the rate of surprise breakout books over the past few years because of this pricing as well. This perception would be explained by the fact that price attracts readers to try new authors, and so the new rising talent would more frequently come from the lower-priced indies. Higher ebook prices reduce the speed with which a book can catch on in the marketplace. It feels like there is a consensus in the big houses now that it is harder to create the “surprise” breakouts. (This is a very difficult thing to actually measure.) The “Girl on the Train” phenomenon is always unpredictable, but big publishers still could count on it coming along often enough to keep the sales revenue trend line rising. That doesn’t seem to be the case anymore.

High ebook prices — and high means “high relative to lots of other ebooks available in the market” — will only work with the consumer when the book is “highly branded”, meaning already a bestseller or by an author that is well-known. And word-of-mouth, the mysterious phenomenon that every publisher counts on to make books big, is lubricated by low prices and seriously handicapped by high prices. If a friend says “read this” and the price is low, it can be an automatic purchase. Not so much if the price makes you stop and think.

. . . .

An unpleasant underlying reality seems inescapable: revenues for publishers and authors will be going down on a per-unit basis. This can most simply be attributed to the oldest law there is: the law of supply and demand. Digital change means a lot more book titles are available to any consumer to choose from at any time. Demand can’t possibly rise as fast and, in fact, based on competition from other media through devices people carry with them every day, might even fall (if it hasn’t already). So publishers are facing one set of challenges with their high ebook prices; they’ll create another set if they lower them.

But, unfortunately, lower them they almost certainly must. With more data, we may learn that developing new authors absolutely requires it, particularly in fiction.

Link to the rest at The Shatzkin Files

PRH Still Doesn’t Like the Subscription eBook Model (The Fools!)

26 August 2016

From The Digital Reader:

Penguin Random House has in the past denied that readers want an ebook subscription service.

What with Kindle Unlimited now paying authors and publishers more than the Nook Store, and possibly even more than Kobo or Google, that excuse was getting a little thin, but recently PRH changed its tune.

The global CEO of Penguin Random House, Markus Dohle, was speaking at the Global Top 50 Publishing Summit at Beijing International Book Fair in China earlier this week . According to The Bookseller, Dohle said that:

PRH had not signed its titles up for any subscription services, such as Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited, Mofibo or Scribd, because the ‘all you can eat’ models threaten to “devalue” intellectual property (IP) at a time when most authors can barely afford to earn a living.

In the US, Dohle said 40% of the readership accounted for 85% of publishers’ revenue, so “heavy readers” switching to subscription models would have a “huge impact” on the industry.

He explained that the industry’s existing publishing model, successful for over 500 years, was “robust” and “not broken at all”, and argued that subscription models were “not in the reader’s mindset”. If they became popular, they would ultimately lead to “lower prices” and “a huge devaluation of IP”, Dohle said.

“A la carte is not broken […] I don’t see us supporting subscription models, because we just don’t need it,” he said. “Somehow we have to protect the measure of our intellectual property. Take an e-book for $12, that’s entertainment for 15 to 30 hours. That’s a fair deal compared with a movie and other media formats. I think we have a very robust pricing model in the market and subscription would just change the whole dynamic.”

Link to the rest at The Digital Reader

PG says this is wrong on so many levels (several of which are discussed in the OP), but PG has to mention one because he’s heard it so many times before from European publishing executives.

The value of a product or service is determined by the customer, not the seller.

If the customer will pay $10 for a product, that’s the product’s value. If the seller prices a product at $15 because that’s the true value in the seller’s mind, but the customer is only willing to pay $10, the product’s value is still $10.

Perhaps it’s partially a consequence of minimum book pricing laws in some European countries where the publisher sets the retail price, but, unless a customer is forced to purchase an item at a specific price (hello, college textbooks), in a free market the customer determines the value.

If a price is too high, the customer will simply not buy a product. (PG will note that readers in countries with fixed-price book laws regularly utilize a variety of technical means to disguise their physical location so they can purchase books online at lower prices.)

The idea behind the “devaluing” argument is that customers can be easily manipulated by simply charging higher prices. PG believes this is an elite executive’s ignorant view of the proletariat’s “mindset” and the epitome of stupid short-term thinking. Heaven forfend that the serfs ever hear of a lower price for anything. Prices must always go up and never go down.

If a customer, even a “heavy reader”,  enjoys reading books, but books cost more than the customer is willing to pay, the customer will respond in any number of ways — borrowing, buying used, finding something else to do that is also enjoyable and costs less, etc., etc., etc. No consumer is obligated to remain a heavy reader.

From Trad-Pub to Self-Pub–Tips and Observations

10 June 2016

From author Elizabeth Spann Craig:

This is the second time I’ve gotten the rights to my characters back from a publisher and taken a trad-published series to self-pub.  The last time I did this was five years ago.

There were some big differences between this time and last time.  The first time I’d had only one book released in the series before taking it to self-pub.  This time the series had five books in it.

This latest series had a nice following but I found that many of my readers for the Penguin series  seemed unaware of my self-published series.  They would email me asking when the next Southern Quilting Mystery was coming out and I would tell them…and then ask if they knew about my Myrtle Clover series.  Many times they didn’t.

One reason they didn’t is because Penguin didn’t want any non-Penguin books included in my author bio.  I can understand this.  So not only were my self-published books not included in my bio, the original trad-published book in the series (from Midnight Ink) wasn’t, either.

So that’s officially my favorite thing about taking this series to self-pub. I loved, loved, loved being able to advertise my self-pubbed series in the back of the book.

. . . .

And now for the curiosities from this release.   Print sales have been very strong…I’ve ranked as high as in the top 15,000–18,000 for printed books on Amazon.  It’s also selling well through IngramSpark, which tells me that bookstores are ordering it for customers.

The oddest thing about that to me is that the book clearly isn’t competitively priced in print–it’s running at $10.99, which I think is pretty high.  But when you’re doing POD (print on demand) with CreateSpace and Ingram, that’s the kind of price you have to set to make a profit.

So…why are the readers buying it?  I suspect that’s because these readers always did buy this series in print.  They went to the bookstore and purchased them there.  They want the print edition.

. . . .

The ebook sales have been even stronger than the print.  I suspect this is because I set the ebook price at $4.99.  Other releases in the series are at $7.99.  I’m undercutting my other books and the releases of trad-published cozy writers.

Link to the rest at Elizabeth Spann Craig and thanks to Deb for the tip.

Books’ Prices and Writing’s Value: Careful What We Asked For?

23 May 2016

From Writer Unboxed:

Blurring ‘Our Dignity, Our Value’

“The biggest issue is one that will be difficult for us to recover from…the degradation of our worth as creatives.”

That line is from a piece here at Writer Unboxed a year ago, in May 2015. Our colleague Heather Webb, in As Writers, What Are We Worth?, was anticipating a groan heard ’round the world.

Last month, when I led a round-table discussion at Berlin’s Publishers’ Forum, our topic was “Re-Thinking Ebook Sales and Understanding the Consumers.” But what drew the biggest response was book pricing.

“The consumer,” one of our publishers said, “is in perpetual confusion. No way to understand what a single book costs or how to value our authors’ work.” And at the influential publishing house Bastei Lübbe AG, executive board member Klaus Kluge is calling book prices “staggeringly low” in an interview with Sabine Schwiering Tert at Boersenblatt.net.

In the UK in January, Penguin Random House CEO Tom Weldon told my Bookseller colleague Benedicte Page: “”One of the biggest challenges in 2016 will be e-book pricing: how do we maintain the value perception of our quality content and maximize revenues across all formats for both authors and publishers?”

. . . .

What have we done to the idea of writing’s value? How fuzzy is this math going to get?

That’s my provocation for you today. How are today’s pricing problems affecting what Webb characterized here last year as “our dignity, our value, and the viability of this industry”?

Books were always commodities of a kind, and buying second-hand romances by the grocery-bagful didn’t start yesterday.

. . . .

With both the trade and the self-publishing sectors in rampant over-production as they are today, you’re facing a sheer rock face of competition for every glance your book might get, let alone a read, let alone a sale. Your price is in free-fall.

And we can look to our cohorts in Hollywood for a little guidance here, too. You may not remember what the advent of Blockbuster video and then Netflix did to film. But those of us who watched those developments roll in know. Suddenly there were films everywhere, peopled with actors who are not quite the stars they look like speaking dialog that’s as wooden as they are, in strangely unsatisfying knockoffs of other films.

We can’t entirely blame independent authors for this gauzy focus on pricing in books. As the indie insurgence began to impact the trade a few years ago, authors who had never been able to get past the agents and editors, the dreaded gatekeepers, found that they could self-publish in our digital age. But self-selling was a different thing.

When you have no marketing department behind you, when you’re not even listed in a publisher’s catalog or recommended to a Barnes & Noble buyer—and no one’s ever heard of you in the world of books—the one way you might turn the head of a potential buyer cruising Amazon is offer a low price. Or no price.

. . . .

If the trade was aghast at Amazon’s institution of $9.99 as a viable price for the ebook version of a hardcover hit, it’s tempting to mutter “all is forgiven” now. I know many authors who’d love to get $9.99 for their ebooks. Free downloads by the hundreds might feel exhilarating, but your take-home pay? And while it’s popular to hunker down in the bloggoria and shoot the breeze about the “sweet spot” between $2.99 and $4.99, what frequently is not mentioned is frequency: how many of those things do you have to sell at $3.99—even if you’re getting 70 percent—to put together an income?

. . . .

And nobody forced the industry to follow the self-publishing sector in driving the car right on over the cliff. For a time, a UK publisher staged a 20-pence promotion on some of the hottest titles of the year. Now, the bigs are in “new-agency” pricing contracts with Amazon that somehow have them charging high “this price set by the publisher” prices for ebooks at the very moment that the industry needs to energize its digital investments, not price them out of reach.

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed and thanks to Kristian for the tip.

PG says successful indie authors are very savvy about pricing their books at a level that maximizes author income. And more than a few earn their living from their writing. And nearly all authors who were traditionally published earn more as indies.

Yes, there are exceptions, but PG hears and reads success stories often enough to feel confident these are reasonably reliable generalizations for mid 2016. Simply put, in 2016, an author is much more likely to be able to support themselves as an indie than as a traditionally-published author.

The “pricing problem” that bothers Big Publishing is centered around the unfortunate reality that ebook prices which will maintain an indie author in fine fashion don’t generate nearly enough money to support a large publisher, regardless of how little it pays its authors.

One of the pivotal stages in a disruptive innovation comes when low-priced producers learn how to satisfy an economically significant portion of the overall market and use that position and their low prices to keep garnering more and more customers. These customers are satisfied with the quality of the product the low-priced producers offer and the low-priced producers have reached a point where they sell enough products and earn enough money to continue their business without interruption and without infusions of new capital. In short, the low-priced producers – indie authors – aren’t going away.

Speaking generally, more and more purchasers of ebooks are making purchasing decisions that say they don’t see enough added value from large publishers to justify the higher prices they have to pay. If $2.99 buys them an enjoyable reading experience, why would they pay $14.99 for an enjoyable reading experience?

The more enjoyable reading they experience for $2.99, the less likely they are to ever go back to paying $14.99. They’ll spend time digging around in the $2.99 bin to find a good book instead of paying $14.99. If they get stuck with a $2.99 clunker, they won’t give up on $2.99 books because experience has taught them there are more than a few good reads available at this price.

The question that Big Publishing can’t afford readers to ask is “Will I get five times more enjoyment if I pay $14.99?”

PG has been in the tech business for long enough to see the disruptive innovation process play out in many different markets. In each case, the incumbent market powers believe they add some special sauce to their products for which customers will always be willing to pay incumbent prices. Names like Novell, Lotus 1-2-3, Digital Equipment and Sun Microsystems come to mind, names once associated with the finest products, products that customers were happy to buy at the prices these companies set.

Today, major publishers assume today’s market will support the same prices as the book market of 2-3 years ago. They want to believe customers will agree that ebooks should be priced like printed books. They want to believe that ebook purchasers pay close attention to how much printed books cost and will use that price to determine the reasonable price for ebooks.

PG says these publishers do not understand consumer behavior.

Referring back to the OP, the relevant question in 2016 isn’t “As Writers, What Are We Worth?”

The real question is “Publishers, What Are They Worth?”

 

Price Too High Wishlist

11 May 2016

In case you didn’t read through the comments to Ebook Sales Decline Continues, J.A. and Mike said they have a “Price Too High” or “Overpriced” wishlist on Amazon.

When they see an interesting traditionally-published ebook that is overpriced, they simply save it to the Overpriced wishlist and wait for the price to come down.

PG has several different wishlists, but just added an Overpriced Books list.

PG reads a lot of history and the definitive account of The War of Jenkins’ Ear will be just as timely in six months at $2.99 as it is today at $12.99.

Visitors to TPV have also mentioned eReaderiQ, which lets you create watchlists and will email you when a favorite author releases a new book, a book drops to a price that is reasonable for you, becomes available on Kindle, etc. PG also uses CamelCamelCamel which provides a price-drop service for books or anything else Amazon sells.

One of the nice things about these services is that they will alert you to temporary price-drops, unannounced one-day flash sales, etc.

Libraries Call on Multinational Publishers for Fair Ebook Pricing

5 April 2016

From CNW:

Canadian Public Libraries for Fair Ebook Pricing continue to advocate for more reasonable prices and terms for ebooks from multinational publishers with an open letter to Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins, Macmillan Publishers, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.

Some multinational publishers charge libraries as much as three to five times more for ebooks than the consumer price, while others place caps and time limits on use. Current ebook pricing models lead to fewer titles and fewer copies for readers to discover, despite booming borrowing rates and high demand.

Public libraries are key players in the publishing industry, both as major purchasers of books and ebooks, and promoters of reading and literacy. With the open letter, libraries are advocating for a pricing model that introduces fairness and flexibility, specifically:

  • A hybrid of existing pricing models that would offer libraries of all sizes the ability to buy the number of copies and also the type of copies (perpetual or limited access) that meet their needs.

The hybrid model includes:

  • A reasonable premium price for ebook copies with ongoing and perpetual access, as the $85 and $100+ pricing is not sustainable.
  • A lower price option for ebook copies with limited access because of time or use restrictions. This pricing should be slightly higher than the consumer price.

Link to the rest at CNW and thanks to Ron for the tip.

The Power of Free: How to Sell More E-Books

29 March 2016

From Publishers Weekly:

Do you want to sell more books and increase the value of your author brand? Then give some of your e-books away for free.

To many authors, the idea of giving their work away for free is counterintuitive—and possibly abhorrent and sacrilegious. Free devalues your work, right?

Wrong. Free makes your work more valuable. As an author, you are a brand. Readers buy books from authors who have earned their trust. But to earn readers’ trust, you must first earn their awareness. If readers don’t know you, they can’t trust you—your brand carries no value to them. You’re invisible. Even if you’re already a New York Times bestseller, there are millions of potential readers out there who have never heard of you and have never read your stuff.

Free makes it possible to reach new readers who would otherwise never take a chance on you. Free enables readers to sample and discover new authors without financial risk.

According to the 2015 Smashwords Survey, free e-books get 41 times more downloads on average than other e-books. This is the power of free. Free drives sampling and discovery.

Link to the rest at Publishers Weekly

Why e-books cost so much

18 March 2016

From CNET:

Here’s something that tends to get lost in the debate over e-book prices: Paper doesn’t cost very much.

There’s a perception among consumers that an e-book should cost very little or next to nothing because there is no paper, printing, and shipping involved.

But in fact, for a new best-selling hardcover, all of the costs associated with print, from the printing to the shipping to the distribution to the warehousing to returns, amount to a mere few dollars per copy, depending on the size of the print run.

The vast majority of a publisher’s costs come from expenses that still exist in an e-book world: Author advances, design, marketing, publicity, office space, and staff.

You can therefore imagine the fear that e-book prices instill in publishing executives’ hearts. They’re only saving a few dollars per copy in the switch to the e-book world, but the prices of books were slashed more than half: from $24.99 to $9.99 and even lower.

. . . .

Not only are publishers’ margins better on higher-priced print books, but when bookstores close it has enormous ramifications for the industry. When Borders went bankrupt, for instance, Penguin Group was its single largest creditor, with $41.1 million outstanding.

And even aside from financial considerations, publishers’ entire reason for existence is bound up in print. The major publishers are, quite simply, the best companies in the world at getting print books from authors to readers. Most of the tools at their disposal for making a book a hit are tied to a print world, from buying front-of-the-bookstore placement (yes, publishers pay for that) to book tours.

As the exponential growth of e-books has slowed, some publishers are even whispering their hopesthat perhaps the rate of e-book adoption will slow further and print will be viable well into the future.

But meanwhile, on the other side of the e-book price divide are consumers. Whatever the cost of paper, $10-plus e-books look mighty expensive when they’re undercut by 99-cent Kindle best sellers sold by authors who don’t have a publisher’s overhead.

Publishers have a massive problem with perception of value. When you can’t hold it in your hands and easily pass it along to a friend, $10-plus just feels too expensive to many people.

Link to the rest at CNET and thanks to Dave for the tip.

How Apple and Big Publishers Pushed E-Books Toward Failure

8 March 2016

From Bloomberg Business:

Apple suffered a final defeat in its legal fight with the Justice Department over e-books Monday, when the Supreme Court refused to hear the company’s appeal. When the case was filed in April 2012 it was seen as a fight over the future of the digital book industry, with Apple Inc. and the five biggest publishers aligned against Amazon.com Inc. While Apple and its allies lost in court, their vision for the industry won out. It hasn’t been good for e-books.

The Apple case centered on whether publishers or online retailers  would determine the prices for e-books. At the time, Amazon was selling e-books at a loss, buying a book for, say, $14.99 but then charging Kindle users just $9.99. Publishers worried that tactic would train customers to expect books to come cheap forever.

. . . .

While Apple fought through the courts, the publishers all settled with the Justice Department. Meanwhile, Amazon decided that letting publishers set their own prices wasn’t such a bad idea, after all. Its newest deals with the big publishers allow them to do so. If Apple hoped to gain an advantage over a rival, it failed. Amazon controls about three-quarters of the U.S. e-book market, according to Good e-Reader, a website that follows the industry. In 2010 it made up 54 percent of the market.

Once Amazon gave up on its goal of setting a $10 standard price for e-books, the prices began to rise. Today, three of the top five best-selling books on the New York Times list for fiction cost at least $12. It’s not unusual to be able to buy a paperback book for less than the cost of the digital version.

There’s a widespread assumption that digital media always wins out over physical media. But even the Internet isn’t immune to the basic laws of economics. E-book sales declined 12.3 percent over the first 10 months of 2015, compared with the previous year, according to the American Association of Publishers, which compiles data from 1,200 companies.

. . . .

“It’s a fascinating question and clearly what it shows is that purchasers make a decision based on price,” said Robert Thomson, the chief executive officer of News Corp., which owns Harper Collins, in a recent call with investors. “They are valuing a print book versus an e-book.”

Thomson said he still expects e-books to grow as a percentage of the company’s overall book business, but acknowledged that people have lots of choices on their devices, and won’t necessarily choose books over other forms of entertainment.

Link to the rest at Bloomberg Business

The Collective Insanity of the Publishing Industry

1 March 2016

From author and TPV regular Gene Doucette:

Unless you’re a writer, I imagine you haven’t been paying quite as close attention to the publishing industry and all its weirdness as I have, and that’s a shame, because it’s been really entertaining.

Actually, entertaining isn’t the right word.  It’s been insane, but the kind of insane that’s unreasonably fun to watch from a safe remove.  Like watching a man stop traffic to cross against a green light by shouting, “I’ll bite your car!”  As long as it isn’t your car he’s threatening, it’s sort of funny.

You might imagine that as an author with published works for sale, I am not at a safe remove when it comes to the publishing industry.  That’s sort of true, but only sort-of.

Here’s a superb example of the madness of which I speak, and why I’m not concerned that anyone will be biting my car.

In 2014, there was a drawn-out dispute between Amazon, and Hachette.  The latter is one of the largest publishers in the world, and Amazon is a company that sells things, such as books.  The essence of the dispute was that Hachette—and all the other publishers we affectionately refer to as ‘the Big 5’—wanted more control over the list price of their e-books on Amazon.

That sounds thoroughly reasonable, and it sort of is, but please let me explain because the crazy is in the details.  What was happening was that Amazon was discounting the price of the ebooks, and it may seem like this is something the Big 5 would want to stop, except the markdown was coming off of Amazon’s end.  In other words, if Hachette wanted to charge $15.99 for an ebook, and Amazon marked it down to $9.99, Hachette was still paid their cut of the full price of the book.

More people will buy a book at $9.99 than at $15.99, so essentially, the Big 5 was coming out ahead in this arrangement in every conceivable way.  They collected royalties at an unreasonably high price point while moving the number of units that corresponded to a lower price point.

So of course that had to be stopped right away.

Hachette fought for, and won from Amazon, the return to something called the Agency Model, whereby they set their price and Amazon wasn’t allowed to reduce that price.  So that $15.99 book stayed at $15.99 until Hachette decided to change it.

Soon after that contract was signed, the other Big 5 contracts came due, and they all asked for the same Agency Model arrangement.  Thus, the finest minds in publishing—or one might assume—negotiated themselves out of an arrangement whereby they sold more units at a lower cost without suffering the financial impact that comes with a lower unit cost.

On purpose.

This isn’t even the crazy part.

After securing the right to price their ebooks unreasonably high and having those prices stick, the first thing the collective brain-trust of the Big 5 did was raise their ebook prices even more.  Often, the prices were higher than the price of the print edition, which is just fundamentally insane.

. . . .

Here is why I can laugh at this from a save remove: I don’t have a contract with a traditional publisher.  If I did, I’d be hopping mad, because what I just described above is an entire industry trying to take away a viable (and lucrative) sales channel for their own authors’ work.

Link to the rest at Gene Doucette

Here’s a link to Gene Doucette’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

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