Are publishers leaving billions on the table by fixating on well-heeled readers?

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From TeleRead:

Much of the news is cheery in “COVID-19 and Book Publishing: Impacts and Insights for 2021,” a free 50-page report from three seasoned industry consultants, Cliff Guren of Syntopical, Thad McIlroy of The Future of Publishing, and Steven Sieck of SKS Advisors.

True, the coronavirus has bankrupted some brick-and-mortar stories, and libraries will have to compete at budget time with other agencies the virus is battering. But publishers themselves have fared surprisingly well.

Working at home to avoid the contagion, millions have ditched their commutes and are now ordering books online from Amazon and other big retailers. Many Americans, at least those not saddled with new childcare burdens, enjoy more reading time.

Savvy publishers also will be able to sell directly to consumers directly, including those home-schooling their children. Print on demand should make all kinds of things possible. Same for electronic books, whose September sales grew 22 percent year over year. And the “online first” publishing model may become increasingly attractive.

. . . .

The report covers plenty of territory, but one observation in particular leapt out at me—how publishers have stayed afloat partly because they are so focused on affluent consumers, who tend to be less affected by the virus than America at large.

Backing up their claims, the authors reached back to some 2015 statistics from the Bureau of Labor Statistics showing in their words that “the top 10% of earners spent nearly 8½ times more on reading than the bottom 10%. And so while the pandemic is hitting lower earners financially more heavily than the more prosperous, this is at worst a minor negative indicator for publishing’s bottom line.”

On the surface, that tidbit would seem to delight. Hooray! Publishers so far have been more virus-proof than, say, restaurants or brick-and-mortar bookstores in malls.

But the ultimate message is a downer in a certain way, and not just in regard to the threat to democracy if financial and cultural gaps grow between rich and poor Americans. Unwittingly, between the lines, the report is implying that major publishers, at least, are leaving a lot of money on the table by focusing on the well-heeled at the expense of the masses.

Ebook prices from them have been too high, as I see it, to tempt many consumers, and publishers should not take the status quo for granted or even be happy with it if they look ahead.

“Consumer discretionary spending should rise with the economy’s anticipated growth in 2021, a positive note for consumer book sales,” the report itself says while citing widely accepted forecasts of six percent for such spending as a whole. “But there are clear signs of demand elasticity in, for example, consumer willingness to add or cancel video streaming services to lower cost, and resistance to paying high prices for home rental of first-run movies; and in the high demand for library ebook lending.”

Too many publishers, in my opinion, would rather protect their infrastructure for paper books than assure their digital titles maximum distribution by pricing them reasonably. There is also the issue of editorial content of the books. Small publishers and self-publishers are dominating category fiction such as romance.

Even with that factored in, the entire publishing business is still leaving billions on the table. Household expenditures for books are just a fraction of the several thousand dollars a year that the typical American household spends on other forms of entertainment.

Such is the bad news, worsened by the virus, which if anything is exacerbating income and wealth differences. And the good news? Lots and lots of potential upside for publishers of all sizes. The industry simply needs to think more about expanding the universe of readers and less about such short-sighted strategies as overpricing ebooks and and in the future especially jacking up prices for library ebooks.

I know. Some publishers complain that library borrowing steals from retail sales. But despite the willingness of many consumers to check out books rather than buy when prices are too high, the truth is more complex.

Borrowing of library ebooks has surged during the epidemic, but print book sales have risen, too—8.2 percent in 2020. The message here is that publishers can be both pro-library and solvent. And pro-library is really pro-publisher since today’s borrower may be tomorrow’s buyer even if direct correlations may not be evident. It’s the book habit that we need to encourage among the many millions who are now spending either a pittance or nothing at all on books.

Asked for his thoughts on the demographic differences in book-buying, especially during the pandemic, Thad McIlroy emailed me: “I feel there’s a major study to be done on this issue. The book publishing industry largely sells to the same well-heeled audience, year after year. The audience increases slightly as additional literate graduates enter the reading world—then declines with the deaths of the heavy-reading seniors.

. . . .

As noted in our report, the pandemic has led to a lift in ebook sales and lending. I suspect the increases in sales and borrowing will last beyond the pandemic. Familiarity breeds contentment. And, as you note, we are all getting used to doing more and more online and on our phones. Convenience is addictive.

“With regard to libraries and discovery—I agree that libraries have an increasingly important role in driving discovery, but discovery doesn’t automatically (or uniformly) drive sales. It’s relatively easy to assess the impact of specific events (such as author readings) on sales—much harder to assess the long-term impact of library promotion and availability of a specific title on sales. The Panorama Project is working on this, but it’s going to take time and significant industry cooperation/coordination to get to authoritative results.”

Link to the rest at TeleRead

PG says (again) that when you combine too little business and marketing savvy at major publishers with an obstinate refusal to spend money to build the size of the overall market and market share on the part of the primeval management of the large international holding companies that own most of the US traditional publishing business, you’re likely to wait a long, long time for any sort of innovation in pricing, business practices, more focus on innovation in ebook marketing and sales activities, etc. to occur.

Innovation for this group usually involves long discussions about how much higher the prices for books can be increased this year.

Traditional publishing has a highly-conflicted view of libraries. They have the idea that a high percentage of borrowers would buy their books if it were unable to conveniently borrow them from a library.

Publishers don’t understand (or are unwilling to accept) that readers don’t live in an information-consumption box that only contains books (and traditionally-published books at that). Consumers can find entertainment and education from all over the place, including from online sources besides libraries.

PG spends far more time during the day reading text that comes to him via email and web browser than he does reading text that arrives on his ereader (and he’s a regular reader of books on his ereader). PG hasn’t purchased a physical book for himself in years. Ditto for Mrs. PG.

Something PG hasn’t seen discussed by traditional publishers or journalists who cover that beat is that more than a handful of avid readers of hardcopy books automatically put their physical books up for sale as used books as soon as they finish reading them. This includes readers of printed books that they purchase new from Amazon as well as readers who have purchased used books from local or online bookstores.

These types of readers want to help fund their physical book reading habit, so any amount of money they can generate from selling their once-used or many-times-used books help fund the purchase of additional books.

PG just checked on eBay and over 35 million books were for sale. All the ones he looked at were used and selling for a small fraction of their original retail price. PG includes a handful of eBay screen shots at the end of this post.

PG notes that most of the eBay screen-clips he made were sponsored posts – paid advertisements – not just a bunch of amateurs selling their books. A would-be reader could spend ten minutes and ten dollars and buy at least a couple of weeks of reading on eBay (with free shipping). And there was no mention of any sales tax the purchaser would have to pay.

Looking at the overall book market with a hard-eyed view not limited to only wealthy readers, a business-savvy publisher would sell ebooks direct to readers, keeping virtually all the money the ebooks generate for their first sale and rely on off-the-shelf copy-protection systems to discourage most purchasers from re-selling the ebooks to their friends.

Speaking of high ebook prices, this “strategy” encourages tech-savvy individuals to circumvent copy protection. If you compare the likelihood that a non-techie reader will look outside of traditional sales channels for an illicit ebook that carries a retail price of $2.99 from Amazon vs. one that carries a $10.99 price on Amazon, more than a few people will seek a way around paying $10.99 to Amazon than will spend the time and effort to get a free or lower-priced $2.99 ebook.

(PG notes that the last eBay ad he clipped and pasted at the end of this post offered 300,000+ ebooks in PDF format with “Master Resell Rights” for 99 cents)

Low prices sell more consumer products of every kind. That’s why Amazon sells so much of everything. That’s why Walmart sells so much of everything.

That’s why higher-priced physical retailers who don’t sell primarily to rich people have closed most of their doors during Covid and are unlikely to open them after Covid goes away.

Covid has continued for long enough that, for many people, the changes involved with Covid aren’t all going to reset themselves after everyone is vaccinated.

As an example, the PG’s are likely to continue to order a lot of their groceries online, then drive to the store and have someone put their purchases in their trunk instead of wasting time pushing a cart around the store, making impulse purchases (more of a problem for PG than Mrs. PG), waiting in line to check out, then wheeling a filled grocery cart across a large parking lot, then putting their grocery items into their trunk and driving home to unload the groceries once more. Since PG does most of the grocery lugging, he’s going to opt to touch his purchases once when he takes the groceries out of the trunk to carry them into the house.

If PG had used the grocery pickup service for a couple of weeks then the Covid lockdown had ended, he would be likely to go back to his normal pre-Covid practice of going into the grocery store to shop. After several months of grocery store pickup experience, the pickup service has become his habit.

There are a lot of readers who have purchased physical books in the past who have experimented with ebooks or have learned that they get a much wider selection of physical books from Amazon at lower prices if they stay in their home rather than follow their habitual behavior of making a mental note to stop by the bookstore the next time they go out shopping.

PG predicts that this going-on-line-to-find-and-purchase-books habit is not going to change after the Covid storm passes. It’s going to be a life-long habit for enough people to change traditional bookselling forever.

Here are some of the eBay used books listings PG found in less than ten minutes:

33 thoughts on “Are publishers leaving billions on the table by fixating on well-heeled readers?”

  1. Looking at the overall book market with a hard-eyed view not limited to only wealthy readers, a business-savvy publisher would sell ebooks direct to readers

    Why not paper, too?

    • Because the shipping and handling would eat them alive. There’s an immense difference between the kind of warehouse operation Amazon has, which is optimized for mixed-item low-quantity shipments to individual addresses, and the kind of warehouse operations that publishers have now and have had for at least the last century and a half, which is optimized (for a value of “optimized” related to “all costs and capabilities in comparison to 1963”) for case-lot deliveries of single items by commercial shipment to a commercial address.

      Then, too, the publishers just don’t want to invite any more likely-to-be-unionized workers into their structures… No, that’s not mere cynicism; I’ve heard the CEO/founders of multiple not-fly-by-night publishers (not fly by night? how’s nine figures in revenue?) more than once threaten — illegally, I might add — to close down the companies if there was ever a certification vote scheduled. The mindset that it takes to get to/be at the top in the entertainment industry is… incompatible… no, implacably hostile to ever having its micromanagerial decisionmaking questioned.

      • Publishers used to have direct to consumer divisions as recently as the late 70’s. Look in the back of period paperbacks and you find a listing of recent releases and an PO BOX address to send a stamped self-addressed envelope to for a catalog. Books had (have?) a separate low shipping rate that made it possible.

        It was before the IRS changed the rules on inventory and before the multinationals “optimized” their distribution to focus on chain book buyers.

        It was a good way to monetize remnant inventory instead of pulping it. Paper Recycling wasn’t big in those days.

        • Felix, what publishers did with their “direct to consumers” operations in the 1970s was appallingly small… and wouldn’t meet expectations of consumers in the age of FedEx, DHL, etc. So I don’t think it’s comparable, or an example of a realistic-in-today’s-management-and-investing-environment possibility.

          I hear lamenting about Thor Power Tools and its purported impact on publishing all the time. Leaving aside for the moment that Thor Power Tools was not a new “rule of law,” but a “listen, guys, you think you found a clever loophole but you didn’t” decision that rejected disproportionately favoring limited-but-not-that-limited-life inventory like books and clothes over both limited-life inventory like vegetables and essentially-unlimited-life inventory like 1/4-inch hex-head galvanized lag screws (one of the actual examples in the record). That is, publishing now had to start playing by the same inventory rules as hardware — a result that is not only “fair,” but probably compelled by the First Amendment (or at least its negative spaces).

          But regardless of the historical issues, my point is that publishers would be forced to build a satisfactory-by-comparison-to-Amazon system from scratch, today… and ROI calculations (ironically enough, strongly influenced by Thor Power Tools) make that unattractive to post-1980s-trained MBAs who are controlling all of the internal financials at these conglomerates. Whether public companies or not.

          And that means that the publishers are going to have to provide a better return on investment into an area in which they have no expertise whatsoever (Exhibit A: Rollout of Harry Potter books, and don’t try to convince me that publishers have more capability or intelligence now than they did then, given that they didn’t learn anything from books 3 through 7!) — for an investment that’s at minimum going to involve high-eight-figures in sunk costs before the first delivery to the first consumer — when they can outsource it and blame someone else when things go wrong.

          • Agreed to all that.
            That is because they didn’t evolve the foothold they had and grow it over time. The smaller publishers used the old SASE database to build mailing lists and send out quarterly brochures, procuring further sales *and* they were building direct consumer relations.

            Fast forward to today and most of the digital content fights (HBO and NBC vs Roku and Amazon most recently, Epic vs Apple and Google) are all about controlling the customer relationship.

            Don’t forget that there are entire companies that backend online sales for other companies and OVERDRIVE to name just one has a white box business running websites under customers to run an online sales website.

            You don’t have to be Amazon to be BAEN. Or Monoprice. Or Cyberguys. Or Etsy. Or thousands of smaller niche players. Youjust have to have been timely in establishing the customer relationship.

            And BAEN *is* tiny; their entire catalog is under 2000 titles and thdy have a tiny fraction of the resources of even a mid-size Manhattan publisher. But they’been been doing online almost as long as Amazon. Over two decades old and they did it by contracting with a small specialty operation.

            They had the vision to see where the world was going and got going ASAP.
            And the storefront is not their only form of customer relations control; they host a very vibrant online community where their authors interact regularly with existing and prospective fans. What indie authors do for themselves, BAEN does for their authors. And because they sell direct, they (reportedly) offer a higher royalty on direct sales.

            “What one person has done, another can aspire to. ”

            In fact, one of tbe BPHs actually tried doing a direct sales storefront of their own over 5 years ago. It was awful. And that is being kind. In fact it was so buggy and ill-structured one might suspect it was on purpose.

            Of course, by then hardly anybody noticed. They were 15 years late.

            Farming out distribution and all customer relations is just one of many ways the big publishers distanced themselves from readers to the extent they have no idea what readers might like until after a book has succeeded or failed and readers neither know nor care who published a book. That was not always that way.

            Customer relationship data is vital and the cause of many a corporate war now and moving forward. Those with access to customer data will prosper, without it they will suffer. Those old mailing lists were never maintained but if they had built on that small mail order business they wouldn’t be at the mercy of retailers and consultants.

  2. Fascinating analysis, PG, as always. Just one comment regarding used books. You write “These types of readers want to help fund their physical book reading habit, so any amount of money they can generate from selling their once-used or many-times-used books help fund the purchase of additional books.”

    Indeed. But here’s another perspective.

    Publishers fixate on libraries as an income drain. The jury is still out on whether readers who borrow are skipping new book purchases or whether they’re creating a larger ecosystem for each title that ultimately leads to more new book purchases.

    I keep track of studies of why people buy books, where they buy them, how they first hear of them and more. One interesting chart from a recent BookNet Canada study asked the simple question “In which of the following ways, in the last 12 months, have you obtained a book for yourself or someone else?” Only 27% bought new books. Second was public libraries at 17%, while third was SECOND HAND, at 15%. Borrowing from friends was over 12%.

    Publishers have never got their heads around the fact that they are accruing new book sales for only about 25% of their books read. It’s not just libraries that “cannibalize” their sales. They need to be putting a lot more effort into secondary channels to ultimately direct them to new book purchases.

  3. Big trad-pub has two problems, not one. The one that is rarely discussed is that, by and large, their product appeals to the “sensibilities” of the upper class and a large part of the upper middle class. At least, what those classes believe their “sensibilities” should be. Part of those are that reading should be “woke” – and another part is that anything not high priced is automatically junk.

    Oh, sure, they occasionally produce something that have an appeal for the “lesser” people – but there they do forget that they are competing for the “average bloke’s beer money” in the words of Robert Heinlein (PBUH). That bloke is, sometimes, willing to trade one beer for a decent couple of hours of reading, but not a whole six pack. (In some genres, such as romance, one Dove bar might be sacrificed for a new book, but not an entire box.)

    In anything, you have to remember that it is a combination of product and price and target demographic. Big trad-pub today survives on “high class” product at a “high class” price to a “high class” clientele. The truly successful ones in the past solved this by having different imprints – but one can hardly tell the difference between those now.

    • Agreed, WO.

      Particularly the homogeneity of 90% of the books that come from major and most smaller publishers. I don’t get any clear sense of any distinctive editorial curation in general or within genres at any but a handful of publishers these days. For me, a major publisher’s brand is pretty meaningless.

  4. Book buys fall into the categories of discretionary spending and entertainment.
    Entertainment options are growing daily.

    The most recent option to arrive is Discovery+ at $5 a month with ads, $7 without, including the archives of 15 cable channels from Discovery to Lifetime, OWN, to History, Animal Planet, Travel, A&E, etc. Plus original content.

    This joins Disney + at $7 a month, Hulu at $6, Netflix at $13, HBOMAX at $15 (discounted to $12 with a 6 month buy at $70), PEACOCK (Free, $5, $10 versions), Prime, and a horde of free ad-supported services like CW, CWSEED, TUBI, IMDB TV, Roku TV, Crackle, Pluto, etc).

    There are also reading focused subscriptions like Marvel Unlimited, DC Universe Infinite, Scribd, Kindle unlimited, and other lesser services, all running $7-10 a month.

    Gaming? The Leader is XBOX GAMEPASS at $10-15 a month with over 200 games, Google Stadia, Amazon Luna, EA PLAY, UBISOFT CHANNEL, etc. All support interactive streaming so neither consoles nor PCs are required though they help. Luna supports browsers, GAMEPASS is testing it, the others will have to match. Expect the client apps to start showing up on TVs later this year. GAMEPASS is already a $2B a year business and growing explosively. Might be up to $4B by summer. The randy Penguin is up to $5B? Microsoft laughs. They’re headed for $10B with Gamepass. All of trade publishing is $14-15B.

    That is what publishing is competing with these days, not just used books, beer money or dove bars. One ebook at $13 or pbook at $17 versus a month of netflix, two months of Disney, three months of Discovery or Peacock. A month of unlimited reading on KU.

    And those upper crust elites? More likely to be on Discovery or A&E than strolling a bookshop for a new release.

    Netflix has 200M subscribers, Prime and HBO150M, Disney in one year signed up 80M, and Peacock 20M in three months. Discovery just launched. Even more are coming. Apple is in there, CBS/Paramount too. Someday they’ll matter.

    There’s only so many eyeball hours and disposable bucks to pay for ad-free viewing and books aren’t competitive with the most popular ones. Books are a stagnant niche compared to the $150B gaming industry yet tbey pretend they’re guardians of culture?

    “Stock it and tbey will come” doesn’t work because they no longer come.
    Nowadays folks expect entertainment to come to them, even newly released movies, day and date.

    Tradpubs leaving money on the table? They aren’t even sitting on the table…
    So yes, there is a crying need to grow the market.
    Which Amazon is doing with KU.
    Which Indies actively do each day.
    But tradpub? Crickets.

    • All the stuff you describe is digital, and offers unlimited consumption for a defined period. Add KU to the mix. Against this, the publishers’ competitive advantage is with paper. That advantage erodes each day.

      And eBooks? That’s content for the Cloud. Unlike games or video, they are incredibly cheap to produce. Publishers aren’t needed.

      • Yes, it is digital; that is where entertainment is going and in most cases *is*. Especially the work-for-hire kind. And digital is what makes it compelling for producers as well as consumers. Frictionless distribution.

        That’s what “entertainment coming to them” is all about: putting the *consumer* in control of what and when to consume. No fresh produce model or appointment TV or fretting about a book going out of print or braving theaters crowds on opening night.

        Pbooks, DVDs, theaters, cable companies, are all withering in the transition to digital; they won’t totally disappear just as LPs and board games endure but only as niches. Control of those channels is not a growth path.

        Book publishers aren’t the only middlemen being disintermediated and Indies aren’t the only creators getting closer to consumers. By taking the intermediaries out of the supply chain there is more money for creators and a lower price to consumers. And with subscriptions they get more predictability. Win-lose-win. 😀

        • It’s still hard to get away from the intermediaries, even (or maybe especially) in the digital world.
          If you’re posting your content to Youtube, one of the streaming services, KU, etc, they are intermediaries, and can decide to censor, change what you get paid, and take a large chunk of change for their services (think of the Apple-Epic battle for example).

          • For now there still are intermediariaries and some are getting a bit big for their britches but their take is smaller than the old gatekeepers.

            (30% for Amazon, Nook, Apple, etc vs 85% for tradpub is common for ebooks; 50% of box office in theaters vs 90%+ for video; and Amazon and Roku extort maybe 20% from HBOMAX vs 40% for the cablecos.)

            This allows the content providers to grow their market by improving consumer value through lower prices, a better user experience, more content for the same price, etc.

            And if the new intermediaries get too grabby, there are technology solutions/alternate channels that can cut them out too. (Video streamers, for example, are cutting cheaper deals with TV manufacturers, game streamers are moving to web-based tech to bypass Apple, etc)

            It’s not utopia but it is much better than the old ways. Enough to juxtify burning bridges behind you before they collapse before you.

          • One used to need two intermediaries. First a publisher, and then a retailer. And sometimes a distributor.

            Now all it takes for eBooks is the retailer. This all fits with the notion that economic progress for the last 500 years is simply the continuing elimination of transaction costs.

            How to continue eliminating intermediaries? Who knows? Blockchain may offer the opportunity. Authors store a copy of their own books, and various indexes point to them. Then there is no need for all that storage in AWS.

            • An agreed upon ubiversal transaction protocol and (optional) DRM would do the trick for part of the problem. Banks have a common system for online transfers. You still need an intermediary but the transaction cost goes way down when you take humans out of the direct loop.

              (If ePub were a real standard instead of a half-baked toothless spec it would have included a retailer-neutral authentication system from day one and we would have an actual interoperable ebook system closer to DVD and digital video.)

              That still leaves the dirty secret of Amazon’s success: discoverability. As imperfect as Amazon’categories, tags, and search tools are, they’re still light years ahead of B&M’s eyeball mark 1 method.

              Author and small publishers can and do sell direct but only if the customer knows where to go. That required an early start, strong branding, and customer loyalty. By now it’s pretty late in the game to get started.

              First mover advantage is a big hurdle.
              (Even if Amazon wasn’t anywhere near the first.)

    • Nice to see a great comment that I didn’t have to approve first, Felix.

      I hope things are working the way they should for you with your comments.

  5. As an indie author, I’m committed to the 1st-sale book channels (I can’t make movies or other adaptations just happen).

    But as a reader (and my husband and I are extreme book buyers with broad interests), we haven’t bought a new paper edition of any fiction or narrative non-fiction in almost a decade, other than collectible rarities. The only exceptions are textbook or similar illustrated references for which ebooks are still unsatisfactory. And we buy 1000 ebooks/year (almost all of which is in copyright). I will even buy an ebook that is overpriced if necessary, since we are very tired of lugging 1100 book boxes around when we move. (Our next move will be the last, and a book purge of some significance will result).

        • Slight modification here (which exposes why publishers’ understanding of economics is so poor): Price matters for fungibles to everyone already on the demand curve.

          And if there’s anything that is less fungible than individual creative expression, I don’t know what it is. OK, I suppose medical care might be… but on the other hand, medical care’s “consumer” usually isn’t the patient in this sense…

          I simply will not choose Brand Name Author X’s work over Brand Name Author Y’s work simply on price. And although there’s some price sensitivity for new authors (one is usually willing to pay less of a “risk that I won’t like it” premium for unfamiliar sources), this also exposes the other principle problem with applying rational economic analysis to publishing: The prices are determined primarily by the packages that works are in, not the content that will be consumed.

          None of which is to say that Elliot01’s comment is “wrong” in the abstract, or even closer than that — just that the reality of publishing’s product base makes a purely economic analysis less helpful. (And it’s even worse with music, film, and the visual arts.)

          • Yes, when speaking of individual books, but…not quite so in the broader market.

            Books, music and most other creative *commercial* products are all fungible to one extent or another. Often very much so.That’s where genre comes in. (And writing to market in its many forms.) Genre is not usually fungible, but within the genre most creations are.

            Creative products aren’t a single market but a collection of partly overlapping niches.

            No, customets don’t go shopping for a book, any random book, despite what the B&M strollers might pretend. Some shoppers go looking for a specific title they heard of, be it a bandwagon media creation (casual readers usually) or a favorite author’s latest.

            What most shoppers do,especially the most reliable, the avid readers, is go looking for a book within a preferred genre. It can be SF&F, romance, history, biography, litfic, or any of their subgenres if they have enough experience . Within those markets, books are in fact mostly fungible and price matters, especially when time is factored in.

            The same is true of music, video, and games.
            Games are the clearest example: RPG fans will predominantly, if not exclusively play RPGs and for them FPS games are not fungible but within their preferred category they’ll play whichever RPG catches their eye whether it be a new release or ten year old SKYRIM.

            Movies? There is a fairly large segment of the movie market that shows up on opening day for horror movies. Every movie. Any movie. Totally fungible. As a result horror movies are ridiculously profitable at minimal investment. It helps if the movie is decent or is part of a familiar mythology but it doesn’t actually have to be. For genre fans bad movies are some of the best experiences.

            Blockbuster movies? Ditto. Michael Bay explosion fests, Marvel empty light shows, tough guy action flicks, all interchangeable. People will show up, often in droves, regardless of the product. If it’s good, they’ll make a billion. If not, they’ll still break even or make a small profit.

            Most creative products are bought as time killers. If the resulting experience pleases enough, they’ll do well. But the demand for what ech buyer considers good exceeds any specific creator’s ability to supply. So the customer looks for something similar, hoping for a repeat.

            No new Harry Potter? Well, tbere’s Percy Jackson. It’ll do.
            No new HONORVERSE? Well, The REPUBLIC OF CINNABAR series is good too.
            Read all the Heyer books? Plenty of other authors doing regency romances.
            The same with mystery, horror, tough guy action…

            Genres aren’t usually fungible but within a genre they mostly are, *at the consumer level*. It is a tough pill to swallow for some ( “You CAN be replaced”) but it is the reason why many creators can make a living in their chosen field.

            Commerce is an economic field: if you are doing commercial product you *will* by subject to the laws of economics to some degree and usually it is to a large extent. But the Stephen Kings and Kevin Feiges are rarities. And even their product is subject to economics.

    • No, that isn’t the only reason.
      The most common one is they get their entertainment through other channels that are more attractive in form, content, and accessibility.

      Price only matters to people committed to reading to start with and who care how they spend their money.

      • Agreed, Felix.

        Publishers don’t seem to have really responded to the idea that they are competing with a wide and ever-expanding range of activities that individuals in many Western nations can choose from for their non-work time.

        They still think that competing for shelf-space and reader attention in physical bookstores is important. I haven’t seen anything even remotely creative about tradpub’s promotion efforts on Amazon or elsewhere online.

        Any first-year digital marketing major could outdo New York publishing in an online marketing competition. Of course, those with talent in digital marketing can earn much, much more than anybody makes in publishing.

        • I recently received an email promo from a big American publisher. They essentially said, “We see you watched XYZ on Netflix, and thought you might be interested in the XYZ books that series is based on.”

          Then they provided pics of each book with links to buy it. Brilliant, I thought. They are capitalizing on a competing venue by buying emails from Netflix.

          Then I started to click the links. They were all broken.

  6. Oh, merciful heavens. I don’t often comment, and I have nothing wise to add to the above conversation. But until today I was blissfully ignorant concerning lots of books being sold by the pound, etc. on eBay. I now have visions of my children putting our hordes of books up for sale by the truckful.

    • I once bought a couple of boxes full of older SF paperbacks,inbulk, dirt cheap, but it was the opposite: parents selling off their kid’s collection after they left for college. That probably did not end well. (One of them alone was worth the price of the bundle. Old classic hard to get before ebooks.)
      A common story with comics.

  7. The Demon Slayer franchise has generated sales of over $2.6 billion in Japan, with the movie racing past Spirited Away to become Japan’s highest grossing film of all time. So what does a volume of the manga (120 million copies in circulation) sell for in Japan? Under $5.00 (Kindle version about $.50 less than the paperback). And that is under RPM (Resale Price Maintenance) rules. The pricing for this particular format is pretty standard across the industry. Publishers in Japan have long known that the gateway drugs in their industry are inexpensive light novels and manga.

  8. Price matters for fungibles to everyone already on the demand curve.

    If there is a demand curve, there is a fungibility factor.

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