Monday, August 31, 2009

The ePrice is not Right

The news this week that Sony want UK ebook pricing to come down demonstrates that the issue of ebook pricing has many vested interests. We can’t assume that these perspectives are shared and in many cases are in fact pulling in different directions.

What is clear is that there is no standard epricing approach. Most publishers choose to align the digital price to the recommended retail price (RRP) of the physical rendition, but even here there is inconsistency. Do they choose the hardback, the paperback or start with the hardback and then flip it to the paperback when it is released? Go they hold back its release and release it alongside the paperback? If the price remains aligned to the physical rendition does this mean that when a reprint is produced with a higher RRP the ebook price rises too? Audiobook pricing has long stood by itself and has not been aligned to the physical rendition, so why do it to ebooks? The big question remains - How does the consumer feel about different pricing for what is exactly the same product?

Some believe that a staggered release similar to that used in the film industry is the best way of avoiding the cannibalising of hardback sales. This may work for a few but the content isn’t any different and the experience is much the same and deliberately denying consumers access is an open invitation to the digital pirates who plague the film industry and feed off this staggered release policy.

Some argue that the publishers have given away control of price but others would suggest they never really had it and their only action was to raise prices to offset discounts but maintain margin.

We must also remember that audio books and ebooks incur tax. In the UK physical books are tax free or zero rate whilst digital is at full rate 15%. In other countries the rates differ between the physical digital renditions and across Europe there is little standardisation on VAT. An ebook to a Dublin reseller will not cost the same as it does to a London reseller, but they may well sell for the same price. As all books are sold VAT inclusive, the consumer is often unaware of the tax incurred and only sees the price paid. However, unlike other products, here we have an identical product where VAT is charged differently based on whether its digital or physical. We all see the stupidity, but we must not assume that cash strapped governments will level them at the lower rate.

Then we have the retailers who want to create a price incentive and some big players are prepared to discount at a loss. We have ebook device manufacturers who like Sony only understand volume sales and want cheap books so they can sell more devices.
Finally, we must also not forget the author who is struggling to establish a living based on royalties that can appear to be a moving target. If the ebook becomes a cheap rendition how will the author be rewarded? Where do they want the price to be set?

We already have royalty contractual issues on ebooks. Should these remain as a fixed percentage of RRP, should it be a % of net receipts, should digital be fee based, should they be treated as special sales?

Its understandable to reduce the price of ebooks, to sell them at a fixed price point, even give them away as promotional leaders but the author must be included in the mix. Today we read that Smashwords, a self publishing operator is to supply B&N with their titles. They publish some 2,600 titles per year and give the author 82% of the sale. Is it now time for more authors to wake up and smell the self-publishing coffee?

What we believe is important is that each perspective is understood, but that the industry is not seduced by new entrants with different drivers and works to bring some sanity to this new market opportunity that will enable it to grow whilst rewarding everyone who adds value.


Cathy said...

As in all commerce, simple arithmetic dictates the retail price. We priced a recent title (Murder Piping Hot by Ann Morven) at $7.95 when released "in digital format only". Then orders and queries for a physical paperback edition encouraged us to supply this at $29.95, based on production and distribution costs. Both digital and paperback editions continue to sell to their respective markets. This from Cathy Macleod at

Al MacDiarmid said...

I cannot find the original comment so I will just paraphrase it. That person suggested that an e-book should be released as soon as it is ready, which is usually well n advance of paper availability. He/She also suggested it should be priced above the hard cover release to get the early adopters. Then when the hard cover is released, track sales of the e-book version and lower the price as the volume drops. Try to maintain an even volume and the price will regulate itself to that which is "fair" in the eyes of the buyer. Sort of like waiting for a movie to hit the smaller movie houses where the price is half that of the early release movie houses. This is possible in the e-book field because sales can be easily tracked and prices can be modified accordingly, unlike the P-book where a fixed number of books must be printed per run and that number is ALWAYS wrong.