Monday, March 14, 2011

Ebook pricing

Two different publishers lost sales to me last night because of price.

I had happily read on my Kindle long and juicy samples of two novels (I use the term loosely) of the sort I used to borrow from the library: single-use, disposable, mildly-pleasurable but B-level fare. For convenience-sake, last night I was ready to pay actual money. But then I saw the price: $12.99. That's too much for a single-use book. Eight dollars or less would have guaranteed a sale to me. $9.99 would have made me think about it. But $13 was an automatic no.

Related to this is the story of Ammonite and Slow River, in print since 1993 and 1995 respectively. For most of their ebook life, they were priced under $10. They sold steadily though not spectacularly. Then Randomhouse joined the rest of the Big Six and went to agency pricing (a setup in which the retailer, in this case Amazon, is forced to sell the book at the price set by the publisher; no discounting allowed).

Both books are now priced at $11.99. That's more than the paperback. $11.99 for a book that is old enough to vote. $11.99 for another old enough to marry.

Sales have dipped--though they haven't plunged, which is interesting. I'm trying to work out what this means for me, money-wise. Given the antediluvian accounting methods of trade publishing, it'll be about a year before I get royalties based on last month's sales If sales dip only mildly, I'll make about the same as before. (I have an excellent royalty rate from RH, based on list price. I wish I could say the same for my more recent contracts. But that's another conversation.)

My hope is that RH starts to experiment with price. I hope they let the resulting data drive their decisions. My guess is that, to date, most publishers have been responding from indignation and fear rather than data. However, given the clear (clear, finally, to even the most recalcitrant publishers) trend towards ebooks, my hope is that this is changing. (You might find Mike Shatzkin's latest post interesting--and, hey, he quotes my good friend Dave Slusher.)

As I've said, until I get my royalty statements I won't know what kind of impact this is having on my income. Meanwhile, I thought I'd pick your brains.

What kind of prices are you willing to pay for what kind of books? Are you like me, in that perceived quality is something you factor in? Is convenience the biggest driver in your decision? How do you make your choice about when and how and where to spend your precious book money?

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