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Thursday, 4 November 2010

The eBooks war - Publishers misfire

It what could be a damaging move for the eBook industry, publishers have forced online retailers such as Amazon to increase the price on their eBooks which has prompted readers to protest by giving books only one star reviews. Setting the price of eBooks at the same rate as the printed version is quite clearly a rip off and this will send disgruntled readers to pirated eBooks which are easy to find by anyone with an internet connection.

The article below is from The Guardian newspaper:

Authors found themselves in the firing line this week as fans furious at sudden rises in Amazon's Kindle prices protested by giving their books one-star reviews on the retailer's website.
Iain Banks, Stephen King, Maeve Binchy, Elizabeth Buchan and Michael McIntyre were among those authors whose books were given new, low-ranking reviews on the basis of their Kindle ebook price, as part of a concerted attempt by readers to voice their displeasure.
Earlier this week, was forced to accept new commercial terms from big publishers Penguin, Hachette and HarperCollins, who have switched to the "agency model" for their ebooks. On this model it is publishers, not retailers, who set the selling price.
Amazon's own discounts disappeared from ebooks overnight. Many digital editions now cost the same as printed books, with some costing more.
Readers responded angrily. Among more than 600 comments on the Kindle forum at were many accusing the publishers of greed.
In a review of Iain M Banks's novel Surface Detail, one Banks fan protests: "As a 'Culture' fan and Kindle owner I would have bought this book, but not when the digital version costs more than the hardback. Now I won't buy either. Do the publishers have some bizarre vested interest in driving people to torrent sites?"
A Stephen King reader complains in a review of King's backlist book Just After Sunset: "The Kindle price for this book is absurd. I suggest people do not buy any version of this book until the publisher stops this farce."
Elizabeth Buchan, whose latest novel Separate Beds is among those being targeted by the protest reviews, said she was "extremely sorry that books and authors are the victims of this debate which should have been sorted by now".
Buchan suggested that readers' anger was "perhaps a reflection of how the perception has changed of what book prices should be". She expressed concern that authors would suffer if that perception dropped too low to make writing and publishing books sustainable. "Is a danger point approaching where books are so cheap that no one can make a living?" she asked.
Banks's literary agent, Mic Cheetham, said she could see both sides of the argument. "Publishers don't want their hardback prices undercut by ebooks, and that's fair enough," she said. "Readers would like something very cheap, but publishers simply can't afford to see their market totally wiped out."
HarperCollins director of communications, Siobhan Kenny, said: "Of course readers demand good value for money. And I am sure they are equally keen to see a vibrant marketplace." The agency model helps to encourage that, Kenny argued, "facilitating multiple channels to market while offering consumers a fair and competitive price to drive sales and limit piracy".
The row coincides with the announcement that Ian Fleming's James Bond novels are to be published in ebook form for the first time this week – but not by Penguin, Fleming's print publisher. The 14 books, including Casino Royale, Live and Let Die and From Russia With Love, are being published independently by Ian Fleming Publications, the family company that owns and administers the author's literary copyright. The Fleming ebooks would be priced "in line with the lowest-priced Bond paperback editions available on the market", the company said.


Recently, you may have heard that a small group of UK publishers will require booksellers to adopt an "agency model" for selling e-books. Under this model, publishers set the consumer price for each e-book and require any bookseller to sell at that price. This is unlike the traditional wholesale model that's been in place for decades, where booksellers set consumer prices.

It is indeed correct that this group of publishers will require Amazon and other UK booksellers to accept an agency model for e-books. We believe they will raise prices on e-books for consumers almost across the board. For a number of reasons, we think this is a damaging approach for readers, authors, booksellers and publishers alike.

In the US, a few large publishers have already forced such a model on all US booksellers and readers. You can read the thread we posted about that change here:

As we're now faced with a similar situation in the UK, we wanted to share our thinking and some details about what we have observed from our experience in the US.

First, as we feared, the US agency publishers (Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin, and Simon & Schuster) raised digital book prices almost across the board. These price increases were not only on new books, but on older, "backlist" books as well (in the industry, "backlist" books are often defined as books that have been published more than a year ago). Based on our experience as a bookseller setting consumer prices for many years, we know that these increases have not only frustrated readers, but have caused booksellers, publishers and authors alike to lose sales.

There is some good news to report. Publishing is not a monolithic industry - there are many publishers of all sizes taking a wide range of approaches to e-books. And most publishers in the US have continued to sell e-books to us and other booksellers under traditional wholesale terms. They make up the vast majority of our Kindle bookstore - as a simple proxy, in our US store 79 of 107 New York Times bestsellers are priced at $9.99 (£6.31 GBP) or less, and across the whole US store over 585,000 of 718,000 US titles are priced at $9.99 or less.

Unsurprisingly, when prices went up on agency-priced books, sales immediately shifted away from agency publishers and towards the rest of our store. In fact, since agency prices went into effect on some e-books in the US, unit sales of books priced under the agency model have slowed to nearly half the rate of growth of the rest of Kindle book sales. This is a significant difference, as the growth of the total Kindle business has been substantial - up to the end of September, we've sold more than three times as many Kindle books in 2010 as we did up to the end of September in 2009. And in the US, Kindle editions now outsell hardcover editions, even while our hardcover business is growing.

In the UK, we will continue to fight against higher prices for e-books, and have been urging publishers considering agency not to needlessly impose price increases on consumers. In any case, we expect UK customers to enjoy low prices on the vast majority of titles we sell, and if faced with a small group of higher-priced agency titles, they will then decide for themselves how much they are willing to pay for e-books, and vote with their purchases.

Thank you for being a customer,
The Kindle UK Team

Readers punishing authors for a move which quite clearly comes from the publishers is clearly a wasted protest. What we need to do is boycott overpriced eBooks and force the publishers into a U-turn before they destroy what is a growing industry and make the same mistakes made by the music industry when MP3 first gained a foothold. And anyone  who wants a still fairly priced crime thriller on eBook might I suggest my own A Poliecman's Lot - Where else will you find Jack the Ripper rubbing shoulders with Buffalo Bill?

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