E-Book Prices Must Come Down

Expert publishing blog opinions are solely those of the blogger and not necessarily endorsed by DBW.

If you seek cogency on digital publishing subjects you’ll always find it in Laura Hazard Owen’s postings. A good example is a recent one on the implications for consumers of the settlement agreements with the Department of Justice in its conspiracy lawsuit against five major publishers and Apple.

What does the settlement mean for customers? Here’s a summary:

1. Let the Discounting Begin. “Readers are likely to see lower prices on e-books published by HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster — at least at Amazon, which expressed its glee over the settlement. But you won’t see those lower e-book prices until at least June…I wouldn’t be surprised to see some shockingly cheap bestsellers from those publishers — think massive summer promotions where big titles by authors like James Patterson, Jodi Picoult and Nicholas Sparks are $1.99.”

2. Amazon rivals will discount too. “Other e-book retailers, like Barnes & Noble and Kobo, are likely to want to enter into new contracts quickly as well so that they are on a more even playing field with Amazon.”

Owen points out that Amazon competitors “may not be able to afford to discount a wide range of e-books as deeply as Amazon can.” But that has not prevented Barnes & Noble, Kobo, and even the struggling Sony from maintaining a healthy market share of the e-book retail business.

3. Bundling of e-books, and e-book/p-book combo packages. “Justice notes that agency pricing ‘prevented e-book retailers from experimenting with innovative pricing strategies…such as offering e-books under an ‘all-you-can-read’ subscription model where consumers would pay a flat monthly fee,’ bundles or buy-one-get-one-free promotions. The settlement opens the door for those types of promotions on Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster titles.”

4. Less predatory loss-leader pricing. “When it comes time for Simon & Schuster, HarperCollins and Hachette to negotiate their new contracts, the settlement allows them to ‘negotiate a commitment from an e-book retailer that a retailer’s aggregate expenditure on discounts and promotions of the Settling Defendant’s e-books will not exceed the retailer’s aggregate commission under an agency agreement in which the publisher sets the e-book price and the retailer is compensated through a commission.’”

5. Will Apple now sell e-books at a discount? “If it simply removes Simon & Schuster, Hachette and HarperCollins titles from its shelves without negotiating new contracts — yes, this would mean Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs biography, published by Simon & Schuster, would no longer be available through iTunes — it will be losing a large part of its catalog. If Apple agrees to negotiate new contracts that don’t require agency pricing, it could also make agreements with the many publishers who have not been able to sell their books in the iBookstore before. That would mean a much wider book selection for iBookstore shoppers.’

Read details in What the DOJ e-book lawsuit means for readers now

Richard Curtis

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