Remember when Amazon set the pace for ebook pricing? It’s back!

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

Remember when Amazon set the pace for ebook pricing?

Remember when they set prices designed to build a market from scratch – and did just that – built a market from scratch?

If you don’t recall a time before Agency Pricing, a time when Amazon fully ruled the ebook roost, dust off your history books. That time is coming back, in very short order, and it’s going to completely redefine the publishing and ebook landscapes (again).

Once the DoJ case is officially adjudicated (with all signs pointing to the Hachette, HarperCollins, Simon & Schuster deal being the final structure of the settlement) we’re going to see an unprecedented 30-70 days where the ebook market and competitive landscape will be complete re-written – literally in real-time.

Despite all of the upheaval that’s coming, what I’ll be watching most closely is discoverability – specifically the ability for authors to build audiences in light of massive price competition from retailers and publishers.

With prices crashing through the floor, upstart authors losing their ability to compete / differentiate / build an audience based on price and publishers frantically racing to develop direct to consumer (reader) relationships in a bid to re-establish themselves as the foundation of the ebook market, it’s going to be increasingly difficult for readers to keep finding new quality works.

When best sellers are priced at (or nearly at) the same level as unknowns, the decision to venture off the beaten path will become more difficult. This is the same concept as purchasing Kleenex vs. the store brand tissue. If the price is close enough (<10% variance), you’re buying Kleenex. It’s only when the price variance exceeds 25% that consumers begin to react negatively to a brand and seek information about alternative products.

This will happen with books, too, because it’s the same purchase reflex. I know author (brand) X. I don’t know author (brand) Y. They are roughly the same price. I’ll take author (brand) X. We’re going to see a number of upstart authors struggle even more to build their brand as a result – despite their development of quality works.

Conversely, I fully expect we’re going to see a large number of upstart authors excel in this new environment. They will work diligently to reach their audience. They will be accessible, responsive and humble. They will fully understand that audience engagement is THE way they build their brand and their business. They will create brand new experiences (Google Hangout anyone?) and brand new products (shorts, etc.) for their readers. They will open the kimono and let readers into the creation process – effectively helping the readers assume ownership of the works even as they are created.

Let the doom and gloom rain down. The death of publishing, the death of books is upon us. Nothing could be further from the truth.

We are entering a truly amazing age of writing, storytelling, publishing and reading (consumption). The innovations taking place in this sector will amaze readers (and the market). These innovations will engage a brand new generations of readers – led by those who care the most about books – authors.

The publishing glass isn’t half full or half empty. The publishing glass is gone.

What we’re entering is a brand new era that, once again, Amazon will lead by sheer force of will and desire to be the dominant force in books.

This time, however, it won’t be only about price (although price will dominate the headlines).

This time I expect we’ll see the playing field change even more as authors (very intelligently) enter the fray.

Expert Publishing Blog
Chris Rechtsteiner

About Chris Rechtsteiner

Chris Rechtsteiner is the founder and chief strategist for BlueLoop Concepts, a research and advisory firm focused on helping companies establish defensible market positions for mobile / digital media. He is also the publisher of Thinking Out Loud - a weekly newsletter uncovering the top trends in digital media. You can follow him on Twitter @Rechtsteiner and read other posts on his blog. When Chris isn’t working with clients to help shape their product and customer engagement strategies, he can be found snowboarding with his two sons.

6 thoughts on “Remember when Amazon set the pace for ebook pricing? It’s back!

  1. Michele Gorman

    If pricing can no longer be used to differentiate known vs unknown writers, then it seems that the role of recommendations will become more important. Readers may increasingly turn to book blogs and other reviewers to find their next book.

    And that’s a good thing, as long as those blogs are working on behalf of the readers. My discovery recently, however, of a blog that charges writers for reviews, and guarantees that those reviews will be good ones, makes me very nervous about the changes looming for eBooks. Hopefully the book community’s negative response to the idea of paid-for reviews means that these sites don’t proliferate. Full story here:

  2. Chris Rechtsteiner

    Michele – Thank you for taking the time to comment. I’ve seen a few instances of the \subscription\ review sites popping up, too. However, I haven’t yet had the time to really investigate them and understand exactly how they operate. If it is in the model you describe I wholeheartedly agree. That’s a bad situation.

    I truly believe it’s going to be the work of the author to own and manage their brand / community. The need to have a direct connection to readers is just critical as the noise / volume increases. This won’t (and shouldn’t) exclude review / community sites (for instance GoodReads) but it will require the author to be fully present in the conversations about their works – regardless of where those conversations occur.

  3. William Craig Reed

    I agree completely! In fact, I’m one of those authors and have just published the first personally-interactive ebook thriller ( My next book in this series will actually read your mind. Based on your input, everything will change. The plot, the chapters, the characters, the ending, even the prose, all based on your personality and preferences. How? I’ve developed a new ebook app called PIERbook that’s compatible with almost any ereader, even older ones. Yes, there’s a brand new era of ebooks emerging, and yes Amazon will certainly play a role, but I agree this will mostly come from author-innovation.

  4. Flick Merauld

    My book The Aunt Sally Team has done quite well on UK Amazon, selling at £2.32, and has been in the top 100 paid bestsellers on Kindle in the UK. However, recently the ticker underneath with people who bought this also bought has been displaying a row of books for 20 pence, all from major publishing houses, some from bestselling authors whose books retail for around £20 in hardback. Four of the top current 20 are selling for 20 pence and several others are well under £1. I think if it continues, it will be very hard for indie authors to keep up. All authors have to market themselves now: but I know from being also published by a trade publisher in the past that publishers have marketing tools that indies don’t have access to. My time is already spent networking so that it’s hard to fit in writing. I think this attempt to stamp down on indies is likely to cause a lot of trouble in the future. I hope i’m wrong 🙁

  5. James W. Lewis

    Great write up. I’ve been following the trends of ebooks, in particular pricing. Based on your analysis, it looks like it will be even more important for a new author to build his or her brand early, and since we live in the digital age, the best way to do it–as you say, being “accessible”–is through social media.



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