More on e-book price resistance

Via The Passive Voice, I see the Wall Street Journal reporting on the decline in e-book sales from the major publishers.  This is in the wake of the new contracts they signed with Amazon, which allowed them to continue to set their own prices.

A recent snapshot of e-book prices found that titles in the Kindle bookstore from the five biggest publishers cost, on average, $10.81, while all other 2015 e-books on the site had an average price of $4.95, according to industry researcher Codex Group LLC.

“Since book buyers expect the price of a Kindle e-book to be well under $9, once you get to over $10 consumers start to say, ‘Let me think about that,’” said Codex CEO Peter Hildick-Smith

Hachette cited fewer hot titles and the implementation of its Amazon deal as reasons that e-books fell to 24% of its U.S. net trade sales in the first half of 2015, from 29% a year earlier. Declining e-book sales contributed to a 7.8% drop in revenue in the period.

Then there’s this paragraph:

One high-level publishing executive disputed that the Amazon pacts are contributing to the e-book sales decline. “This is a title-driven business,” he said. “If you have a good book, price isn’t an issue.”

This is, of course, insane.  Price is always an issue.  Maybe you’ll pay more for a new Stephen King book, but there is a price at which you won’t bother to buy it.  And how much money are big publishers leaving on the table by not appropriately pricing their backlist?  The novelist James Salter died recently.  I had heard of him but never read anything by him.  I went on Amazon, and all his ebooks were $9.99 or more; recently one showed up on BookBub for $1.99, so I scooped it up.  As the Passive Guy says:

Since Amazon is the biggest bookstore in the world, one which obsessively collects and analyzes data concerning customer behavior, it is much better qualified to set optimum prices to maximize revenues from the sales of ebooks than a bunch of provincial publishers who have never run any sort of store and have virtually nothing in common with a typical reader.

If you give a kid a stick of dynamite, why would you expect anything other than trouble?

Advertisements

Robot price wars — or, why does someone think my novel is worth $2425.70?

In his comment on the previous post, Jeff Carver pointed me to this article from a couple of years ago about an Amazon seller that charged $23 million dollars for an obscure academic book.

Eisen watched the robot price war from April 8 to 18 and calculated that two booksellers were automatically adjusting their prices against each other.

One equation kept setting the price of the first book at 1.27059 times the price of the second book, according to Eisen’s analysis, which is posted in detail on his blog.

The other equation automatically set its price at 0.9983 times the price of the other book. So the prices of the two books escalated in tandem into the millions, with the second book always selling for slightly less than the first. (Not that that matters much when you’re selling a book about flies for millions of dollars).

The incident highlights a little-known fact about e-commerce sites such as Amazon: Often, people don’t create and update prices; computer algorithms do.

I haven’t paid much attention to this sort of thing, since my old books are out of print, and I don’t get any royalties from their sales.  But this got me to take a look at their current prices, and it turns out that you can pick up what’s described as a new hardcover copy of my novel Senator for a mere $2425.70.  I love the extra 70 cents tacked on at the end.  (The book described in the CNN article currently tops out at $9899.00.)

But the “robot price war” explanation for the $23,000,000 book about insect development can’t explain the weird price for Senator, or the equally absurd price I spotted yesterday for The Portal. In both cases, there were no competitive prices — no other “new” hardcovers of Senator, no other used copies of The Portal.  So there has to be something else going on — either bad software, or stupid humans.  Or, I suppose, both.