I am a book consumer of epic proportions!
NOTE: What I am about to “rant, ponder, think out loud about* is just my opinion.
Who am I? I am a consumer of books in epic proportions. Seriously, I spent $2500 on books (eBooks and paper) last year. It was an almost 50/50 split on the type of books I bought. Not all of my eBooks were bought from Amazon though a majority were since I am a Kindle owner. Not all of my paperbacks were bought from first run books stores (Barnes and Noble, Indie Bookstores, etc.) though a majority were since I like new books. I have bought eBooks directly from publisher websites and I have bought paperbacks from Half Price Books. I try to be supportive of authors and publishers BUT my bottom line is to get the best possible bang for my buck!
So? It means that I look for the best deal for the product I want to buy. If that means I end up buying the book from Barnes and Noble because I have a coupon, Target because they have an automatic 20% off the cover price, Half Price Books because I got lucky and the book I wanted was there, or Amazon/Smashwords/Pub Site because the eBook version is cheaper– the end venue matters very little to me. I think I am pretty representative of how most of America shops these days. We want our dollar to go further especially with entertainment items. We need to know that we got the best deal there is.
Why I am giving these facts? All this week I have been following all the articles being posted about the DOJ ruling. I have read hundreds if not thousands of comments on those articles. Some of the comments have amused me, others angered me, and others had me completely flummoxed. I didn’t comment on any of the articles because it would have ended up being a rather lengthy comment. In the end, I would rather blog about it so that I can talk to my friends about it. Especially since that is who reads this blog anyway.
My Thoughts: Can I just say that I think the Publishers biggest mistake in all of this is not having better Public Relations. They have left us consumers to piece together the information through articles and quite frankly the dollar amount on the screen. They have also came across very whiny and angry about “public perception” of eBooks and pricing.
While the DOJ ruling isn’t about the Agency Pricing model, that seems to be what everyone is talking about. The actual ruling is about whether the Agency Pricing model was put together by the Publishers in an underhanded way. Whether that ends up being proven or disproved is up to lawyers. I am going to tell you how I see it as a consumer and if I am misinformed then really that is on the publishers!
A couple of years ago, I started seeing articles about big publishers and Apple agreeing to terms where they could set the price of eBooks. No one could undersell Apple. Some very big companies were working together to control the marketplace (perception or reality I guess that is still being determined). That means there was zero point in shopping eBook prices like I do paperback prices because there would be no price differences between marketplaces. As a consumer, that made me a bit weary. First, I am not an Apple fan girl. I don’t like the over-exaggerated pricing structure they have about almost everything in their arsenal. I was really worried what that would mean to eBook pricing. Would I be stuck spending the list price for every eBook I wanted to buy in the future? Even though in the paperback world I did not. I was angry! I was mad! I wanted more information and it seemed like the publishers/Apple took the stance of you just have to accept it. Seriously, I didn’t read anything from them telling the consumer not to worry, this is for the best, and this is why? It was just the sound of crickets and a sudden $12.99, $13.99, or gulp $14.99 price on some of the books I wanted. Worse than that, in the first few weeks I saw a book’s price change 3 times while it appeared that the publishers were trying to find their “sweet” spot for selling. What does that have to do with list price? SQUAT. That has to do with finding the point that would sale. I don’t ever remember seeing the list price in the back of my paperback magically change from $7.99 in the span of 3 days. Still nothing from the publishers in terms of informing the public. Might have done them some good and they might not be in the mess they are today if they had been just a wee bit more communicative with the public.
Personal Note: I need to add that I have never understood how they decided that coupling with one Big Bad Wolf to take on another Big Bad Wolf was going to help them from a publicity stand point. I am just going to say it–hire some PR and Advertising people. Listen to them!
Flash forward to last year where I guess either the publishers were feeling the heat to communicate with the consumers or the EU started poking around the “price-fixing” allegations. We started seeing very poor articles about “eBooks cost just as much to manufacture and supply as paperbacks”. Nothing I read really made me go “OK that’s why” and really most of it made me scratch my head. I am lucky that I have friends in the industry that could explain some of it to me but in the end, the general consumer doesn’t get that information. Even with the cleared up information, the logic seemed a little screwy to me. Basically, I got that a book had a ton of elements to make it from Point A to Point B. There was the authors cut, royalties, marketing, editing, administrative costs, publicity that all factored in. I got that part BUT here is where the Publishers failed to make a clear case for the pricing structure. I assume (and I am probably wrong) that initial group of cost points are all taken into consideration when the baseline cost point for a book is noted. These costs should be factored into every book sold. In fact you should give Authors more of the cut but that is just my opinion.
Here is where the publishers lose me (the consumer) in their explanation of eBook pricing. The book (that magically wonderful thing) is formatted and sent to the printers for paperback distribution where the publishers evidently have this part down to a science because according to them this cost exactly the same as formatting and distributing an eBook. Huh? What? Paper, Ink, Equipment Maintenance/Upkeep, Equipment Purchase Price are exactly the same as formatting a file (which yes I realize there is an application cost, coding cost, people hours associated with this too). I work in IT, we are constantly hearing how we need to go digital to save on the bottom line. In fact, almost every consumer hears this a 100 times a day in their daily life. So we are ingrained with the idea that digital saves the bottom line. So in the end, I am guessing a lot of consumers thought this very thing when reading the eBook pricing explanation: “I want to know why when I share a file through printing it out it doesn’t cost me the same as sharing one through email?” I am simplifying by using this as an example but honestly nothing a publisher has submitted to the public has broken down their reasoning behind pricing of eBooks. It is almost like they have gone out of their way to either say “you are too stupid to understand” or “we aren’t quite sure either”. I am going to assume they aren’t just saying “Shut up and take it! You want the book you will pay whatever we say”. With this limited bit of information, I am not convinced about their ideas behind pricing eBooks. So if you can’t explain to me why you are pricing your books the way you are then at least explain to me why I can’t use a coupon towards an eBook? Huh? What? Does not compute! “We want competition in the marketplace for the consumer.” I understand that agency pricing model gives you more of a competition behind the scenes which might lead to savings on my end BUT so far it hasn’t! You are not making your case Mr. Publisher.
Flash Forward to Today where we have tons of Authors and Publishers upset over the DOJ ruling and what that means for them. I get that! I really do! As a consumer, I am really kind of thrilled to see where it goes. We have got 2 years before we really see how this plays out. I imagine that some form of the Agency Pricing model crops up again but it will be on a publisher by publisher basis. I think we will see more established authors going the independent route. I think you will see more independent authors in the marketplace. I think that the consumer will be given more choices. I know the publishers are threatening that this is bad for us (not really the PR stance I would have taken “threaten the person that buys my product”) but I am not convinced. It will be interesting to see where it goes from here and what the bottom line ends up being.
Before you ask, yes I fully plan to take advantage of eBook pricing in the meantime (over the next 2 years) so that in case the publishers drive book prices way up I am stocked up to wait it out. That, Mr. Publisher is also something you should take into account. Now might be the time to come to happy medium with your buying public. I know right now you are focusing on the resellers and how to “out-fox” them but I would spend a little more time on the public. Let use know, in clear non-argumentative terms what you are going to do to keep us buying your product. You have a unique opportunity to take some lemons and make a kick ass lemonade. We want to support you and we want to support authors. We also want to save money! So now the ball is clearly in your court. Choose wisely your next play!
Note to Barnes and Noble: Use this 2 years to tie your Nook Business into your membership awards card. I think it will do you a world of good!