Macmillan CEO John Sargent on the agency model, availability and price
March 2, 2010 | 12:50 pm
By Paul Biba
Here is the complete text of Sargent’s post on the Macmillan blog:
After the events of the past several weeks, I have been in touch with many of you. It has become clear to me that there is far too little accurate information available in this time of unprecedented change. The issues we all face together are complex, and no news story or 140-character snippet can adequately address them. Therefore, I propose to write you occasionally, when I get a sense that there is a need for direct information.
The first topic is the e-book agency model, and how it will affect our business in the near term. Starting at the end of March, we will move from the “retail model” of selling e-books (publishers sell to retailers, who then sell to readers at a price that the retailer determines) to the “agency model” (publishers set the price, and retailers take a commission on the sale to readers). We will make this change with all our e-book retailers simultaneously.
Rather than address the long-term or author royalty consequences of the change (I’ll save that for next time), I’ll focus on the two major effects at retail. Note that these changes will apply to every e-book retailer with whom we do business:
1. Availability. All the new adult trade books for which we have the rights to publish in e-book format will be available at the first release of the printed book. We will no longer delay the publication of e-books (read: no windowing). Readers were clearly frustrated at the lack of availability of new titles, and the change to the agency model will solve this problem. We are also working hard to make more books available in digital editions. The consumer will have broader choice and much greater availability.
2. Price. We will price our e-books at a wide variety of prices. In the ink-on-paper world we publish new books in different formats (hardcover, trade paperback, and mass market paperback) at prices that generally range from $35.00 to $5.99. In the digital world we will price each book individually as we do today. Generally e-book editions of hardcover new releases will be priced between $14.99 and $12.99; a few books will be priced higher and lower. This is a tremendous discount from the price of the printed hardcover books, which generally range from $28.00 to $24.00. E-book editions of New York Times hardcover bestsellers will be priced at $12.99 or lower while they are on the printed list. E-book editions of paperback new releases will be generally priced between $9.99 and $6.99.
For physical books, the majority of new release hardcovers are published in cheaper paperback versions over time. We will mirror this price reduction in the digital world. It is too early to estimate the timing of the price reductions for those cases in which we do not issue a paperback edition. If we do issue a paperback, we will drop the digital price to $9.99 or lower at publication date (if not before). The price differential between the book and the e-book will become smaller at the lower price points.
There has been a lot of concern from e-book readers that $9.99 books will no longer be available. Most Macmillan e-books will still be priced below ten dollars. Our e-book sales over the last year clearly indicate that only about a third of our e-book business is in the digital versions of new release hardcovers. Unit sales of older books far exceed our new release hardcover sales, so the $9.99 and lower prices will continue to represent the largest portion of our business.
In short, we will continue to do what we have always done: provide the reader with a vast selection of great books over a wide range of prices.
I have not addressed illustrated books or books for young children. That will be a topic for the future as the technology advances beyond e-ink screens. I hope this has been in some way helpful. Please remember that I can’t tell you how other publishers will handle availability and pricing. I can only speak for Macmillan.
Meanwhile, there are millions of you and one of me. So, please feel free to post questions or comments below.