The Post-agency Customer Mood: Publishers, Panic Now!
April 30, 2010 | 7:45 am
By Joanna Cabot
If the well-read, book-loving and e-loving crowd at Mobile Read is any indication, the Agency Five may have misfired more than they realize with the new pricing model and ensuing chaos. My three standout experiences this week involved a library book, a paperback book, and a poll at Mobile Read to see if I was the only one wondering when on earth the madness would end…
1) The Library Book
This is a simple enough tale. A book came out three weeks ago. It’s part of a series and I have read every single other book in this series. In the old days, I would have bought it at once. Someone always had a coupon code, or a rebate or something. I would have gotten a deal and bought the book the day it came out.
No coupon codes now. No sale prices. No rebates. And a hardback price. So I wishlisted it and waited for the price to drop. And this week? It turned up in the new releases area of my public library’s ebook collection. Lesson to the customer: she who is patient can read the book for free. Lesson to the publisher: he who over-prices loses the sale.
2) The Paperback
This is the sort of mess the new agency system was supposed to fix for us. I was price-shopping for The Stand by Stephen King. It’s an old favourite, and it’s massive, so I thought that if the right price came along, I could turf my old paperback and same myself some shelf space.
But it seems the ebook rights are held by the rights holders of the hardback edition—and it’s a different publisher than the one who holds the rights for the mass-market paperback. So, while one can buy a new retail paper copy of this book for about $7, the ebook version is hovering at nearly three times that at every e-tailer but Amazon.
I still think ebooks should cost less than paper. But you could convince me that an equal price–parity wit the cheapest paper copy—is fair, certainly for new releases where publishers fear a cannibalization of sales (I don’t think this is a problem, myself, but I would accept this argument). I don’t think that argument holds for a book that is two decades old at this point, though. And I don’t think any reasonable customer would agree that they should be priced higher!
I think the agency system could work if there was some sort of standardized pricing scheme—books less than a year old cost X with the price going down Y percentage, incrementally, every six months or year or whatever, until they reach Z at which they remain. But this whole confusing business the have unleashed upon us now is far from such a system, and it’s leaving customers baffled and angry and suspicious. No way am I paying hardback prices for an ebook version of a decades-old mass market paperback! Are they crazy?
3) The Poll at Mobile Read
So I took it to my friends on the forums and posed them this question: how has your ebook spending changed since the agency switch? Are you buying the same amount of books you used to buy? Less? More? Other?
Over 100 people have responded so far. 11 people answered that their spending remained unchanged. A whopping 80 (more than 75%) are spending less. And how many respondents are spending MORE under this enlightened new scheme? 2 people. TWO!
Lesson to the customer: the publishers have no idea what they’re doing
Lesson to the publisher: OMG you’re screwed