Amazon has signed a new contract with Penguin Random House, Publishers Weekly reports. Penguin Random House represents the last of the Big Five (nee Big Six) publishers and the last of the “Agency Five” (well, the Penguin half does, anyway) to agree to new terms.
This brings an end to any possibility that there could be a repeat of the months-long Hachette unpleasantness. It’s impossible to know whether Amazon or PRH got the better deal since the terms are not being disclosed, but both sides seem to have learned well the lessons of all the fireworks over the Hachette affair—none of the subsequent four big publisher negotiations has produced so much as a sparkler.
As Nate Hoffelder points out at Ink, Bits, and Pixels, the aftermath of the other four deals was to see publishers’ e-book prices rise and the subsequent absence of discounting. It will be interesting to see if this holds true for PRH, too—though my suspicion is that it probably will. Amazon would likely try for the best terms it could get, but I doubt they would be too far away from the ones it was willing to offer to other publishers, even if they can no longer communicate among themselves the way they did in agency days. When I checked yesterday, the price of Random House’s The Martian e-book was a remarkably low (for a major publisher) $5.99. I wonder if it will go up in days to come?
So, in the end, what did the agency pricing trial buy us, apart from a few more years of cheaper e-books and an amusing feud between Apple and the Department of Justice? Well, maybe those few more years were enough. The e-book market has further matured, we’ve gotten more data about how pricing affects the sales of e-books, and the publishers have at least stopped colluding so openly. We even have new models for e-book sales popping up, with Kindle Unlimited and Oyster showing it can be done all-you-can-eat style.
Even as early as the settlement between the publishers and the DoJ, we knew that the publishers would still want to reimpose agency as soon as they could, even if they might be a bit wiser about how they did it by then. We had hoped Amazon would resist, and with Hachette they certainly did—and perhaps they won some concessions, but still had to grant some of their own in the end.
I suppose a pricing model invented for physical books doesn’t necessarily make the most sense for electronic ones anyway. We can at least hope that changes to the market pressure publishers into keeping their prices as low as they might.