51H5NOneF2L._SL500_AA266_PIkin2,BottomRight,-11,34_AA300_SH20_OU01_.jpgThis weekend Kindlers witnessed the resurgence in popularity of one of the most aggressive Agency pricing advocates: HarperCollins. In a brilliant move which has left some Agency pricing cynics –including this writer- flabbergasted, HarperCollins has repaired some of its tarnished reputation. In case that you were out and/or missed it, HarperCollins gave away 21 Kindle e-books for free. These were not your standard run of the mill e-books either; for instance HarperCollins gave away an Agatha Christie novel along with a vast majority of the highly acclaimed Lemony Snicket series of books.

Even I, one of the biggest critics of the Agency pricing system, was momentarily swayed by their promotion. It became a moment of sheer love as I picked up one free e-book after another, a sort of euphoric moment, which I have feared would be less likely to occur with Agency pricing. Many if not a majority of the Kindlers who grabbed these books felt the same conflicted emotions at the time. We want to believe that Agency pricing will be equitable but know deep down that a grandiose stunt like this serves as a poor measure of any company’s future actions. However, this act allows us to gauge your short term actions with a lot less animosity and hostility.For those of us who doubt the level of scorn out there towards these publishers, simply refer back to my April 1st piece, in which I erroneously ripped in to them for something that they didn’t even do. What made that April 1st piece relevant was the spoof that ran before it, in which publishers were said to have called a news conference, in which they had named the Agency pricing system. If this preceding piece had been run on say McDonald’s or Sam’s Club our naturally ingrained sense of skepticism would have been triggered, resulting in a poor spoof. Publishers, have as of late, left themselves in a position, in which these types of news stories seem highly plausible.

This weekend’s Kindle e-book promotion should win you a lot of well-earned praise HarperCollins but it does not remove your responsibility for delivering a well priced and well edited product. There was that sensation of giddiness that you inspired this weekend that you must work even harder to keep. Even cynics can be won over, trust me when I say, that this can be done. The feeling that you must aim to endear is one in which a person sees the price that you are listing at and then runs to tell others. You must not -I repeat- treat the $9.99 price as an after thought but rather as a fair asking price for digital content.

There is also the bizarre barrier of five e-book licenses that you placed on your e-books which further slows down their consumption. Lastly, this was not a win for foreign Kindle owners, as well as for our fellow Barnes and Noble and Sony e-bookers, all of which deserve access to your promotional events. HarperCollins if you gleam one thing from the data that you have accrued this weekend, let it be that e-book readers are not a small irrelevant market but rather that they are your future main market and should be encouraged to buy religiously. Otherwise, this promotion is nothing more than another occurrence in a Series of Unfortunate Events.


  1. Sorry Alejandro, I am still a skeptic. First of all, they were free only to Americans and only to Kindle users. Second of all, a book which is still sitting at $18.50 on my Kobo wishlist is now out in paperback at about $11. And the ebook? Still $18.50. It’s sheer insanity.

  2. Ficbot, I am still a skeptic also. But as a writer I hope to display a fair degree of open-mindedness. HarperCollins, for what its worth, did a great thing this weekend and should be encouraged to continue doing things like this. The Agency pricing system, as many of you are aware of, is probably a bad thing. However, if there is a chance that we can encourage publishers into actually providing fair pricing, then lets capitalize on it. I did cite some of my reservations toward the end of the piece, lets hope that some of them are addressed in the near future.

  3. Wouldn’t it be a violation of the agency model to give away the ebooks free at Amazon but not at other ebook retailers?

    I think it was just a snafu because all the ebooks are unavailable today at Amazon.

  4. Now the only Lemony Snicket books that are available on Amazon are #1, 7 & 8. It seems all the Harper Collins’ books that were previously free on Amazon are no longer available–either free or otherwise. I can see only offering them free for a limited time, but don’t understand why they are no longer available at all on Amazon. They are for sale on Barnes & Noble site. So I’m not sure how much credibility they’ve won back.

  5. Diane I agree with you that the jury is still out as to what this all means. I am hoping that HarperCollins and its fellow publishers are out to prove the cynics wrong regarding the Agency model. I said most of the series because books 1, 7 and 8 I ended up paying $8.96 each: the final price being $27 for a series which retails in dtb form for at least $80. As far as this being an error I think that there were entirely too many books for free for this to have been an error.

  6. I am still angry at the publishers’ agency model and will just have to wait and see what happens. The Agatha Christie novel was the only one in that whole group that I was interested in, so HarperCollins wasn’t successful at winning me over.

    But what I have noticed is that many books in the $5-$7 price range that I planned to gradually purchase are now $8-$10.

  7. The most annoying thing for me is still the selling of e-books at prices well above the paperback price.

    E-books are cheaper for the publishers to produce, store and publish. On the flip side, the purchaser cannot display, lend or resell an e-book. The economics the publishers want us to believe is just absurd. A win/win or them and a loose/loose for the buyer. Not a good way to build a customer base.

  8. How does it win Harper Collins any credibility to give away ebooks as it pleases? I’m not interested in magnanimity from, I can pay for their products. What will win them credibility with me is to make their ebooks worth the prices they want to charge.

  9. Considering some of the other comments, this is probably just some database error. Even if it isn’t, throwing the consumer a few bones is just a cheap trick to win temporary favor. Don’t be blinded by a few free books. It’s pointless if all their other ebooks remain stupidly and inflexibly priced (or worse: unavailable!).

  10. Publishers claim that ebooks should be priced the same as print books.

    But then, at their whim, they give a bunch of ebooks away. This simply proves that ebooks cannot be valued like print books. A publisher can give away millions of ebooks and they get a ton of publicity for next to no cost.

    But when was the last time a major publisher offered a bunch of print books for free? When could you stroll down to your local B&N or Borders and pick up a dozen free books? Unlike ebooks, giving away print books would cost them a ton of money.

    This kind of stunt proves that ebooks and print books are entirely different. It also reinforces the notion that ebook pricing is currently all about maximizing profits and jacking the customer around. It has nothing to do with value.

  11. Database error or marketing scheme, it does illustrate that agency pricing has an upside as well as a downside. It lets publishers dictate to retailers that the price, for some period of time, will be free or very cheap. If the time is kept short, it gives a publisher a relatively cheap way of promoting a book.

    And don’t think that, given the chance, retailers would voluntarily follow a price cut to zero or very low. For ebooks, a publisher cost is fixed whatever the sales. For retailers, there’s always a per book cost for processing and downloading. A retailer wants to sell books in general. A publisher wants to sell its books. There is a difference.

    In high school I worked at a supermarket. Prices of new shipments were marked with the chain’s suggested retail price. Once, when the price of bottled orange juice had gone down, I asked the store’s manager if we should cut the price. “No,” he said, “our competitors price hasn’t gone down, so we didn’t need to cut ours.

    In the same fashion, under the old model a publisher who cut its wholesale price to zero couldn’t be sure that retailers would follow suit. Most, looking at their competitors, would probably keep their prices the same and pocket the profit.

    I short, if you keep your eyes open, you’re likely to score some great prices on ebooks. I’m rather ticked off that I didn’t hear about these super deals on Agatha Christie and Lemony Snicket. I don’t have a Kindle, but I do have Kindle apps on my iMac and iPod touch that serve as well.

  12. The books are back now, but not for free. Were they “erroneously” listed as free for such a short time just to jack the rating up? With this kind of stunt, do they really think they can get any credibility?

    I was going to purchase a new book published by HarperCollins today, but then I saw

    “This price was set by the publisher”

    So.. thanks but no thanks. I think I’ll skip.

  13. HarperCollins doesn’t know what they’re doing. Just have a look at Kindle pricing for Neal Stephenson titles. Anathem (2008) is 7.99. The Confusion and The System of the World (Baroque Cycle v. 2, 2005; & v. 3, 2005) are each 10.99. Quicksilver (Baroque Cycle v. 1, 2002) is 9.99.

    You’d think they’d want to sell some copies of these things. I own them all in cloth; no way am I spending that kind of money for a re-buy. But I’m not reading them in print, either. They’re too heavy to carry with me. So sorry I won’t be able to help sales by reviewing them.

    Yeah. Publishers are not book people — and don’t even *understand* book people.

  14. Ebooks have been given away before for limited times before the agency model, usually to promote a new book in a series and usually with more promotion so that people actually know about it. If HarperCollins did it this weekend to win goodwill, good for them, I guess, but it doesn’t change the fact that the publishers haven’t demonstrated much sign that they understand people who buy ebooks. Show me more dynamic pricing, stop windowing, don’t price ebooks more than paperbooks (especially more than mass market paperbacks!), treat me as something other than a hindrance to your business model, and then we’ll talk goodwill.

  15. It’s nice that Harper Collins gave away most of the Lemony Snicket ebooks for free at Amazon for a day or so, but they didn’t win back any credibility from me. Now that the ebook price appears to be back to normal, I note that there are 2@$4.99, 3@$7.99, 1@$8.56, 4@$8.99, 1@$9.99 and 1@10.99. The first book is available in paperback for $6.99 (ebook is $8.99), as are the second and third (ebooks are $4.99), but it looks like the rest are now only available in hardcover at a list of $12.99, which allows Harper Collins to inconsistently price the rest from $7.99 to $10.99.

    I suspect this shows that we can expect publishers to raise ebook prices the moment they discontinue the mass market paperback. They will probably maintain a small inventory of hardcover or trade paperback editions just to keep a higher priced paper edition in print so they can justify raising the ebook price.

  16. I’ve been ruminating on why HarperCollins did this on this weekend. My guess is that they are trying to learn what Amazon already knows: the retail price/unit sales curve. They chose this weekend because of some slight social significance (in terms of Easter gift-giving, I mean), but one that limited the damage to sales because many were doing other things.

    And a furthur guess: they will discover that Amazon had it right, $9.99 means more sales than $10.00. The one thing I’m least sure of: new releases. I haven’t seen any evidence that they’ve brought out a hot new release to test the price since they agancy model was adopted. I’ve no guess how that will turn out.

  17. A few (unpublicized) free (old) books for a few hours buys credibility? On what planet?

    As Michael Douglas said in ROMANCING THE STONE:
    “I CAN be bought… but I ain’t cheap.”

    The gods in their tower throw an old gnawed bone to the rabble and they expect credibility? Yeah, right.

    If *they* think that, they are even bigger idiots than I thought before.

  18. This is all just getting nuts! Half of my Fictionwise purchases are no longer available for download to my PC or iPhone EReader because of these games. Everytin was going SO well for years, and I have at least 300 EBooks that SOMEONE made money on, didn;t they? But now, the books I paid for are NO LONGER MINE?

    I am getting sick of the greed that causes this, and the inability of these companies to work together on behalf of US, the people who BUY THESE BOOKS! Out of control!

    I am done buying EBooks, and isntead will start using the FREE audiobooks from the New York Public Library. Get this spoted out folks!

  19. This is all just getting nuts! Half of my Fictionwise purchases are no longer available for download to my PC or iPhone EReader because of these games. Everytin was going SO well for years, and I have at least 300 EBooks that SOMEONE made money on, didn;t they? But now, the books I paid for are NO LONGER MINE?

    SO ANGRY I CAN’T TYPE!! Sorry, here is a corrected ersion…

    I am getting sick of the greed that causes this, and the inability of these companies to work together on behalf of US, the people who BUY THESE BOOKS! Out of control!

    I am done buying EBooks, and instead will start using the FREE audiobooks from the New York Public Library. Get this sorted out folks!

  20. To aded insult to injury, today Fictionwise sent me two emails to inform me that two of my pre-ordered books are now available for download. They should have written “NOT” instead of “NOW” because I still can’t download them, and clicking on the titles takes me to their descriptions pages with the red “no longer on sale” message.

    Oddly enough, both titles show as available on BN.com.

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