Monday, February 01, 2010

A Modest Proposal for E-Book Pricing

The question of pricing for electronic books has been very contentious lately, erupting this past weekend into unilateral action by one of the major booksellers in the US against one of the major publishers. Practically every possible model is strongly championed by someone, from "ebooks must always be free" all the way up to "ebooks are actually worth more than the printed books."

So why should I be left out?

My proposal is inspired by Macmillan's sliding scale model, but I've tried to make it simpler and more idiot-proof. (Nothing is entirely idiot-proof; the world always has new and better idiots.)

I propose:
The standard electronically-delivered edition of a book for a wide consumer audience should be priced at xx% of the list price of the currently-dominant print-on-paper edition.
I personally think that the percentage should be about 60%, but reasonable people may differ on this point.

Caveats:
  • I said "for a wide consumer audience;" I don't expect this model to be used for professional journals or other publications aimed at a limited or specialist audience.
  • A "standard electronically-delivered edition" is assumed to be identical to the print edition; e-books with added fripperies might, possibly, be worth a higher price.
  • I am assuming the continued existence of a dominant print-on-paper edition, because I do assume such a thing.
Here's how it would work, given my preferred percentage. (Those who think the percentage should be 20%, or 120%, can do their own math.)

Albert A. Author's new novel, Dark Mace of Ake'fujji, is published in hardcover by Really Big Publishing House in February of 2010 at a list price of $24.95. All of the electronic editions of Dark Mace are available for $14.97.

In December of 2010, RBPH has a book-store promotion for Dark Mace, with stickers that low-paid retail drones affix to the copies they have on hand (and which are pre-applied in RBPH's warehouse to the overstock that they hope to flow out to those stores), dropping the price to $17.95. All of the electronic editions are now $10.77.

RBPH's trade paperback of Dark Mace reaches stores in March of 2011, with a $14.00 list price. The electronic editions drop in price to $8.40.

And, finally, Dark Mace is released as a mass-market paperback in June of 2012 (tying into the slightly-delayed concluding book of the trilogy) with a list price of $8.99. The electronic editions also see a price drop, to $5.39.

This model has the advantage of being consistent and predictable, and of following the already long-established glide path of book pricing. It would be easy for the consumer to understand, and would allow readers to know when a book would be available in the edition they prefer at the price they would like to pay.

For those reasons, I'm morally certain that it will never happen. But I offer it to the world nonetheless.

4 comments:

CS Clark said...

It certainly benefits from clarity (although I was expecting cannibalism). I have some questions. First, won't many consumers not see the list price, instead see the Amazon discounted price in nice, big numbers, and complain that the eBook costs the same as the newly released hardback?

Second, even if the print-on-paper edition remains dominant, will it still be the same balance for all genres, and if not will that mean the xx% of list should vary between genres?

And third, wouldn't it mean giving up the ability to do Steam-like temporary sales and bundles - the sort of thing it's hard to do with print-on-paper - to avoid confusion?

Jess said...

Ah, Sense - you make so much of it. Now, if only Sense would come to those who desperately need it.

Thanks for your thoughtfulness and humor. Much appreciated and enjoyed.

crotchetyoldfan said...

The other "anti-sensible pricing scheme" argument I envision is - why should paper (that old, fading and based on ridiculously expensive to produce technologies) be the driving force? Why not set the price for the ebook and price the hard stuff as ebook x 1.xx%?

I don't advance that argument, but I expect to see others doing so.

KatG said...

My favorite part was: "tying into the slightly-delayed concluding book of the trilogy"

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