Large book publishers, including Hachette, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster, recently won the hard-fought ability to set their own prices of e-books. But now, as prices for many e-books have risen, the industry is seeing a slump in sales.
“It’s an example of being careful about what you wish for,” says Jonathan Kirsch, author of multiple books, a publishing industry attorney, and adjunct professor at New York University’s Professional Publishing Program.
E-book sales declined 7.5 percent in the first quarter of 2015, while sales of paperbacks went up 8.6 percent, according to The Association of American Publishers. Amazon set consumer expectations that ebooks would be priced at $9.99 or below, and publishers are finding it difficult to reset those expectations, Kirsch says.
“iTunes established the $0.99 song,” Kirsch says, “Amazon multiplied it by 10.”
But Ted Hill, a 30-year industry veteran who heads THA Consulting, points to the film industry for inspiration.
“[Studios] don’t release films on Netflix first. They try to get $15 or $20,” at the cinema before discounting their films on other platforms, Hill says.
Similarly, publishers are looking to keep up the value of their new releases by applying a tiered pricing model: full price when books are first released and discounts later, Hill says. And, he is not yet alarmed by the drop in e-book sales.
“Publishing is a cyclical business. And the way books sell before Christmas is very different than how they sell in summer,” Hill says.
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