Print Publishing’s Other Suicidal Practice

How many ways does print publishing intend to kill itself?

Apparently indulging in a suicidal casino mentality is not enough.

They want to diversify their self-inflicted death!

I’m currently reading a book written by a Wall Street sociopath and it got me thinking about another book I’d read about another money sociopath.

I wondered if this book, which I’d read in print from the NY Public Library, had been published in e.

This is the book:

You would think, first of all, it’d be an easy thing to find it at its publisher site via Google search. No. Try it yourself. In fact, the publisher is so inept at getting traffic, it broke the link I had at my original 2008 post. It didn’t even redirect! I had to manually update the post link.

Anyway, after much fishing, I found the publisher site and also saw they were selling it as an ePub:


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Look at that price: US$16.99.

Now let’s see it at some other ebookstores.

Amazon Kindle:


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It’s US$16.99.

And Barnes & Noble Nook:


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It’s US$16.99.

And it’s even in the Apple iBookstore (nice work, Apple!):


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It’s US$16.99.

Welcome to Agency Pricing! This is where publishers now set the price of their eBooks and tell everyone else, Take It Or Leave It.

Apparently some have been leaving it. I couldn’t find this book at:

  • eBooks.com
  • Cooler eBookstore
  • Diesel eBookstore
  • Fictionwise
  • eReader
  • ereadable
  • MobiPocket
  • Microsoft Reader search engine

So, books on sale at fewer stores is one result of the Agency model.

Another result is this bizarre price from the Sony Reader Store:


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It’s US$17.84!

But the overall effect is this: The delusional belief of a publisher that the price they set is one the market will accept.

This book was published in 2007. It is three years old.

It’s inexcusable for it to be priced so high. Any book older than two years old should be priced to sell — and that means even lower than US$9.99.

To drive home this point, let’s see what someone who is patient, who understands the value of a dollar, and who isn’t about to be taken for a sucker, would pay for this as a used print book.

Here it is at Powell’s:


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It’s US$4.88.

And here are the first three listings, sorted by Lowest-Priced, from ABEBooks:


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It begins at US$3.64.

So let’s say, including postage, it comes to near US$9.99.

Wouldn’t it make sense for a publisher to be competitive with the price of a used print book? The publisher — and more importantly, the writer! — make zero money off a used print book sale. And remember: This book is three years old!

In fact, some of the people who bought that book in print might now want to buy it in e because they’ve since gotten a Kindle, or Sony Reader, or iPad, or another ePub reading device. That’d be a second sale for the publisher — and more royalties for the writer!

So, what we’re left with is a price-fixing model enforced by publishers on everyone, with prices that are ludicrous, fewer bookstores to choose from, and the obvious and inevitable end-result of plummeting eBook sales.

And make no mistake, those sales will plummet.

There might be a spike in the next sales report — solely due to curiosity seekers indulging themselves with their new iPads.

But if those numbers were able to be broken out by each format and bookstore, I think we’d see solid evidence of publishing strangling itself and killing a goose that could lay golden eggs for years to come.

And consider this too: All those bookstores that aren’t carrying this book, they won’t be reporting lost sales for this one because they never had the book to sell at all! There’s no way to report negative sales from negative inventory.

3 responses to “Print Publishing’s Other Suicidal Practice

  1. saucybelle

    Clearly the Big 5 haven’t ever had a course in basic economics since they don’t recognize that the MARKET sets the price of goods. Readers are not going to pay such ludicrous prices for ebooks, particularly not old ones. I have to say I’m proud of Random House for keeping out of this mess. Will it take straight up implosion of their ebook sales to make publishers sit up and take notice that they are alienating their consumers?

  2. the agency model is built on a two-pronged philosophy – the greater fool theory and the pt barnum theory. whether through laziness, distrust of non-mainstream websites or whatever, there are some people who will not research lower prices and pay whatever is convenient. will i drive a mile to save $0.50 on milk? and, of course, barnum – there’s a sucker born every minute. between those two principles, what have you got to lose?

  3. I wouldn’t give any credit to Random House. One of the Big 6 had to agree to opt-out to blunt any government charges of collusion and price fixing.