Books, life the universe

Thursday, 4 November 2010

Trouble in the book world

You may have seen the articles about the Agency Pricing model for e-books. This is widespread in the USA but until 1 November did not exist in the UK. Those who follow such things may recall that the Net Book Agreement was abolished back in the mid 1990s. This agreement allowed publishers to dictate the price at which books were sold by retailers.

This was abandoned before it was ruled to be illegal and anti-competitive. Now some publishers - most notably the Hachette group which includes such big names as Penguin and Harper Collins - are saying that anyone selling their e-books, whatever format, must sell them at the price dictated by the publisher - i.e. retailers are acting as the publisher's agents and selling on their behalf.

This to me is price fixing under another name and is, I think, illegal in the UK under EU and UK law. Even if it is illegal it would seem that the publishers are likely to shoot themselves in the foot with this as in some cases the e-book price is turning out to be considerably higher than the hardback price. This piece of nonsense arises because retailers can discount hardbacks and paperbacks as much as they like but cannot alter the price of e-books from some publishers.

I'm aware both publishers and authors need to make a living and like most people who read I have no problem paying a fair price for a book I want to read. Ultimately I shall do with e-books what I have always done with tree books - look at the price for the cheapest format and make my choice accordingly based on whether I want to keep the book or read it once and dispose of it. What I am against is people trying to sell to me at a higher price because it keeps the market dynamic and gives consumers more choice as one publisher tried to say. So making every retailer sell an e-book is giving consumers more choice and keeping the market dynamic? I don't think I'd want him working for me if I was running a company!

I don't see there are any baddies or goodies in this situation - it is just a new market trying to establish itself and stabilise. I shan't be boycotting any publishers but I will be making my book buying decisions based on price and how much I want to read the book concerned. If the price fixed bears some resemblance to the paperback price of the book then I may buy it. If it is way more than the hardback then I shall wait for it to come down or not as the case may be. I read between 250 and 300 books per year. I can't see me running out of e-books to read - many of which are free.


kcm said...

Hold on! Do these people really want to sell books? The Agency Pricing model is lunacy, and always has been; it should have been made illegal with the proscription of Resale Price Maintenance in the 50s & 60s and the Net Book Agreement. It beats me why Amazon has dropped its action against the Hachette; of all the people who are (should be) at the forefront of competition surely it's Amazon. Has no-one realised yet that protectionism doesn't work?

Fortunately I buy mostly paperbacks these days - I object to hardback pricing which seems excessive - and I'm certainly not going to pay inflated (ie. above paperback) prices for e-books. Not that the latter is likely in the near future as I have no javascript:void(0)intention of buying an e-book reader until either there is a decent colour Kindle (or equivalent) as I want colour photo reproduction or there is an e-book version of Dance; neither look imminent. Makes you wonder what planet some people are on.

Leigh Russell said...

Online suppliers and supermarkets virtually give books away - 3for2 means effectively one free book. This slashes bookshops' profits - Borders have already gone - and will put publishers out of business. If publishers can't cover their costs, let alone make a profit, they won't survive. The writing is already on the wall (sorry - bad pun!) for bookshops, and now libraries are under threat... If no one pays for books, they won't survive.

kcm said...

I can't disagree with Leigh; it's called economics and it applies in all industry segments. Except that no store can afford loss leaders on the scale of the now ubiquitous "3 for 2" offers - so one has to assume that the store have beaten the publishers down on bulk pricing. But it's a fine line between "devil take the poorest negotiator" and "fair trade". I guess it comes down to whether one has a "regulatory" or a "free trade" view of how the world should be. I'm sure we would all like "fair trade" to prevail, but for many people personal economics will dictate where they draw the line. I'd hate to have to give up books!

Jilly said...

Interestingly enough I bought some e-books published by the Hachette group before 1 November and some prices are exactly the same as I paid before the change. Others have doubled in price. I paid £3 something for the Penguin edition of Cold Comfort Farm and it is now £6.99!

Jilly said...

Leigh - I do understand what you're saying about bookshops and libraries and while I don't use libraries any more (shameful admission froma former professional librarian) I would hate to see them disappear. Amazon at least - while they offer low prices - don't do 3 for 2 offers.

I was under the impression that more people are reading these days - in spite of what Steve Jobs thought - so I can't see the need for books disappearing any time soon.

Perhaps bookshops need to diversify - as Waterstones etc have done by having cafes or coffee shops sharing their premises.

Personally I have no problem paying for books but I do object to price fixing when it isn't allowed for any other product.