Yep, Pricing Again (You know it’s fun, come on!)

9 May

ETA: I so put an apostrophe in that “it’s” up there–it just doesn’t show up in my headers. >.<

So over the last few weeks, Balaji’s Wall Street Journal addiction has provided me with a few really cool links to stories about how big publishers are trying to get a grip on the whole ebook pricing thing–which, let’s face it, is a bit desperate for them. [In case it matters, my previous rants on the subject are Pricing and the Author and Spa Week: A Lesson in Pricing Trickery. Speaking of, my facial was awesome, thanks.]

I linked this one via twitter a few weeks ago, but it’s worth rehashing–in part because the whole article is available for free: Cheapest E-Books Upend the Charts . This one discusses $.99 thriller writer John Locke, who’s a study in the glory of subverting The Man. He can do what he wants, when he wants–and this is what I meant when I said I thought it was officious of authors to ask other authors to raise their prices. This guy is wrong? Really? Yeah, well, he’s wrong all the way to the bank, and perhaps more seductively, to a large and understanding audience.

But there’s still the devaluing issue–which matters more or less to authors, depending on their personality. I winced when I read this quote:

“When I saw that highly successful authors were charging $9.99 for an e-book, I thought that if I can make a profit at 99 cents, I no longer have to prove I’m as good as them,” says Mr. Locke. “Rather, they have to prove they are ten times better than me.”

Take from it what you will. But that’s the choice, and I don’t know who can say one way is better than the other–except for their own books. Dude’s made his, and obviously it was the right one. For him.

Which brings me to my next WSJ article, of which y’all can’t see the full text unless you’re a subscriber, but that’s okay, I’m here for you! 99-Cent Story Draws In Readers. So this one’s about the Hatchette imprint that publishes David Baldacci putting up–well, obviously a $.99 story as a “try it on” thing for potential readers, or just something to keep people interested until their pre-orders arrive. Or to garner interest in more, of course.

Right, obviously this is a method I love, because that was the whole idea with me doing the chapbook thing, if on a more personal and indie level. [Oh hay, new picture, good quality and stuff!] More on the e-version of that venture soon, but yeah, this post will be long enough without me making it completely about me, I’m afraid.

But obviously I didn’t come up with this scheme. And I love the implication that Hatchette is doing something innovative with it. Want to see someone who’s been rocking it for a long time now? How about Aaron Polson, just for starters. $.99 short stories–collections, even!–and then if you like it, you’ll buy the books, won’t ya? Yep. (Uh, Aaron, sorry if my callously discussing this is bad for you. I’ll take it down if you hate it, srsly.) The best quote from that WSJ article is this:

“It may turn out that there isn’t an absolutely right way to price a book,” said Russell Grandinetti, Amazon’s vice president for Kindle content. “If it’s a new writer, you may take a different approach than with a book written by an author with an established fan base. I think you’ll see publishers tailoring their approach to pricing on what’s right on a per book basis.”

… you don’t fucking say?

And then today Bala sent me this one: Penguin CEO Adjusts to E-Books but Sees Room for the Old, which is a little bit different in that it’s discussing the survival of the paper book. People have been freaking out about digital readers since they appeared, which I never really got, because I love ‘em. But there was one really interesting experimental item here that is more evidence of big press trying to reproduce the indie success that scares the shit out of them:

Penguin is also one of three major publishers backing a new Web venture disclosed on Friday that will highlight new titles and authors, and sell books directly to consumers. The site,, is expected to launch this summer.

Yep. They went there.

But my favorite quote was on the subject of digital vs. paper book reading, and I think it sums up what I love about both–and why I need both in my life:

There is a growing distinction between the book reader and the book owner. The book reader just wants the experience of reading the book, and that person is a natural digital consumer: Instead of a disposable mass market book, they buy a digital book. The book owner wants to give, share and shelve books. They love the experience. As we add value to the physical product, particularly the trade paperback and hardcover, the consumer will pay a little more for the better experience.

And another really interesting bit about the survival of bookstores:

But people will willingly pay a higher price in an independent bookshop knowing they can buy [the same book] for less down the road. That’s because consumers feel an emotional engagement with the bookstore and feel that bookstores are providing a public service as well as a commercial service. I see no evidence that independent bookstores will become obsolete.

I’m always going on about how I think the book seller/publisher relationship is at the root of the fucked-up-ness in the industry. And this is the thing. Just because you don’t have the same place in the consumer’s life (in this example, warehouse/big book shops are cheaper and more convenient online), it doesn’t mean you don’t have a place. Find it, augment it, make it important. We love to think we need things. Especially things as comforting as book shops.

Right, and on a closing note, I know this sounds like I don’t love big publishers. I do, and I think what they do, what they’re trying to do, is awesome. We need widespread cultural phenomenon just like we need subculture and subversion. I don’t want to think of a world without Harry Potter or the X-Men–I would’ve missed out on meeting so many awesome people without those common interests. But it’s entertaining to see who’s leading the charge, is all. Makes me feel snarky!

Now playing: Arctic Monkeys – 505
via FoxyTunes

8 Responses to “Yep, Pricing Again (You know it’s fun, come on!)”

  1. Aaron Polson May 9, 2011 at 2:07 pm #

    Katey – I feel famous! I’ve “sold” things for a long time, starting with my first job–mowing lawns. My brother and I worked together, did a damn good job, and charged half the price of our competition. Why?

    Because my brother (12 years older than me) was crazy. But we did have a full schedule and plenty of word of mouth. Right now, I’m just trying to generate word of mouth.

    • Katey May 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

      And–yeah, this was part of the initial discussion of why $.99 is good for some–what’s better to get people to try something? There’s a way around the devaluing thing with discounts, but having a wide range of products and prices is brilliant too.

      Absolutes are for the birds. It’s like voting straight party ticket.

      Word of mouth FTW! Nothing like it, when it comes to books. Most things on my shelf came from just that, and I know I’m not alone.

  2. Cate Gardner May 9, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    I like to think I’m both a book reader and a book owner. I never thought I’d fall in love with the ebook, but I have. Go figure. Although, I will never pay $9.99 for an ebook–and not just because I’m in the UK ;)

    • Katey May 9, 2011 at 2:17 pm #

      Yeah, I’ve paid almost $10 for e-versions of hefty hardbacks that I don’t really need to “own”, but just want to “read”, admittedly. But I’ve only done it twice, and I’ll only do it again in a similar situation: I want to read it now, I don’t care about collecting it, and I have complete and utter faith in the quality of the product because of the author and/or publisher involved. Extremely special cases. EXTREMELY.

      I am definitely both a reader and an owner… but there’s a difference, and that’s how I decide how to buy something. I’m sure it doesn’t work that way for everyone, but I find it convenient!

      Y’all pay more for books in the UK anyhow. It’s crazy, how the pricing works out, from an international standpoint. Americans would never shell out like that, cheap Puritanical bastards!

      (Oh, I <3 them, who am I kidding?)

  3. Corinne May 9, 2011 at 7:58 pm #

    That Liberty Tree cover is just… super pretty. I love it!

    I’m also reading all of these discussions in total fascination. I’m really intrigued by self-publishing, though I don’t think I could ever split my attention enough to worry about all the things that come with it. (You know me. I struggle with my attention span as is!) It’s great to see all these different approaches and the logic behind it, though.

    • Katey May 11, 2011 at 3:47 pm #

      I require too much hand-holding to self-publish. I’d have to somehow recruit a team of editors and artists to keep me in line… and seeing as that’d probably make all my editor and artist friends hate me, probably not the best option, no.

      But yeah, I’m mostly interested (at least here in this post) in how the industry is trying to catch these trends and make them work on a larger scale. It’s hilarious to watch them flail! It’s like politics–what a spectator sport…

      Too bad it affects me :/

  4. Alan W. Davidson May 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

    Isn’t it a bit like starting on your first job in highschool? You get paid shit wages but, as time progresses and you become more experienced (and you gain the respect of ‘The Man’, you eventually command more money for your work. Then again you could keep working a crap-load of hours for minimum wage.

    • Katey May 11, 2011 at 3:48 pm #

      What a perfect analogy, Alan! <3 it!

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