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Books Businesses Government The Almighty Buck

Publishers Warned On Ebook Prices 352

An anonymous reader writes "The DoJ says Simon and Schuster, Hachette, Penguin, Macmillan and HarperCollins conspired to raise the prices of ebooks. The report originates from the WSJ, but the BBC adds comments from an analyst bizarrely claiming increased prices are somehow a good thing and thinking otherwise is the result of 'confusion'. I'd like to see an explanation of why the wholesale model, while continuing to work fine (presumably) for physical books, somehow didn't work for ebooks and why the agency model is better despite increasing costs for consumers."
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Publishers Warned On Ebook Prices

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  • Re:Market Analysis (Score:5, Informative)

    by Cinder6 ( 894572 ) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @02:01PM (#39290457)

    Looking at Amazon, too many of the books I would want to buy are priced identically between eBooks and print books. Besides this making absolutely no sense from a cost standpoint, I still view paper books as superior: no batteries required, no DRM, I will always be able to read it if I take decent care of it, and I can do whatever I want with it.

    At the very most, eBooks should cost $(price of print book - cost of printing and shipping said book).

  • Re:Market Analysis (Score:4, Informative)

    by AliasMarlowe ( 1042386 ) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @02:08PM (#39290585) Journal

    At relatively close prices I'd prefer a physical book (where at least I won't be restricted by the publisher's "loan" policy!).

    Exactly. I don't buy ebooks. Actually, I bought two about 7 years ago, and was rapidly disgusted at both the price and the insane restrictions (especially the "no copy & paste" lunacy, but also the "can't copy to another device" and "can't print more than X pages per month" stupidity).

    Amazon gets a lot of business from us, and so do several local bookstores, but only for real books - ink on paper. Real books can be shared with other family members (occurs very often - we have shared interests), loaned to friends (uncommon, but it happens occasionally), and sold on at second-hand stores (also uncommon, but does happen when kids' books are outgrown). We're all bookworms, and none of us really enjoys reading on a screen.

  • Duh (Score:5, Informative)

    by Daetrin ( 576516 ) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @02:12PM (#39290645)
    This is why at least three quarters of my ebook purchases are from Baen []. They price their regular books fairly reasonably, "hardback" books are about $10 than list price, and when they come out in paperback they're about $2-3 off the list price. And for a lot of books if you're willing to pay a small premium they'll let you get the ARC version ("Advance Reader Copy") before the publication date. They also do monthly bundles of books, five or more books packaged together for the price of two or three books, well worth it if you know you really want at least two of the books in the bundle. Plus they have a free library [] that will let you try out a large number of books for free (in the hopes that you'll buy more books from that author later of course) and their books are DRM free, because they understand that piracy isn't a real problem. []

    Hopefully if Baen continues to do well eventually the big publishers will learn from their example.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2012 @02:33PM (#39290993)

    What gets me is there are plenty of books by authors who are DEAD that are priced as if they were new best sellers.

    Dashiell Hammet and Raymond Chandler, for instance. I'm sure royalties are still being paid to various parties, but not enough to warrant those prices. Don't get me started on academic books where the "price" involved for "new" editions is simply moving chapters around so that you can't purchase used books. Baen manages to sell NEW e-books for $6, even for its best selling authors. I understand that they may not be doing as much editing and promoting as some publishers, but c'mon, the electronic revolution should be making things less expensive, and has done nothing but, and it has nothing to do with actual costs for things.

  • by Ollabelle ( 980205 ) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @02:39PM (#39291119)
    So let's start up eBook only publisher, containing only the staff needed to assist the Ebook author. No typesetting, warehouses, printers, or distribution chains to the mortar shops. Then we can price the book to cover our costs and profits for both us and the author.

    The author can then negotiate two separate publication deals, one for the ebook version and one for the paper version.

    Most likely, a third person will be required, who will be paid to shill the book and get the book tour going.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2012 @02:47PM (#39291283)

    Try Baen Books or Smashwords. They sell DRM free titles.

    Baen has mostly top notch, mainstream authors, albeit only SciFi and Fantasy. Smashwords is a little more of a mixed bag, but some well established authors (like Kristine Kathryn Rusch) are publishing on Smashwords.

  • Re:Market Analysis (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2012 @02:54PM (#39291393)

    After your purchase, use Calibre & dedrm plugins to put them into a form where you have control. See [] for dedrm info.
    Calibre is a great piece of open source software which makes managing ebooks on multiple devices easy.

  • Summary FAIL (Score:2, Informative)

    by andydread ( 758754 ) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @02:58PM (#39291479)

    "conspired to raise the prices of ebooks"

    conspired with APPLE to raise the prices of ebooks - fixed

  • by Zerth ( 26112 ) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @03:10PM (#39291661)

    The agency model is where publishers set the price of books and retailers get a percentage. This isn't MSRP, the publisher actually gets to set the price the book is sold for.

    As opposed to the wholesale model print books use, where publishers sell books to retailers, give them a MSRP, and then the retailers get to set their own prices.

    When Amazon started selling ebooks, they used the wholesale model and would frequently set the price to just over whatever the publisher charged them, or even for a loss. As this frequently put the cost of an ebook below the price of a paperback when the book was only available in hardback, publishers got worried that Amazon would get too dominant. When Apple offered to use the agency model, publishers used that to force Amazon to switch.

    The thing that really annoys me is that some publishers are lazy about updating their pricelists, so you'll often see the ebook still listed at hardback prices months after the paperback version is available. That sort of crap makes me buy the paperback, use the IRC scanner, and then stuff the book in the attic. The publisher actually makes less money, but at least they kept their precious paper sales.

  • Re:Market Analysis (Score:5, Informative)

    by Serious Callers Only ( 1022605 ) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @03:23PM (#39291845)

    Nobody sells e-goods, they're "licensed", which means that I may use them as long as the publisher lets me in ways they like

    While it plays to the peanut gallery here on slashdot, this is not really true. Lots of good publishers sell their content DRM free - Oreilly, Pragmattic Programmers, Baen, Smashwords, Cool Camping, Pan Macmillan etc.

    Your nightmare scenarios might hold true for books bought from ibooks or for kindle for example (particularly for kindle as the whole 1984 episode showed), but they are not true for publishers who publish books in standard formats like PDF with no DRM - you can buy good ebooks today, you just have to be discriminating, and not all books you might want are available. Hopefully more publishers will see the light and stop trying to impose DRM (which is inevitably cracked anyway).

  • Re:Market Analysis (Score:5, Informative)

    by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <> on Thursday March 08, 2012 @03:45PM (#39292229) Homepage Journal

    This site [] has some interesting things to say about eBooks from the stance of an author who has been abused by the big publishing houses and now sells via Amazon and others instead. He farms out cover art, editing, and other things - he also reveals the numbers for all to see. There's no reason why big publishing houses need to be taking more than $50 of the cost of a book sale other than to support top heavy overhead IMO. They are holding onto their position and holding down authors much like the music industry has tried to do. They secured a sweetheart deal using Apple as a lever against Amazon and it is now FINALLY blowing up in their face - but not without eBook piracy having gone rampant and many early adopters such as myself no longer buying overpriced books.

    I'm happy to see this finally coming home to roost but I feel it's pretty late in the game having taken YEARS to come about. The big publishers have had it fat for awhile now, their house is about to come tumbling down and I will stand and applaud when it does. Who knows, when prices are finally sane again perhaps I'll consider buying books again much liek I am back to buying music from Amazon....

  • Re:Market Analysis (Score:4, Informative)

    by Jessified ( 1150003 ) on Thursday March 08, 2012 @03:49PM (#39292287) []

    Scan the books yourself. Don't pay for it twice. I can't imagine this being illegal on books you already own. (And they can't exactly put DRM on physical books.)

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday March 08, 2012 @04:25PM (#39292855)

    Knowing the book industry, the people you have listed are paid a pittance. I used to work with Steven Hawking's ghost writer, and for him it was strictly part time pay for a lot of work.

    Where the money goes is to management and marketing.

    Then I suspect you don't know the book industry very well.

    I'm a published author. Getting my first novel to the stores at B&N involved my agent, an editor, two copyeditors, two graphic designers, a publicist, and an entire sales team to shop it to booksellers--twelve people, none of whom were being paid "a pittance" because 1) they all live in New York City where the cost of living is so ridiculous that they couldn't afford to live there and work at Rockefeller Center on a meager salary; and 2) they're all very, very good at their jobs. And I don't begrudge them one dime--nothing would kill my career as an author faster than publishing a book riddled through with typographical and grammatical errors, a lousy cover, and poor promotion. And Amazon isn't going to help me with any of that.

    Would I like a bigger cut of the profits on my books? Sure. Is it worth it to jump ship and publish through Amazon, knowing that I'm going to have to hire my own production team to keep the quality of my finished books at a high level? No. Unless you're a mega-author, that extra percentage Amazon is promising won't return enough profit to cover the cost of hiring that production team. As a result, most authors going through Amazon won't bother and Amazon will end up publishing a tremendous amount of mediocre crap.

  • Re:Market Analysis (Score:5, Informative)

    by ultramk ( 470198 ) < minus threevowels> on Thursday March 08, 2012 @04:42PM (#39293055)

    I run a small publishing company. Our printing and shipping costs are about 1/4 of our overall production costs. The rest is in paying researchers, editors, and royalties to the authors. None of those costs change if we go to ebooks, in fact there are some added costs in producing an ebook version because there's no elegant way to export charts and tables to EPUB or MOBI from InDesign (where we do our print layout), at least not without a ton of hand tweaking. Code generators suck.

    So, you know. It's anecdotal. But that's why our $35 book will probably sell for $28 or so in ebook.

  • Re:Market Analysis (Score:4, Informative)

    by BLKMGK ( 34057 ) <> on Thursday March 08, 2012 @10:55PM (#39296901) Homepage Journal

    How about back catalog? You know those books that are no longer printed? Big publishers hold onto these "rights" like they're gold and refuse to publish books. When an author wants them back they often refuse and the book is in limbo. Physical stores can only hold so many books and have only so much display space, not so electronic books. Back catalogs is where existing authors have a TON of opportunity, it's also where big publishers screw up and try to charge sky high prices for books that have been paid for multiple times over.

    Konrath is just such an author. He has been publishing his catalog of REJECTED books and making more money on that and self published stuff than he has ever gotten from his "big publisher" deals. He has been posting stories by other authors and encouraging authors to go it on their own for a year or three now. His posted numbers and tales of getting screwed ought to open any author's eyes. [] My personal favorite is how publishers talk about advertising budgets and then authors end up having to arrange all of the book signings themselves as well pick up the travel expenses. The big publishers are fast on their way out and it can't come soon enough. They are as bad if not worse than the music industry IMO.

To avoid criticism, do nothing, say nothing, be nothing. -- Elbert Hubbard