Why Big5 Publishers see a slowdown in ebooks…

I received a coupon for 20% off of one item at Barnes and Noble over the weekend.  It happened that we were in the vicinity of a B&N store and stopped in for a few minutes.  A book on the “New Releases” shelf caught my eye:  it was titled One Year After, by William R. Forstchen, and the blurb described an American society that had broken down after an EMP attack.  It also described itself as a sequel to another book.

It took me about three minutes to look under the “F’s” for the previous book.  As I am a bit of a sucker for these types of post-apocalyptic novels, I read the blurb and checked the price.  Paperback, $9.99.

Now I had a 20% coupon and I get my usual 10% member’s discount, so I pulled up the Amazon app on my phone and looked up the ebook version of the book.


Let’s do the math.  80% of that is $7.99.  90% of $7.99 is $7.19.

So I paid $7.19 (plus tax, around 7%) for a paperback version of a book that in electronic form would cost me $9.99.  Even with tax, it was still less than $8.00.  Something around $7.70, I think.  I don’t have my receipt with me.

I also had a gift card, so no cash came out of my pocket and no charges went onto a credit card, but I suppose that’s neither here nor there.  I paid less, and I have a physical object that I can take to Half-Price Books and resell if I choose to do so.  Or resell in some other manner.

And they wonder why ebook sales are down for them?


4 thoughts on “Why Big5 Publishers see a slowdown in ebooks…

  1. Steven M. Moore

    Hi Scott,
    Of course, that’s not the whole story. $9.99 for the ebook is only because Amazon has generally given in to the “agency model” and allowed publishers to set their own prices, so the price was set by the publisher. If not, the publisher’s price was even higher, and Amazon discounted it to get it under $10.
    The problem is that “traditional” in traditional publishing means paper over ebooks–they’re living in the 20th century, not the 21st. Not only do such policies bias the sales specs for ebooks (apparently what they want), they lose money (what they shouldn’t want), because they could sell a lot more ebooks if they were competitively priced–making less per item but selling more items usually leads to better profits. I can’t figure out why traditional publishers shoot themselves in the foot. It makes no sense.

  2. Steven M. Moore

    Addendum 1: I never pay more than $5 for any book now. You should have waited to see the paper version in a used book store…or borrow it from the library. Just sayin’…. 🙂
    Addendum 2: The Create Space version of The Midas Bomb is $9.99. I think that’s a fair price for a trade paperback. The cost of production is greater. But $9.99 is far too much to pay for an ebook. The cost of production is minimal.
    Addendum 3: It almost looks like traditional publishers are trying to pay for their bloated bureaucracy by smacking around ebook buyers. They don’t like ebooks, they don’t like people who buy them, so why not make them pay for that bureacracy?

  3. Scott Dyson Post author

    I may borrow the second book in the series from the library. It’s available in hardcover, and its ebook price is something like $12.99 or maybe higher. The paperback and the ebook were exactly the same price, except that for the paperback, I could get 20% plus another 10%. I had a gift card, so I used it on that book.

    I think $9.99 is very fair for a trade paperback. It could go a bit higher, even.

    I know, also, that the publishers are doing this by design. They WANT me buying the paperback, not the ebook. For the publisher, they make more money, and it comes from the “right” place, with the paperback book. More palms get greased along the way…just not the author’s palm too much.

    But it seems that there are more and more “articles” about how ebook sales are flagging. As if to say, “people STILL prefer paper books,” whether or not that’s the reason. And I don’t think it is. Everyone has a device that can be used as an ereader today. People who don’t read much will probably continue to buy their paperbacks at the airport, or the grocery store, or at Target or Walmart if something catches their eye. But people who read a lot are switching to ereaders, and I see it a lot at my office. The people who used to come in with books to read, with a few notable exceptions, now come in with their iPad and Kindle app, or a Kindle of some sort. I understand that, for the Big 5, this is about slowing the adoption of ebooks as much as possible by artificially holding the prices high.

  4. Steven M. Moore

    Just a final note: when talking about lagging sales for any type of book (pbooks, ebooks, audiobooks), we have to factor in a correction for the changing entertainment tastes and generational differences. There are many other possibilities these days: social media (yeah, people are entertained by it nowadays), TV and streaming video, and computer games. I don’t have access to stats to prove that, but lagging book sales figures might only reflect a saturation point as people turn to less cerebral and more passive forms of entertainment. It’s a Brave New World. Maybe Huxley’s soma won’t be drug-based at all, but VR where people immerse into fictional lives and situations? I think I’ll be able to resist turning my mind to mush. I’m not sure others can.

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