Amazon gives numbers: it’s about prices, not share
Amazon has added a fascinating
which does something Amazon rarely does: it gives specific numbers.
I know when I do my analysis posts, some people just skip them. :) Not everybody likes seeing the mathematical interiors of something they enjoy: for some, it’s like seeing an x-ray of the person they are dating. ;)
However, these are statistics as a weapon…a weapon in what I call the Hachazon war. That’s the ongoing disagreement between Amazon and Hachette, one of the Big Five publishers (presumably, Amazon is also in or going to be in similar negotiations with the other four).
It’s a carefully crafted post, with again, Amazon taking the populist/consumer point of view…and tacking on support for authors.
I’m not saying that isn’t how they sincerely feel: it certainly could be. It’s just apparent to me that the statement has a very large position framing component…and it’s reasonable that it does, of course.
I recommend that you read it, and I do want to point out some key points.
The biggest argument made is that Amazon isn’t fighting with Hachette over revenue share, as has been reported. It’s not (according to the e-tailer) about trying to get, say, 50% of the sale rather than 30%.
It’s about keeping the prices low.
Amazon argues that e-book prices should be lower than p-book (paperbook) prices. Since the rise in popularity of e-books with the release of the Kindle in 2007, that’s been many consumers’ intuitive sense. We would see posts about that all the time in the forums: “There is no paper cost, it’s just a file.”
For many of those posts, it was clear that they didn’t understand the economics (which Amazon presumably does). They were only talking about manufacture, and that is a small part of the cost of producing a book. I remember an analysis, way back when, that an e-book was about 12.5% less expensive to produce than a p-book.
How can that be?
What costs the most money isn’t the paper, it’s the people. Even for an e-book, you still need to pay the author (although not necessarily the same amount), the editor, the cover designer, the proofreader, the layout artist, and so on.
You still have the same legal costs.
Marketing costs could be different, but are still significant.
Amazon adds in other costs including, interestingly, used sales. Since e-books can’t be sold used, they argue, the initial price can be lower.
If a p-book is sold for $20, and then sold used for $10 and used again for $5, the publisher only gets money out of that initial $20. If the people who paid $10 and $5 for it would have paid $20 otherwise, those second and third sales are a loss of revenue…which the publisher has to make up on the first sale.
Of course, many people who buy a used book at a reduced cost wouldn’t have bought the new book at the full price…but it’s a reasonable argument. Amazon has worked on creating a used e-book market, but that would presumably be a case were the publisher would get a cut of subsequent sales.
Here’s the big stat in this short excerpt from the post:
“We’ve quantified the price elasticity of e-books from repeated measurements across many titles. For every copy an e-book would sell at $14.99, it would sell 1.74 copies if priced at $9.99. So, for example, if customers would buy 100,000 copies of a particular e-book at $14.99, then customers would buy 174,000 copies of that same e-book at $9.99. Total revenue at $14.99 would be $1,499,000. Total revenue at $9.99 is $1,738,000.”
Amazon is saying, “Lower the price and make more money.”
They explain how that benefits everybody: publishers; readers; authors; and Amazon.
You know what it doesn’t benefit?
That’s always been one of the publishers’ concerns with Amazon pricing many new and popular e-books at $9.99 (which sometimes meant Amazon was selling them to consumers for less than what the e-tailer paid the publisher). It’s “price perception devaluation.” If a Stephen King novel is worth $9.99 as an e-book, why is it worth $25 as a p-book?
If e-book prices set the market perception of what a book should cost, it hurts p-books.
You might think that would hurt Amazon as much as it does the tradpubs (traditional publishers), but tradpubs have a massive percentage of p-book sales in brick-and-mortar stores (and those do still matter), and a likely significantly decreasing percentage of e-book sales.
I was a brick-and-mortar bookstore manager…and almost all of our stock came from the biggest publishers (the few that didn’t came from smaller traditional publishers, represented by a distributor such as Publishers Group West).
We simply needed the size and services of the big tradpubs. You need to be able to replenish stock quickly when a book is hot, and get credit for copies when a book is cold.
The smaller independent publishers didn’t have the resources to do that.
All of that goes away with digital reproduction and distribution.
The Big Five’s power is disproportionately in p-books…and POD (Print On Demand) hasn’t changed that (yet).
The other thing Amazon says in the post is that the publisher should get 35%, Amazon should get 30%…and the author should get 35%.
To me, that’s a little…manipulative, I guess. Amazon (as they say later in the post) can’t control how much the author gets from the publisher…that’s a matter of their contracts.
It would be like…looking over at another table at a restaurant, and saying to the six-year old, “You know, if your parents really loved you, they’d give you the whole pizza.” ;)
Authors, of course, are not like six-year olds…I expect we’ll see some pointed comments from some of the Hachette-side authors about this part of the post.
Brand new or aspiring indie-authors may have the relative “life experience” of a six-year old, in terms of publishing, but they’ll have different abilities to judge.
Speaking of those indie (independent) authors, you may think that what Amazon is saying isn’t unreasonable: after all, Amazon pays KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) authors either 35% or 70% (the latter if they meet certain guidelines).
Yes, but that’s a different case from Amazon’s traditional publishing efforts.
With KDP, the author/publisher (they are often one and the same in that situation) takes on the costs and risks of development of the book. Amazon takes on some of the marketing costs, although the publisher will many times continue to have those as well. Amazon will also have Customer Service costs, and accounting costs, but for the bulk of the costs, it falls on the indie.
KDP is a platform: the author delivers the book and updates it as needed, and Amazon sells it.
Amazon’s traditional publishing, and the Big Five’s, involves a lot more investment.
The other thing about pricing is that consumers (and Amazon is positioning itself as seeing things from that viewpoint) look at an individual sale, while publishers (and stores) look at populations of sales.
Popular books support unpopular books.
As readers, we do want publishers interested in something besides profits on each title.
We want them to take risks on new authors, and we want them to publish “meaningful” books which won’t be popular.
If a researcher spends ten years documenting working conditions in 19th Century America (I’m just making that up as a topic), it’s not going to top the bestseller lists…but it’s important that the information be out there and preserved.
That book will probably never make back its developments costs…so popular books have to be priced somewhat higher to enable the publisher to take a loss on the “public good” book.
That’s not inherently different on e-books and p-books…except that the risks are quite a bit lower on e-books.
Right now, it’s likely that e-books are, to some extent, supporting the publishing of p-books. They are providing, if not a higher margin, a better cushion for taking risks on the development of p-books.
All of that said, this is an extraordinarily revealing post, as far as Amazon goes.
What do you think? Will it persuade the public to be more on Amazon’s side? How will authors react? Would consistently lower e-book prices hurt p-book sales? Would that cause publishers to take fewer risks with p-books, resulting in less innovation? Would indies pick up that slack? Feel free to tell me and my readers what you think by commenting on this post.
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This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog. To support this or other blogs/organizations, buy Amazon Gift Cards from a link on the site, then use those to buy your items. There will be no cost to you, and a benefit to them.