My Boycott of Agency Pricing

My library card had expired.  Gasp!

I’ve been reading eBooks for the last few years, either on my ancient Sony ( two year old technology) or on my spiffy new Kindle, but thanks to agency pricing, I have renewed my card and started borrowing dead-tree books again. That’s right, me the big eBook fan, has had to crack open some weighty volumes to get all the information I crave.  But the publishers made me do it.

In an effort to fight the rising tide of eBooks, the Big Six publishers adopted the agency pricing model, where they set the price and no one is allowed to discount, and they’re setting the price of eBooks higher than paperbacks.  So an electronic download, which doesn’t require logging companies, pulp mills, trucks, printing presses, more trucks and heated bookstores are now priced higher than dead-tree books.  Let’s not even get into the incredibly environmentally unfriendly paperback returns policy, which sees the cover of an unsold book ripped off and returned to the publisher for credit, and the rest thrown into the recycling bin so that more trucks, pulp mills and trucks can get rev up their engines.

But what really gets me steamed is that great authors are being squeezed by the new “industry standard” on eBook royalties.  This cartel of six has decided that they will not sign a single contract that pays an author more than 17% of the list price of a novel.  Their stated claim that they must have this deal in order to make a profit on eBooks doesn’t ring true when you read Publishers Marketplace, which reports on each publisher’s financial statements as they’re released, and it turns out they’re all making a good profit on eBooks.  It’s reduced hardcover and paperback sales that are hurting them.  So they’re using eBook sales to subsidize the old industry at the expense of authors.

So I’m boycotting agency priced books, and it’s really easy to tell which books are subjected to this policy.  If it costs more than $9.99, and more than the paperback, it’s an agency priced book.  If Amazon can’t sell you a discounted copy, it’s an agency priced book.

For instance, a friend recommended The World Without Us as essential reading for all apocalyptic fiction authors.  Amazon’s  price for a Kindle version is $11.20, but the paperback is $10.20.  I’ve seen far more glaring examples, where the Kindle edition is near $14 and the paperback is around $10 dollars.

This won’t last, of course.  Someday one of the really big authors will say goodbye and indie-pub (or worse, sign with Amazon) so that they can collect the 70% royalty.  When that happens others will follow suit, and the publishers claim that they have the best authors will melt away.  Then they’ll want to lure someone like John Grisham back, and they’ll offer him a 35% eBook royalty, and every publisher after that will not be able to claim that 17% is the “industry standard.”

Meanwhile, out of the millions of indie-pubbed books, some cream will rise to the top.  These authors will keep selling under $9.99 to get the 70% royalty, and as they build their careers and become in demand, they’ll eat into sales of books from traditional publishers.  The only solution for the Big Six will be to lower the price of eBooks in order to compete.

But for now, I’m off to the library.  I got an e-mail notice that the hold I placed (via the library’s website) on The World Without Us has been filled.  Oh, and I’ve been loaning eBooks from the library too for my Sony eReader.  Thank you public library.  You’re a forward looking institution.

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