Has Agency eBook Price Controls Changed Your Reading Habits? (It Did For Me)

7708075504_390010367d_hEarlier today Felix left a comment on my post about the 2016 Kindle's lack of accessibility features. He remarked on how I seemed to use the same author's series in many of the screenshot's posted to this blog.

Side note: you really like your Honor Harrington, don't you? This isn't the first time you use it in a demo. ūüôā

After I got over my brief panic that you might think I had limited reading interests, I started thinking about why I kept using that one series in screen shots, and I realized just how much of my reading is in paper these days.

Thanks to the high price of ebooks from the Big Five, much of my new reading consists of books checked out from libraries. The major publishers have been controlling their ebook prices on and off since 2010, and they've been keeping the prices above the price I'll pay for either an impulse purchase or when I encounter a new author, so I've been finding cheaper ways to read their books.

To name a few examples, when I finally got around to reading Hyperbole and a Half, I got the book at the library (a hilarious blog, but it was butchered when turned into a book).

The trailer for the upcoming movie The Girl with All the Gifts inspired me to read the novel it was based on (interesting commentary on a post-Zombie society, but a flat and unoriginal ending).

And The Magicians tv series made me want to read Lev Grossman's novel which was the inspiration for the series (he has committed a crime against literature).

When I picked up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies this spring it was a library book (and really only of interest to Jane Austen fans). And finally, I'm waiting to check out the alternate history novel Judenstaat (you can read an excerpt on tor.com).

The one consistent thread through this reading list is that all of these titles are from one of the Big Five (even PPZ, which is distributed by PRH), and the ebooks all cost $10 or more. That's a high price to pay for a book which I don't know I'll like, from an author new to me, or one I'll want to read again, which is why I check them out of the library.

I still buy ebooks, obviously; I get the monthly bundles most months and I frequently buy SF from Baen Books. But when it comes to the major publishers, I have largely stopped buying their titles because the ebooks cost too much and I don't want to clutter up my room with more paper books.

I'm sure that's not what the major publishers wanted when they re-instituted agency, but it worked out okay for me.

So how has agency ebook pricing affected your reading habits?

image by cnewtoncom

About Nate Hoffelder (11598 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

28 Comments on Has Agency eBook Price Controls Changed Your Reading Habits? (It Did For Me)

  1. I’m a little surprised you apparently don’t check out any library e-books.

  2. Agency pricing has definitely impacted my reading and my buying of ebooks. I’ve been working on reading either library checkouts for newer titles I want to read right now, or else titles out of the backlog of books I already own. There are very few authors I want to pay current full prices for to get their ebooks right now. Mostly, I’m waiting for newer releases to hit paperback so that their ebook prices will go down.

    I’m fortunate to live in an area with two active library systems that have good digital ebook support, though, so it’s very easy for me to get access to ebooks I want to read but don’t yet own.

  3. Nope, I read very few Big 5 published authors before the return of retail price maintenance and that hasn’t changed. Interestingly enough, my only recent acquisitions from the Big 5 have been Rory Clements’ John Shakespeare series and those are priced at $2.99 each.

    On a slightly related note, I was sad to see you participated in that absurd Prime Day hatchet job on Yahoo! Finance.

    • One, people interviewed for a piece usually don’t know the angle until after the story is published.

      And two, I read it and don’t have a problem with my part. I also can’t complain about the rest. It’s not bad.

  4. Agency pricing has changed how I buy books, but I still buy ebooks almost exclusively. (I’d have to buy a bigger house if I got more paper ones.) I just read reasonably priced ebooks (ie: $10 or less). Which means few Big 5 books, and certainly no new releases from them. Thank goodness there are a lot of other options for things worth reading. And I feel much better about my money going to small publishers and independent authors where it’s put to better use.

  5. I saw the article and I thought it was pretty decent. Yahoo Finance isn’t known for articles full of depth, but it was an interesting angle to talk about ebooks and recall how much Amazon has changed over the years. The whole prime shopping thing is a gimmick, but it turns out that Walmart has free shipping on a bunch of items this week so that works out for me! (I’m not a prime member so the “sale” doesn’t interest me so far as Amazon, but if Target, Walmart and ebay want to run specials, I’ll look for things I need.)

    From a reading standpoint, I’m reading less. I did just check out a book from the library–it is a big 5 and it is too expensive for me to even think about buying for an author I don’t know. I’m also in a reading slump…the book before that, I bought used due to the high price of the ebook. I’d say I’m back to my old habits before cheap ebooks. I check the library, I checked used prices and I read less.

  6. Changed my habits in a big way…my recent Apple refund was 326.24 to give you an idea of old purchase habits. The year before Agency returned I made numerous purchases as prices were reasonable. I thought nothing of a blog post stating that Agency was returning until I checked my Amazon wish list; the list showed a book I had entered at 5.99 had jumped to 11.99…WT(). Several other titles had jumped also. As I took the time to learn about the Agency agreements I made the decision not to pay these new prices and started to look at Independent titles on Amazon that turned out to be ok.

    I also started to borrow from the library…The trick is to put unavailable books on hold if you have Overdrive(In Wash DC and Maryland anyway). I also check Bookbub and Book Gorilla for deals occasionally-I will note that some of the prices from Big 5 Pubs have started to drop from the automatic 14.99 for new titles…slightly.

    Greed of Big 5 publishers gets none of my dollars

  7. If its not in ebook, I pick it up used. Usually thats for a reference book of some type. As for my reading for entertainment, I won’t buy anything in paper, and if the ebook is to high, I won’t buy that anymore either. I have only one big five author I haven’t scratched from the list and I can get her on audible with my membership. The rest of my ebooks are indie authors and my attitude toward indie authors changed once I gave them a chance. I haven’t looked back since.

  8. As a reader, I find agency pricing does indeed put me off buying books when they first come out, which means of course, I don’t always remember to go back and buy them later. As a self-published writer, I find agency pricing to be the greatest gift the Big 5 could ever give me. It’s so much easier to compete in the ebook market than in the print book market because I have so much more control over the price.

  9. I stopped buying anything from the BPHs in 2010.
    Digital or print.
    Hasn’t hurt one bit.
    I didn’t get one red cent from the settlements, I’m happy to report. Not even by accident.
    I was particularly happy of that decision during the Hachette catfight when the AU WhaleMath‚ĄĘ letter came out: there were only a handful of authors on that list that ever made money off me, all pre 2010.

    So, yes: my habits changed.
    I buy more Indie and small press.
    I play a bit more video games, watch a bit more TV. The latter, admitedly because there is way more SF&F on TV, especially superhero fantasies. (Which are also a lot more abundant in Indie ebook land than in the days when tradpub was the only game in town.)
    I spend a lot less money, too, but the main reason for my boycott wasn’t the price hike per se. After all, those folks have been raising prices continually for decades. No, what drove me away was the realization that those absolute idiots were willing to make *less* money themselves and make less money for their authors, just to ensure I paid more for the exact same stuff.
    They so badly wanted to rip me off they were (and are) willing to pay for the privilege.

    I’ve not missed them or their apologists.

  10. I quit buying from the price fixers in 2010 though I relented at some point because I thought it was stupid to pass on a $1.99 book that I wanted to read. Anyway, the limit I’ll pay to a Big 5 is less than I’ll pay for an unknown to me author/publisher.

    I don’t have a “local” library. I have to pay a yearly fee to use the one in the city nearest to me. I was happy to do that when I was reading paper but their digital collection is not very robust. Anyway, when I found out the Free Library of Philadelphia offered out of state memberships for less than I was paying to my “local” library and also had a much larger digital collection, I switched.

    Pre 2010, I was reading probably 95% Big 5
    Post 2010-2013, I was reading 95% indie/small press
    2013 on, I’m probably reading 85% indie/small press, 15% Big 5 with 90% of that figure being library borrows from freelibrary.org

    Also, I’ve been 100% digital for fiction for almost ten years now and I rely heavily on ereaderiq.com for discount information. I’ll miss them if they can’t figure out a way to stay viable.

    Any author who signed Preston’s letter is on my do not buy list. That list is longer than my do not buy list for tried and failed indies.

    To William- The Rory Clements series often drop to $.99. That’s what I’ve paid for each of the six ebooks in my library. I’ve only read five of them but will pick up the rest in the series if I see a price drop.

  11. I buy mostly for study and research rather than pure entertainment and high e-book prices have a very direct, very negative effect on my purchases not only of the e-book but of any new copy. Often it leads me simply to delay getting the book at all until cut-price used editions are available.

  12. As a German who prefers reading her favorite genres in English, libraries don’t serve me. So I have turned to indie authors by conscious choice, and I haven’t been disappointed.

    If I have to get non-fiction or reference books, I’m quite willing to buy used – here, most Big 5 publisher prices are outrageous. 19.99 Euro for a softcover is quite normal.

  13. No, it wasn’t agency pricing that changed my reading habits, it was DRM and B&N’s new policy of not letting me download. Sure I can strip DRM, but I’m not interested in doing so. I view it more as a matter of principle — I want to own what I buy, not lease it. I buy my cars and I buy my books.

    I do occasionally buy ebooks from Smashwords, but for me and my preferred reading habits, I almost exclusively buy hardcovers. So far this month I have bought 9 hardcovers and still have 6 others that were preordered and due to ship this month (including an Honor Harrington anniversary edition).

    The primary reason I buy hardcovers is that I rarely read fiction. If I’m going to spend the price for a nonfiction ebook, I might as well buy the hardcover. It is rarely more than a few dollars more and often several dollars less or essentially the same price in hardcover than in ebook. (For example, I just bought Frederick the Great by Tim Blanning. The hardcover cost me $16.08 and the ebook is $16.99. I also just bought The Romanovs by Simon Sebag Montefiore. Hardcover cost was $18.02; ebook price is $17.99. Why buy an ebook?) I don’t worry about space. I just keep stacking the books.

    I like a library that I can look at and be reminded of what I have read (or plan to read). When I see a book on my library shelf, I often can remember the story and when I read it (approximately). Ebooks do not stimulate my brain similarly. And when one of my kids sees a book on the library shelf that interests them, they just grab it and borrow it — something that can’t so easily be done with ebooks.

    I recognize that for some people ebooks solve a problem. For me, however, they do not. My habits changed in the sense that when the ebook craze really hit with the coming of the Sony 505 and the first Kindle I started buying lots of ebooks. But that quickly ended when I realized that for me hardcovers are my preferred format. Agency pricing had no effect on my habits.

    As for the HH series, that is one of the very few series of fiction that I have read more than once and continue to buy in both hardcover and ebook form.

    • I’m mostly with you–the big publishers have done a pretty good job of not taking advantage of the upsides of digital formats, while maximizing the downsides, so they simply have less value to me than print books. DRM is part of that.

      The prices that have resulted from agency pricing don’t bother me; I think they’re appropriate. The idea of the creator, rather than the retailer, setting the price on things doesn’t bother me, either–I /prefer/ something costing the same wherever you go to get it (you want it cheaper? that’s what buying used is for–something that is impossible with ebooks). It’s the allocation of that revenue that bothers me, and that was true before agency pricing; publishers get too much.

      So, no, agency pricing hasn’t had any impact on my buying or reading habits. I almost never buy fiction, and when I do, it’s almost always used paperbacks. I’m not usually a re-reader, and I’ve always thought it was silly to buy a book I’m going to read once; that’s what the library is for. So while I’ve been steadily increasing the % of my book buying that goes to ebooks, those ebooks (and the paper books) mostly aren’t fiction, and agency pricing, while it might technically have impacted the prices, hasn’t been noticeable to me. The majority of ebooks I buy are actually PDFs, rather than ePub, because they’re independent RPGs. But the mainstream books I’ve been buying as ebooks are frequently smaller publishers or university presses–and they’re $80 hardcopies or $50 ebooks. Or maybe $50 hardcopy/$25 ebook.

      I evaluate the individual book. For some books (certain sorts of reference works), ebook is /more/ valuable than paper to me, so I’ll happily pay the same price, or higher, to get digital rather than paper. For other books, the paper version is more functional, so I will only buy digital if it’s a significant savings (generally, half price feels about right to me).

      The tricky part for me is that I think that the agency prices are more representative of what the books are worth–but I think that extra money should be going to the author, not the publisher. And DRM on media is evil. And I know that the actual printing and shipping part of a book is a tiny part of its retail cost, so absent DRM (which significantly lessens the value of something), ebooks should actually be very similar in price to print books. So, to me, $10-12 for a novel is a perfectly fair price. It’s also not a price I’m willing to pay, and that is true whether it’s print or digital. Libraries are for fiction; owning is for nonfiction (for me).

  14. There are a few trad-pubbed authors that I read that have always been in the ‘New book out, buy it NOW’ category. Since the agency pricing took effect, a few of them have dropped off the list. And since they are NOT Patterson or Roberts or what’s-his-name who wrote The Notebook, my local library doesn’t tend to pick them up. Also, my library has a HUGE selection of kid’s books in it’s Overdrive
    ‘piles’, but not so much the fantasy sci-fi that I usually read (also, Overdrive makes me want to turn green and smash things).

    So I usually end up not reading those particular authors. If the series is still going strong (or in the case of one, who is doing some self-pubbed and lower priced stuff, therefor making me LOVE them even more), I still hit that preorder button the minute it shows up. But I know that’s pretty much the only book I’ll be getting that week.

    Also, I know people lament the trad-pub takeover of Bookbub, but paying 1.99 or 2.99 for something that was originally 10.99 is still not bad.

    • “There are a few trad-pubbed authors that I read that have always been in the ‚ÄėNew book out, buy it NOW‚Äô category. Since the agency pricing took effect, a few of them have dropped off the list. “

      That’s happened to me with a bunch of authors I used to love and would buy automatically. Once agency came around I stopped buying the authors, and in fact I have even stopped keeping up with their publishing schedule. There are authors where I have missed their last half-dozen books because of agency.

  15. Felix’s comment was the best: “No, what drove me away was the realization that those absolute idiots were willing to make *less* money themselves and make less money for their authors, just to ensure I paid more for the exact same stuff.”

    Brilliant! When Agency was coming the first time, I went through my wish list and bought a lot of books before the prices went up. Then bought as little as possible of higher priced books. I am fortunate to be in a Chicago suburb whose library system gets a reasonable number of the digital books I want to read, and if all else fails, I can get the library’s print version. I still do buy some digital books at higher prices but way less than I used to. I do NOT buy print books, so the publishers have not forced me into that even though they apparently thought (think) that I will move over to the print edition if e-books are high priced.

  16. As is the case with some other posters, I have not bought a Big 5 publication since the original conspiracy began. I have no intention of giving them a single cent of my money and will not purchase even one of their lower-priced titles. I don’t bother with Bookbub any more. The only Big Five author I still follow is John Sandford, and for him the library suffices.

  17. I have purchased fewer ebooks because of the agency pricing. I have used more library ebooks than in the past.

  18. all e-books all the time – now all from 2 local libraries

  19. Yes I used to buy anything I wanted to read, plenty of impulse buying. I had to regularly prune my Kindle and Kobo of the tons of ebooks that I had.

    But now I go through a process:

    (a) do I want to REALLY want to read it? If no stop don’t buy. Else
    (b) does the library have it? If yes then check it out. Else
    (c) is it cheaper in print? If yes then buy it in print. Else
    (d) Buy it on ebook.

    BTW I didn’t know that the Girl with all of the Gifts was being turned into the movie. No surprise I also read it from the library. Great opening premise but then it turns into a routine episode of the Walking Dead. Not as imaginative as the author Mike Carey’s Felix Castor series. But good to see that he is gaining so much traction to have a film adaptation.

    It kind of reminded of Greg Bear’s far superior effort Blood Music.

  20. I don’t read paper anymore, I am strictly ebook. I pretty much stopped buying when they started price fixing – I had been buying a lot and my tbr has many hundreds of ebooks on it. I had One Year After on my watch list and saw it dropped to $9.99. That was a little more than I wanted to spend, but I took a look anyway. Then I saw that the paperback was out and was available for $7.99. I will not pay that much more for the ebook. So I went to the library site and borrowed it instead. Your loss publishers.

  21. Once upon a time, when e-books were more affordable, I impulse bought way more books than I could read and stored them away figuring I would read them one day. “One Day” has arrived and I have stopped buying new ebooks and am just working on reading the ones I already have. Thank you big publishers for giving me the opportunity to read the books I have already purchased rather than the impulse to buy more books I don’t really have time to read.

  22. The only time I spend more than $8 to $10 on an eBook is when I receive an Amazon Gift Card (that and Bourbon/Scotch are my go-to gifts) and I treat them as “free” books. Otherwise I get my eBooks from the library via Overdrive and Amazon when there’s a bargain listed on Amazon’s Deal of the Day or BookBub.

    I don’t mind waiting a bit for the library books since I have such a backlog to read.

    I have not bought a paper book for years and I only read one six months ago because one of my daughters still loves paper books and insists on giving me one for Xmas. I kept reaching for the nonexistent font control because the printed font is too small.

    I have to admit that I never really spent much on paper books before my Kindle. Between mortgage payment and college tuition for the kids, the idea of paying high prices for my 4-5 books per month habit was out of the question. I borrowed heavily from the library and bought the occasional paperback. $30 per hardback was just too much back then as $15 for eBooks is now.

    So you could say that big publishers never lost me because they never had me in the first place.

  23. Yes, eBook price fixing has changed my buying habits a great deal. I used to have 50+ auto-buy new release traditionally published authors, and now I’m down to about 10 favorite authors. I tell myself I’ll go buy the ebooks I’ve put aside when the price comes down, but I usually forget or at that point I am uninterested. I also don’t try new traditionally published authors, since I really don’t want to spend $19 on a book when I don’t know if I’ll even like the writing style. I estimate big publishers have lost about $150-$200 a month (that’s assuming ebooks were a reasonable price) from me since agency became official.

    I’ve stopped buying traditionally published authors backlists as well, unless they become a daily deal on amazon. My goal, when I switched to ereading, was to replace all my hardcovers and paperbacks with ebooks to free up space in my house, but I’ve stopped trying.

    I didn’t switch back to buying new releases in paperback or hardcover though, or go back to my library (as I live out of town), I just switched to self published new books and to the self published backlists of traditionally published authors who’ve gotten their rights back. If I find a new self published author who has ebooks priced around $5 each, I tend to try them, then buy all their backlist if I like their writing.

    As a Canadian, I never benefited from the Agency pricing refunds either, so traditional publishers are definitely not high on my list of businesses to give my money to.

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