Amazon UK Switches to Agency Plan with 3 Publishers

by Andrys Basten

As mentioned here on Oct. 15, Amazon told its UK customers about its battles to avoid the ‘Agency Plan’ created by Apple with the larger publishers and that the latter would ‘require’ online booksellers to accept the plan to fix prices to be the same at all online stores (notably higher in most cases).  See the recent story for details of what Amazon said to its customers in a posting on the Kindle forums.  The short version is:

‘ Recently, you may have heard that a small group of UK publishers will require booksellers to adopt an “agency model” for selling e-books. Under this model, publishers set the consumer price for each e-book and require any bookseller to sell at that price. This is unlike the traditional wholesale model that’s been in place for decades, where booksellers set consumer prices.

It is indeed correct that this group of publishers will require Amazon and other UK booksellers to accept an agency model for e-books. We believe they will raise prices on e-books for consumers almost across the board. For a number of reasons, we think this is a damaging approach for readers, authors, booksellers and publishers alike. … ‘

But reports it’s come to pass in the U.K. now, also, with “publishers Hachette, HarperCollins and Penguin now setting their own e-book prices.  Customers buying an e-book from the Kindle store from any of the three publishers are told: “This price was set by the publisher.” A Penguin spokesperson said: “I can confirm we are now on the agency model with Amazon as of today.”

Hachette, the leader of the 3 (or the one who required this first) switched to agency pricing in September. Bookseller says that Amazon is the first online e-bookseller to make the switch and that no Penguin or Hachette e-books are yet available for sale on either or W H Smith’s website.

It seems they just withhold the e-books if the retailer refuses to go on the Agency plan.  With Amazon, the customers tend to blame Amazon, as they did in the U.S., if the e-books are not in the store and many posted on forums they’d rather have a choice and pay more than not have access to the books at all or have to find them elsewhere.  Most posted though that they didn’t intend to pay the publishers’ new higher prices, since they were often 50% higher.

The reaction in the UK’s forums is more angry than even what we saw in the U.S. forums.  One book, Just After Sunset bought at under £5 the other day, was seen to be £17.99 today, a price shown as ‘set by the publisher’ as they decided to do in the U.S. (where some customers ignore it and still blame Amazon for the pricing).  However, I just looked and they’re removed the price for the Kindle edition and haven’t replaced it yet. Also, adds:

‘A small number of HarperCollins’ e-books are available at and W H Smith, with a note from indicating that loyalty card points do not now apply to e-book purchases.

It is believed that an issue over loyalty card payments was behind the removal of Hachette titles from sale at when the publishers switched to agency in September, suggesting that the wrinkes [sic] in the transition may soon be ironed out across all booksellers who agree to the new terms.  One retailer said: “It’s still a bit fluid.  Everything is still being resolved.”

The only publishers who have signed up to the agency model but have yet to implement its pricing are Canongate, Macmillan and Simon & Schuster. ‘

See the earlier story for more details and links to sourcing for the history of the e-book pricing wars.

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