Amazon hasn’t said much concerning their ongoing contract dispute with the French media conglomerate Lagardère and its US publishing subsidiary Hachette, and today the retailer broke their silence with what is only their third official statement (not counting the leaked letter).
Like the first two statements, Amazon isn’t saying much. According to a message posted on Amazon’s forums (and copied below), one of the sticking points in the negotiations is the price of ebooks. We of course knew this from the WSJ interview in which Russ Grandinetti said little and avoided defending Amazon, but Amazon expands upon that earlier statement with a call for higher author royalties on ebooks.
The statement below lays out the math Amazon uses to justify their push for lower ebook prices, but it’s worth noting that the statement is somewhat misleading.
Amazon would like you to think that most ebooks can be priced at or below $10, even going so far as to point out that “there will be legitimate reasons for a small number of specialized titles” that will cost more, but what they hope you won’t realize is that they are glossing over whole swathes of nonfiction content, including textbooks, reference manuals, professional books, and works that are much longer and more expensive to create than your average novel.
I don’t think anyone really expects that to be priced below $10 a copy, and while this type of content might be the negligible minority at the moment I would not guarantee that it will stay that way.
With this update, we’re providing specific information about Amazon’s objectives.
A key objective is lower e-book prices. Many e-books are being released at $14.99 and even $19.99. That is unjustifiably high for an e-book. With an e-book, there’s no printing, no over-printing, no need to forecast, no returns, no lost sales due to out-of-stock, no warehousing costs, no transportation costs, and there is no secondary market — e-books cannot be resold as used books. E-books can be and should be less expensive.
It’s also important to understand that e-books are highly price-elastic. This means that when the price goes up, customers buy much less. 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.
The important thing to note here is that at the lower price, total revenue increases 16%. This is good for all the parties involved:
* The customer is paying 33% less.
* The author is getting a royalty check 16% larger and being read by an audience that’s 74% larger. And that 74% increase in copies sold makes it much more likely that the title will make it onto the national bestseller lists. (Any author who’s trying to get on one of the national bestseller lists should insist to their publisher that their e-book be priced at $9.99 or lower.)
* Likewise, the higher total revenue generated at $9.99 is also good for the publisher and the retailer. At $9.99, even though the customer is paying less, the total pie is bigger and there is more to share amongst the parties.
Keep in mind that books don’t just compete against books. Books compete against mobile games, television, movies, Facebook, blogs, free news sites and more. If we want a healthy reading culture, we have to work hard to be sure books actually are competitive against these other media types, and a big part of that is working hard to make books less expensive.
So, at $9.99, the total pie is bigger – how does Amazon propose to share that revenue pie? We believe 35% should go to the author, 35% to the publisher and 30% to Amazon. Is 30% reasonable? Yes. In fact, the 30% share of total revenue is what Hachette forced us to take in 2010 when they illegally colluded with their competitors to raise e-book prices. We had no problem with the 30% — we did have a big problem with the price increases.
Is it Amazon’s position that all e-books should be $9.99 or less? No, we accept that there will be legitimate reasons for a small number of specialized titles to be above $9.99.
One more note on our proposal for how the total revenue should be shared. While we believe 35% should go to the author and 35% to Hachette, the way this would actually work is that we would send 70% of the total revenue to Hachette, and they would decide how much to share with the author. We believe Hachette is sharing too small a portion with the author today, but ultimately that is not our call.
We hope this information on our objectives is helpful.
The Amazon Books Team
image by thejourney1972