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HarperCollins to Bring Back Agency Pricing as Early As Next Week

3688425597_8ef3bcbae2_b[1]Following tense months-long negotiations with Amazon, HarperCollins is reportedly planning to force ebook retailers to adopt agency pricing as early as next week.

Publishers Lunch reports that:

Multiple retailers report that Harper has informed them their selling terms will change as of Tuesday, April 14. (The change is actually effective midnight Pacific time, rather than Eastern. Amazon would be among those companies that naturally end their business day on Pacific time.) Harper is requiring retailers to implement all price changes within 24 hours.

Going forward Harper will require that their ebooks be sold at the publisher’s listed consumer price, without any discounts.

The notice going out to retailers is an interim measure; HC hasn’t signed contracts with all the retailers just yet. Something tells me that they have signed a new contract with Amazon, and that it will go into effect next week.

This comes as no surprise.

When I first reported on the HarperCollins-Amazon dispute earlier this month, I noted that many titles from Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan were showing that the prices were set by the publisher. That used to indicate that the ebooks were being sold under an agency agreement where the publisher set the price and the retailer was forbidden to discount.

In the past 6 months Amazon had negotiated contracts with Simon & Schuster, Hachette, and Macmillan. Those contracts were described at the time as agency lite, but in retrospect I don’t think that term is accurate.

I was surveying ebook prices in the Kindle Store in late March when I noticed that nearly all the more popular titles from Simon & Schuster and Hachette mentioned that the prices were set by the publishers. Many Macmillan titles also had that notice (not Macmillan AUS or Palgrave Macmillan titles, though).

I concluded that Simon & Schuster and Hachette had a stronger agency deal than previously expected, and sarcastically suggested that HarperCollins wasn’t satisfied with the outright agency terms the other publishers enjoyed.

For a statement made in jest, that was surprisingly prophetic.

image by msbhaven

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dave April 8, 2015 um 4:53 pm

The "discounted" prices are already absurdly high for ebooks, which we don’t "own" in any sense of the word. I guess my future reading will either be library downloads or used paper editions.

Nate Hoffelder April 8, 2015 um 5:04 pm

Me, too.

fjtorres April 8, 2015 um 5:45 pm

Well, you could always buy from publishers that sell at reasonable prices, often DRM-free. There’s more to ebooks than the predatory BPHs.

purple lady April 8, 2015 um 5:55 pm

That’s what I’ll be doing or borrowing from the library. I don’t do paper any more.

Diane April 9, 2015 um 4:25 pm

I agree with Dave. Since prices are so high, I’ve been downloading from the library instead of buying. BPH are very ambivalent about ebooks. They’re not ready to give up hard book sale profits,

1 April 8, 2015 um 5:42 pm

What I don’t understand is why the publisher care if they have agency or not. From what I have read the publishers where getting a fixed amount anyway. Why do they care if Amazon wants to sell it cheaper?

fjtorres April 8, 2015 um 5:52 pm

They care because the only real selling point they have to convince authors to sign their predatory contracts is access to , B&M bookstores, especially the chains. Getting into ebookstores is easy and open to anybody. It also delivers more money to authors. So they need to price ebooks high to protect print sales in order to stay in business.
Of course, there is an entire shadow industry of ebook-only and ebook-first publishing that doesn’t play by BPH rules. Which is why the aggregate share of book sales of the BPHs is steadily declining.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) April 8, 2015 um 7:51 pm

Because lower prices on some books encourages lower prices of other books. They lost control of prices when Amazon started pressuring book prices by selling books at a lower amount. You’ll notice that even though Amazon discounts some books now, those discounts are not as great as they used to be–they come from the publishers now and the publishers get to control which books and when. This allows them to time their marketing efforts (if there are any) and also to try to force the consumer to accept overall higher prices. It’s an effort to set consumer expectations that they should pay 7.99 or 9.99 or 28.99 — not 1.99 or 4.99.

Al the Great and Powerful April 8, 2015 um 7:18 pm

I foresee the appearance of many new Harper Collins titles on the Pirate Bay and other such sites. I will be looking for HC titles at my library or giving them a miss in favor of indie authors.

Jack Sparrow April 9, 2015 um 8:57 am

Mobilism springs immediately to mind.

Sturmund Drang April 8, 2015 um 7:20 pm

Carly Kirkland: Why do you like these antiquey things?
Thomas Banacek: I don’t just like old things. We have a thousand years of old and maybe…fifty years of new. It just makes sense that there’s more good old things than good new things.

Read the classics. Read from In the end you’ll be glad you did.

Speedoo April 8, 2015 um 9:27 pm

I guess the agency deal doesn’t apply to hardcover and paperback. Walk into Costco and you’ll see the books priced at about 55-60% of cover price. Maybe Costco will get into e-books someday. Then we will really save.

Nate Hoffelder April 8, 2015 um 9:46 pm

Nope. Just ebooks.

And yes, we all think this is ridiculous.

Andrew April 8, 2015 um 10:48 pm

I look for cheap mysteries on amazon. I have found lots of good ones, and enjoy even mediocre ones more because they seems like good deals to me. This is apparently good for the authors too, which is great. So, I doubt I will notice the effects of this agency business. Anyone else the same?

Ebook Bargains UK April 9, 2015 um 5:55 am

This ties in neatly with the post on Oyster’s ebook store.

Oyster’s CEO makes clear the viability of the Oyster ebook store is dependent on Oyster selling ebooks at the same price as Amazon and co and that would win or lose readers would not be price but other factors.

This suggests Oyster and the publishers were agreed long before the latest settlement between Amazon and HarperCollins that Amazon would not have the option to discount Oyster out of existence.

Presumably Oyster’s arrangement with Penguin Random House is based on the same basis and we can assume an Amazon-PRH settlement whereby PRH maintain full control of their pricing is a foregone conclusion.

hhd April 9, 2015 um 4:10 pm

I would love to see a boycott of these predators and HarperCollins go out of business.

Top 5 Publishing News Stories 4/6-4/10 – Publishing Trendsetter April 10, 2015 um 1:01 pm

[…] After negotiating a new contract with Amazon over the last few months, HarperCollins is expected to announce its plans to force all retailers to adopt agency pricing for i…. […]

Rick Chapman May 4, 2015 um 9:43 pm

+++ I concluded that Simon & Schuster and Hachette had a stronger agency deal than previously expected, and sarcastically suggested that HarperCollins wasn’t satisfied with the outright agency terms the other publishers enjoyed.

For a statement made in jest, that was surprisingly prophetic. +++

If you’d had a clue about what was going on between between Amazon and the publishers, you wouldn’t have to write this rather sad and embarrassing column. Amazon vs. Hachette was a channel battle. That’s all. That’s all it still is. The balance of power has now shifted back to the publishers. In channel battles, the bigger the vendor, the more power and the better discounts it can wring from the reseller. Ask H&R block how negotiations for TaxCut go in contrast with Intuit and TurboTax.

You and the rest of AAAG have done and continue to do indies a vast disservice by refusing to accurately report and analyze what’s going on. Amazon has already made a fool of you. Why continue to go down this silly path?

You weren’t "prophetic." You were hopelessly behind the curve.

Rick Chapman
Author "SaaS Entrepreneur: The Definitive Guide to Success in Your Cloud Application Business"
Read Excerpts from all 10 chapters at
Author "Rule-Set: A Novel of a Quantum Future." Just Released. More info at
Author: "Selling Steve Jobs' Liver." Soon to be released.

Nate Hoffelder May 4, 2015 um 10:02 pm

But of course.

I thought you knew that I am secretly in the pay of the major publishers? This blog, and my entire pro-author position is a false flag slash black hat operation.

I thought everyone knew that. I mean, I was mentioned in one of the filings for the ebook antitrust lawsuit. David Gaughran even devoted a whole diatribe to my work.

Rick Chapman May 5, 2015 um 9:35 am

+++ I thought you knew that I am secretly in the pay of the major publishers? This blog, and my entire pro-author position is a false flag slash black hat operation. +++

I’m an author, both formally published and independent) and you are not "pro author." A pro author website would openly discuss anti-author Amazon policies such as grabbing 65% margins on international sales. Forcing us into a $9.99 pricing box. The fact that for 30%, we receive very little for the money. The fact that in 2015, the 2008 dollar buys 10% less, meaning every year indie authors are squeezed irrevocably by inflation. The fact that for an $80B reseller to price rig an industry because it wants to control its pricing model and doesn’t care about the collateral damage it inflicts on writers is outrageous. The fact that Amazon’s no bundling policies forces indies to devalue their products. The fact that AAAG has allowed the myth that Amazon pays "royalties" when what they actually do is charge indies an operating expense to go unchallenged. The list just goes on.

You have been flacking for Amazon, not providing proper analysis and facts to authors so that they can understand the dynamics of the fight that took place and how they MIGHT have benefited. Instead of the supine position you adopted, acknowledging the issues with publishers AND asking Amazon to change its policies in respects to indies when media attention was focused on the fight might have done some good. That chance has passed. It will take another big dust up before it arises again.

Your recent article just highlights the point. You still do not seem to understand MAP (the term used in high-tech instead of agency) and why publishers want it. They do not MAP all their titles, only the latest and hottest. They do this for the same reason Apple can charge full retail when a new gizmo goes on sale. You ARE aware that AMZ buys all its products from 1 Infinity Way under MAP? Perhaps Hugh Howey wants to write a petition telling us how Amazon is paying Samsung a living wage?

And another point you have missed. On my blog at and other on other postings, I repeated several times that Amazon’s claims about how $9.99 is utter rot. It was a claim that failed high school statistics. And now the publishers are proving it. You DO understand why they charge more for ebook titles now that agency is secure?

It’s because they can. If they were overpricing, they’d be punished at once. It’s an open market and there are plenty of alternative books out there. But if you have an established rep or brand, you can charge more and people WILL pay it. And yes, if your publishing house MAPs your book, you make more money. Joe Konrath has no clue what he’s talking about.

I think authors being paid more is "pro author."

I hope in the future you provide better, more even handed coverage of what goes on inthe industry. That’s a pro author policy. Flacking for either the publishers or resellers isn’t.

Just FYI, having finished my latest novel, "Selling Steve Jobs' Liver," I’m going to write an update to my "published" book, "In Search of Stupidity: Over 20 Years of High-Tech Marketing Disasters." Only now it wil be 30. There will be a discussion MAP (agency) vs. wholesale. The AMZ vs. Hachette will be one of the primary new chapters. The parameters of the battle will be described fairly and dispassionately. I held a brief for neither side. I’m on the side of the writers.

AAAG will not be profiled kindly.

Rick Chapman
Author “SaaS Entrepreneur: The Definitive Guide to Success in Your Cloud Application Business”
Read Excerpts from all 10 chapters at
Author “Rule-Set: A Novel of a Quantum Future.” Just Released. More info at
Author: “Selling Steve Jobs’ Liver.” Soon to be released.

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