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S&S CEO Reidy: The eBook Status Will Remain Quo (Even If We Have to Prop Up Print Sales)

15317210187_c96acb2ae8_bTeleread has brought a week-old story to my attention this morning which I think hasn’t gotten the commentary and discussion it deserves.

PW reported last week that Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy gave a keynote at BISG’s annual meeting. Reidy is described as first saying that buyers of lit fiction "just as much as readers of commercial fiction", and then went on to discuss ebook prices:

Despite predictions that e-books might reach 50% of all book sales, Reidy said e-books sales have slowed and are likely to settle at about “25% to 30%” of total book sales. Although initially e-books helped jump backlist sales, Reidy said, “not anymore,” noting that “the novelty has worn off.” She said now “there are fewer readers” entering in the digital category and said the slowing growth in e-book sales have pushed publishers back to “highlighting books as beautiful physical objects.”

Asked if the higher pricing of e-books, in the wake of publishers’ new agency agreements with Amazon, had also figured in the slowdown of e-book sales, Reidy noted that in the wake of publisher settlements over e-book price-fixing charges in the case with Apple, “I’m not supposed talk about pricing, ” but added that "our data says that our pricing is effective.”

No wonder she is not supposed to discuss ebook pricing; the higher ebook prices are the primary reason that ebook adoption has slowed among S&S customers.

Remember, Simon & Schuster is one of the publishers that signed an agency ebook deal over the past year. That deal gave S&S more control over its ebook prices, and they used that control to raise ebook prices.

As Scalzi explained, S&S is using higher ebook prices to prop up print sales. This command economy market practice is driving down demand for ebooks and discouraging readers from adopting ebooks.

Far from being a sign that "the novelty has worn off", the fact that S&S’s ebook  sales have leveled off tells us that the only way that S&S could stem the tide of ebook adoption was to follow a pricing policy that switched sales from one format to another.

That is not a stable situation, and it is not in any way, shape, or form an indicator of what the reading public wants. Instead, this is a precarious state that will only last as long as the major publishers maintain their current pricing policies.

We won’t really know what the market wants until the major publishers release their controls, and anyone who says otherwise is either fooling themselves, or trying to fool you.

image by ActuaLitté

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E Bear September 30, 2015 um 3:25 pm

There are only two alternatives for readers in regard to eBooks: exorbitant price$ or pirate. Publishers who don’t use DRM and don’t push eBook prices to the moon have few reasons to worry about their readers choosing option (2), even though idiots are always with us. The big five publishers, on the other hand, seem willing to encourage option (2) actively.

Nate Hoffelder September 30, 2015 um 3:26 pm

Sometimes there is a third option: the library.

But yes, this will also increase piracy. You’re absolutely right.

fjtorres September 30, 2015 um 4:08 pm

Oh, there’s more choices than that.
You can wait for a cheaper edition in a year or so, buy a different book, or go play Fallout 4.
You can always give your money to somebody who wants it.

Also, one point glossed over; ebook penetration is not uniform.
30% is the average across the entire trade book business. Nonfiction, childrens' books and general fiction are lower and SF and Romance much, much higher.
Reidy and co keep focusing on gross dollars spent, when the future of ebooks is being decided by unit sales.

Thomas September 30, 2015 um 4:17 pm

Completely agree. I really don’t get why they say these things publicly when the truth is so clear (to themselves even).

Thomas September 30, 2015 um 4:24 pm

Anyway, my opinion is that it’s a data problem. If we could see customers on the store page for iBooks/Amazon/Kobo etc and then see them click away on a book that is 16.99 or whatever, then we would change the price. As it is, the idea is that 'oh well we would have sold that many anyway, at a lower price, so it’s fine'. We literally can’t see who is NOT buying them, who is turned off by the price, and that frustrates me. Yeah so 50 people bought new crime thriller X at 23.99 – so what? How many people DIDN’T?!?!?

Glinda Harrison September 30, 2015 um 6:35 pm

I like your idea, Thomas! Lets ask Amazon for a Tell the Publisher Why You Didn’t Buy This Book button. 🙂

Diane September 30, 2015 um 6:43 pm

I used to use to track prices. What I found was that by the time the price went down, I had either already downloaded it from the library or forgot why I wanted the book in the first place. Proof once again that BPH doesn’t want my business. If I should ever be forced back to print, I’ll buy used from Amazon.

Keith September 30, 2015 um 7:06 pm

If you were the kind of reader who would wait for the paperback to come out to get the book at a lower price, then you are the kind of reader who can wait for the ebook price to drop after a year or two. The bigger problem for a publisher is whether you can get a used book for cheaper than a discounted ebook.

Maria (BearMountainBooks) October 1, 2015 um 1:14 pm

I’m seeing more readers report that they have "gone back to the library" instead of buying. Self-reported activity is always somewhat inaccurate, but I’m headed to the library this week myself. There’s been 3 books I’ve watched for a long time and they aren’t budging (they’re in the 8 dollar ebook range, so not even in the priciest categories). But all three are BHP and have been out for years. One was a best seller years ago and has never come down in price. I’ve been meaning to read it and my library has two copies. So that is where I’ll be going!

Hayden October 1, 2015 um 7:45 pm

So, ebook sales have levelled off, however, what I am not clear about is, have printed books increased in sales?

From an economist’s point of view, the higher priced e-books should have sent a number of ebook buyers back to paper, but if the price hike is large, then this migration would have been minimal especially since the buyer has a large number of options to him/her. You have self-published ebooks, library, free ebooks (classics, etc) and the evil option Piracy. This is not taking into account all the other options that are available to us which include playing games on our devices, reading blogs, online newspapers/magazines, or watching a streaming movie.

In my opinion, S&S is driving customers towards the other options. All this in the foolish hope that their printing division can stay open.

Now from my personal point of view, I have not bought a paper book for a very long time and my ebook purchases have really slowed a great deal. The route to my local library is a well worn one. S&S has not seen much of my money lately

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