Whale Math: If Reasonable eBook Prices Devalue Books, Then What About This?
We’ve all read the claims from legacy publishers and their authors that ebook prices have to be kept high. The authors will justify prices by making tea in China comparisons or telling us that it just costs more for legacy publishers to publish a book, while publishers will tell us things like cheap ebook prices devalue IP (Markus Dohle, PRH, 2016).
I have generally doubted those claims, and today I came across a graphic reminder of just how bogus they are.
I was shopping in a local supermarket today when I found this bargain bin full of books:
Nestled in the frozen section (it wasn’t even placed with the magazines) was a pallet with a box full of discount books.
All of the books were hardbacks, and all were priced $5 to $6. This includes titles from most of the Big Five publishers like Macmillan and Penguin Random House:
Isn’t it funny how a reasonably priced ebook will devalue IP, and a remaindered print book doesn’t?
One would think that would be a logical contradiction, but apparently not under Whale Math.
For those just tuning in, "Whale Math" is the term outsiders have given to the bizarre business decisions of the Big Five publishers. Raising ebook prices to sell fewer print books is an example of Whale Math. Telling everyone that it’s good that revenues have dropped 10% is another.
Whale Math is basically the book publishing industry’s equivalent of Double Think from 1984, only without the media reinforcement. In that book the government devoted whole agencies to propagating the official view, but out here in the real world the only reinforcement of Whale Math comes from the book publishing industry’s echo chamber.
And thanks to the internet, which enables more voices to be heard; and the rise of indie publishing, giving authors more opportunities to bypass the gatekeepers; that echo chamber is not nearly as deafening as it was decades ago.
Just think, ten years ago I would never have been able to call bullshit on the official position of the book publishing industry, nor would authors be able to route around the major publishers and their self-destructive business decisions.
Just imagine where we will be in another ten years.