The price is right

There is a great deal of discussion and concern at the moment regarding e-book pricing.

Will the proliferation of cheap e-books lead consumers to expect cheap e-books as the norm? And will this ultimately drag down the price of all e-books, even those from brand-name authors who have historically commanded high r.r.p.s? This concern is genuine and understandable.

One of the reasons for the worry is that the sudden explosion of e-books in the marketplace has changed many of the rules of publishing. And no one has the rule book. It hasn’t been written yet, let alone published.

It used to be that a hefty advertising campaign and a five-figure retail spend would ensure a high chart position for your blockbuster. That may still be the case for print books, for now, but the same doesn’t apply to digital. You could be riding high in the Sunday Times bestseller list but find your e-book languishing behind a bunch of 99p titles by authors you’ve never heard of (Dr Benjamin Daniels anyone? He may not be a household name but he has sold over 100,000 copies of Confessions of a GP across both print and e-book).

But does that really matter? It might be a bit of a dent to some of the more inflated egos (assuming they notice) but it doesn’t mean a lack of sales, nor does it represent any sort of failure on the part of the publisher. It is simply that e-book buyers have different options open to them and shop in a different way. We need to get used to that.

The good news is that despite the many cut-price e-books taking up prominent positions on the iBooks and Kindle charts, readers appear to be more than happy to pay full whack for new, topical, important and exciting books. They are buying cheap e-books as well as, not instead of, full-price ones. This is the crucial point that many seem to miss. A quick look at the charts at the time of writing shows the omnipresent David Nichols at No 1 in both the iBooks and Kindle stores with One Day which, at £4.99, is more expensive than most retailers are selling the print edition for. People want to read it, they want to read it on their e-reading device and they are more than happy to pay a reasonable price to do so.

Other e-books in the Top 30 appear to be doing very nicely at a fiver or more; one is even riding high at £11.99. It is a market which can comfortably find room for titles at all prices. This presents us with an incredible opportunity for both frontlist and backlist, and particularly for the supposed midlist.

Now, who is going to publish that rule book? And will it be a 49p e-book?