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DBW: publishers 'should learn from self-publishers on pricing'

Publishers need to look to how self-published authors price their e-books, improve the quality of their digital texts, and can no longer avoid selling direct to the consumer, according to discussions held on the first day of Digital Book World.

Conference chair Mike Shatzkin said “constant monitoring [of pricing] is called for and publishers need to be at least as adventurous in pricing as authors are on their own". One of the biggest challenges, everybody knows, will be to keep display and sales alive in bricks and mortar, yet ironically, publishers are “shrinking their sales forces just when they need to be on the ground finding new accounts"—in the widest bricks and mortar sense—“to replace the ones that are disappearing".

Shatzkin was one of many first-day speakers to assert that it is becoming harder and harder for publishers to avoid direct sales: customers are “the coin of the realm". On another front, “every book" needs to have effort expended on metadata enhancement, and quality control still needs to be better on many e-books, even “plain-vanilla" ones.

A moment that grabbed everybody's attention was when Shatzkin asked if audio will become part of an enhanced e-book or a regular e-book instead of a separate product altogether. He advised publishers to get themselves into the events business, and—referring to Random UK's recent move to break short stories out of anthologies for individual digital sales—asked why that isn't being done universally. He summed up the current situation this way: “there were definitely easier times to be in publishing, but never more exciting or stimulating times".

Forrester Research's James McQuivey definitely spoke to the times not being so easy. His latest survey of 74 executives tapped from the biggest, many mid-tier and some smaller publishers, revealed that “optimism is waning".  Last year 89% of executives were optimistic about the digital transformation; in the new survey that figure decreased to 82%. In the previous survey 74% felt readers would be better off; the current figure is 61%. Last year 66% felt more people will be reading books; the equivalent this year is 47%. And whereas last year 51% felt their companies would be stronger, only 28% do now.

Currently 25 million people in the US own an e-reader; 34 million have a tablet; and at least eight million homes have two tablets. Within publishing companies, organising for the digital transformation is “coming along nicely": 75% have an executive level person responsible for digital; 63% report digital skills are integrated into departments rather than centralised; 69% expect to increase digital staffing this year.

Yet McQuivey pointed out that publishers' “love affair with apps is over": 51% surveyed said that the cost is too high and just 15% believe that apps represent a significant revenue opportunity.

Although 54% of publishers predict that print sales will decrease in 2012, only 5% believe that decrease will be “significant". E-book sales are predicted to increase 130% overall this year and Amazon is expected to take about 41% of them. To succeed in the future, “publishers must have direct consumer relationships" McQuivey said, echoing Shatzkin's earlier assertion.
 

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Pricing is the key advantage I hold as an indie over traditional publishing. I kind of hope they don't wake up. I price no eBook over $4.99. I have a couple of .99 titles as hooks to series. And there is no doubt readers troll for that price point as my numbers say so. I sold 360,000 eBooks in 2011 earning around $2 profit per eBook. Not bad.

We (publishers) do need to be able to sell on other websites so we can compete with indie authors on Amazon, due to the way Amazon pays us. By the time Amazon takes a commission and we pay our authors royalties, it's not really possible to compete with a self-published author on price. However, if we sell on other websites, or loan our books on new library services that are appearing, we can do it.

The other reason we can't really compete with indie authors on Amazon is that the Amazon KDP Select programme, which lets indie authors run special promotions and free 5-day giveaways, can't work for us because there's a demand for exclusivity. We aren't allowed to sell on any other website if we enroll on it. That's not acceptable for publishers.

So it's not really a question of competing with indie authors on Amazon with price deals. We have to move to ePub and maybe even mobi stripped of DRM as has been suggested on another Bookseller article.

I think there is a need for Publishers to look at indies to some respect. Like Bob says sometimes providing the first eBook in a series at a much lower price can hook customers into the series. Again its the balance between pricing an eBook generally too high and pricing an eBook too low to make much profit in the long run. Obviously an indie has much less overheads to worry about, but thats by the by.

I think Publishers and authors at times need to work together slightly better to market there eBooks - quite a few times Publishers seem to use the fact they have to pay authors royalties and other costs as the reasoning behind keeping costs at what they are. So for a series they might all be £4.99 and bought by only the hard core readers. Where as if the first was given at a promotional price you might stand a better chance of readers buying all three than none at all.

I guess every publisher is different - we perhaps don't have the same overheads to worry about and so play around with our eBook pricing. We found that sometimes offering an eBook for free or as a low price whilst not making much but getting good reviews and good placement actually worked wonders in the long run, why, because people trust eBooks with reviews (outside of the big publishing houses anyway which people trust generally). Its worked for us that we continue to grow. Again its not for everybody and everyone has different costs but especially in a growing area of publishing more fluidity with pricing always seems the best option.

I don't believe that its all about competing - personally for myself if I saw a book and really wanted to read it - short of it being an extortionate amount - I would buy it. I might plump for an unknown eBook if I thought it sounded good and it was cheap. Thats not to say I am the norm, but I can't see that eBooks is solely about offering the lowest price and competing on that level. To me its more about offering a price that doesn't stick in the throat of people when they wonder whether to buy it or not.

It almost feels occasionally like some Publishers are trying to make the most out of people buying higher priced eBooks while people are still willing to. I also think that many Publishers are using exactly the same model for pricing as with print books and largely that doesn't stack up. I don't know many people that would pay over £5.00 for an eBook - why because its not necessary in general. I have seen in the past Publishers using the hardback price as an example of how there eBook is cheaper, when the eBook is then similarly priced at what a paperback would be thats not out yet. That seems a bit rich.

Pricing is the key advantage I hold as an indie over traditional publishing. I kind of hope they don't wake up. I price no eBook over $4.99. I have a couple of .99 titles as hooks to series. And there is no doubt readers troll for that price point as my numbers say so. I sold 360,000 eBooks in 2011 earning around $2 profit per eBook. Not bad.

We (publishers) do need to be able to sell on other websites so we can compete with indie authors on Amazon, due to the way Amazon pays us. By the time Amazon takes a commission and we pay our authors royalties, it's not really possible to compete with a self-published author on price. However, if we sell on other websites, or loan our books on new library services that are appearing, we can do it.

The other reason we can't really compete with indie authors on Amazon is that the Amazon KDP Select programme, which lets indie authors run special promotions and free 5-day giveaways, can't work for us because there's a demand for exclusivity. We aren't allowed to sell on any other website if we enroll on it. That's not acceptable for publishers.

So it's not really a question of competing with indie authors on Amazon with price deals. We have to move to ePub and maybe even mobi stripped of DRM as has been suggested on another Bookseller article.

I think there is a need for Publishers to look at indies to some respect. Like Bob says sometimes providing the first eBook in a series at a much lower price can hook customers into the series. Again its the balance between pricing an eBook generally too high and pricing an eBook too low to make much profit in the long run. Obviously an indie has much less overheads to worry about, but thats by the by.

I think Publishers and authors at times need to work together slightly better to market there eBooks - quite a few times Publishers seem to use the fact they have to pay authors royalties and other costs as the reasoning behind keeping costs at what they are. So for a series they might all be £4.99 and bought by only the hard core readers. Where as if the first was given at a promotional price you might stand a better chance of readers buying all three than none at all.

I guess every publisher is different - we perhaps don't have the same overheads to worry about and so play around with our eBook pricing. We found that sometimes offering an eBook for free or as a low price whilst not making much but getting good reviews and good placement actually worked wonders in the long run, why, because people trust eBooks with reviews (outside of the big publishing houses anyway which people trust generally). Its worked for us that we continue to grow. Again its not for everybody and everyone has different costs but especially in a growing area of publishing more fluidity with pricing always seems the best option.

I don't believe that its all about competing - personally for myself if I saw a book and really wanted to read it - short of it being an extortionate amount - I would buy it. I might plump for an unknown eBook if I thought it sounded good and it was cheap. Thats not to say I am the norm, but I can't see that eBooks is solely about offering the lowest price and competing on that level. To me its more about offering a price that doesn't stick in the throat of people when they wonder whether to buy it or not.

It almost feels occasionally like some Publishers are trying to make the most out of people buying higher priced eBooks while people are still willing to. I also think that many Publishers are using exactly the same model for pricing as with print books and largely that doesn't stack up. I don't know many people that would pay over £5.00 for an eBook - why because its not necessary in general. I have seen in the past Publishers using the hardback price as an example of how there eBook is cheaper, when the eBook is then similarly priced at what a paperback would be thats not out yet. That seems a bit rich.