E-book pricing is a 'Catch-22' situation

E-book pricing is a 'Catch-22' situation

Publishers are continuing to experiment with e-book pricing, as sales and marketing teams balance pressure from low-priced, self-published content with concern over consumers' perception of e-book value. Independent publishers have been trialling a 99p e-book price on selected titles, with larger publishers also reporting a more flexible approach to e-book pricing, as it remains a "big weapon" in stimulating sales. 

Little, Brown marketing director Charlie King said the publisher tried to be "flexible and strategic with pricing", but also stressed that all publishers had concerns over down-pricing. He said: "There has been a shift; the big groups have become a bit more flexible with pricing. This is a fairly new format, so I think we are not doing our jobs properly unless we allow ourselves a degree of flexibility. Pricing is a fairly big weapon in our armoury."

Scott Pack, a publisher at HarperCollins imprint The Friday Project, said prices must always be matched to the size of the content, with its 20,000-word title, Sorry, Has There Been a Coup?, suiting a 99p e-book price. He said experimenting with e-book pricing was a way of promoting a book without having to persuade or pay a retailer. He cited Confessions of a GP by Benjamin Davies, currently a 99p e-book and selling three-figure volumes "most weeks" through the TCM. He added: "It can give a leg-up to a new series, you can ramp up the price as people become hooked."

Similarly, Constable & Robinson sales and marketing director Martin Palmer stressed the value of pricing at 99p for a limited period to promote a backlist series, new author, or backlist author whose sales have slowed. C&R launched the first title by début crime author James Craig, London Calling, as a 99p e-book in June last year, publishing the paperback in August. It reportedly sold almost 27,000 e-books to reach number one in the Kindle chart. Palmer noted that even when C&R increased the price on e-books, "sales hold to a higher level than before they were promoted".

Summersdale's travel title, Are We Nearly There Yet? by Ben Hatch, priced 99p, is currently 75th in the Kindle bestseller chart, having spent 93 days in the top 100. Sales and marketing director Nicky Douglas said they really wanted to capitalise on the author's strong Twitter presence, pricing to persuade people to buy the title as soon as they discovered it. She said: "We would prefer to sell at a higher price for obvious reasons, but there is the chance that by increasing the price we will lose sales. It's a real Catch-22 situation."

Profile Books digital publishing director Michael Bhaskar said the industry was worried about consumers' perception of e-book value: "The lower price-point can be used to compete with self-published works, to grab attention, to attract new readers, but that is a tricky balance to mantain. No doubt there is pressure from self-published works that pushes the price lower . . . If anything, I've noticed a slight pulling back [on price experimentation] from last year, but I think that reflects greater maturity."  

Icon Books sales and marketing director Andrew Furlow said the publisher had put titles forward for promotions at the 99p level, but not yet released a title at that price. He said: "We certainly all need to experiment, though it would be a disaster for us all if it became established that an e-book was priced very cheaply."