Up front: I’m in favor of the agency model. I think it’s much wiser to vary pricing to take advantage of the demand curve on new releases. To charge more when people are willing to pay more and decrease price to increase volume after that “Must buy new Author X now” market has been tapped.

Also, you probably already know all this. But, you know. And no one’s going to read this anyway.

What I keep reading as a big frustration among ebook buyers, however, is they’ve been promised the agency system in the past and still see ebook prices that never dropped from their initial high prices, sometimes years after the fact. Where an ebook edition sells for $20(!) alongside a $6.99 mass market.

Right now, based on past practices like that, they don’t trust you. You want to make this work, get your prices on places like fictionwise in line with the varied rates you’re promising.

Then–and I think this is what the agency model will do, if you keep on top of it, but this is really super extra-special critical–create a pricing structure that creates a new market rather than one that cannibalizes your existing one or, on the other end of the spectrum, does nothing to encourage readers to buy products in the ebook format. You want a middle ground on ebook prices that offers enough of a discount for people to feel like they’re getting a bargain in regards to the physical version without making the people who buy the dead tree version feel like fools. I’m talking something like this:

Hardback $25-30, ebook $12-15. Trade paperback $12-16, ebook $8-10. Mass market $7-10, ebook $5-6*.

Again, I think you already know this. But I’ve been reading too much about this issue in the last ten days not to blurt something out about it somewhere. The most important thing is the ebook price needs to drop each time a cheaper physical format releases. Otherwise, ebook readers are going to feel cheated, ignored, and lied to. That’s going to hinder the creation of this new market. And that would be a dinger, because the publishing industry is not like the music industry. A big chunk of readers will buy either format–sometimes both formats. Follow through on your promises with the agency model, and the opportunity’s here to expand the publishing market in ways that are exciting instead of terrifying.

*These are ballparks; I’m not running Random House’s accounting ledgers, and the main reason (seems to me) for the agency model is to be able to experiment with prices until you find the ones that maximize your revenue. But you get the picture: a price difference that’s meaningful without being overwhelming.

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I am a Science Fiction and Fantasy author, based in LA. Read More.
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