Writers who oppose agency pricing aren’t acting in their own self-interest

Comment to blogposting: Writers who oppose agency pricing aren’t acting in their own self-interest (Mike Shatzkin)

You write in one of your comments: “But big authors (and their agents) do the math and say, “what’s making the customer buy my author’s book?” and “what does the publisher contribute?” If they thought they could sell a lot more at a lower price, AND the print sale mattered less, AND the author could make as much or more per copy at the lower price, it might be taking the advance would be much less tempting.”

In an online environment, the price per copy makes much less sense than in the print environment. Plus, many books are written for consumption today since in a year or two there will be lots more books for people to read–and prefer to your old book. When seen in this way, it’s like marketing “perishables”, i.e. milk and eggs and tomatoes and the like. The produce manager must sell his tomatoes pretty quickly because he cannot wait for a better time in a couple of months. While he may be very happy to sell his tomatoes for $1.50 a pound, the public may not be so happy about it and he probably won’t be able to get his $1.50 once those tomatoes start to age and ripen too much.

It may really irk him, but he absolutely must sell his tomatoes soon, even if he has to sell at 50 cents a pound or less–because it’s better than nothing, plus the hassle of throwing the entire mess out. As a result, when you run a produce rack and you are faced with this, instead of saying that you have lost $1.00 a pound, you actually consider that you have made 50 cents per pound profit because in a few days, those tomatoes would have gone into the trash! I am sure that publishers agree that lots of their books get “stale” like old tomatoes or milk or eggs.

With ebooks, a per copy price makes little sense: it costs the publisher exactly the same amount to sell 1 copy or 5000 copies. The question is: do you want a chance to get paid for the 5000 copy or would you rather let it sit and rot?

This is why when I see a price for an ebook that is just as high as for the printed version, my natural reaction is: this publisher is a dinosaur. They don’t want anything to change and want to force everybody to buy their printed book.