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Simon and Schuster Test Waters w/ Stephen King eBook Release

Stephen King

UPDATE: This post has been refreshed from its original state.  That’s what I get for taking Publisher’s Weekly at its word.

Anyway, mid-way through this piece I ask readers to suspend their disbelief – difficult to do when reading a post on book publishing, pricing and digital content, I know – and  follow my argument as I use the information from the Publisher’s Weekly column slightly out of context but not entirely out of the realm of possibility.

Mark Coker from Smashwords.com lends useful insight via this Huffington Post piece. Follow the hashtag #publishersmatter on Twitter.

Please add any comments that you think are helpful.

***

Interesting piece from Publisher’s Weekly about Simon and Schuster’s decision to delay the release of the eBook version of Stephen King’s massive new novel, Under the Dome.dome

Apparently S&S will be releasing the 1000+ page novel on November 10th and then dropping the ebook on the market on December 24th.  Timing is everything, I guess.

The Publisher’s Weekly piece also notes that the S&S will be charging $35 for the eBook, however some further research conducted at StephenKing.com indicates that the ebook will sell for standard Kindle-pricing.

Mr King asks his readers not to “believe the press reports that the e-book reader price for Under the Dome will be $35. This was the result of confusion from a press release from the publisher… It is true that you cannot order the book as an e-download until December 24th, but the physical book, which is a beautiful thing, you can pre-order for less than $9–so who’s better than us?”

So, pricing right?  It’s all up in the air.  Nobody knows what anything is worth whether it’s a brand spankin’ new hardcover or an infinitely replicable digital file.  Are they both worth $9?  Really?  Are publishers seriously asking the public to swallow that crock?

But they’re trapped between the ruthless capitalism of dominant retailers at war with each other and the ruthless efficiency of the digital age.

***

Let’s say for example that the Great Book Pricing War of 2009 wasn’t happening and skewing this argument beyond proportion and let’s say that S&S thought that $35 for a hard cover was a fair price – which it is – and that $35 for an eBook was also a fair price – which is arguable to say the least.

I float this scenario forward for your consideration because I have heard book publishers say the very same thing – that a digital file should be priced at the same level as the physical product.

To me this notion of equal pricing for physical/digital looks more like a series of test balloons designed to reinforce industry fears than skillful marketing strategies for new books by some of English language’s most beloved authors.

Who gave the final OK on that pricing strategy and where is he/she getting their information?

It’s well documented that the last Harry Potter book – itself a hefty tome – was pirated and disseminated almost immediately upon release (in fact, an in-house perp at Scholastic did the job even before the book hit the shelves) and surely the people at Simon and Schuster are aware that this will happen here, too.  I expect that this book will be seeded widely within 24 hours of officially going on sale.

I have documented the bibliographic zeal that Stephen King’s fans show toward his work online in my presentations on DRM and Free Content.  I expect that a great majority will look at the cost of $35 for the hard cover version as a fair price to pay – and indeed many of the people who use P2P/torrent sites to download and share Stephen King’s books are dedicated enough to purchase the physical copy – and will see the same price for a digital file as incomprehensibly expensive.

This will certainly bear watching.  I have to believe that this is some kind of Big Author Test of Current Market Conditions rather than a strategy that S&S expects to trot out for every new hard cover release.

Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol showed us something about this new digital/print landscape and the new Stephen King promises to yield even more data even if it seems that it will come at the expense of common sense.

But one must keep an open mind.  Hopefully this publishing event will show us something new.

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5 Comments so far
Leave a comment

If you’re not for equal pricing of the print/digital edition of a book(which seems reasonably fair to me,a person who admittedly has not used an e-book/reader/download before),then what should be the appropriate standard used to set the going rate?

Under The Dome,for example,is a pretty long book in either format,so the list price of $35 is understandable(btw,I think King was kidding about the $9 value) and no doubt,some discount would be offered if this insane price war wasn’t going on,but what should be the rate for,say,a $25 dollar hardcover or an $8.99 paperback vs. the e-book version ?

I have heard folks on other websites complain about bring charged more for an e-book than it’s mass market paperback version and in my opinion,it’s not fair to overcharge and it’s not fair to undercharge as well.

Comment by Lady T

Hi Lady T

Thanks for the comment. I’ll take each point as it comes and try to make thoughts a little more clear.

The standard rate that you’re describing is open to so many pressures that I think ‘standard’ would best be defined as ‘transient’ and as my blog post attempts to point out the Book Publishing Industry seems unable to establish standards that big retailers are willing to accept.

Some of the conflicting pressures that affect the pricing on digital files are 1) Publishers would love to price them relatively close to the print price 2) Online retailers like Amazon and Shortcovers see that price strategy – where digital is roughly equal to print price – as a barrier to consumer adoption of digital content as so have applied decided to price their digital content at 9.99, thus treating this digital content as a loss leader in order to essentially define the market and get an early foothold on brand recognition in the eBook reader’s mind and 3) P2P File Sharing networks and bit torrent sites keeping everyone honest because they’re capable to disseminating the same content freely.

Setting universal standards in this environment is a fool’s game.

King wasn’t kidding about the $9 pre-order price for his new hardcover, either. Check it out here -> Stephen King’s Under the Dome. The reason for this price drop is due to Wal-Mart, Amazon and Target have aggressively chopped the sale price of frontlist books published this fall to less than $10.

This underscores how useless ‘standards’ are in the current economic climate. The standards used to be that retailers sold books at the SRP (Suggested Retail Price which is printed on the cover), took their 45% margin and everyone was happy. Now they’re treating books as loss leaders, eating the difference between cost and their retail price and effectively devaluing the books in the eyes of the public.

In my opinion the pricing on eBooks will evolve to the point where every cost will depend on all kinds of factors but it will be substantially lower than $10 for your average eBook. But if publishers are quick to innovate and develop strong, honest relationships with their e-customers they should be able to work Ebook pricing and various other value-adds into a very profitable new business model.

Comment by Sean Cranbury

Thanks for the information but let me rephrase the question-what should be the fair price to the consumer price of an e-book vs. it’s print version?

Comment by Lady T

Whatever the customer and publisher can agree upon as a fair price. There’s no set price. Publishers need to be aware that ‘free’ is just a click away for an increasing number of readers. It’s going to take some experimentation and there’s no one size fits all solution. Some publishers may be able to sell their digital files at full price, for most mainstream publishers it will be substantially less than that.

Comment by Sean Cranbury

So, let me see if I have this right-mainstream publishers will have to keep their digital prices low,out of fear from piracy, but small press and independent publishers can charge whatever the full price is for their titles without any problem?

Maybe I’m getting this all wrong,but in some ways,that doesn’t sound much different from how the regular print edition is being sold now.

Comment by Lady T




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