Sunday, 22 July 2012

Sony take eBooks back to the dark ages. Cut price or cut throat?

Sony have re-launched its eBook platform last April but this week hit the headlines with its latest gambit to grab attention away from Amazon’s dominance in the market. The gambit being to sell selected eBooks at 20p. It sounds great for the consumer but is it good for the publisher and author? The answer is a clear and unequivocal no. This is a highly damaging and cynical move by Sony  and does nothing except cement in the mind of consumers that all digital content should be free or almost free. As a publisher Caffeine Nights is actually contemplating putting the price of our eBooks up to the £2.50 to £3 mark and moving away from low price promotions and not engaging in Amazon’s free promotions. We are a niche publisher and consumers who want our books are prepared to pay a little extra for them.

The eBook market is maturing and readers are always in the search for new content. As a publisher we cannot keep reinforcing the idea that this content has to be cheap. There will always be cheap and free content out there, plus pirated content for those who really don’t like paying. But the majority of people consuming excellent eBooks are honest and want to pay a fair amount for the content. I agree that because of the differing overheads with the production of eBooks this should not be the same price as physical content but it should be a fair recompense for the author and publisher. I would like to reach the stage where £3.99 is a standard entry point for eBooks. This is not a lot of money for hours of entertainment.

Sony’s move with its strong focus on 20p eBooks moves the market back three years. Publishers need to convince consumers that they have to pay for decent content. There is nothing wrong with that. It now seems that we have to convince the platform owners who have dictated the rules for far too long already. eBooks give the same value and enjoyment as paperback or hardback novels, so why the compulsion to give them away for next to nothing. When the market was new there was a strategic necessity to get readers to move from looking for pirated content to cheaper content to ensure they associated paying for digital content. As that market matures and is prepared to pay for what it wants it makes sense to gently lead it toward understanding that they have to pay a little more for that content. This is how the Internet evolved from its pioneering days where things were regularly given away and there was a bargain at the end of every URL to the behemoth shoppers paradise that we know today.

Sites like Sony and Amazon will play an important part in our future ePurchasing for eBooks but there will be other changes coming which at present we can’t foresee as the market not only matures but looks to break the stranglehold of the likes of Amazon.  New platforms are being developed that will work closer with publishers and traditional book stores moving control over pricing away from Amazon, Sony and the lowest common denominator. I am not arguing for a blanket price rise by publishers that hurts readers, far from it. We must recognise though that we cannot continue giving away content and then expect the readers to understand when publishers either go broke or in a last minute state of desperation suddenly hike prices up in a bid to survive.

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