Taking a stand, however short-sighted, against buyer expectations of ebook pricing, publisher Simon & Schuster have announced that they will be delaying the release of ebook versions of around 35 new titles in 2010 for roughly four months after the hardback edition is put on sale. The move is being echoed by the Hachette Book Group, who as of January 2010 will delay ebook release of “the vast majority” of its new titles for three to four months after the hardback version. According to David Young, CEO of Hachette, the company is “doing this to preserve our industry,” adding that he “can’t sit back and watch years of building authors sold off at bargain-basement prices. It’s about the future of the business.”
The two publishers’ anxiety is at the recent trend for new and bestselling ebooks to be sold at the $9.99 price point, as Amazon and Barnes & Noble – among others – attempt to lure price-concious readers onto their respective ebook platforms. Traditional hardback novels could be priced at anywhere around the $27 price point upon their initial release, and Simon & Schuster CEO Carolyn Reidy is concerned that ebooks will “cannibalize” their cash-cow.
“The right place for the e-book is after the hardcover but before the paperback. We believe some people will be disappointed. But with new [electronic] readers coming and sales booming, we need to do this now, before the installed base of e-book reading devices gets to a size where doing it would be impossible” Carolyn Reidy, CEO, Simon & Schuster
By “impossible”, Reidy means the point where consumers come to believe a new title is only “worth” $10 rather than anything higher, slashing into the publishers’ profit margins despite ebooks still being a relatively narrow slice of the overall pie. However it seems unlikely that this sort of artificial delay will continue in the long-term; authors will vote with their feet as they see rivals at less ebook-fearful publishers making greater sales, and – as an Amazon spokesperson suggests – readers may simply decide to “just not buy a book at all” if they can’t initially get it in their preferred format.