The publishing world is still rebounding from the effects of the DoJ suit against Apple and five of the then-Big Six publishers, and the effects of the judgement against the parties involved is still resolving itself. One of the current resolutions involves the expiration of key prohibitions against the publishers in how they deal with retailers. Following the Hachette dispute with Amazon over wholesale versus agency pricing–a dispute that saw Amazon remove Hachette titles from its website for a time–other publishers fell in line to try to negotiate new terms with the largest book retailer on Earth.
The current dog in the fight is HarperCollins, who according to some sources has demanded that all retailers move to an agency pricing model as early as next week while it still works to resolve its terms with Amazon. Amazon has stated that it offered HarperCollins the same contractual terms that it offered to the other Big Five houses, but the publisher has currently said it is holding out for agency pricing, a model which will mandate that retailers cannot discount books.
Mark Coker, CEO of Smashwords and a long-time supporter of the agency model, spoke to Good e-Reader about why this model is good for authors and publishers–the two stakeholders who must secure a profit in order to continue providing books–and good for smaller retailers who otherwise couldn’t compete with a corporate behemoth in terms of pricing. More importantly, Coke addressed one often overlooked concern: does the agency pricing model hurt consumers?
“If publishers make the mistake of pricing their books too high, the marketplace will punish them for it,” Coker explained when answering to how preventing a retailer from discounting a book won’t come back on the consumer who has limited funds to spend on a book. “Readers have a lot more power than they think.”
“If an author or publisher is trying to screw them over with a price that is just outrageous, readers can say no. And publishers will hear that. Authors will hear that. Readers can put pressure on authors…if a reader feels like an author’s book is priced too high by the publisher, you can bet that all they have to do is tweet at that author about the book being priced too high, and the publisher’s going to be hearing that customers are angry. The marketplace has a lot of power. If readers can accept that it’s important that authors and publishers profit from the sale of a book since it’s their profit that allows them to continue this great service of providing books, then everyone can be happy. If readers think everything should be free, that’s obviously an attitude that is not sustainable.”