Just a few short years ago, digital piracy was the big concern simmering at the Frankfurt Book Fair. But at this year’s fair, piracy has been a noticeably absent topic, replaced by a new, more pressing concern for publishers in the digital age: pricing.
Fresh off the recently concluded Apple e-book price-fixing trial, where the perceived “value” of books was at issue for publishers, pricing issues figured prominently in talks and panel discussions throughout the fair. HarperCollins U.K. CEO Charlie Redmayne said “perfect” pricing was the key to success for the publisher, and stressed the need to better understand pricing through analytics.
In his talk, Penguin Random House CEO Markus Dohle managed to merge the pricing and piracy issues, praising Amazon for creating an e-book market that has deterred piracy, while speaking of the need to experiment to maximize revenues.
In a session on self-publishing, author Hugh Howey spoke of the virtues of flexible pricing self-publishers enjoy. Meanwhile Amazon officials at the fair, including Russ Grandinetti and Jon Fine, spoke of the need for publishers to price their products more in line with other digital entertainment offerings.
Certainly the pricing talk is a sign of the times, and likely a good sign at that. It signals that the industry has overcome its fears of having its books stolen, and is now focused on having them sold.
But like the piracy issue, digital pricing is likely to persist as a thorny question for some time. Just this week, in a New Republic interview, agent Andrew Wylie urged publishers to be content to sell books to fewer consumers at higher prices. And many publishers remain caught up in what they perceive to be the “devaluing” of their books in the digital age, observes Small Demons v-p Richard Nash.
Throughout the fair, however, it was acknowledged that the value of the book is under increasing pressure, from forces that include large retailers like Amazon, new upstarts from the self-publishing sphere, and perhaps most importantly, from consumers who can now access all kinds of content, much of it free, from the same tablet device on which they could choose to read.
“Now that we've moved into the digital world and the point of sale is no longer exclusively bookstores, publishers need to be aware that books can be instantly compared on price against all media and all formats,” says George Lossius, CEO of Publishing Technology. “Publishers need to be aware of the pricing expectations of consumers and be able to react accordingly.”