Two contrasting data points on ebook pricing this week point up the question of what the right price points are for ebooks. In the blue corner, we have the Digital Book World Ebook Best-Seller List, which after all is followed by Huffington Post and other outlets in the U.S., and therefore carries some authority. And its latest March post found that, “after weeks of slowly ticking up, getting more than halfway to the $7.00 mark, the average price of a best-selling ebook jumped this week to $7.49. At the end of January, the average price of a best-selling ebook was $5.36, just $0.09 off an all-time low, recorded in December 2013. Since then, it’s been steadily ticking up.”
And interestingly, “there are no self-published titles on the list this week. Even though the rate of self-published titles hitting the best-seller list has slowed considerably since last year when big-publisher titles started being priced lower, most weeks at least one or two self-published titles make the list, usually priced at $3.99 or below.”
DBW highlights the position of Veronica Roth’s Divergent series in the Best-Seller List, and sure enough, ebook price movements show quite a bit of divergence in the UK – at least according to the Nielsen Books & Consumers survey for 2013, over in the red corner. And according to its findings, “the lower value than volume share for self-publishing reflected the low prices paid for these titles, with self-published fiction e-books most commonly bought for under £2, whereas mainstream Fiction e-books typically cost £3-4.99. The rise of self-publishing meant that in 2013, the average price paid for Fiction e-books dropped to around 60% of that paid for Fiction paperbacks.”
So which is the representative trend? Do ebooks as a whole have an upward momentum that will eventually lift the price of self-published ebooks too? Or will self-published titles continue to drag the whole market down whenever they appear? And of course, there’s an argument that both forces are in play, and will pull against each other until or unless some kind of equilibrium is established.
My suspicion is that the growing maturity of the ebook market is going to pull all average prices up, and that ebooks from trade publishers are going to be seen as the premium end of the market, with periodic self-published breakthroughs into that tier – like a small independent fashion house suddenly getting its big break into the major brand stratosphere. As the traditional publishers penetrate the ebook market more and more, they’re going to try to pull prices up to the levels they’re comfortable with, whatever pressures Amazon and the self-published competition confront them with. But that’s conjecture for now, and I’d welcome other opinions on this.