It has been only 15 days since our last systematic look at the population of ebook price points in the Kindle Store, but there are two reasons why it makes a lot of sense to take a fresh look today:

  • first, Amazon fulfilled its plan to restructure its Kindle Store bestseller lists and divide them into "paid" and "free" listings overnight last night; and
  • equally important, during the past 15 days the Kindle Store catalog has experienced its most explosive growth ever, averaging over 5,000 new titles per day, with especially interesting concentrations by price point.
  • We’ll include all the usual statistical breakdowns below, but lets look at the headlines first.

    • Of the 75,345 net new titles added to the U.S. Kindle catalog since May 7, nearly 80% (59,638) are priced between $5 and $9.98, inclusive, which is clearly the new salesworthy price range not only for backlist titles but for the vast majority of titles that are otherwise available in paperback.
    • While the percentage of titles priced from $5 to $9.98 grew from 17.95% to 25.81% during the past 15 days, every other price range declined in relative percentage of the Kindle catalog.
    • With the extraction of free books from the Kindle Store’s main bestseller list, representation from that same $5-$9.98 price range grew from 12 to 29 of the top 100 paid titles. Representation from the $9.99 price point grew from 16 to 36 of the top 100; $10-$12.99 grew from 5 to 17; and $13-$14.99 from 3 to 5.
    • The number of top 100 paid bestsellers priced from 99 cents to $2.99 grew dramatically from 2 to 12 titles. This may be a foreshadowing indication that, as the effects of the bestseller list restructuring and the coming royalty restructuring for the Kindle’s Digital Text Platformplay out, we may find roughly speaking that "$2.99 is the new free" in the Kindle Store, with prices in that general range standing out in greater and more appealing relief on the Kindle Store’s paid bestseller lists, while free books could get lost in the great and growing ocean of public domain titles.

    Inside the numbers there are increasing signs of chinks in the dark armor of the agency price-fixing model publishers’ alliance. That 30 to 50% increase in ebook prices for which some publishers had been salivating, and with which Steve Jobs and Apple’s iBooks Store seemed such eager anti-consumer co-conspirators, is not looking like a winning hand. After peaking at 4.24% with the launch of the iBooks Store the first week of April, the overall percentage of U.S. Kindle catalog titles priced between $10 and $14.99 has declined steadily to 4.09% on May 7 and 3.66% on May 22. This decline, along with the data points that follow, may speak more powerfully about the agency model publishers’ actual sales experience than unsourced, anecdotal, and self-serving reports that publishers have been thrilled with their iBooks sales:

    • Despite the fact that 22 of the top 100 paid Kindle bestsellers are priced at $10 and up, only 5 of those (and none of the top 25) are priced in the $13-to-$14.99 range. While it may be early to say that that higher ebook price range for putative bestsellers is utterly unsustainable, there are certainly some signs that publishers are suppressing their own sales at those price levels.
    • There are also increasing signs that even the agency model publishers are being lured back to $9.99 by the promise of brisk sales there. Of the 36 top 100 bestsellers that are priced at $9.99, 13 are offerings from agency model publishers. It’s true that 8 of those are otherwise available in paperbacks at print prices lower than their $9.99 Kindle versions, but 5 of the 13 are $9.99 Kindle versions where the only print version available is a hardcover. As suggested in a previous post, we may be looking at the beginning of a trend in which these collusive price-fixing publishers demonstrate about as much honor and solidarity among their own ranks as they have previously demonstrated in their dealings with readers.

    The extent to which Apple’s iBooks Store can save these agency model publishers from themselves, or sustain the agency model for ebooks much past 2010, is difficult to assess when the company has been dramatically silent or circumspect about either its actual sales of paid ebooks or the size of its paid ebook catalog. In the past, if memory serves, Mr. Jobs has suggested that Amazon wasn’t boasting about its Kindle sales numbers because there was nothing to boast about. While this may or may not have been a fair inference with respect to Amazon and the Kindle, we do know from a variety of sources the following:

    • The growth in the Kindle catalog for the past 15 days surpasses the only reported figures for the overall size of the iBooks catalog.
    • Kindle content was reported by publishing industry representatives to hold a remarkably high market share among all ebook content, estimated at over 85 per cent, late last year, and we have yet to see evidence of any dramatic decline in Kindle market share. When it comes to selling content, after all, catalog counts.
    • While the current placement of the iBooks app among the top 3 free apps for the iPad is impressive enough, the fact is that it is a free app offered and branded by the device manufacturer, and given the relative catalog sizes involved it may well be that there are as many or more paid books being purchased and downloaded via the Kindle for iPad app (currently ranked around #12 among the top free iPad apps) than via the iBooks for iPad app.

    There’s no doubt that the iPad and the continued development of its smaller Apple i-siblings will be game changers when it comes to ebook content, just as they will be game changers with respect to all kinds of other content and hardware. But it remains to be seen whether they will provide the leverage that publishers require to budge Amazon away from its Kindle mission or the mass Kindle-compatible platform that will ensure the success of that mission.

    Editor’s Note:  this is reprinted, with permission, from the Kindle Nation Daily.  The original article has a very detailed breakdown of pricing from February to date.  PB


  1. Oh, great stuff. What a wonk for the figures.

    On the iPad, doesn’t the contract with publishers state that they have to sell at the ibookstore at the lowest price out there? So, if publishers are recapitulating to reality at Amazon, it should mean those same titles, if available at ibookstore, are also selling at the low prices.

    Amazon must be pleased with these numbers.

  2. I dunno. It doesn’t really tell me anything. Title counts are worthless. It’s easy to add a bunch of ‘junk’ titles at low prices. Heck, B&N advertises having over a million e-books available because they can deliver free public-domain stuff from Google Books.

    What I think we’re really interested in is what’s going on with titles from the ‘Big 6’ publishing houses: Random House, Penguin, and the Agency 4. It also might be interesting to compare against some of the bigger independents like Harlequin.

    Even more important, but almost impossible to get ahold of, would be sales figures.

    I also would be interested in breaking up the numbers between best-sellers and paperbacks (I know that’s not a proper dichotomy). While some people are complaining “best-sellers aren’t $9.99 any more”, a lot of the harshest complaints that I’m hearing are “the backlist titles are $9.99 for e-book when I can buy the discounted paperback for $6.99. Why should I pay more to get the book in a form that I can’t resell or give away? Do they think I’m a drooling idiot?”

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