19.09.10 | Benedicte Page
Amazon is offering exceptional discounts on key autumn e-books as it seeks to drive Kindle sales ahead of a change to agency terms and the launch of rival devices. The highly aggressive pricing could mean a “game-changing autumn” for the high street, according to literary agent Jonny Geller, though there are suggestions that agency terms wil be put in place well before Christmas in order to limit the damage.
Kindle editions of this week’s bestsellers–including Tony Blair, Stephen Hawking and Terry Pratchett–are being discounted by as much as 72%, as Amazon pushes sales of its e-reader through a TV advertising campaign.
Other heavily discounted autumn titles include Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles (£6.30) and Russell Brand’s forthcoming My Booky Wook 2 (£9). Many of the upcoming Christmas books are not yet on offer on Kindle, but Amazon is indicating to customers that it intends to make them so.
This week marketing emails inviting pre-orders on titles including Life by Keith Richards (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) and Cheryl Cole’s Through My Eyes (Bantam Press) offered recipients the option to express a wish to see Kindle editions of these and other titles. “Our goal is to make every title available for Kindle. We will pass your specific request onto the publisher,” the email read.
One agent said while publishers have now broadly accepted the view that an e-book price will be 20%–25% cheaper than the print r.r.p., they are unhappy with Amazon’s massive discounts on top titles. “Amazon is setting the e-book price and they just have to lump it. It gives them no pleasure,” he said.
Jonny Geller, m.d. of the books division of Curtis Brown, said the situation was “a re-run of the mid-’90s removal of the Net Book Agreement” with a retailer vastly reducing price as it looked for market share. “I think this autumn is going to be carnage,” he said. “I suspect it is all about selling the hardware and Apple don’t seem to be as engaged [with books] as Amazon. It’s an extremely strong autumn for titles, I don’t remember such a good one, and this is time to have the war.” He warned: “On the high street it is going to be a game-changing autumn. Waterstones.com has got to work.”
Literary agent Ed Victor commented: “Amazon is educating consumers to think £7 is the price of a new hardcover book and we have an industry that has educated consumers to think it is worth twice that. They will end up ruining the industry as e-readers take hold.” Tom Holland, chair of the Society of Authors, said: “I think it’s a huge mistake. It’s trashing the brand.”
But one source told The Bookseller that a move to agency terms was imminent, with Amazon attempting a land-grab before it is forced to raise prices.
Last week Waterstone’s m.d. Dominic Myers was critical of competitors’ e-book pricing, saying: “We want to be competitive but there has been some very aggressive pricing going on recently which I’m not sure is in the interests of the industry.” He told The Bookseller that the retailer had not agreed agency terms, but that discussions were ongoing with publishers.