An American Editor

October 7, 2010

Ripping Off is Soooo Easy to Do: The Charade of Pricing

This past week the New York Times reported that two Amazon Kindle ebooks, Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants and James Patterson’s Don’t Blink, are priced higher than their hardcover counterparts. This is the result of the Agency 5 pricing scheme for the ebooks (for some background, see Agency in eBooks: Just the Start? and The Decline & Fall of the Agency 5) that allows the publisher to set the ebook price and the ebookseller to set the pbook price.

I hadn’t planned to note this “event” as it has been noted numerous times since its discovery, and I considered it just another rip off of consumers by publishers. I suppose the biggest fools in the unfolding of this event are us commentators who cry about the high price of the ebook in comparison to the pbook. Why are we made to look so foolish? Because thousands of the ebooks are being sold despite our negativism. So perhaps the publishers are a bit smarter than us in terms of sales, even if dumber than us in terms of actual revenue.

(In terms of revenue, booksellers pay 50% or more of the suggested retail price as the wholesale price on a pbook. Consequently, the publisher receives more per-unit-sold revenue on the sale of a heavily discounted pbook than it does on an agency price ebook. I know, the logic of that situation escapes me as well, but the chiefs at the Agency 5 get much bigger salaries and bonuses than I do and have the pleasure of telling shareholders how they are cutting costs by laying off the grunt workers.)

But I was finally agitated enough by the ripping off scenario to write today. The rip off today is a Barnes & Noble masterpiece of legerdemain. I am a B&N member whose membership “privileges” have been steadily eroded by B&N since the advent of ebooks. Yet today’s legerdemain is the best yet. Granted we aren’t talking big bucks on an individual purchase, but in the corporate world, pennies add up to dollars, and I’ve now gotten a glimpse into how Leonard Riggio plans to save his world.

Like all B&N members I received an e-mail touting new publications with offers of discount coupons — either for the store or online. First clue: I received 2 separate e-mails — one offering me a 30% discount (members save 40%) coupon and the second offering me a 40% discount (again, members save 40%). Apparently the offers have changed so that even nonmembers get these coupon offers. I do concede, however, that B&N can legitimately offer the discount to both members and nonmembers (but why would you want to kick your members, your most loyal customers, in both the stomach and the head?).

Clue 2: To take advantage of the online coupon discount, you need to click the Get Coupon button, which takes you to a special offer page at the website where you get the book of your choice (from among those being offered with the coupon) at the discount.

I am interested in buying Chernow’s George Washington. So the first thing I did was go to B&N’s online store to see what the price is. If I just buy it at its regular discount price, the hardcover cost is $23.40 — a 41% discount — and this price is available to everyone, member or nonmember. If I click the coupon for my special discount price, the price is $24.00, the member’s price. So for being a member of B&N, I get the privilege of paying 60¢ more than the price everyone who isn’t sucker enough to use the coupon pays.

Is this a rip off or not?

Of course, in B&N’s case they aren’t even matching Amazon’s current hardcover price of $21.60, which makes one wonder what life after death there will be for B&N. But Amazon doesn’t sit pretty here either. Just 3 days ago, as the New York Times reported, the Follett book was being sold by Amazon for $19.39. What happened in 3 days to cause the price to rise by $2.21? The need to make the Kindle edition, which is still $19.99, appear to be a bargain compared to the pbook?

Why shouldn’t an Amazon customer who wants to buy the Chernow pbook be angry today that the price has been raised? Especially when there is no assurance that it won’t rise or fall tomorrow. There is no logic to the changing prices other than to extract the most possible from consumers. We aren’t talking about precious metals that are traded on commodities exchanges that have price fluctuations based on availability. There is no shortage of pbook copies.

Bottom line really is that both B&N and Amazon (and probably other ebooksellers as well) are simply playing their customers for suckers — B&N by the coupon legerdemain and by offering all comers the same buy price at the expense of members and Amazon by shifting the price up or down as it sees the interest in a book wax and wane.

It’s a war of nerves for book buyers, because one has to guess when to jump on the offer and when to hold steady. Who ever thought buying a book would be a high-stakes poker game?



  1. […] by Rich Adin […]


    Pingback by Ripping Off is Soooo Easy to Do: The Charade of Pricing — October 7, 2010 @ 5:36 am | Reply

  2. With this sort of thing going on, is it any wonder that so many authors are skipping the conventional process to get published and striking out on their own through alternative venues? Despite the downsides of those options, authors can at least enjoy a sense of being somewhat in control, vs. being pawns of crazed and desperate institutions.


    Comment by Carolyn — October 7, 2010 @ 5:51 am | Reply

  3. E-books are only one small part of a very large change in how books are purchased. Before Amazon, living in rural Texas meant my options for book purchases were limited to the single book store within 20 miles of the house.

    That meant that my book options were controlled by how much shelf space the book store could afford. As a purchaser of about 100 books a year there was always that tinge of fear of the book store not having enough books to keep the “to be read” shelf fully supplied. I was willing to buy marginal books, both in quality and cost, just to make sure that shelf was stocked.

    With the Internet came two very big changes. The first is obvious – almost infinitely large books stores that have all of the current releases plus the “out of print” titles. The second change comes from having the Internet knowledge base of what titles are out there and the reviews of those titles.

    While having a new book in 30 seconds beats waiting three days for the big brown truck to arrive, the biggest change for me is the availability of books.

    No longer do I have that fear that the bookstore won’t have something for me to read. Instead I now have samples for over 29 books on my Kindle that I have rated as “must reads”, another 31 books waiting on a pricing services to inform me when the price gets reasonable and another 60 books on the Amazon wish that looked like interesting reads but just not compelling at the moment.

    Bottom line….. Books have to be very competitive to make it up the food chain to get on my e-reader and even more competitive to be purchased as a p-book.

    Publishers may have lots of books to sell but the whole agency model shows an amazing ignorance of marketing skills. This as at a time where the whole way we are purchasing books is changing. Looks like there are interesting times ahead.

    Good versus evil out of the equation, in a time when marketing is king I am still placing my bet that Amazon wins this one.

    BTW, I find it very intimidating to write comments to a professional editor. 🙂


    Comment by Joe J. — October 7, 2010 @ 9:04 am | Reply

  4. […] Original post by americaneditor […]


    Pingback by Ripping Off is Soooo Easy to Do: The Charade of Pricing « An … | Discount Kindle Books — October 7, 2010 @ 9:32 am | Reply

  5. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Kindle Today, Mon. Mon said: Books,Book and Books Ripping Off is Soooo Easy to Do: The Charade of Pricing « An …: Tags: Agency… […]


    Pingback by Tweets that mention Ripping Off is Soooo Easy to Do: The Charade of Pricing « An American Editor -- — October 7, 2010 @ 1:42 pm | Reply

  6. Glad I found your post. I just got off the phone after a very frustrating call to B&N customer support. I spend more than $2k a year with B&N. I am a member and have previously been happy with my shopping experience. I attempted today to place an order online for some pre-order CDs. While ordering, I was concerned that I no longer saw my member discount. I also noticed that CD prices were significantly higher since my last order just a month ago in October. I also could not use a promo code I was just sent when I had previously used such codes for pre-orders in the past. I have invoices and proof of what I paid in previous orders as little as a month ago. Some CDs only released a month ago are now $5 more expensive now. Long story short I had a hellish call with a customer agent and then a supposed manager and they would obfuscate up the wazoo and claim all these changes took place in May 2010 when I have proof of what I paid just 30 days ago. I said it was there prerogative to raise prices but at least be honest with their good customers about their change in practices and don’t tell them that they imagined getting discounts, reduced prices, etc. Why they want to alienate a customer like me is a puzzle but that’s what they have done. I thought B&N was trying to stay alive with there nook strategy and building a loyal customer base like me. It’s just too much competition out there. I have a browser add-on call Invisible Hand that automatically tells me the best price for anything on the web. Don’t jerk your customers around. Raise your prices if you must but don’t tell them that a customer’s previous experience was their imagination. B&N lack of honesty in what they are doing is more disturbing than the actual price increases across the board. This is what has infuriated me.


    Comment by Chris Barker — November 4, 2010 @ 12:09 pm | Reply

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