Andrew AlbaneseBe careful what you wish for, book people.

In recent years, Big Five publishers have fought to keep e-book prices out of the bargain basement, just where Amazon wanted them. With the return of so-called “agency” pricing, though, the battle may be won, but the war is not going so well. Once high-climbing e-book sales are tapering and even in some cases, descending.

“After years of explosive growth, e-books are hitting a soft patch for sure—we’ve been talking about how sales have been flattening, well, now they are in decline,” reports Andrew Albanese, Publishers Weekly senior writer. “For Hachette, e-books accounted for 28% of revenue, down from 34% the previous year. In his quaterly conference call, Hachette CEO Arnaud Nourry made an interesting observation: that the declines in e-book sales began when discounting of e-books ended—in other words, when Department of Justice sanctions (as a result of the Apple e-book price-fixing case) ended, and the agency model (for setting e-book prices) returned.

“My gut tells me that, yes, the price issue has probably had some effect,” Albanese tells CCC’s Chris Kenneally. In 2015, “e-books have lost the gee whiz factor. They are now a format like any other. And like all other books, sales go up when you have big titles, and sales go down when you don’t. In HarperCollins’ case, there was no new Divergent Books. And at Hachette, in the first quarter of 2014, they had enjoyed a number of big bestsellers including The Goldfinch, I Am Malala and Grain Brain.”

Every Friday, CCC’s “Beyond the Book” speaks with the editors and reporters of “Publishers Weekly” for an early look at the news that publishers, editors, authors, agents and librarians will be talking about when they return to work on Monday.

Share This