A Long Winter: This erudite article by Peter Olsen looks at the impact on book prices (and therefore on writers) of the decline in bookstore profitability due to the combined pressures of online selling and economic downturn, added to increasing tensions between booksellers and publishers. He argues that Kindle reinforces the direct-marketing relationship of Amazon to readers in a way that may force publishers to renegotiate their terms all round, exerting a downwards trend on prices, profitability, and the commissioning of new projects.

It’s stuff to make your brain ache in any number of ways, but worth digesting, if only for its expert use of the terms "disintermediation" and "p-books" (in contrast to "e-books"). Almost as good as Freevangelism!

Olsen foreshadows a demand-based pricing system for e-books that means, as Bransford puts it, "a pricing algorithm where a book that’s downloaded 1,000 times a week costs $14.95 and a book that’s downloaded 2 times a week costs $2.95." Do Australian writers need to be nervous about this forecast? The potential domestic readership of an Australian book is so small to begin with, in contrast to US and European markets. Wouldn’t "demand-based pricing" for e-books necessarily be biased against writers publishing in a country with a small population base?

And how does the e-book impact on international publishing rights – that lovely bonus cheque some Australian writers get when their work is picked up at the Frankfurt Book Fair?

However, it’s possible that demand-based pricing might work in favour of the Australian writer. It would remove the prohibitive price barrier that Australian books suffer from in contrast with their OS counterparts (On my first visit to America, I was shocked to purchase a new title from my favourite author for $4.95… A similar product at home would have cost $20-$30). If an e-book is priced competitively, and the population of online book-browsers and buyers is ever-increasing, this may restructure the sales timeline of a new book, taking the pressure off that "make or break" first thirty days of a p-book’s shelf life. It may give a book time to grow a reputation, before it is whipped off the shelves to make room for next month’s hopefuls in the publication schedule.

If you, like me, want to get your head around these issues, make a date to see Bob Stein next month, in conversation with Kate Eltham at Wordpool. Bob is founder and Co-Director of the Institute for the Future of the Book and founder of The Voyager Company

How to make it in the business of writing?

Honour your practice, and stay informed.


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