The online bookseller is urging customers to ‘vote with their purchases’ and avoid electronic editions with a price fixed by publishers
Amazon has opened a new front in the battle over ebook prices, with a direct appeal to Kindle users to “vote with their purchases” against publishers looking to set prices for electronic editions.
An open letter to Kindle customers posted on Amazon.co.uk said that the “agency model”, where publishers set a price at which books must be sold instead of allowing retailers the freedom to discount, would be “a damaging approach for readers, authors, booksellers and publishers alike”, citing a loss of Kindle sales for publishers using the agency model in the US, and calling on customers to “decide for themselves how much they are willing to pay for ebooks, and vote with their purchases”.
“Based on our experience setting consumer prices for many years, we know that these increases have not only frustrated readers, but have caused booksellers, publishers and authors alike to lose sales.”
Amazon is setting a series of low prices for Kindle editions of this autumn’s bestselling titles, such as Stephen Fry’s The Fry Chronicles and Tony Blair’s A Journey, backed up by a high-profile advertising campaign as the online retailer seeks to establish the Kindle as the leading UK e-reading device.
But publishers, authors and agents are worried that the book industry is being used recklessly in a struggle to make profits from sales of the hardware, as Amazon struggles to knock rival Apple, manufacturer of the iPad, out of the water.
Penguin’s deputy chief, Tom Weldon, followed Amazon’s announcement with a note sent to agents this morning confirming that he would line up alongside Hachette, which declared last month that it would be setting firm prices for ebook sales in future, with retailers taking a commission on each sale.
“Our first and foremost concern is that we protect the value of our authors’ books, as well as the long-term health of this exciting new segment of the publishing industry,” Weldon wrote. “We believe that the agency model is more likely to provide authors with a just reward for their creative content, while establishing a fair price for the consumer.”
Tom Holland, chair of the Society of Authors, also said he supported the agency model. “My feeling would be the imposition of the agency model would be bad for authors’ incomes in the short term but good in the long term,” he said. “Ebooks are only starting to penetrate the market now. If it gets written in stone that prices are low, that is what the public will expect from now on. The risk is that the book, which has been traditionally a high-prestige object, will be permanently devalued. Publishers are right to try to protect the value of their brand. I’m delighted they are doing something about it because there was a point when I thought they’d just be steam-rollered.”