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Old 04-06-2011, 02:52 PM   #1
Kiteology
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Backlist e-book pricing

Over the last several years one thing I have consistently found in this and many other forums, as well as articles on the subject of e-book pricing, is the failure to separate backlist pricing from new release pricing.

As I see it, it can be argued that the pricing strategy of just about any new release is a component of any number of factors related to the title's newness, the author's newness or previous reputation, it's release as a hardcover or trade paperback, its promotion costs, and so forth. In short, there is the potential for a lot of volatility and as many potentially valid opinions on how pricing should be handled. But once the dust has settled (is a year's time too conservative?) it seems to me that many of these variables have been tested and answered.

Am I the only one who believes that the topic of backlist pricing should be a separate subject? Dare I add, a topic that can be discussed with actual data?

I would like to try and start a thread specifically and solely dedicated to your thoughts and opinions on the pricing strategy of backlist items. Any takers?
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Old 04-06-2011, 03:31 PM   #2
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Mainstream (Big 6) publishers have been treating backlist ebooks as falling into roughly the same niche as new trade paperbacks. They tend to charge more for them than mmpbs, which often don't exist for the titles because they're out of print. When pressed, they mumble about the cost of conversion.

Most of them do have to be created from scratch; any book that's more than a few years old probably doesn't have a final-version electronic copy available. While they were made electronically 10 and maybe even 20 years ago, changes in filetypes and lack of storage space meant most publishers had a policy of clearing them out as soon as the print run was finished.

Publishers refuse to discuss the fact that the editing has already been done on those titles, and that they've got a pre-existing audience. (They also usually refuse to put effort into proofreading when they do make them.)

I like Baen's system: frontlist, backlist, whatever... $6 per ebook. Differences in production costs are negligible; they're charging for convenience and portability, and hoping the customers find the rates low enough to be worth paying.
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Old 04-06-2011, 03:45 PM   #3
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I find that the existing book pricing structure has five levels:

1) Hard backs
2) Trade Paperbacks
3) Premium Paperbacks
4) Massmarket paperbacks
5) Independent Authors

The difference between levels three and four is that three contains all of the popular authors that are well known. Once an author is upgraded from level four to level three they are never downgraded ever. Level four authors tend to be new authors or those that have been yet to be discovered as yet. Level five authors can range in price from level four costs and on down. I find that the pricing is due several functions:

1) the popularity of the author, if they are popular they will be level three
2) The size of the book, level two books tend to be physically larger then level three books are;

Electronic books are typically treated as an afterthough and tend to be idential to their dead wood book cousins.
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Old 04-06-2011, 04:01 PM   #4
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I've commented on backlist pricing specifically more than once; and just about everyone except Baen has been doing it terribly.

Major publishers tend to price them at $10-15 - and I've seen a number of authors and houses like Wildside and E-Reads use $8-9 for eBooks of 20+ year old paperbacks. It's over-pricing at its worst. I can understand $15 for a brand new book just released in hardcover - it may be cheaper to order the hardcover at Amazon - but it's still cheaper than getting it at your local bookstore (you know, the place that charges cover price for books - and your only alternative if you want paper right now). I just don't want to pay $8+ for something that's $0.01 used on Amazon.

Let's get backlist down around $5 where it belongs.
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Old 04-06-2011, 04:53 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Elfwreck View Post
Most of them do have to be created from scratch; any book that's more than a few years old probably doesn't have a final-version electronic copy available. While they were made electronically 10 and maybe even 20 years ago, changes in filetypes and lack of storage space meant most publishers had a policy of clearing them out as soon as the print run was finished.
Thanks Elfwreck! That's one piece of information to put in the "costs" column (I only know enough about publishing to be considered dangerous).
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Old 04-06-2011, 05:44 PM   #6
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I've noticed on some of the backlist books I've purchased that a new trade paper edition and a digital edition are released at the same time (e.g., The Best of Everything, 5/31/2005; The Winter of Our Discontent, 8/26/2008). These books aren't just being OCRed to rush into digital form; they're going through the production process to be reset and proofread and formatted, so there are costs. Still, the prices are pretty high--and in both these examples, the e-books cost a bit more than the trade paper books at BN.
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Old 04-06-2011, 09:32 PM   #7
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Some of my favourites - Rex Stout, Margaret Truman, Sue Grafton, Martha Grimes, Ian Rankin -- are certainly closer to $5 than $10 for the lion's share of their backlist. Not perfect, but the right direction.
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Old 04-06-2011, 09:56 PM   #8
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I suspect that part of it is that they don't want to compete with themselves... Some people would never read new books if the old ones were so much cheaper, just like some people buy all of their books at the used bookstore.
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Old 04-07-2011, 03:48 AM   #9
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Difference there being that a cheap ebook gets the publisher and author money, while a used book sale doesn't. (Not directly, anyway.)
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Old 04-07-2011, 09:54 AM   #10
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Although I've said this before on other threads...

Author I like - backlist titles at $4 or less - I'll buy them all at once

Favorite author (a few) - backlist titles at $5 to $6 - I'll buy them all, but maybe more slowly, over time

New titles - $7 to $10 - I buy very very sparingly - the library starts looking really attractive

Anything else, except gift ebooks for my dad and my husband - over $10 - I'll see you at the library or used bookstore

I can count on one hand (or maybe two) the exceptions to this since I bought my first Sony PRS-500 many years ago.

JM2CW...
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Old 04-07-2011, 10:50 AM   #11
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I need to express some ignorance here: what is backlist pricing? Is this the sort of pricing model that I would normally encounter in Amazon, Borders and B&N online?
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Old 04-07-2011, 11:29 AM   #12
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Quote:
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I need to express some ignorance here: what is backlist pricing? Is this the sort of pricing model that I would normally encounter in Amazon, Borders and B&N online?
To be honest, I have no idea what-so-ever at what exact point a title is considered a backlist item. A backlisted title is one that has been around for awhile, as opposed to a new/current release. As an example: when a book title is released as a massmarket paperback it has definately arrived as a backlist title.
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Old 04-07-2011, 11:34 AM   #13
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For example 20,000 Leagues under the sea would be backlisted?
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Old 04-07-2011, 11:36 AM   #14
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Originally Posted by jbcohen View Post
I need to express some ignorance here: what is backlist pricing? Is this the sort of pricing model that I would normally encounter in Amazon, Borders and B&N online?
I should also mention that the reason I started this thread was the behavior of backlist pricing at online resources such as Amazon, Borders, and B&N would certainly suggest that there is no model for backlist pricing.
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Old 04-07-2011, 11:41 AM   #15
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For example 20,000 Leagues under the sea would be backlisted?
Well, "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" is in the public domain. A backlisted title would still be under copyright. Sorry, my definition was incomplete...thanks for the excellent question!
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