Over on Digital Book World, regular blogger Jeremy Greenfield has been writing a series of fascinating posts on ebook pricing trends. Greenfield has observed an overall downward trend in the average selling price of best-selling ebooks in the US. According to Greenfield, the combination of upcoming holiday 2013 discounts, Penguin Random House’s new retailer contracts and the inclusion of self-published titles in ebook sales data means we can expect best-sellers to retail for $7.00 or less by the end of the year. This will be down over $4 from the average price of $11.27 which was reported in October 2012.
With the holiday season not yet upon us, we haven’t quite started to see the $7.00 average appear. In fact the most recent ebook sales data that Digital Book World has published indicates that the average price of an ebook bestseller for the last month went up slightly to $8.23.
There is one important caveat to using best-sellers as a guide towards overall market trends, however, which is that it just takes one all-conquering title to skew the statistics. The unmasking of Robert Galbraith as J.K. Rowling didn’t just transform The Cuckoo’s Calling fortune as a title, its ebook price tag of $9.99 in the US may have played an instrumental role in keeping average prices above $8. As we saw from the most recent round of Nielsen ebook stats, where the lack of a Hunger Games in the first half of 2013 was blamed for a drop in the book stats, it just takes one star-performing title to lift the whole publishing market. (Incidentally, for a really great analysis of the enduring power of ‘the blockbuster’ across various media and entertainment sectors check out this special report in The Economist.)
While there is less authoritative data about average ebook prices available outside of the US, Kobo released some information that compares average ebook selling prices some of its international territories at BEA earlier this year. Kobo’s data says that the fiercest price competition is to be found not in the US (where the average price per ebook) is $7.20 but in the UK – where the average title sells for only $5.76. Another interesting observation that Kobo made in its presentation was that European consumers seemed willing to pay more per ebook, regardless of whether or not their home country applied price protection to books. In France, for example, where price protection laws are in place the average price is $10.40, but $11.29 in the Netherlands, whose government does not fix prices.
Until the other major ebook platforms begin to release this kind of information it’s impossible to say whether Kobo’s numbers are indicative only of their customers or follow overall trends. What it does seem to suggest, however, is that in the UK and US at least there is a prevailing downward movement in ebook prices which can be temporarily reversed by individual hit titles.