Penguin demonstrates how to use “agency pricing” to kill sales of a book’s digital version

election2008.jpg
[Screen shot: Note the price of the digital version of the book (the “Kindle edition”)
is over $9
higher than the hardcover version of the book; a pricing decision
dictated by the publisher and not Amazon, using
the so-called “agency model” pricing model.]

While I don’t know if I’m quite ready to officially declare myself a conspiracy theorist who suggests book publishers are colluding (or, perhaps merely “signaling” one-another) by using the “agency pricing” model to, in effect, “restructure the eBook pricing model” and return the world to a place where publishers had the ability to dictate to Amazon what it must charge customers for a book, when I run across a book pricing strategy demonstrated on the screen shot above, it seems to me rather self-evident that the publisher is using the agency model to undermine eBook sales.

A recent New Yorker article by Adam Gopnik overviewing recent books and scholarship concerning “the historical Jesus,” led me to that Amazon.com page for Diarmaid MacCulloch’s 1,200-page history of the Christian church, Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years .

Before visiting the page, I assumed that, if available in a Kindle format (I am a fan of the Kindle iPhone and iPad apps), it would be the type of book I’d purchase as an eBook but never purchase on paper, either hardcover or or paperback. First off, I’d only read a book like this while traveling and there is no way I’m carrying around a 1,200-page book. And second, while I’m interested in history, I’m not always a fan of the writing styles of specific historians. The low $9.99 price-point of Kindle eBooks has led me to purchase many books in a “try before you buy the hardcover edition” fashion — so I’m willing to make more impulse purchases of books to “audition” authors if the topic fascinates me. Indeed, as I’ve written before on this blog, there are certain books like Jon Mecham’s American Lion: Andrew Jackson in the White House, that I’ve purchased in three formats. (And in the case of Mecham’s book that later went on to win a Pulitzer Prize after that post, I’ve purchased multiple hardcover copies as gifts for history-buff friends, as well.)

So I was dismayed and disappointed when I discovered its publisher (Viking, a part of Penguin Group) has used the potentially unlawful agency model of eBook pricing to force Amazon to sell the Kindle version of the book for $9 more than what it charges for the hardback version.

Their motives seem transparent: 1. Kill ebook sales of the book. 2. Make it look like Jesus would think that’s okay.