Authors come in all flavors, interests, and abilities beyond their skills as wordsmiths and storytellers… and we tend to follow our own work in different ways. Because the closest “real” new bookstore is more than 50 miles away, I tend to watch how my books are sold and presented on B&N.com and Amazon… and it’s truly eye-opening at times.
Given the changes in the bookselling marketplace, I was particularly interested to discover just how my latest book – Imager’s Battalion – was selling, at least comparatively. So I’ve followed it daily, and I’ve discovered some very interesting things. First, the advertised price of the hardcover has varied almost daily on Amazon, from over $18.00 to $17.00 as I write this, although there was a time when it could have been pre-ordered or ordered for under $17.00. Barnes and Noble’s hardcover price seems to follow that of Amazon, if with a bit of delay. On the e-book side, from what I can tell, Amazon and B&N.com both originally listed the ebook version at $14.99, prior to sale, but for the past week Amazon has been selling the Kindle at $13.49, while the Nook remains at $14.99.
Recently, a number of news stories have suggested that on-line retailers are sending out targeted advertisements to existing customers based on their previous purchases and what they have bought or browsed on-line. And because I have browsed my own books online, I have gotten “recommendations” from Amazon as well, but I discounted reports that on-line retailers were offering differential prices to customers – until two weeks ago. That was when I received an email from a reader telling me that, much as he loved my work, there was no way he was about to pay $19.00 for the Kindle version of Imager’s Battalion. I couldn’t believe this and sent a return email politely pointing out that on the Amazon sites [U.S. and Canada] the price was nowhere near that high. In return, he sent me a copy of an Amazon solicitation sent to him, which did indeed offer the Kindle version at $19.00. In turn, I sent it to Tor, and was informed that it was a genuine Amazon communication and that they were looking into it. So far as I know, they still are, but it may be with the anti-trust lawsuit by the Department of Justice, they feel they can’t comment.
In the meantime, the reader informed me that he had gone directly to the main Amazon website and purchased the ebook for the far lower price there.
Now… it’s been acknowledged that users of search engines, especially of Google, get different results from the same inquiry, based on the browsing patterns of the user, and it’s now fairly apparent that Amazon has the power to offer different prices to different people – at least on their direct mail solicitations or “recommendations.” And exactly what is there now to prevent them from offering different prices to different customers seeking to buy the same item on the main website? Given that there’s no way to tell exactly what the “true” base price is, isn’t this essentially the practice of monopoly?
With the “agency model” proposed and still used by a few of the publishers, at least readers had some confidence of what the price might be. Now… it appears, Amazon is trying to get the highest price possible based on past purchasing patterns of individuals… rather than the lowest price that they’re claiming in support of their opposition to the “agency model.”
So… tell me again how supporting Amazon and DOJ against the publishers and their agency model is going to reduce monopoly pricing in bookselling and provide low prices to all consumers?