Publishing And The Agency Model

Occasionally I write for a blog run by The Bookseller called Futurebook and I thought I’d copy my latest post for them here as well. You can see the original here if you want or feel free to comment below.

A few weeks ago Annette Green blogged about how the agency model ran the risk of undermining the legitimate digital publishing market because it could result in ebooks costing more than the physical edition and she used several examples of ebooks costing more than physical books (Stephen Fry’s memoir for one) to make her point. On the surface of it this seems like a clear cut case against the agency model however the recent launch of the Beatles albums on iTunes may show that the model still has something to offer.

It’s risky to draw too close a comparison of the book and music worlds but I think, in this case, it’s worth while. The Beatles Red album is available on iTunes for £17.99 which is ten pounds more expensive than the CD is available for on Amazon but this pricing difference has not stopped customers downloading the more expensive version. In fact, despite the digital editions being more costly, the Beatles have notched up something like 2 million track downloads and, at the time of writing, they have six albums in the top one hundred in the UK iTunes store. The higher price is not stopping sales at all.

The music you get in a CD is a higher quality to that of a download but downloads are a more convenient way of buying music. The Kindle story and iBooks store are as easy and as instant as iTunes and this is why the agency model my work in the end. There may be many more people who own iPods than ereading devices but the ebook market is only going to grow and grow with more and more devices being bought over time. Convenience of purchase helps off-set a higher priced product in the music world and may do in the ebook world as well so though a physical book may be cheaper, the convenience of a more expensive digital download may breath life into sales. Publishers are gambling that this will happen and, if it does, the agency model will be here to stay.


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