September 13th, 2010 by Mike Fulton
Posted in eBook Publishing

The available evidence would seem to indicate that there are certain publishers who simply don’t understand where eBooks fit into the grand scheme of things. They don’t understand that traditional notions of pricing, marketing, and selling regular hardcover or paperback books simply do not apply without modification to eBooks.


One such publisher is Macmillan. They came to my attention recently when I discovered that they were the publisher of several classic Isaac Asimov science fiction novels which were selling at $10.99 and $11.99 for the eBook editions. Since Asimov died nearly 20 years ago, and since the novels in question have been available as mass-market paperbacks for at least that long, and in some cases much longer, I had a hard time understanding where these prices came from.

Macmillan was the main publisher at the center of the big blowup with Amazon earlier this year over eBook pricing. Amazon had been pricing eBook versions of new hardcover fiction releases at $9.99, and Macmillan wanted the price bumped up to $14 or $15. Up to this point, Amazon had pretty much a lock on the eBook market, but the new Barnes & Noble Nook and Apple’s iBooks had opened things up a bit so that publishers had other outlets. At the end of everything, Macmillan got the price increase they wanted.

Macmillan recently published new hardcover editions of several Asimov classics. These are priced at $24.99 and are typically selling for around $16-18. Not too different from a regular new release, except of course that these are reissues of books that are 50-60 years old. The price of the hardcover edition might not be unreasonable, but it simply doesn’t make sense to set the price of an eBook edition accordingly when the books have been out in mass-market paperback for decades.

I really don’t have a problem with somewhat higher prices for eBook editions of brand new releases, as long as it doesn’t break the 2nd Commandment of eBook Publishing: an eBook version should never be priced higher than any physical edition. However, Macmillan is not just doing this on new releases. They’re consistently pricing eBooks at significantly higher prices than the mass-market paperback edition that’s already been out for awhile.

Macmillan CEO John Sargent wrote a blog post defending their pricing setup where he discusses how their overhead contributes to the price they set. The blog has a long list of comments, none of which take his side of things.

From reading that post, it seems that one of the big problems is that Macmillan is using what I call “goofy” accounting practices where they’re confusing the costs of producing eBooks with the costs of producing physical editions. They are trying to wedge eBooks into their existing business model and setting prices basically like it’s just another paper edition.

The only way this is going to work in the long run is for publishers to get the accounting done right. If they don’t, they’ll be underestimating the overhead of their print editions while the market for such is shrinking. That’s going to come back and bite them in the behind at some point. No doubt they’ll eventually figure out how to fix things or they’ll go out of business. Personally, I’d rather they bought a clue somewhere and stuck around.

Their website is There are various email links there if you want to email them. You can also write them a real paper letter at:

175 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10010
(646) 307-5151

There are no comments yet »