Harlequin’s Struggle with eBook Pricing

According to Jeremy Greenfield’s article in Forbes, “Love Affair With Digital Over For Romance Publisher Harlequin?” Harlequin is struggling with the dropping book prices spurred on by digital publishing. Harlequin CEO Craig Swinwood blames companies problems on pricing and self-publishing.

Aggressive discounting from online retailers is driving down the prices of books and Harlequin finds that it cannot compete when its mass market paperbacks appear at the same price as hardcover titles. Harlequin also lost much of its business in mass market paperbacks as its readership moved to digital reading. The prices for Harlequin’s digital titles are constantly being driven down by the rise of self-publishing. Many of the successful self-published titles are romance books because of the popularity of the genre digitally. As sales for self-published books commonly range from $0.99 to $2.99, customers come to see a book as only being worth this much.

As Swinwood accounts for in the article, there is a difference between self-published and Harlequin published titles, and that lies in the quality of the work. Swinwood is quoted in the article, saying “We believe quality can demand a higher price.”

Swinwood’s statement likely proves true. Though customers are spurred on by low prices, acquiring many titles for free or $0.99, many of these titles are never read. I know this from experience as a self-published author. After setting my novel to free, more than 400 people picked up my book over the course of a week; however, I only acquired one new review from the experiment and generated no new sales after I returned the book to its usual price of $2.99. I can only conclude that majority of the people who acquired my book never got around to reading it (either that or they thought it was horrid). It appears that as much as people want cheap books, the content of these books must remain at the forefront.

From the perspective of a reader, free or heavily discounted eBook prices are sometimes a cause of distrust.  I know that if a book is cheap (for reasons other than a scheduled promotion) then it is likely a self-published, amateur title that is, more than likely, not any good. Higher prices show a certain level of professionalism. In the mindset of a consumer, in any industry, a higher price equals a higher level of quality.  Publishers can work off this mindset to keep their eBooks reasonably priced.  Quality does demand a higher price. A Customers will pay the extra money for nice formatting, professional edits and known authors, and thus, publishers can and should continue to charge higher prices from their books.

To read the full interview with Craig Swinwood, see “Harlequin CEO Craig Swinwood on Harlequin Results, Book Pricing and Self-Publishing” on the Digital Book World website.