Friday, February 18, 2011

eBook Leaders Show Random House Sitting Pretty As Amazon's Kindle Store Discounting Plays Crucial Role in Picking Winners

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By Steve Windwalker
Publisher, Planet iPad
Editor and Publisher, Kindle Nation Daily

For the past few weeks, we've been paying more attention than usual to the USA Today bestseller lists that come out each Thursday because they have provided a fascinating window into the changes that are taking places in what we read and the publishing sources for the books that we are reasing.

Once again, the USA Today top 50 list for the week ended February 13, 2011 shows a healthy representation of titles for which the ebook format is the highest-selling format. There are 19 such titles this week and we provide a full list of those 19 titles below, with their list prices and Kindle Store prices as of today.

For each of the titles listed here, the first price shown is the publisher's list price as reported by USA Today, and the second, linked price is the Kindle Store price. Wherever the publisher is a participant in the agency-model price-fixing scheme, the two prices will often be the same. For other books, Amazon may discount the book further for Kindle customers at its discretion.

  • 2.        Alone           Lisa Gardner,  Bantam State  (F) (E)   $0.99 $0.99
  • 3.        The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo           Stieg Larsson,  Vintage  (F) (E)   $14.95  $5.00
  • 4.        The Girl Who Played With Fire           Stieg Larsson,  Knopf Doubleday (F) (E)   $25.95 $5.00
  • 5.        Unbroken           Laura Hillenbrand,  Random House (NF) (E)   $27.00 $9.99
  • 6.        The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest           Stieg Larsson,  Knopf (F) (E)   $27.95  $9.99
  • 8.        A Discovery of Witches           Deborah E. Harkness,  Viking Adult (F) (E)   $14.99 $14.99 
  • 9.        Water for Elephants           Sara Gruen,  Algonquin (F) (E)   $14.95 $5.00 
  • 15.        Cutting for Stone: A Novel           Abraham Verghese,  Knopf A (F) (E)   $26.95 $5.00 
  • 17.        Switched           Amanda Hocking,  Self-published through CreateSpace (F) (E)   $2.99 $0.99
  • 20.        I Am Number Four           Pittacus Lore,  HarperCollins Youth (F) (E)   $17.99 $9.99      
  • 21.        The Confession           John Grisham,  Doubleday (F) (E)   $28.95 $9.99 
  • 24.        The Help           Kathryn Stockett,  Putnam (E)   $12.99  $12.99        
  • 27.        Ascend           Amanda Hocking,  Self-published through CreateSpace (F) (E)   $2.99 $2.99
  • 31.        Torn           Amanda Hocking,  Self-published through CreateSpace (F) (E)   $2.99 $2.99
  • 34.        Room           Emma Donoghue,  Little, Brown (F) (E)   $11.99  $11.99          
  • 42.        What the Night Knows           Dean Koontz,  Bantam (F) (E)   $28.00  $9.99   
  • 44.        Dead or Alive           Tom Clancy, Grant Blackwood,  Putnam (F) (E)   $14.99 $12.99  
  • 46.        Strategic Moves           Stuart Woods,  Putnam (F) (E)   $12.99 $12.99
  • 48.        The Perfect Husband           Lisa Gardner,  Bantam (F) (E)   $7.99 $5.00 
While we are looking, a couple of other tidbits that caught our attention:

Among traditional publishers, Random House and its imprints are the place to be for authors these days. Random House is the leading traditional publisher in the U.S., and some may have been nervous for its authors when Random decided to abstain from the agency-model price-fixing scheme and, in the bargain, from the much-hyped Apple iBooks Store. But Random and its imprints and authors have benefited hugely from the price flexibility that Amazon and other retailers have been allowed, especially since the publisher and the authors get paid based on full list price even if a title is discounted below wholesale cost in the Kindle Store and elsewhere. Sixteen of the USA Today Top 50 are published by Random and its imprints, which is a dominant position given other changes in the composition of he bestseller lists. Given that Random has achieved that position without a single sale through the iBooks store, that dominance speaks eloquently of the utter failure of iBooks.   

Meanwhile, Amazon and others should take very seriously the king-making role that results from the company's selective discounting for Kindle titles. It seems very likely that a fabulous book-group natural like Elizabeth Stuckey-French's novel The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady should be headed straight to the highest rungs of the Kindle Store bestseller list, especially after recent rave reviews in the New York Times, Denver Post, Boston Globe, and Kindle Nation Daily. The book is published by Random imprint Doubleday, which means that Amazon controls price and discounting in the Kindle Store just as brick-and-mortar booksellers control price and discounting for the hardcover edition. But with Amazon selling the Kindle edition for $13.90, Jeff Bezos and his minions might as well be standing at the gates of bestseller heaven blocking the entrance of one of the more distinctive, independent voices to come along in American fiction in recent years. It says here that as soon as Amazon brings the retail price of Revenge down to the $5-$10 promotional price sweet spot provided for Stieg Larsson, Sara Gruen, John Grisham and others, it will have another bestseller in the making.

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