Should the “Agency Model” be Applied to Print Books in the United States?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

Some believe the “agency model” is little more than fixed book pricing in disguise.

By Edward Nawotka

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Unlike several countries in Europe — as discussed in today’s feature story — the United States does not have fixed book prices. US publishers offer a recommended sales prices, which is printed on the book, but the price is not fixed by law and can be adjusted at the retail level. This often leads to steep discounts on bestsellers or in the case of many online retailers, on all titles. Paradoxically, it was the United States that the “agency model” for e-books was developed and first implemented. This enables publishers to fix the price at which an e-book can be sold, with a cut going to the retailer as “agent” for the sale. Some have argued that it is merely an alternate form of fixed book pricing.

The system was put into place in large part because publishers felt the low prices being offered by Amazon.com and other e-retailers were too low to be sustainable and would force compromises in the long term. Could — indeed, should — the “agency model” be applied across the board to print books as well? What would be the upside? The downside?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

Edward Nawotka is the Editor-in-Chief of Publishing Perspectives. A former foreign correspondent, he has covered the book business exclusively since 2000, serving as daily news editor for Publishers Weekly and columnist for Bloomberg News.