Could Limited-Time Fixed Book Pricing Boost Backlist Sales?

In Discussion by Edward Nawotka

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

sale onlineThroughout Europe — particularly in Germany and France — fixed price laws have helped sustain the book business through trying times. In particular, it has helped to keep the erosion of print book sales in favor of ebooks at bay. Add to that the fact that in many countries the VAT on digital books remains far higher than on print books, and it is a further disincentive.

The system works, for the most part. But there are always ways to improve it. One suggestion is to introduce a time-limited system for fixed book prices, which has been recently proposed in both Quebec (which proposes a fixed-price period of nine months) and Poland (see today’s feature story, Polish Publishers Face Sales Slump, Propose Fixed-Pricing, Fight Piracy).

Putting arguments in favor or in objection to the very principle of fixed book prices aside for a moment, let’s ponder one single question: could the introduction of tiered or time-limited fixed book prices in countries with existing laws help boost the sale of backlist titles?

Maintaining fixed prices across the board throughout the publication and sales cycle of books has the benefit of a “set it and forget it” mentality for bookstores. If a book is to go on sale — should this ever happen — as indicated by a publisher, it’s now the obligation of all retailers to adjust prices, creating a burden of it’s own.

We’ve seen the dramatic impact that dynamic book pricing can have on e-book sales, particularly at lower price points. Flash sales on backlist can boost a title that is several years old or more back onto the bestseller lists, even briefly. What’s more, sales often bring customers into stores (or online) where price, rather than desire, becomes a motivating factor for purchases — thus generating additional sales.

Is the practice of maintaining full, fixed price through the life-cycle of a book counter productive?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

About the Author

Edward Nawotka

A widely published critic and essayist, Edward Nawotka serves as a speaker, educator and consultant for institutions and businesses involved in the global publishing and content industries. He was also editor-in-chief of Publishing Perspectives since the launch of the publication in 2009 until January 2016.