By Ben Hall in Paris
The pressure from Google’s digital library project and Amazon’s electronic books is forcing publishers to consider drastic price cuts, the head of the world’s second largest publisher of books by sales has warned.
Arnaud Nourry, chief executive of French publishing group Hachette Livre, said unilateral pricing by Google, Amazon and other e-book retailers such as Barnes & Noble could destroy profits and kill the lucrative trade in hardback editions.
He said publishers were “very hostile” to Amazon’s pricing strategy – over which the online retailer failed to consult publishers – to charge $9.99 (€7) for all its e-books in the US. He also pointed to plans by Google to put millions of out-of-copyright books online for public use in a digital library.
“On the one hand, you have millions of books for free where there is no longer an author to pay and, on the other hand, there are very recent books, bestsellers at $9.99, which means that all the rest will have to be sold at between zero and $9.99,” Mr Nourry said.
There was a real and “muscular” debate in the US, he added. Retailers were paying publishers more than $9.99 for each e-book, so were selling them at a loss: “That cannot last . . . Amazon is not in the business of losing money. So, one day, they are going to come to the publishers and say: ‘we are cutting the price we pay’. If that happens, after paying the authors, there will be nothing left for the publishers.”
Some rival publishers have expressed concern at Amazon’s pricing on its Kindle electronic reader. Others note the minimal costs of distributing books electronically mean they can make higher profit margins even with lower prices than in print.