It is a well-known fact that Amazon prices Kindle books aggressively, and publishers don’t exactly love them for it. At Inkmesh we wanted to find out exactly how aggressive Amazon’s ebook pricing really was, and how other big players in ebook retailing stacked up. We decided to dig into the database that powers our ebook search and price comparison engine, and found several things interesting enough to share.
For the purpose of this analysis, we looked at ebooks that were available at the US websites of all three retailers – Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Sony, and included all titles with a valid sales rank (Sony does not assign sales ranks beyond fifty, so we pulled in all Sony ebooks that had sales ranks at the other two). We ended up with 11,604 top-selling titles available at all three vendors, and ran our numbers on this set. For the purpose of comparison, we also pulled in prices for these ebooks from the other sites we index, including Lulu, Fictionwise and HarperCollins. Ebook prices and availability vary over time and geographical boundaries, so what we found reflects the state of things for US consumers in the last week of November 2009.
The first thing that stood out was Amazon’s dominance. Out of the 11,604 titles we looked at, Amazon’s prices were lower than everyone else for 3,263 ebooks, and they matched the lowest price elsewhere for another 5,329 ebooks. Which basically means that Amazon had the best prices on 8,592 (or 74%) of the top-selling ebooks in circulation today. And the price difference wasn’t insignificant either – for ebooks that were cheapest at Amazon, Kindle prices were lower than the next best price by 15% on average.
Barnes and Noble was a clear (and distant) number two – they beat everyone else’s prices (including Amazon’s) on only 463 titles, but matched the lowest price elsewhere on 4,837 titles. The prices confirmed how hard B&N is trying to upstage Amazon at their own game, but if B&N is looking to win on ebook prices, they probably need to try harder.
The most interesting finding, however, was Sony’s poor showing, indicating an apparent lack of willingness to compete on pricing. Perhaps things will change when they introduce their ePub store, but for now, if you have a Sony Reader, you’re much more likely to find better prices for Sony ebooks at stores like Lulu, Diesel, eBookMall and even publisher sites like HarperCollins, all of which had lower prices than Sony’s eBook Store on hundreds of Adobe Digital Editions books. Sony beat everyone else’s prices on only 18 ebooks (that’s right, eighteen out of over eleven thousand) and matched the lowest price on only 423. The only saving grace for Sony seems to be their reader’s ability to read DRM content purchased from other ebook stores, unlike the Kindle which can only read Amazon’s DRM (though millions of DRM-free ebooks are available for both the Sony and the Kindle on multiple sites).
Some other stats we found interesting:
- There were only 398 free ebooks in the top 11,604. Looking at the lowest available prices for all titles, the average price was $6.88, and the median was $6.39.
- The average ebook price at the big three: $6.05 at Amazon, $7.96 at B&N, and $8.77 at Sony.
- Lulu, who only recently began selling ePubs in their ebook store, emerged as a surprise third-place winner. They matched the lowest price on 2,251 ebooks and beat everyone else on another 181.
- Fictionwise, one of the oldest independent ebook retailers until recently (when they were acquired by Barnes & Noble) were nowhere near as competitive, with lower prices on less than 50 ebooks. They do have club rebates, but to keep things simple, we did not consider those prices for this analysis.
The one line version of everything above: when it comes to ebook pricing, Amazon is currently the clear winner, Barnes & Noble is a distant second, but Sony doesn’t even seem to be trying. The landscape will continue to change as newer ebook vendors like Lulu (and Google) attempt to lure readers away from established players, and retailers and publishers experiment with new pricing models. It will be interesting to see how the Nook performs in comparison to the Kindle, and if Sony’s Daily Edition can shake things up in 2010. We will continue to follow ebook market trends on this blog, and would love to hear your comments and questions about ebook pricing via email, twitter or in the comments below. Stay tuned, and Happy eReading!