The Beatles and The Agency Model

A few weeks ago Annette Green blogged about how the agency model ran the risk of undermining the legitimate digital publishing market because it could result in ebooks costing more than the physical edition and she used several examples of ebooks costing more than physical books (Stephen Fry's memoir for one) to make her point. On the surface of it this seems like a clear cut case against the agency model however the recent launch of the Beatles albums on iTunes may show that the model still has something to offer.

It's risky to draw too close a comparison of the book and music worlds but I think, in this case, it's worth while. The Beatles Red album is available on iTunes for £17.99 which is ten pounds more expensive than the CD is available for on Amazon but this pricing difference has not stopped customers downloading the more expensive version. In fact, despite the digital editions being more costly, the Beatles have notched up something like 2 million track downloads and, at the time of writing, they have six albums in the top one hundred in the UK iTunes store. The higher price is not stopping sales at all.

The music you get in a CD is a higher quality to that of a download but downloads are a more convenient way of buying music. The Kindle story and iBooks store are as easy and as instant as iTunes and this is why the agency model my work in the end. There may be many more people who own iPods than ereading devices but the ebook market is only going to grow and grow with more and more devices being bought over time. Convenience of purchase helps off-set a higher priced product in the music world and may do in the ebook world as well so though a physical book may be cheaper, the convenience of a more expensive digital download may breath life into sales. Publishers are gambling that this will happen and, if it does, the agency model will be here to stay.


t: twilliams81




iucounu's picture

Not sure about this. The public seemed to decide pretty quickly that ebooks were inherently less valuable than print; and I think generally you'd find downloaded music costs less than CDs, although it's been a long time since I bought a CD and I am too lazy to do the research myself. (I think the Beatles example is maybe misleading as it's, well, the Beatles.)

You're quite right to say that ease of use is worth something: iTunes is so quick and seamless to use that the 79p you pay for a single is more attractive than the free pirated version that requires tedious and potentially hazardous ferreting about for on the internet. It's literally taxing your patience. Still, looks like that value of 79p per track is about as much as can be squeezed from consumers in the name of convenience; I am very unsure we could ever stick a £10 markup on an ebook and expect anything other than howls of derision.

What about Torrents

How many more people downloaded it illegally for free from torrent sites, who might have been willing paying customers if pricing were perceived to be more reasonable?

re What about Torrents

Tom Williams's picture

Thanks for your comment Greebo. I have no doubt that plenty of people downloaded the Beatles tracks when they weren't available digitally and that has had an impact on revenues. Likewise, there are plenty of people who don't think twice about downloading ebooks when they are not commercially available. However, all the evidence seems to show that when digital products are made available piracy declines. There is a lot to be said for convenience and ease of use of digital stores like iTunes, iBooks and Kindle. For one thing they tend to stop you looking at rival distributors because it takes seconds to choose and download whatever you want. This ease of use, I find at least, tends to prevent  shopping around for lower price products or, for that matter, free pirated versions. I could be wrong of course but my feeling is that availability is much more of a theat to the industry than pricing issues. But, only time will tell and there is a lot riding on it.

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