Google Playing Around

I received an interesting email from Amazon last week, which read (in part) as follows:

We recently noticed the digital list price for the title(s) listed below is higher than the list price of the same book listed on Amazon.com.au or another website.

Unfiction… is listed on Amazon.com.au at AUD 8.07 and at AUD 1.09 on GooglePlay-AU.

According to our pricing policy, your book should be priced no higher than the list price on Amazon or any other sales channel for either the physical or digital edition of the book. Please adjust the list price for the above book(s) within the next 5 business days. If the price isn’t updated within 5 business days, we may remove the book(s) from the Kindle Store, at which point you will need to republish the book with an updated price.

A few things.

  1. Amazon specializes in terrifying emails. You get used to it.
  2. I held a sale for Unfiction, and when the sale was over all the distributors were supposed to return the price to its pre-sale value. What this email is saying is, Google Play’s Australia market didn’t adjust.
  3. If you’re wondering how Amazon knew this… it’s what they do. They have spiders crawling other websites to make sure they have the lowest price for everything. When a lower price surfaces, Amazon will adjust to match. If that price is substantially different, they’ll also send a howler to the offending vendor if it violates the TOS.

The first thing I did after getting that email was to head over to the Google Play dashboard to find out what was what. What I found was something sort of weird.


(Note: transcripts have been edited lightly. Also, his name wasn’t GoogleDude.)

GoogleDude: Hi, thanks for contacting Google Books Partner Program support! How are you doing today?

Gene Doucette: ok

Gene Doucette: but i have a weird problem

GoogleDude: I’ll try my best to help you.

Gene Doucette: I ran a sale one of my books on sale in Google Play. The sale ended, at which point the price worldwide should have reverted to normal

Gene Doucette: however, Amazon just notified me that the book is still discounted in Google Play Australia

Gene Doucette: when I went to look at the countries under the “world” price, AU isn’t listed there.

Gene Doucette: I tried selecting JUST Australia and changing the price for it.

Gene Doucette: But I can’t confirm if I succeeded.


Explanation:

My prices at Google Play are, by default, based on the US Dollar price of the book. This is the easiest way to do it, because Google distributes to something like forty countries, and I’m not going to manually adjust each price for each currency, as that would be silly.

What I discovered was that when the sale ended, the default value for the book listing in Australia never kicked in, because for some reason there was no AUD line under “World” for the Unfiction listing.

(Side note: I wish I’d taken a screenshot, because as you’ll see below, after GoogleDude looked up the book, the AUD listing reappeared. I swear I’m not making this up.)

But, fine, I could adjust the price for just Australia by creating a separate listing for that currency, which is what I did. I set it at 8.07 AUD, which as you’ll see, was too low for a number of reasons.


GoogleDude: In the “Prices” tab of this book, I can see that see you ran the promotion for only one day i.e.17th July’ 2018. After this date, the prices went back to normal (i.e.in accordance with USD 7.78 for WORLD). However, now, since you’ve added separate price listing for Australia, prices are showing in AU in accordance with this listing.

GoogleDude: i.e. in accordance with AUD 8.07 for AU.

Gene Doucette: ok

Gene Doucette: a minute ago when I looked at the “world” listing, AU wasn’t under it.

Gene Doucette: now it is.

Gene Doucette: which is also odd.

Gene Doucette: but you can confirm the price is changed?

GoogleDude: Do you mean you didn’t see the separate price listing that you created for Australia, some minutes ago?

Gene Doucette: What I mean is, before I took the separate listing for AU, put a price in it, and made it valid for Today…

Gene Doucette: the listing above it that said the price was USD $5.99 for WORLD…

Gene Doucette: did not include AU

Gene Doucette: and now, it does.

Gene Doucette: for reasons I’m not clear on.

Gene Doucette: the reason may be moot, since the price has changed.

GoogleDude: Do you mean below “USD 7.78 for WORLD”?

Gene Doucette: yah

Gene Doucette: sorry

Gene Doucette: i forget i have to increase the price. oh. crap that means $8.07 AUD might be wrong too.

GoogleDude: Okay, not an issue.

Gene Doucette: you guys mark down the books by 20% so I have to list them higher here so they match Amazon

Gene Doucette: and the other sellers

GoogleDude: Currently, in AU, it’s being sold at $5.75.

Gene Doucette: ok that’s wrong too.

Gene Doucette: I just changed the AU price to 9.82.What I’m looking for is an 8.07 price at the storefront.

GoogleDude: Now, it’s showing $7.00 in AU.

Gene Doucette: …

Gene Doucette: i don’t know how to get the price right there.


Explanation:

Here we begin to see the nature of the problem. Google Play automatically discounts ebooks. That discount is 20% in the US.

For example, Immortal Stories: Eve is supposed to be priced at $3.99, but if I put that in, Google Play will put it on sale at a lower price. To compensate, I have to price the book at $5.18. Likewise, The Spaceship Next Door, at $7.99, is listed at $9.99.

The only reason this is necessary is because if I don’t do this, Amazon will match Google Play’s discounted price, and sell my ebooks on their site for less than I want them to. They might also send another howler email, which as I’ve said, can be terrifying.

Unfiction, usually at $5.99, is priced at $7.78 on Google Play, so that when it’s discounted it comes down to $5.99. When I look at the converted price matrix for that book, it looks like this:

AUD (now appearing again) has a converted price of 9.82. This is why, when creating a new price listing just for the Australian store, I began by setting it to AUD 9.82.

The problems I’ve discovered above are:

  1. Amazon expects this price to be AUD 8.07 and I have no idea how to get the book to that price
  2. the AUD 7.00 price in the Google AU front end means that I’m not inflating my ebooks prices sufficiently to get them right in non-US countries, because according to Amazon it should be 8.07
  3. not incidentally, $5.99-priced books have been sold on Amazon Australia for AUD 7.00 for a while. They were matching Google Play and not telling me (I assume the emails fly only when the discount is more substantial) and I didn’t know that $5.99 USD didn’t convert to 7.00 AUD. I have to assume the same is true for all of my other price points in Australia, and we haven’t even talked about other countries yet.

GoogleDude: Google Discounting is based on an automated algorithm. Discounted price will be higher if the list price is increased. It will be lower if the list price is decreased. Since the quantum or percentage of discount is not predetermined, we can’t share any calculated price with you so that you can set a specific sale price. However, if you want, you can add prices and check.

GoogleDude: If you want me to tell you what price is showing in AU after changing prices, I can surely tell you.

Gene Doucette: well this is explains why Amazon keeps listing the prices for my books ON Amazon in AU at that price.

Gene Doucette: I assumed $5.99 USD = $7.00 AUD

Gene Doucette: but apparently it = $8.07

GoogleDude: Actually, % of Google discounting may be different in different regions.

Gene Doucette: oh it is.

Gene Doucette: because I check the US site. and $7.78 USD discounted does = $5.99 USD in the US

Gene Doucette: I just adjusted it to 11.00

GoogleDude: Okay. Now, it’s showing $7.84 in AU.

Gene Doucette: all right, 11.50

GoogleDude: It’s showing $8.20 in AU now.

GoogleDude: I’d also like to inform you that the revenue share you receive will be based on the list price that you provided, regardless of any discounting Google may apply.

Gene Doucette: yes

Gene Doucette: $11.35

GoogleDude: It’s showing $8.09 in AU now.

Gene Doucette: you understand the problem, though, right? Amazon requires that the book not be priced less elsewhere than on their site and they threaten to take books off sale if they continue to be listed at a different price elsewhere

Gene Doucette: i just took it to $11.34.

GoogleDude: I understand what you mean. However, this is Google policy matter. We will continue to work to price eBooks to maximize sales for our publishing partners and provide a great experience for our customers.

Gene Doucette: i’m gonna have to do this with all my books.

GoogleDude: It’s showing $8.08 in AU now.

Gene Doucette: ok close enough.

Gene Doucette: i appreciate the google policy. the problem as I see it is that I make less from Google Play sales than from any other platform, and the platform where 75% of those sales will remove my books if I can’t get the price right on the platform where I make 2% of my sales.

Gene Doucette: what that means is, it may be easier for me to just remove the books from google than to do this.

Gene Doucette: at the very least, you could allow the books to show at the price we set and then discount at the register.

GoogleDude: I understand what you mean. However, this is Google policy and we do this for all the publishers. I’ll take this as a feedback and pass on the appropriate team though.

Gene Doucette: ok thanks. is there any way for me to look at Google Play in other countries myself?

GoogleDude: Currently, publishers can’t see the Google Play pages of other countries. However, if you want, we can tell you the price of your books in other countries. We can even send you the screenshots of Google Play pages of other countries.


Explanation:

Now we’ve gone right off the edge.

  1. I can’t control what price my books are sold at in any country Google Play distributes to. I can adjust the price as often as I want to try and get the price right in a specific store, but…
  2. I can’t look at another country’s Google Play storefront. I can only look at the one for the country I’m in. So not only can i not control my own prices, I can’t see my own prices.
  3. But Amazon sure can.
  4. None of these discounts are fixed and can change at any time, so I could get it right this week, and have it be wrong again next week.

I took up GoogleDude’s offer of screenshots, just for the Australia listings, and somehow this got worse.

Here are all the pieces. Feel free to check my math.

For a book that’s listed at:

*

 $2.99

1: My markup makes it $3.93, which converts to 4.96 AUD

2: local tax is added to the cost of the book, taking the price from 4.96 AUD to 5.46 AUD

3: Google Play discounts the price to 3.54 AUD, which is a 35.1% reduction

*

$3.99

1: My markup is to $5.18, which is 6.54 AUD

2: local tax takes it to 7.20 AUD

3: GP discounts it to 4.67 AUD, a 35.1% reduction

*

$5.99

1: my markup is to $7.78, which is 9.82 AUD

2: local tax takes it to 10.81 AUD

3: GP discounts it to 7.00 AUD, a 35.2% reduction

*

$7.99

1: my markup is to $9.99, which is 12.62 AUD

2: local tax takes it to 13.88 AUD

3: GP discounts it to 8.48 AUD, a 38.9% reduction

*

$9.99

1: my markup is to $15.99, which is 20.19 AUD

2: local tax takes it to 22.21 AUD

3: GP discounts it to 13.35 AUD, a 39.9% reduction.

*

As promised, the % reduction increases the more the base price goes up, but not in any nice, easy, and clean way.

Worse, I don’t know what the prices should be. I know Amazon thinks $5.99 should be 8.07 AUD, but I don’t know anything about the other price points. What should $3.99 USD be in AUD? Or $9.99 USD?

Also: this is only one country. I can’t see what’s happening in any of them, so I also don’t know how much of a discount is being offered on my Google Play books in Canada or the UK or India, or any other country to which both Amazon and Google distribute. But because Amazon will price-match to Google Play listings, the downstream consequence of all of this is that Google Play is changing the price of my Amazon books in ways I can neither see nor control.


Finally, let’s pull out and examine one of the things GoogleDude said. I’m pretty sure this is a variation of a stock response:

Google Discounting is based on an automated algorithm. Discounted price will be higher if the list price is increased. It will be lower if the list price is decreased. Since the quantum or percentage of discount is not predetermined, we can’t share any calculated price with you so that you can set a specific sale price.

Setting aside the use of the word “quantum”, which has no place in there, the words I want to focus on are automated algorithm. I’m interpreting this to mean that the percentages I cited above may change in the future, based on their algorithm. Certainly, everything GoogleDude said hinted at that very thing: he doesn’t know what the percentages are (and therefore can’t give them to me) because nobody knows what they are, because they change.

My first impulse is to dismiss what Google Play is doing as some fluky thing I can safely ignore. The basic discounting in the domestic store has been going on for a while, and it’s one of those things self-published authors just learn to accept: you gotta mark up your prices in the Google store or Amazon will match and maybe send a howler. Eventually, they’ll figure out that this is an artifact of an old idea that isn’t working, and they’ll stop.

But maybe not. Maybe this is the direction other vendors are leaning.


I was reminded of something that turned up at the beginning of June, in a KBoards topic. A company called StreetLib—a single-platform ebook aggregator—sent out this notice to their customers.

(Note: I don’t use StreetLib.)

We wanted to let you know about a new Amazon revenue share model that we’ve been invited to join. If you are not selling your books on Amazon through StreetLib, please ignore this email! Otherwise you can take advantage of this opportunity to join an exclusive program that we believe could improve your publishing revenues.

Basically, Amazon’s new “Dynamic Price Model” defines the best price on any given day for every title in a catalog. It lowers the price of books that are selling few to zero copies thanks to unsustainably high prices, and also raises the price of books that could be priced higher (without losing sales as a result).

How does it work?

You, the publisher, set a price for your ebook. Same as always.
Based on that price, Amazon creates an ‘Optimal Price’ that will shift from time to time…

(Source)

I don’t know if this is happening, has happened, or got scrapped, but it’s interesting. Amazon has a history of trying out new ideas, whether those ideas originated with Amazon or not, and this is starting to look like an idea they’re borrowing from Google.

Sure Google Play marks down the US books at a reliable 20% rate, but the more I dig, the more apparent it becomes that they’re trying out an algorithm-driven variable pricing plan in other regions, where the volumes are lower and it’s harder for a US author to spot. And, I think the program mentioned in the StreetLib email is an indication that Amazon is interested in trying the same thing.

In the short term, I can fix all of this by pulling my books from Google Play. I don’t want to, but I’m running out of alternatives.

In the long term, Amazon’s interest in variable pricing should set off everyone’s alarm bells.


Join my mailing list for announcements of new blog posts like this one, and to receive my newsletter Writing from the border of Sorrow Falls. You can sign up from here.

Liked it? Take a second to support Gene Doucette on Patreon!

3 Comments

  1. Mark Williams - The New Publishing Standard on July 25, 2018 at 8:41 am

    Re: StreetLib and Amazon’s “dynamic pricing model.”

    This was specifically for “publishers” as opposed to “self-publishers.” Some self-publishers erroneously received the email perhaps because of their volume of titles or imprints on StreetLib’s list, but Amazon has the final say in whether a given publisher is in one category or another.

    The experiment is something Amazon has introduced and the qualifying publishers have the choice to participate.

  2. Ros Jackson on September 12, 2018 at 8:54 am

    In a conversation with Google Play reps in 2015 I told them I wasn’t selling anything else on their site (I had 1 book up on GP but had published others elsewhere at that point) precisely because of their discounting policy. They’re not really listening.

    The experimentation with variable pricing isn’t something I’d care to take part in. All the nope. Maybe publishers with thousands of books might want to do it – if perhaps behind the scenes they could set parameters for the highest and lowest prices.

  3. T. Jackson King on November 22, 2018 at 11:39 am

    Gene, I got one of these warning notices from Amazon two years ago. Fixed it by changing the price of my book by way of its third party listing on Draft2Digital.com. I find D2D is the ideal platform for getting my novels into other ebook formats without having to deal with multiple platforms like Google Play. You might consider them. Tom (T. Jackson King).

Leave a Comment