I think agency pricing -- a term I understand only in its practical effect, namely ebooks selling for the full list price of the paperback even on normally discounted sites like Amazon and even though any fool can get a paperback at a discounted price pretty much anywhere -- is insane. (In case a would-be purchaser misses the point, Amazon has a helpful disclaimer: This price was set by the publisher. Mind you, the paperback copy of the same book is the same full price plus shipping at Amazon unless you bundle it with other books and/or get the supersaver free shipping deal. No disclaimer there.)
But I don't think agency pricing is any reason to not buy a book you would otherwise buy at that price. Because, let's face it, there are valid reasons to pay list price -- to support an independent bookseller, for example, or because you have figured out that the cost of gas negates the savings your discount card gets you at the big box store.
What agency pricing does -- other than make the publishers look like mathematically challenged doofuses who forget to "carry the one" when calculating their profits -- is move the goal posts on the number books you're willing to buy at full price.
There's a wonderful author -- I won't name her but I think her writing is divine -- whose back list I have yet to get through. I don't know, maybe I'm hoarding them because they're that good. Anyway, I didn't buy her most recent book because, frankly, I don't need it right away. I put it on my wish list at Paperback Swap. Yes, that means I'll eventually get a used copy of it. No royalties for the author (you see now why I don't name her) but as much as I adore her writing, if I want to read a book by her, I've got enough to keep me going.
The Amorous Education of Celia Seaton, on the other hand, I bought for my Kindle at the agency price on the day it was released. Yes, she's a friend online, but more importantly, I want to read it now. Like virtually every reader I know, my TBR collection is too huge for it ever to be a true statement that I need any book. But in this case, I want that book enough to pay the agency price.
The number of books that fall into that group of "I want it enough to pay the agency price" is small. And yes, I would buy more books on their release dates if they were discounted. That's what I mean about moving the goal posts: all agency pricing does to affect my buying habits is make my Kindle purchases (purchases that result in royalties for the author) fewer in number.
Which is pure Economics 101 (demand goes down when the price goes up), and why I'm convinced publishers lack opposable thumbs or some other indicia of higher intelligence. If the release day price for an ebook reflected the actual savings in producing that ebook (vs. the cost of getting a paperback into a physical store for me to buy), I'd undoubtedly buy more authors' books on their release days.
What I really don't understand is the statement online by some readers that they won't buy a specific book because the readers object to agency pricing. Isn't that another way of saying, "I won't pay that much"? I bet there is a book, at least hypothetically, that such readers will pay agency price for, despite their scruples.
Because at the end of the day, readers want what they want. It's just that not every book is "wanted" enough to justify paying full agency price.