eBook Pricing – A Conundrum



How much is a good story worth?

If you’ve been following recent news, you’ll know that several major publishing houses (Harper Collins, Apple, etc.) are being hit with an anti-trust lawsuit regarding their attempts at fixing eBook prices. See here for an explanation of the issue. The problem is that self-published authors are selling their books at $2.99 or less, and publishing houses feel that this is devaluing eBooks. They are worried that people will stop buying their higher-priced, best-selling novels in favour of mass-consuming the self-published books that are flooding the market. The obvious solution would be for publishing houses to simply price their eBooks lower in order to compete with self-published authors… but it isn’t as easy as that.

I had always believed that eBooks were overpriced – it costs nothing to produce an electronic file, after all, so why should I pay $14.99 for it? But then I read this article. When you print thousands and thousands of books, the cost of printing only amounts to a few dollars a copy. That’s why you can find $5 books on the discount shelf at your local book store, because they really don’t cost that much to actually print. So why are books priced so high? Because of all the overhead costs the publisher must pay – author advances, marketing fees, etc. All these things still have to be paid for, whether you’re making a print book or an eBook. The only difference with an eBook is that you’re saving those few dollars that would have been used for printing. So in that respect, eBooks could logically be priced almost as high as print books. And most of them are fairly costly – usually half the cost of the print book’s list price.

But then you get the difference between owning a pdf file, and having in your hands a real, heavy, paper-cut-inducing book. Yes, eBooks offer the advantage of being able to carry around your entire library in your back pocket. But if I had $15, I would rather spend it on a real book. I’m proud of my book shelf, and I love being able to just plop down in front of it and peruse the book spines for my next read. Not to mention that I like to share my books with my friends, but I don’t think I’d want to share my eBook reader.

At the same time, eBooks are growing in popularity, and publishers do need to turn a profit. If they only charge $2.99 for their eBooks, I imagine the profit margin must be nearly non-existent for the author. Apparently some authors are actually walking away from book contracts because publishers refuse to let them retain their e-rights to their books, because they’ve realized that it’s far more profitable to sell eBooks on their own terms. Amazon Kindle, for example, offers a 70% royalty rate if you price your eBook between $2.99 and $9.99. Who wouldn’t want that?

But then with self-publishing, you get eBooks priced as low as 99 cents. Initially I thought that this was a fantastic idea, because if you are trying to build up a readership, what better way to get people to buy your book than by selling it for less than a dollar? A single cookie costs more than that, especially if you get one of those delicious gourmet ones. But then I remembered a book sale I went to a few years back, where I bought maybe fifty books for about $50. If the cover even mildly intrigued me, I bought it. But how many of those books have I read since then? Maybe a quarter, if that. Maybe eBooks need to be priced a little higher – say, $2.99 – in order to make it worth the reader’s while to actually open up the file. It’s hard to discover new authors if you never read the books that they write.

What do you think? What’s a good price for a self-published author’s first book? I’ve been leaning toward $2.99 – a bit more than 99 cents, but still less than a Starbucks latte. Would you pay $2.99 for a story from an author you’ve never read?

Funny and relevant comic — click here!

Categories: Self Publishing | Tags: , , , , , | 12 Comments

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12 thoughts on “eBook Pricing – A Conundrum

  1. Rhiannon

    Personally, when I go to Chapters I don’t normally know what book I am looking for. If the name intrigues me then I would read the back of the book to see what the story is about. I don’t have an e-reader, kindle or a koboo, but I feel that if that’s the way I access books on a shelf at chapters, I would do the same thing with an electronic book. And is the price is $2.99, I would consider that a steal. The price is definitely justified considering people spend that amount of money in one day on coffee alone.

    • I buy books the same way – and I definitely prefer shopping in real life rather than online. It just feels more… real. It’s like clothes shopping – yes, you can order online, but in the store you try it on, see if you like the fit, the feel, etc. But I guess that, going into the future, people are doing more and more of their shopping online. It would be really cool if someone developed a website where it feels like you’re in an actual bookstore, and you could peruse virtual shelves and “pick up” virtual books. Thanks for the comment!

      • I have 9 and 7 year old boys. They absolutely LOVE going to the bookstore and selecting books for themselves to read. Just this weekend, my 9 year old purchased one of the Big Nate books and read it in 2 days! Yes, bookstore shopping is definitely a much better experience then online…

        How do you go into the bookstore with 2 kids and come out with a receipt showing you spent $100??? LOL! Looked at the hubby and told him we now need a new budget line item — the boys enjoy going to get books too much and that’s definitely a habit/hobby that I will support!!!

        • Lol I do the same thing – do you remember when the last few Harry Potter books were coming out, and they were like $45 each? Craziness. And yet I paid happily because I wanted to read them *so* much!

          May I suggest going to used book stores? They’re hit or miss, obviously, but the books are also a heckuva lot cheaper, and you find out-of-print books there that you could never find in a normal book store. Of course, the problem with those is that I usually spend just as much at used book stores because I’m so excited about the lower prices that I buy twice as much 😀

  2. Great article. It really is a conundrum… As an author, self publishing is my chosen path. However, I don’t feel that authors — especially new authors — do themselves justice by pricing their ebooks so low. It is simple human nature to think “the higher the price, the higher the value.” Pricing your ebook at 99 cents means that to the public eye, the information in that book is not that interesting or valuable — geez…it’s only 99 cents… At the same time, I believe that $14.99 and higher is too high for an ebook. I can get a printed book for that price… I think authors and the big publishers need to find a happy medium. If the print book is one price, say $16.99, then price the ebook $5 lower — $11.99. Of course, I’m throwing this out there without doing any market research; however, there has to be a happy medium. One where the big publishers aren’t losing their shirts and where self published authors aren’t selling themselves short…

    I too prefer having a printed book in my hands; but with the 1+ hour daily commute, my iPad/Kindle serves me well. It prevents me from having to lug physical books back and forth. So, it depends on the book whether I want it in print or electronically. I generally decide based on whether or not I think that particular book would be one I wanted to read during my commute…

    • Thanks for the comment! And I think you’re right – authors and publishers will eventually find a pricing system that works for them. I imagine this will take place in the next ten years or so, once more people buy eBook readers and publishing houses finally acknowledge that eBooks are sticking around for good. It’s kind of how like music started to be available on the internet a decade or so back, and Apple compensated by setting up the iTunes store so you could download whatever song you wanted without having to purchase the entire CD.

      I don’t actually own an eBook reader – which is hilarious considering I am going to be trying to sell eBooks to people – but I definitely get your point about commuting with one. I actually have one of those cheap, tiny netbooks that fits in my purse that I take on trips with me. I’m sure the battery life isn’t nearly as long as a Kindle/iPad, but I can still read books on there if I want to. I’m intrigued by your comment that you decide to buy books based on whether you’re going to read them while travelling or not – I guess that hasn’t really come up for me because I don’t own an eBook reader, but it’s a very interesting point to consider!

  3. It’s difficult to decide. You do bring a valid point though, I rarely read the $.99 books that I get. I would say $2.99 is the absolute highest you should go. It probably is the best price if you want to get readers and make enough money to feel like your hard work has paid off.

    • I read on a blog somewhere that the author only ever sold something at $.99 if it was short, like a short story or a small collection of poems. It just seems… I don’t know, unfair to your story if you sell it for less than a dollar. Thanks for the comment 😀

  4. Everything tells me that an ebook should cost less than an actual print book. I agree that some of the costs remain. The author needs their cut, the publisher and marketing, design, retailer. But the actual book costs to print, store and send. So why isn’t the ebook cheaper. I think the publisher is just keeping comparable prices to boost their earnings. On UK Amazon the books are quite often the same price. ebooks are sometimes a little higher as they have VAT to pay.

    I have paid a few pound or probably your $2.99 price for an unknown author because their book sounds interesting and we’ve connected on wordpress or twitter. I haven’t been disappointed yet and will continue to hunt around for good books at whatever price they are.

    • So you’re saying that in the UK, ebooks are actually priced higher than print books in some cases? I might have misread that, as it seems a little crazy to me. Anyway, if that is in fact true, are you able to purchase ebooks on the American Amazon site, and therefore get them cheaper? And thanks for commenting 🙂

      • You read me correctly.

        Bizarre isn’t it? Paper books are tax free but ebooks you have to pay the tax. That is probably one reason why they are more expensive.

        The Amazon US site will not let you purchase from it. Good post and it is something that needs to be *out there* and debated properly.

  5. Pingback: Self-Publishing a Free eBook + Party Rock Cantina « Michelle Proulx Official

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