What price for ebooks?

So now we have lots of ebooks flowing onto the market, and if you are a small publisher or a private individual with any control over pricing, the inevitable question follows: what price should you set for your works?

I think we can all agree that the publisher’s wish to have ebooks priced at the cost of a paperback, or even more, is not going to fly. Never mind their overheads are the same, never mind all the other stuff, people just won’t buy it (or won’t buy the books, rather). If I am waiting to buy a book so desperately that I absolutely have to have it on the day it is released, I’ll buy the hardcover, thank you very much.

I believe the main use of ebooks is as a tail end, a keeping-in-print option that remains viable after the first rush of sales have gone. That is, for the big publishers.

For the small guys?

Well, setting your price at $7.99 (or more) just because ‘the big guys do it’ is not going to work. Because you are not a big publisher, and you don’t have the overheads.

But if an ebook is produced well, you should have some overheads. You’ll have to get someone to design a cover. You’ll have to get your work proofed. You may have to pay for this. It’s expensive. Even if you don’t pay (much) for your first forays into the ebook market, you’ll find you’ll soon run out of friends and relatives you can ask to do these tasks for free.

Your budget may look like this:
Cover design: $100-300
Proofreading/editing: $1000-2000

That’s not nothing. If you’ve paid this, you’re definitely not going to give your book away for free. At $0.99, you’re going to have to sell a heck of a lot of copies to even look like recuperating that cost. Before you’ve earned out, you’ll think twice about spending that much again on a second book.

The argument I often hear is that ebooks become like downloaded music: $0.99 a pop. But from the point of view of the creator, that comparison doesn’t hold at all. A musician has another income stream in the form of paid gigs. A writer has no such secondary income.

I believe in a sliding scale according to word length.
Short stories: $0.99
Longer works up to 20,000 words: $1.99
Novellas: $2.99
Kids’ books and anything around 50,000 words: $3.99
Full-length novels: $4.99

If, as consumer, you pay this price, there is a very good chance that you support an author who has spent some money getting the book right.

7 comments on “What price for ebooks?

  1. Those prices look good to me as a consumer of ebooks. though with short stories I have somewhat of a preference for reading them in an anthology rather than as a single.

    • True. Anthology coming up!

      Psychologically, I believe that both $0.99 and $2.99, and even $4.99 are just ‘small change’ money. People have no trouble buying coffee and a muffin for $6, so why should they complain about a $4.99 ebook?

  2. I was just researching this, too, and came to the same conclusions. I Tweeted a link to a very informative blog post with actual authors’ numbers, and what jumps out at you (my husband and I entered them into a spreadsheet and plotted various relationships on graphs; yes, we’re geeks) is that the person who sold the most in one month – 21,000 books – earned only a third of what a person who sold 5200 earned, because her book was 99 cents and his were 4.99 (on average). Also, income earned pretty much correlates with price point, not with units sold — up to a point, of course; a 20-dollar e-book isn’t going to sell, period.

    • I have to admit, I am much more interested in the return-customer than I am in the charts. So it’s in my interest that someone who buys a book is likely to actually read it, not just get it for the novelty value, or the what-the-heck value. I’m willing to bet that someone who spends $4.99 on an ebook is much more likely to read it than someone who spends $0.99.

  3. I agree. 99 cents also seems to scream “I’m new, I’m self-publishing!”, whereas $4.99 says “I’m a professional author” — if only because the $4.99 author has done her homework.

    My stance is: if your books are good, all you need is a few people to take the risk, then tell others (through reviews or word-of-mouth). It’ll chain-react for you. It’ll also ensure readers for your other books. If your books are good; that’s the key. And then, I don’t think $4.99 or $2.99 or $0.99 is a consideration at all for buyers. $12.99, maybe so, but not at the lower numbers.

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