Sunday, April 17, 2011

What is a good ebook price, and why would I be changing mine?

That is the second subject that brings groans to the lips of my fellow writers. We are not able to really determine what a good, fair ebook price really might be. We would like to, but we have less control than you might imagine. Since I cannot actually tell you this answer, but really want to know, you are only going to read my opinion - balanced with some of those I've heard in the last few months. On this, Indie authors seem to agree on a few things.

  1. We desire readers above all things. To try and attract them we give away a lot of books (print too) and we come out with a 99¢ price in all the retail locations that let us.
  2. We are not allowed to have prices that low in many locations. Some of our retailers are very harsh about pricing. Some of them demand to be the lowest, and they still set the minimum price. (See, not even the retailers really know a fair price for ebooks.)
  3. Some of our favorite retailers are jumping off points - that is, if we put our book there, that retailer will share us out to other affiliate sites. At this point, pricing can become a nightmare. Did you know, some retailers will tack on whatever markup they desire? We must have been daft to think they wouldn't. That is the way retail works. But, if they increase the price, do we get more commission on that sale? We must have been daft to think we would. That is not the way retail works.
  4. Because we have different prices everywhere, and sales really happen in the sites most convenient to the reader, authors cannot really tell if a reduced price is causing sales. It takes a good handful of sales to see trends, and like me, some authors only sell a book or two a week. There is no marketing strategy for that. Believe me, I've looked for one. I sell just as many ebooks at $2.99 as I do at 99¢.
What do I take from those four important points then? Something similar to the guess from most of my friends. Amazon is the biggest fish out there, and they have a $2.99 minimum. To ever have a promotion or sale price lower than that, they decide who and when. We are not allowed that freedom. On Amazon, we have virtually no control over our own price. I'm thrilled it can be as low as $2.99.

That one price, if we all seem to think it is fair, seems to drag a very troublesome question with it. Aren't our books worth more than that? Certainly print books are. But those are a definable commodity. Ebooks are less easy to price, because they don't cost anything to store and deliver. Regardless of what retailers tells us, they have no operating cost on any electronic information they deliver. But as an entertainment item, it has value, and retailers want their piece of that. Authors are Ok with that, and mostly feel that ebooks just shouldn't be priced the same as print books.

Major retailers are selling a lot of ebooks at print prices, though. How the hell are they doing that? That might have a simple answer. 80% of the book buying public may have never hear the word Indie. Unless they have an author friend on Facebook, readers in general may think ebooks are faddish, gadgety - in

At this point, ebooks do have a problem we would like to overcome. Ebooks exist in almost too many forms. There are quite a few types of formats. We really won't get into that subject, because formatting is the first thing that will cause an groan to escape an author's lips.

Ebooks are still trying to find the most user-friendly state of existence. Gadget builders want to produce the very best screen view, and some are even playing with color screens. The reading public is less confused about cell phones actually, than they are with which type of ebook reader to buy. Cell phones have been around a very long time now. Ebooks still feel new.

Does that answer much then, about how to price these things. Yes. Ebooks should be priced at the dollar the author desires. Only the author really knows what they want to accomplish with their book. I believe that retailers should be less formal about this, but that is not going to happen. For myself, all I can do is set my price as low as I can get it, and have that price be uniform in all my retail locations. That is appearing to be $2.99. I will still give away books wherever I wish. One or two of my retail sites will allow me to drop to 99¢ when I desire - I will still have promotions and sales. But, I won't be confused about my price after May 1st. Hopefully, neither will the readers who find me on twenty different websites.


  1. Joel, you've done a great job explaining a complicated topic. I've been at this writing/publishing thing awhile and I still haven't untangled all the webs these retailers weave around us. I no soooner grasp some of the rules and one or two of the retailers change theirs.

    The one that will forever boggle my mind is the free ebooks issue with Amazon. We, as indie authors, cannot choose free as an option. Only major publishers can list books free. Yet, Amazon can reach out and grab any one of our books at any time and list it free if they so choose. Without asking or even informing us, I should add. They can also lower our prices whenever they feel like it. I'm always intrigued to find my print and ebooks 'on sale'.

    Most readers think that we have all the control. I would probably think the same thing, had I not been swallowed by the foggy goo that is indie publishing.

  2. I have a theme song!
    'The goo, the goo; my WONDERFUL goo....'
    Don't have a tune yet, but Susan will provide that. :)

  3. Joel, we can list our books at Amazon for less than $2.99. We get the lower (35% instead of 70%) royalty rate for it, but we CAN do it. Heck, Mannequin is listed for 99c.

  4. Susan! I was purposefully hiding my own greed from this essay. :D I WANT to be a millionaire, just not obvious about it....

  5. I agree with nearly everything here, Joel, but want to point out a tiny fallacy. It's untrue to say that a website like Amazon, Sony, Smashwords, B&N has no cost to bear in hosting, storing and delivering an ebook. It is an aggregate cost across many books so it is true that it is miniscule per book, but it is not nil.

    I actually believe that a retailer should have autonomy to create and manage its prices to a large degree. It's part of the business contract that an author or publisher enters into with a distributor (say, Amazon, for example).

    Amazon has certain rules (like no free books to non-publishers) to retain a certain level of glut from overtaking their servers and blocking out the legitimate sales and authors that readers really want to see. Whether we like it or not, there are still people that want to drown you in their bad books, throw them at you for free and try to coax you into thinking you've downloaded a story from the next Joel Blaine Kirkpatrick.

    Does any of this help me as an independent author? No, not in the short term. And do I necessarily like it? Not always. But in the middle-term, I believe it does offer some measure of quality control.

    However, I say all of the above with a caveat. I believe too many rules are stifling. Amazon, for example, won't necessarily always be the big kid on the block. They may be for a long, long time, but history tells us that every empire recedes.

    Should the Amazons be doing more to work with and not against independent publishers and authors? I believe the smallies are a more robust future for the art form of shared I say yes! Their head honchos should be doing more. They should be sitting down in closed rooms with nothing but water and their spreadsheets to figure out creative solutions to these growing problems.

    j. //

  6. Yes, j. I accept that an operating cost could be calculated from the whole of their business expenses against the inventory they move. Vast numbers which when balanced to a 'cost per item' become small enough to prevent a gnat passing between. Because ‘cost’ is smaller than this gnat, of which I am kindred, it is also no longer a basis for argument that an Ebook must be priced at 4.99 or higher and cannot be priced at 2.99 and lower - which HAS become the apparent model for big six pricing – which retailers love. Ebooks cannot cost the same as print books, and they make little sense priced that way. Indie authors are trying to illustrate such a notion, by taking ever larger chunks of the market with Ebooks. The lesson is being resisted, not embraced. Authors desire a fair price, which they might best determine for themselves. Retailers and publishers just jab on a number with something sticky and hard to remove.


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