RANT: ebook pricing

This was a blog post I made in July of 2014.  It's an argument I myself like to come back to from time to time.

Ebook Pricing: Comparative Shopping 

The price of ebooks is a very active topic in the writing community and I sometimes have to convince myself that, "Yes, it's okay to charge a few dollars for your years of work."  One trick that makes a solid argument for me is making comparisons, like these...

The easiest thing to compare my ebook pricing with--or those of any independent author or small-press publishing house--is the ebook prices of the big boys.  The Big Five publishers, the guys who decide for us ignorant masses what is and isn't worthy of being read.  So if I open a window on my desktop here and browse through Amazon for some high-quality, mega-corp published genre fiction, what are the high-end prices that I might discover...?

-- Stephen King's latest Mr. Mercedes comes in at $11.99 for Kindle.

-- King's ebook Revival goes for $12.74. (Of course, several of his books are up right now for anywhere from three to eight dollars as well, but the newest ones are getting twelves bucks a piece.)

-- Asimov's The End of Eternity is going for $9.99 (and this book first came out decades ago).  Several more of his books are being reprinted and sold at $8.89.

-- James S. A. Corey's Expanse books: $9.99 for each of the first three, $12.99 for the latest.

-- Kim Harrison's latest The Witch with No Name and The Undead Pool: each $13.99.

-- The World of Ice & Fire: The Untold History of Westeros and the Game of Thrones by George R. R. Martin and company. Not out yet, 336 pages of history on his now legendary fantasy world. Guess how much for the ebook? $24.99!!! Wowzers!  Only five dollars less than the hardcover edition!

This is kind of fun.  And reassuring.

"Well, you're not Stephen King," you might say.  Remember, I'm not comparing my work to anyone else's, just the prices assigned to ebooks that you may not have read yet, don't know if you'll like it yet, may or may not be worth the money to you.  It's purely up to the reader to decide what is good and what isn't, and what was worth the time and money for that particular reading experience.  After all, how do you know if that book is worth fourteen bucks until after you've already paid for it?

Okay, I'm not quite done yet.

Some people say that an ebook isn't worth spending more than three or four dollars on.  So let's expand our comparison beyond books.  What about other things we buy in our day-to-day lives?  How much do they cost, how much enjoyment do we get from them, and how long to they stick with us?

-- A gallon of gas.  Right now, in Texas, about $3.50.  Do I enjoy it?  Enjoy gasoline?  No.  Does it have staying power?  Does my experience with that gallon of gasoline stick with me in my memories or bring new ideas or horizons into my life?  Well, I guess if I'm traveling to new exotic places with it, then it might, but for the most part I don't even notice that it's been spent and is now gone.  Unless it was the last one in the tank; at that point, I'm definitely not enjoying the experience.

-- A cup of Starbucks premium coffee.  Shall we say about $4.00, give or take?  Did you enjoy it?  Sure.  By now, for many people, it's a requirement to get their day started.  Takes you maybe twenty minutes to drink it if you take the time to savor it.  Caffeine buzz sticks with you for a while, depending on your tolerance.  But sooner or later, you pee it all back out and it's gone.  (In fact, the caffeine tells your kidneys to open the flood gates.)

-- Cheap fast food meal.  Big mac, fries, and a coke: $5.69.  I might enjoy the first few bites, then start to feel guilty, then disgusted.  I don't finish it but still feel sick for the next hour.  About a year later, I forget how crappy I felt and think, I haven't had one of those for a while...  Repeat nauseating experience annually.

-- Inexpensive, decent meal out.  Ten to twelve bucks a person.  Tastes good, gets me and the family out of the house, relatively healthy, worth the price.  Does it stick with me?  Well, I remember I like to eat there, but the meal itself gets introduced to the Tidy Bowl Man sooner or later.  Flush and it's gone, along with the money.  Took me an hour to eat it, if I really enjoyed it, and fifteen to twenty minutes to excrete it, if I took my time and enjoyed that too.

-- Moderately expensive meal out.  Let's say at Olive Garden, where I was recently shocked to see what it really did cost for my wife and I to have a night out.  Just you by yourself, an entree, drink, and appetizer: about $25.00, probably more.  Was it good?  Sure, very tasty, but nothing to write home about.  Gets flushed eventually, but maybe I carry an extra inch around my waist for a while.  Not really the kind of lingering effect I'm looking for though.

How about a good book?  Costs you, say, five to eight bucks in electronic form.  Takes you a week or two to read, maybe more.  Sticks with you forever.  And even if it doesn't, you can always go back and read it again.  For free this time.  As many times as you want.  What's that you say?  It wasn't as good as you expected?  Neither was that fancy meal you ate, and that cost more and gave you the runs for two days.

Suddenly the pricing on indie ebooks seems like a pretty fair deal to me.

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RANT UPDATE - JULY 2015:  Today I paid a "convenience fee" of $4.00 just to use an ATM machine that wasn't from my bank!  And some folks think that's a fair price for a novel?  You'll pay the fat cats of the banking industry four bucks for a two minute transaction, but think that might be too much to pay a hard working writer for hours of entertainment?  Sorry, my novels are worth more than an ATM fee.

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I'd also like to reference the wisdom of prolific writer and guru Dean Wesley Smith on this subject.  Here's a few blog pages you might check out:





  1. In general we authors under-price our work. Amazon may be to blame in that they allow prices from 99 cents upwards. They encourage authors to price between $2.99 and $9.99 by offering a 70% royalty for books within this range. Outside it you get 35%. This strange limitation means that books priced between $9.99 and $19.98 actually earn the author less than books priced $9.99 (It's not actually quite that simple due to the delivery charge imposed on 70% royalty books).
    Amazon obviously seem to think an e-book is worth less than $9.99. To them they are, because they want authors to price their work at a price which earns them the greatest profit. They don't often let slip the details but during the Amazon Hatchett spat they let slip that if you sell 1,000 books at $14.99 you would sell 1,740 at $9.99. As far as royalties are concerned the $14.99 books earn the author $5,246.50 and the $9.99 books earn $12,046.02 If this 2/3 price producing 1.74 sales rule were to hold true then a $2.99 book would produce a royalty of $18,000 and a $0.99 book would produce $17,000.

    As far as I'm concerned $0.99 is a reasonable price for a short story (less than 40,000 words) sold via Kindle Select/Kindle Unlimited.
    $2.99 is a good price for novellas.
    $3.99 a good price for a novel of 80,000 words and $5.99 for an epic work.

  2. Thanks for the feedback, John, and for crunching some numbers for us! I had never seen those stats before. Very enlightening.

    I also agree that we generally under-price, and I have gone back and forth a million times with myself, mistakingly trying to find the magic number that will make my books fly off the virtual shelf. There just is no such thing. So I have decided to price with confidence at a level I feel is fair. Everyone has their own idea of what that is, but I figure I book that takes multiple cups of coffee to read should cost more than one cup of that coffee does. And I think if I have works of various sizes at various prices, those who prefer to shop frugally may read my cheaper stuff and decide that the longer stuff is worth the measly buck or two more to read. I mean, when you stand back and think about it, should a dollar or two in price difference really matter? A lousy candy bar these days costs a buck, so I figure a dedicated reader is going to fork out the extra one or two dollars for the book they know they'll enjoy.

    Thanks again, John!