Thursday, July 24, 2014

EBook Prices: 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.  Now I don't feel so bad for maxing out my pricing chart at $6.99 for my longest work. 

"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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*Images stolen from around the internet.  Sorry, Google made me do it.


  1. This is fantastic. Thank you. I totally agree with every single word too and yes, I'm an author also. :-)

    1. Thank you! I sometimes have to revisit this to reassure myself that we don't need to sell a year's work for 99 cents. (So frustrating...)

  2. Wonderful piece! As an indie writer from Saint Lucia (Caribbean) who spent ten years putting my first book together, this is most welcome. Having struggled with issues such as pricing, marketing, etc. for a long time before I went the ebook route on Amazon, it is refreshing to know that there are other writers out there who believe that we don't have to give away our books for free or undervalue them.

    Andrew Antoine

    1. Thanks, Andrew! It is frustrating to see so many cheap novels that seem to be selling better, but... I think it's often true that you get what you pay for. :)