E-Books: Value and Price

For the last several years, the debate has raged over e-book pricing. What is the best price? What is the customer willing to pay? What should the government and courts do to monitor the situation? It can all be confusing and put authors into a tailspin.

While the courts, online retailers, and large publishing companies continue to argue and battle it out, what is the independent author supposed to do? No one has all the answers, but some common sense, a little experimenting with prices, and some knowledge of the industry can help you determine an appropriate price for your e-book. Remember, there is no perfect price for every book; what is a good price for one book may not be the right price for another.

Here are some questions to consider when determining the price for your e-book:

What is the value of your book?

You need to determine your book’s value before you set the price. Did you write a short erotic novel to compete with the other one million out there that you spent maybe a month or less writing? Then its value is probably fairly low because it may not be in great demand. Are you writing a specialized thesis on a topic that has never had a book published on it before-then the value may be very high, although your reading audience may be small. Did you spend ten years writing and researching your book, or did you write it in a week? Can your readers easily get the information in your book elsewhere?

I once told an author her one hundred page history book was overpriced. She replied, “What do you think my book is worth when I spent five years writing and working on it?” Obviously, she perceived her book’s value as high, but her readers, seeing a slim volume that won’t take long to read, may not see it as so valuable. Consider also the value of your reader’s time. Will your reader think it worthwhile to pay $9.99 for something that takes an hour to read? Perhaps time is more valuable than money to your reader so he won’t want to pay $9.99 for what he may perceive as ten hours of work reading your book but he would pay $2.99.

If you insist your book’s value warrants a higher price, you could be right, but you will need to convince your reader of that value through your marketing efforts.

What is the most and least you can charge for your e-book?

Never should you price your e-book over $9.99. While a few major publishers can get away with higher prices for best-selling authors, $9.99 is the limit for most of us because Amazon decided that $9.99 was the cut off for paying out higher royalties. Books priced between $2.99 and $9.99 will receive 70 percent royalties from Amazon, while those over will receive a lower royalty of 35 percent, meaning your $15.00 book will earn you only about $5.00 as opposed to $7.00 for your $9.99 priced book. I won’t speak to every e-book retailer’s pricing model here; you’ll want to look at them individually, but $9.99 is definitely the highest you should go.

The advantage to pricing high is more money per book, but it also means you will likely sell less books. That said, lower priced books might be seen as of less value-being from unknown authors, poorly written, or simply short. To me, anything priced under $2.99 I automatically think must be of lesser quality and that even the author doesn’t perceive its value as high.

If you’re an established author, a middle price of $3.00-$6.99 is reasonable for an e-book and probably will not dissuade most readers from buying your book. Only if you have a book the reader will perceive as having high value should you price it in the $7.00-$9.99 range. A book in that price range should have the value of information worth buying, or you should be a well-established author with a large following-meaning thousands of readers.

How many books do you want to sell?

If you price your book at $0.99, you’ll need to sell ten e-books to equal if you had priced it at $9.99. Possibly, the lower price will make your book attractive enough that you can sell ten times as many books, as if you had left the price at $9.99. If you can sell ten books at $0.99, wouldn’t you be better off because now you have ten readers more likely to read your future books so you can price those higher?

What does the competition charge?

Look up other books in your genre. If you’re a new romance author, what are other new romance authors charging? If you’re writing your third business book and your first one became recognized in the industry, you can probably afford to price your business e-book higher. Price at or slightly lower than the competition for books in the same genre or similar to yours. If a reader sees two books about Lady Jane Grey, and yours is a dollar lower, unless the other book appears to have more information, yours is the one likely to be bought.

Where are your readers buying their books?

While I doubt many of the e-book sellers out there are spending time comparing what you’re selling your e-book for at various online stores, you probably want to be fair in charging the same price across the board. That said, just because your book is at Amazon doesn’t mean that’s where your readers are going to buy it, so make sure you sell it at many sites-Barnes & Noble, Kobo (the Canadian e-book seller), and Google Play (where people with Android phones and tablets are buying). Are you selling to the twenty-year old who is likely to buy at Google Play or are you selling to senior citizens who might prefer to buy at Amazon, which is more familiar to them? Make sure your book is at all places and then price accordingly. Your twenty-year old is a college student with little money so $0.99 is a better price for him, but then most e-book sellers will want you to sell for the same price at all their stores.

Do you have more than one book, especially a series?

If you have more than one book, consider pricing one lower. If you’ve written a series, you might want to give away or price low the first book in the series to sell it. Then if you hook readers with it, they will want to read the rest of the series. If you’ve written multiple books but not a series, I recommend pricing the book you and other readers consider your very best book as the lowest because after all, you want your very best to be what people first experience so you give the best impression and win them over as future readers.

Could you serialize your book, or sell it in individual chapters?

Serialized books-especially novels-have been around for centuries, and recently, more and more authors have started to sell their books as chapters or short installments. If you’ve written a short book-up to fifty pages or so-and it works as a stand-alone piece, price it low, such as at $1.99, and then continue the series at the same price or slightly higher. The reader will be more likely to buy four books at that lower price, if he likes the first one, than buy one book for $7.96 when he isn’t sure he’ll like it, and you’ll still make $7.96 if he ends up buying all four.

How good are you at marketing your book?

Marketing is the bottom line. Whether you price high or low, just because you’ve written a book and made it an e-book doesn’t mean anyone is going to read it. Yes, someone might stumble upon it at an online bookstore and buy it, but if you make a true effort to market it, you’re going to sell more books. If you are good at marketing, you will be able to promote your book as having value and being entertaining, and then perhaps you can price it higher because of that perceived value and higher interest. If you’re not going to spend much time marketing, then price low so the lower prices can help to compensate for your lack of marketing efforts.

Don’t Be Left Behind

No hard rules exist for e-book pricing. Every author needs to determine what works best for his or her individual situation. Try pricing high, and if your books don’t sell, try pricing lower. Be aware of trends or reasons why your e-book might be more popular one month than another-if you’re writing about the American Revolution, you might sell more e-books in June and July around Independence Day than you will in February-so maybe you lower or raise the price accordingly at such times. Develop a strategy, stick with it for a few months, then reassess and readjust your prices accordingly. Whatever you do, remember that e-book sales are now starting to outpace printed book sales, so don’t be left behind by ignoring the e-book pricing question.

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