Ah, yes. That time of year again.
It goes without saying that ebook pricing is one of the most contested, debated, and downright despised topics by the majority of writer-publishers today. Do I price low to attract readers to my series? Price high to maximise income? Price somewhere in between? The questions never end, and in truth, I find myself asking them each day.
The real truth is this: there is no right or wrong ebook pricing method. Methods are all dependent on your own personal goals. Want to draw readers into your series at the expense of income? Sure–go 99c if you want to! Want to focus on selling a few copies of a huge backlist every month and make some steady cash? Go $9.99! Like I said, there really is no right or wrong answer.
Naturally, this would be a pretty boring and unhelpful post if I ended there, though.
Pricing is pretty easy for me nowadays. In fact, it’s been pretty easy since I established exactly what kind of a writer-publisher I want to be. I want to publish quality in quantity. By that, I mean I’m confident in putting out multiple titles a year, steadily building a backlist, and promoting selected titles from that backlist to keep things going.
You might have different goals to me. You might not like my approach. But if you have in mind a similar writing career as mine–putting out high-quality work on a regular basis–then this method should work for you too.
Here’s how I do it. I’ll explain my reasoning later, so don’t shout just yet.
- 0.99c — less than 3,000 words
- $1.49 — 3,000 to 7,500 words
- $2.99 — 7,500 to 20,000 words
- $3.99 — 20,000 to 30,000 words
- $4.99 — 30,000 to 60,000 words
- $5.99 — 60,000+ words
PLEASE BEAR WITH ME. Some important distinctions coming up. I know those prices are a tad high but… bear with me.
- 0.99c — less than 5,000 words
- $1.49 — 5,000 to 12,000 words
- $2.99 — 12,000 to 30,000 words
- $3.99 — 30,000 to 60,000 words
- $4.99 — 60,000+ words
Again, bear with me here. All questions answered very soon.
- $6.99 — Serial Box Sets
- $9.99 — Series Novel trilogy box sets
Okay, so now we’ve got all the preliminaries out of the way, it’s time to make some important distinctions.
First of all, let’s start really basic. A standalone book is exactly what it says on the tin. It’s a book that starts, and then it ends. And that’s it. No more books in that universe whatsoever, none planned in that universe in the future. Gone Girl is a standalone. Fight Club is a standalone. You get the picture.
A series book is a book that either directly leads on to a sequel/sequels, or has other books in the universe. So Harry Potter is a set of series books with continuing plot lines/arcs. But J.A. Konrath’s Jack Daniels series are also series books, as are Lee Child’s Jack Reacher, even though the books stand alone.
A standalone book is one book with no other books in the universe, all plot threads tied up. What We Saw and Killing Freedom are two of my standalone books.
A series book is a book that either has sequels/prequels, or stories set in the same universe/featuring the same character. The McDone series are series books of mine.
You’ll probably have noticed (and probably barfed) at my standalone prices above. I can hear it already — $5.99 for a 60,000+ word novel?!?! Are you insane, Ryan?
Well, I don’t believe I am, no. And this is why.
A STANDALONE BOOK IS A SELF-CONTAINED STORY. THERE IS NOWHERE TO GO BUT ANOTHER STANDALONE BOOK, OR A SERIES, AFTER READING.
In arts terms, a standalone book has just as much value as a series book. Every book is created equal, after all.
That said, standalone books don’t have as much sales value to a reader or a writer. Think of it this way: a standalone book is like a ticket for a movie at a cinema. It might be a damned good movie, and a premium one at that, but once you’ve finished the movie, it’s over (forget the idea of series/standalone in movies for this analogy). You either go watch another movie, go home and buy a DVD, or you start a TV show on Netflix.
Series books are like TV shows on Netflix. Once you finish one, you can go on to the next, and then on to the next. And there’s nothing stopping you going to the cinema and watching that standalone movie if you want to — that’s still an option, of course.
The point is, standalone novels have nowhere to go once the reader has finished other than other books by the author.
Series books have a direct place to go: the next book in the series.
So now, does my pricing make a little more sense? Although, again, there’s no more value in a series than a standalone, there is more monetary value. There’s a very, very likely chance that when a reader finishes a standalone book, they move on to another standalone book by a completely different author. Compare that to a series book, where the reader will more likely finish the series, thus investing more… you get the idea.
So I believe standalone novels should be released at a slightly higher price than their series counterparts. Note the emphasis on the released — I do believe in lowering the price of a standalone after a year or so to the lower price tier, or if sales just flat aren’t there. So be flexible.
Okay, I think that’s standalones covered. The truth is, I don’t write many standalones, so the higher priced stuff are the outliers. I write loads of series novels, loads of shared universe stuff. Too many, in fact. I don’t do that because I prefer the financial side of series — I do it because I just enjoy writing them more. And although I’ve turned a couple of series of my own into standalones due to other commitments, I’m always very series inclined when I write.
So now I want to talk about that series pricing. $4.99 for a 60,000 word novel. Reasonable, right?
But what about loss leaders? Prices to draw the reader in, all that?
I think personally, you should experiment here. I like to release my first books in a series at the flat $4.99 rate, lowering them a tier when I grow that series, and then running occasional promotions/discounts on that first book. So Dying Eyes, for example, launched at $4.99. It’s now $3.99 and I do occasional 99c promos on it when new releases come out, but the later books are always $4.99. Maybe I’ll change this in the future, maybe I won’t — we’ll see.
I know a lot of writers shy away from prices like $4.99, believing $2.99 and $3.99 to be better. If you want the honest truth, I’ve seen no loss in income between all these prices, and I’ve tried them all. I haven’t even seen a dip in sales, so essentially I make more money at $4.99 than I do at $2.99. If your book has a good cover, description, and opens well, I don’t think readers mind whether it’s $2.99 or $4.99. And if they really do, they can always keep eagle-eyed for a discount along the line.
A word on box sets and collections. The $6.99 serial collections I reference are my Dead Days books. I launch six 20,000 words episodes in a season, and price that season at $6.99 (with the individuals at $2.99 each, so a huge saving). I’ve currently got Season One of Dead Days at $5.99, and I might put Season Two there when I release Season Three. Serials are a different game to novels completely, but there are two ways of going about it that I’ve seen done successfully: price the individuals at 99c and do a box set at $5.99, or price the individuals higher and push readers towards the box set. I prefer the latter. It’s really your call. Experiment.
As for novel trilogy box sets, I like to put them together at $9.99, saving readers $3-4 on the price of all three. So $9.99 might look high, but you’re effectively getting a book free if you go that route, or books 2-3 the same price if you’ve already bought book one.
Oh, and a word on free/perma-free. I like perma-free for serials. Love it, in fact. It kick stared my Dead Days series and helps me make a living from this writing thing. For full lengths, though, I prefer limited, short-term discounts/promos. Just a personal preference. You do whatever you’re comfortable with.
Right! I hope this post clears things up a little for you. Key principles of ebook pricing are as follows:
1.) Price standalones slightly higher than series books, as the reader has no natural continuation.
2.) Price series books reasonably, reduce the first book when you put a new book out in the series.
3.) Don’t be afraid to run discounts/promos when you have a few books in a series.
And that’s about it. Questions in the comments. Hopefully I won’t have to revisit this topic for another year or so… 🙂