ebook pricing dilemma

NOTE: Some interesting debates developing in the comments section. Please let your opinion be heard!

In my five months of blogging and scouring other writing blogs, I’ve seen a lot of talk surrounding the topic of eBook pricing. It seems to be that one topic us authors simply can’t avoid doing a blog post about, simply because it’s still so up in the air that literally everyone has a different opinion of things.

Where do I stand on eBook pricing? Well, I don’t think it’s quite as easy as just answering the question like that. In an ideal world, we’d price our eBooks at the publisher’s standard of around $9.99, sell copies, and live happily ever after.

But it’s not an ideal world. Far from it, in fact.

I want to start at the lower end of the pricing spectrum. J.A. Konrath once split opinion when he suggested that $2.99 was the pricing sweet spot for novels. It brings in around $2 royalties via Amazon, and offers value — basically, the author and the reader both leave happy.

On one hand, I agree with Konrath. $2.99 is an attractive price point. It’s not so cheap as to suggest inferior quality, but cheap enough to warrant a few impulse purchases.

The problem with the $2.99 is that it makes things like novella and short novel pricing somewhat difficult. Say one person has written a 100k epic, and another a 30,000-word novella, both having invested in professional cover design and editing, how do they decide on pricing? If the 100k novel is priced at $2.99, then does that make the novella worth less than that? If the novella is a $2.99 book, then what is the 100k? I guess these price issues crop up in any system, but it becomes more difficult to manoeuvre with such a low pricing standard.

Personally, I don’t mind the $2.99 price point. I think it’s a great entry point for new authors. I don’t think it devalues the novel, because I don’t buy into devaluation as a concept, not really. That said, Konrath himself argues for higher prices now, and I am inclined to agree.

The Devaluation Myth

Some people argue that the 99c/$2.99 price points devalue the novel. I’m not totally sure I agree. If anything, I see ebook pricing at the lower end of the spectrum for the first few books as a marketing ploy to gain more writers. Sure — if you’re only planning to launch a few books, then perhaps 99c is a little low to be making any money. However, if you’re planning on making a career out of writing, then surely there are worse places to start.

Dean Wesley Smith argues that all authors, new and old, should be pricing their novels at the $7.99 point. He suggests that the price difference in eBook and physical book will still be enough to suggest a bargain, not to mention the fact that many publishers are still charging around $9 for their eBook releases.

I like Dean and I like his ideas, but I find pricing a novel at $7.99 hard to justify. I wouldn’t buy an eBook at $7.99 simply because I think it’s too much to pay for a digital file. $4.99, I’ll consider purchasing if it’s really good. $3.99, I’ll buy it. $2.99 – well, I’ve already bought it.

I think Dean’s stance on eBook pricing works better for long-established authors, but not so much for new authors. Maybe this will change in time, were Amazon to cut the 70% royalties for example, but for now, I’d find it difficult charging so much because I know I wouldn’t spend that amount on a throwaway file myself. Because that’s what eBooks ultimately are — throwaway files.

Tahlia Newland recently suggested a nice balance between Dean Wesley Smith and J.A. Konrath’s ebook pricing points. She argues for novels above 85,000 words to be priced at 4.99-5.99, 60-85 at 3.99.

I like this strategy, and it isn’t far off my own at all. I still think the 5.99 price point is a little steep for newer authors, but the 4.99 point allows for much manoeuvring below (2.99 for short novels, 1.99 for novellas, etc).

My eBook Pricing Strategy

So, I like the 4.99 point and I like the 2.99 point for novels. This brings me to one conclusion on eBook pricing: 3.99.

Without further ado, here is my planned pricing structure for future releases (in USD — I’ll move on to my UK home shortly). Consider them starting prices to be tweaked and toyed with.

Short stories: $0.99

Novellas: $2.99

Standalone novels: $3.99

Sequels: $4.99

I like the 99c point for short stories. I’ve sold my shorts at this price point for a long time, and I think a standard is emerging. Short stories don’t sell loads of copies, but the 99c price point is designed for them. I think 99c is too low to price a novel, end of story, bar the occasional promotion.

I also like the $2.99 price point, and think it could be particularly relevant for shorter works of fiction. For releases under, say, 40,000ish, I think the $2.99 is reflective of hard work and a confident eBook pricing that indicates quality. It offers much room for 1.99 and 99c promotions too. I’d like to see a 2.99 standard for novellas emerge, but we will see.

3.99 for novels has been my gut feeling since day one. 2.99 seems too low for an 80,000 word novel, and 4.99 still feels high for a first timer. Maybe I’ll experiment with these price points in the future, but What We Saw will launch at $3.99. Probably. It just feels right. It’s cheap enough for an impulse buy but costly enough that the ‘perceived value’ doesn’t diminish. I look forward to seeing how it goes.

A word on 4.99 for sequels. It makes sense — get the reader to check out your first book for $3.99, then charge an extra $1 for the sequel. I might tie this in with a subsequent deduction in the price of the first book to $2.99 for promotional reasons. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Other Attractive Pricing Methods

I mentioned Tahlia Newland’s price strategy before, and I am also very fond of this.

Novels –
Over 85,000 words $4.99 – $5.99 ($3.99 for the first in a series)
60,000 to 85,000 words, $3.99

Short Novels  –
30,000 to 60,000 words $2.99

Novellas and short story collections –
15,000 to 30,000 words $1.99

Short stories and novelettes –
under 15,000 words, 99c.

Me and Tahlia basically agree — standard length novels at $3.99, shorter works at $0.99-$2.99. I’d love to see a standard like this implemented.

A word on the UK — I’ve no idea. The UK is at a similar stage to the US, according to David Gaughran — it’s 18 months or so behind, and tends to be somewhat price sensitive. For that reason, I imagine I will launch my novels at £2.99 in the UK for the time-being, although I expect that to change.

Flexibility: The Key to eBook Pricing

I guess the key in all of this is to be flexible. Experiment before deciding on an eBook pricing sweet spot. Okay, okay — I don’t have any novels out yet, but everyone has to start somewhere.

Maybe I’ll change my mind on pricing. Maybe I’ll try higher than 3.99, or maybe I’ll try lower. Whatever happens, I’ll be sure to let you know of the results.

/obligatory pricing post


I hope you enjoyed my excitable blog post the other day. Thanks so much for all the kind words and support on Facebook, Twitter, on the blog, etc. I really do appreciate it! Roll on December 6th. I’ll have more on PoD and CreateSpace next week.

Where do you stand on eBook pricing? Do you price high, low, or somewhere in between? 99c — a blessing or a curse for authors?

Image courtesy of 401(K) 2012 via Flickr