All About the Benjamins: How much to charge for your ebook?

The Porkinator     I have been noticing a pattern as I am perusing Amazon, and it has made me think about something I would like your opinion on. While I have chosen a lower-price-sells-more-books strategy for my own books and have been happy with the results, (I impulse buy all the time–books, Tic-Tacs–as seen on TV products at the registers) I have seen a rash of eBooks by relatively unknown self-published authors (Don’t hate you know I love you) that are weighing in with a pretty hefty price tag of 9.99 or more, even on their first book.

I have a mixture of thoughts on this. I understand that people work hard to produce their writing, covers, to market and what a stressful process it is to send your new baby out into the world and face the opinions of others. What I don’t get is how anyone can expect to sell enough books to get noticed in the first place if they make their book more expensive than the traditionally published books that actually have the big boy’s marketing efforts and advertising behind them.

I did a little experiment over the last couple of weeks. I singled out a couple of these authors and a couple others who published their books at the same time but charged a much lower price. What I have seen is pretty fascinating. Those with the lower priced books have gained in their Amazon ranking, have gotten more reviews. We can conclude from this that they have had some success selling more books. (I didn’t include anyone in this research project that has put their book up free for a promo during this time.) Those who are charging higher prices have since gone backward in ranking, and still have the same number of reviews that they did when I began scoping out their stats (how voyeuristic of me.)

I feel like the odds of getting someone to read my work when my book is at a lower price are much better than the odds of them picking it up for a higher price. I might buy a book for that much from an author who I am familiar with and has proven they can deliver, but rarely would I pay that much for a book from an unknown, except on rare occasions where I might have heard about them from someone I trust or followed a blog tour of their book.

I have no problem with an author believing in their own work. You have to if you are going to make it in this business and I get that. For me, I would rather sell A thousand copies at 1.99 than I would sell one at 10.99. I want to get my work out there to as many people as I possibly can and have them spread the word. If a lower price means I can do that, then that is fine with me. I don’t feel that it degrades my work at all to offer up something that is priced to move. What do you all think? How much is too much for a new author to charge for their book?

45 thoughts on “All About the Benjamins: How much to charge for your ebook?”

  1. What most self-published authors need to realize is that, no matter how good their work is, $10 is still $10 for a consumer who needs to decide whether they want to take a risk and read something that a traditional publishing house has not vetted and endorsed. Also, $10 is a high cost even for a traditionally published ebook…most of the ones I’ve bought have been under that.

    On the other hand, I think the days of the .99 cent books are passing us too, as the lucrative royalty options are only open to writers who publish at 2.99 or higher. I decided on 3.99 for mine, as I feel like the message it sends is that a) I am proud of my work but b) I still want it accessible to anyone who might have an interest in reading it.

    Incidentally, I save the higher prices for my paperbacks.

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  2. I’m in the $3.99 category too, but I am thinking of lowering it to see if that influences sales at all.
    I do resent paying $12.99 for an ebook from one of my favorite authors, but I usually do it because I really like her. I can’t imagine spending anywhere near that for a debut author. Talking ebooks, of course.

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  3. Here’s the real question that everyone has to answer in their own mind.

    Do I read a book because it is inexpensive, or do I read a book because it fits with the genre and keen interest that I have in a subject area. If the former is the reason I read a book, then there are presently so many free books out there that I wouldn’t have to pay even one thin dime to keep myself busy reading for the rest of my life. On the other hand, if the latter is my reason for reading, then I’ll spend what is needed to get me that particular book. So I’m not sure that selling yourself inexpensively on the web is what you want to do.

    I’ve spent several hundred dollars on acquisitions of seashell books, Civil War books and Frontier Fort books in order to feed my appetite for those areas while I am writing my books on those subjects (“E-shell: Seashells of the Caribbean” and “Rough Enough.” During the same time frame I have spent an equal amount of money on Wilbur Smith novels and similar adventure/action books which hit a whole other area of my psyche similar to my 1995 book, “Kalahari.” For all of these books I am willing to pay full price and laugh all the way to the rocking chair or airplane seat to just immerse myself in what my brain likes best.

    So low prices may not be what generates the hype for selling zillions of books.

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  4. That price should be for paperback in my opinion. Of course I’m newer to the game, but as a reader, I’m not going to buy an expensive e-book from someone I don’t know unless someone gives it rave reviews that I would know, or trust. I’m in the 4.99 category for the fact that it is a bit of a bigger novel. Even then I fiddle with the price. Unless a person is a big name under the big 6, no way would that price fly. Even from them, I’m not certain they realize that they are overpricing themselves out of their own business.

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    1. Sure- just actually bought a paperback – “Who Stole My Church?” Never heard of the good Rev. before, but we then bought 10 copies and are circulating them through the whole church so yes, It can happen.

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      1. Yes for a paperback. That is a fair plausible price. I think the original blogger was talking about an electronic book though, for an e-reader. I could be mistaken though.

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      2. I definitely buy paperback copies of books from new authors, especially if they fit into a niche category I am interested in. that reminds me, did you see the reblog I did yesterday about the Civil War Reunion? Thought of you when I saw it.

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  5. Thank you for this post! With my manuscript almost finished, it’s really time for me to start thinking about these things. Your opinion is simlar to mine, in that with my first book, I just want to get it out there. If $1.99 does that for me, then so be it, especially if it paves the way for me to be able to charge a little more for the next work.

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  6. I was in fact referring only to the ebook price. i understand that it costs considerably more to produce a paperback copy regardless of the venue you choose. I am simply stating that charging so much for an ebook when you are a new author may stop a lot of people who would have ordinarily given your book a try from actually doing it.

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  7. I completely agree with Mr. McBee. If you are fond of reading a certain author or genre you won’t look at the price. On the other hand I think here is a matter of self-published books and the price established by the author.
    In my case, the price was established by the publishing house and from what I can see on their site, Wild child Publishing, the price depends on the length of the story/pages/number of words. I had no say in it.

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    1. I do agree with that. My issue is with trying to get people to buy your book if you are an indie author (And I refer only to the ebook version) that is charging more than the traditional publishers are. I think there are some indie and small press book out there that are better than the big six front list, but most people won’t find out if the book isn’t inexpensive enough for them to give it a blind trial.

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  8. As a debuting self-publisher I discussed this with several other authors and decided that the way to go was to price low for the first book and establish a presence in the ePublishing world. Not $0.99 low, but $2.99 – that seemed to be a reasonable balance between ‘please try me’ and ‘respect my efforts’. The plan is to leave this first book low, but list the second book at $3.99 – effectively using the first book a little like bait.

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    1. I have seen that strategy in play and it works! I am more than willing to try a book for under three dollars. Even if I don’t particularly enjoy it, at least I didn’t take a huge risk on it either. But ten dollars for an ebook would probably make me smile and move on to another book if I hadn’t ever heard of the author 🙂

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      1. The ten-dollar book is the sort I would only buy if it was non-fiction and I needed it for research, or Robin Hobb’s latest Dragon novel (£12.99 for a hardback).

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  9. I think you are absolutely right. The price charged for a book should really be a marketing decision, geared to sell the most books. It’s not easy, however, because our books are our babies—BUT I think we need to uncouple our self-esteem from the marketing process. Like many writers, I’ve read widely in the area of Kindle publishing, and I find it fascinating and encouraging how much information is shared by some of the most successful writers out there.

    For example, J. A. Konrath is a very good writer (whether you like those hard-edged stories or not), and he shares amazing insights and personal information with us all. He, and lots of others, are making a LOT of money with low-priced books. He believes, and I do, too, that selling a LOT of books at a lower price is better than selling fewer at a higher price. He leaves his ego out of it, and makes these decisions based on what his Excel spreadsheet tells him about sales.

    In my case, I know that I’m not at all likely to pay a lot (over 7 or 8 dollars) for an ebook since, honestly, it’s just electrons. Plus, I guess, I like a bargain.

    And, finally, as you say, we can’t dismiss the value of the impulse buy. People will take a chance on an unknown author (like me) for $0.99 or maybe $2.99—but they AREN’T going to risk 8 or 10 bucks on a newbie.

    Great topic. I’m interested to see the discussion you’ve started.

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  10. I read a comment on a fellow bloggers site recently that was weighing in on something similar, and this person basically said “I worked hard for my book, and if a reader doesn’t care enough to pay $5.99 for the eBook then they aren’t the reader I want. Sorry, but I value my work more than that.” Now, usually when I’m trolling the blogosphere, if I see a comment left on a blog that suggests and author, I usually click on them, check out their site, and sometimes even buy their book, just from this one interaction. I certainly doubt that I’m the only one who does this. Instead of be interested in this author, who values their work so dearly but seems to neglect to value their readership, I scrolled immediately away from her post. Didn’t visit their site, and I didn’t even consider buying their book. I would have reacted this way even if the book was priced .99. Indie authors – especially newbie indie authors – need to value their work while respecting the fact that any consumer clicking “buy now” is giving us a lot more than their money, at least in the beginning. They are potentially giving us a lifelong fan. I agree with earlier comments that the days of .99 success stories are passing, if not already passed us by. Taking that into consideration, and taking the advice of one of my favorite indie author bloggers’ books (Catherine Ryan Howard), I decided to price my eBook at $2.99. This way I still get 70% through KDP, and the reader expects more from me than what they might expect the quality of a mass produced .99 eBook to be.

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    1. Excellent point. I would have veered away from that author’s book as well. Not the smartest thing to say if you are trying to gain readership. And I agree with the 70% option as well.

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    2. Isn’t it amazing that “the days of the .99 success stories are passing” (which I totally agree with), were the days of late 2011 and into 2012? This ebook industry changes faster than a quick-change cross-dresser.

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  11. I recently read an ebook from amazon(cant remember the author to save my life right now!) that recommended if you’re writing a series list the first book low and the consecutive ones higher. If they really enjoyed your first one they will buy the second one even at the higher price (as long as it’s not a ridiculous mark up). Make total sense to me. If I have never heard of the author I’ll give them a shot for 2.99 though and if I love their work and am really interested in the series I’ll gladly pay more for consecutive copies (or their other publications I may be interested in).

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  12. I think getting coverage is more important in the early stages than making every dime back. Small business and independent publishing is a largely word-of-mouth industry. You make more in the long run if more people read and recommend your book.

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    1. I completely agree. I would like to have a book in people’s hands more than I would like to cash a check, at least in the beginning anyway:) Thanks for your perspective.

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  13. I now have a publisher who will be making this decision (went the traditional route not self publish). Sort of like sitting behind the wheel but the remote control is driving, Good comments. Great post. Thanks – John

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      1. You are welcome. I am excited to share your thoughts as I think it expands on what we found in the Real Indies, Real Answers post.

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  14. I’m a fan of starting with a .99 cent ebook to get a fanbase, but I think the limit for an independent author is 2.99 to 4.99. The truth is that without name recognition, you need either a tempting price or a killer book description. I’d love to be able to sell my book for 9.99, but I know that I’m too new to get away with it. I’ve been told by a few friends (none of which have written a book) that I’m insulting the quality of my book with .99 cents. Nobody would know the quality of my book without buying it, so I see the low price not as an insult, but a way to get my foot in the door.

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    1. I totally disagree that selling it for .99 is an insult. I think it is a brilliant marketing strategy. If you can get people doing low risk buys to try new authors and that is the hook, then if they like the work not only will they spread the word, but won’t be overly intimidated to try the next book for a slightly higher price. Also, if they don’t like the book, then they haven’t the ability to come back and say they paid “wayyyyy tooo muuuuch” for the book in the first place.

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      1. I’m still waiting to get one of those reviews because that feels like a badge of honor. My friends have been quieter about the pricing since I’m getting closer and closer to 1,000. Obviously, I did something right and the price is probably a major factor.

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    2. This is a great observation. While I have no doubt that some number of people think that low price equals low quality, there will also be people who will see low price as an incentive to take a risk on an unknown author. For me, the question then becomes targeting those different customers with different marketing approaches. This is harder to do online, but when I’m hand selling my book in the real world, it’s easy to adjust on the fly. It’s really obvious when you are talking to a potential customer and you tell them the price and they look like you’re threatening to mug them at gun point, that now is the time to lower your price point to close the sale. 🙂

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      1. I think as far as books go, you have to put a lot of faith into word-of-mouth. You go out and find people to review your book or interview you to get some exposure, but you also have to hope and trust that the people who buy your book spread the word. A person who thinks a .99 cent book is low quality could change his or her mind if people begin talking positively about it. It makes that little light bulb in their head go off that maybe there is something worth investigating.

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  15. I think if an eBook is priced over about $5 it’s overpriced right now. However, with that said, I think an eBook priced at $.99 is under priced. It’s important for new authors to get their name out there and get people talking about their work. This can easily be done by putting an eBook out for free for short periods of time and then moving the price to somewhere under $5 depending on the novel length. My advice is start the price low and as you gain readership and publish more books in a series raise the price up a little. Too high of an eBook price looses readers before they even begin and they won’t come back.

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  16. Thanks, Ionia, for posting this article. And thank you for tracking the numbers of the various priced ebooks to see whose sales did what. At the end of the day, hard numbers are the only way to decide which strategy works best (whether it be book price, book cover design, author website, etc.). A friend of mine who is a marketing professional always harps on the importance of getting hard numbers when you develop a marketing strategy, or change an existing one.

    One comment that I read recently online from a guy who has been working in publishing for years went something like this: “The number of readers buying books has remained fairly consistent for decades. The question then becomes how to get any given reader to venture away from authors they know they like into the uncharted waters of unknown authors.”

    As Jill – Barefoot Editing said, you need to gain readership first. Low prices are always a way to do this.

    And as others have said, word of mouth goes a long way. Whenever my oldest friend recommends a book to me (he reads almost exclusively on his iPhone), I automatically buy the ebook, no matter how much it costs, and despite the fact that they’re usually Big 6 ebooks priced at $9.99-$11.99.

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    1. I kind of feel like a stalker, but oh well. I was curious to see what the results of my unofficial study would say. Looks like the less expensive books are taking the lead. In fact they have lapped the more expensive books three fold.

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  17. I’m going to have to say I’m of the opinion that a higher price point is better than a lower price point. I think the problem with a lot of the replies above, is that authors are trying to appeal to as many readers as possible. I don’t try to appeal to as many people as possible, but simply the RIGHT readers. Some people think 5 dollars is too expensive for an ebook from an unknown author. Fair enough, it’s their money. They’re just not the right reader for me. That said, my ebook is $6.99 and I sold a copy on THE FIRST DAY (no, not from a family member or friend), and it’s been selling well ever since. If I find a book that interests me, as long as it’s within a reasonable price range (i.e. comparable to normal ebook price ranges), then I’ll buy it.

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