Nathan Bransford, Author


Wednesday, June 15, 2011

What Should An E-book Cost?

With Amazon's announcement about Sunshine Deals, which reward low e-book prices, I thought I'd revisit a question I've asked once before:

What should an e-book cost?

For some background on the economics of e-book pricing, check out this post.

Poll below. If you're reading in a feed reader or via e-mail you'll need to click through to see it:


Tomorrow I'll compare the results to the last poll and we can see if pricing attitudes are changing.






80 comments:

Josin L. McQuein said...

A pro e-book should cost more than a self-pubbed, simply because you're not only paying for a brand name by way of the author/publisher, you're paying for a base guarantee of quality. You know it's been edited and you know it's going to be properly formatted. Someone has already invested time and money into the final product to make sure your own isn't wasted.

That's worth at least $5-10

Rick Daley said...

I voted for the $5-$9.99 bracket. Compared to a $25 hardcover, that's a fair price. Going up against a lower-priced paperback, I'd vote for the lowest price bracket.

unique said...

It depends. It depends upon the author, what they have published before and how it is published

Tim said...

I don't think you are paying for a guarantee of quality. As a consumer you are paying for the story, while quality matters, story is what you are purchasing so a pro novel is not necessarily a guarantee in that regard.

The same goes for any other purchase. You may pay more on the premise that higher price == higher quality but that is a fallacy that business have worked hard to push into the consumer mindset.

MichelleKCanada said...

I'm not sure if the poll is going to take or not since my reply is just spinning in circles.
I put between $5 - $9.99.

I am happy to pay $6.99 for a new release, well known author.
$6.99 is my cap though. Anything else I will wait for the price to go down or go to the library. Sad to think if the book is too much money I won't buy it and the author loses out but with the amount of ebooks I buy (slightly addicted) I really do need to put a cap on my purchase price point.

Cheers and qreat question, I'll be following along looking at the poll results.
MichelleKCanada
http://anotherlookbookreviews.blogspot.com/

cizes said...

Since I got my Kindle, I've been taking full advantage of the chance to send it samples. It may not be fair, but I've found my price point to be $3.99 for a sample I enjoy. Any higher and I balk. My best guess is that my price point is informed by used books, yard sale books, and paperbacks I got when I was younger. There's also the question of relative entertainment value: not a lot of $9.99 books are going to be two and a half times as entertaining as a $3.99 book. There are a lot of books out there. Like I said, I know the arguments for higher pricing, and I'm probably not being fair. But that's the anonymous truth.

Lena said...

Depends. I have purchased traditionally published ebooks and be less than satisfied and I have bought self-published books that have been excellent. So it depends on the author and whether their previous work garners the current price. I don't think whether it's self-published or not plays a factor. There are a lot of books on bookstore shelves that I wouldn't buy if it were at a bargain price, let alone a buck or two for an ebook. My money is valuable, regardless of who published the book.

caitieflum said...

Hmm I don't look at it as a price, more as a percentage off the most recent release of the book. And when it comes to that, I think it should be 25% off.

Scott Marlowe said...

eBooks should cost less than the paperbacks which should cost less than the hardcover. I blogged about this here:

http://www.scottmarlowe.com/post/A-comparison-of-eBook-prices-vs-paperbacks.aspx

Too many eBooks cost the same as the paperback.

Laurel said...

I know I'm in the minority, but I'm fine with $10-$15 for an eBook on a title I'm excited about. What everybody says about editing and professional standards applies, but I still think you can get quality editing and formatting for less than $10.

But amazing stories are worth more than that to me. A book will take me anywhere from four to eight hours to read. I spend more than that to go to a 2 hour movie and when I leave, I don't still have it. With a book I love, I know I will read it again (second time through is my favorite read). The dollar amount spread over the number of hours I get to enjoy my book is a lot cheaper than coffee at Starbuck's. Or even McDonald's.

What I buy when I purchase a book is an enjoyable experience. A typo or two won't wreck that for me, but a sub-par story with flawless writing and formatting isn't worth $10. A phenomenal story that makes me burn supper and stay up until 4 am is worth considerably more, even if the author uses "segway" when they mean "segue."

But again, I know I am in the consumer minority on this issue.

K.L. Dillon said...

I'd have to say from 0.99-4.99. I understand why hardcovers cost so much b/c they cost a chunk to produce/make, however, the cost of transforming a manuscript into an e-book is next to nothing. So whether it's self-pubbed or not, I think you shouldn't be paying 10-12 bucks for something that costs next to nothing to do.

K.L. Dillon said...

I'd have to say from 0.99-4.99. I understand why hardcovers cost so much b/c they cost a chunk to produce/make, however, the cost of transforming a manuscript into an e-book is next to nothing. So whether it's self-pubbed or not, I think you shouldn't be paying 10-12 bucks for something that costs next to nothing to do.

Reena Jacobs said...

It's unfortunate it costs traditional publishers more to put out a book than indie authors, because having a big name backer doesn't guarantee the reader is going to derived more satisfaction out of the work. It's true self-published books have a greater chance to be error ridden, because there's no quality control in place. However, many indie authors take extra steps to put out quality work which is on par to traditional works. As far as the story, having a work vetted by an agent and publishing house also doesn't guarantee a great read. Why? Because preferences are subjective.

With those reason in mind, I'm not paying for the name of the publishing house (indie or traditional), I'm paying for my reading experience. $4.99 for an author I've enjoyed in the past is no problem. Beyond that, I'm looking for the paperback version, and even the hardcover if I can find it at a discount.

The bottom line is I simply value print more than I do digital at this point in time. I'm not willing to pay anywhere near the cost of a print book for a digital copy.

Mary said...

If the paperback is not out yet, then 15$ seems reasonable to me. If the mass market paperback is out, then the e-book should be slightly less than the mass market version.

What is not reasonable OTOH, is amazon adding 2$ too all international e-book orders, but that's another issue...

Mary

JP Kurzitza said...

A pro e-book should cost more than a self-pubbed, simply because you're not only paying for a brand name by way of the author/publisher, you're paying for a base guarantee of quality. You know it's been edited and you know it's going to be properly formatted. Someone has already invested time and money into the final product to make sure your own isn't wasted.

Wow, that's quite the arrogant statement. You're so right. Us serious indie-pubbed writers don't put any care or effort into our craft...

Anyway, the reason why "pro" ebooks are priced more is to try and make at least a little money after giving up such a high % to the publishers.

Bottom line - and simple economics - if you want to sell a high volume of product, price it lower than the competition.

Mira said...

Josin, I'm sorry, but I disagree about pricing traditional publishing higher. I don't mean to sound cynical, but I haven't found that traditional publishing is necessarily a guarantee of quality.

But regardless, such a practice would most likely be damaging to traditional publishers. I don't think most readers care, so pricing traditionally published books higher would mean less people would buy them. In fact, that's one of the primary problems facing traditional publishers right now. They are trying to match e-book price with the hardcover while competing with Amazon's Sunshine deals and self-published one dollar e-books, and it's putting great pressure on them.

I'm very interested in the results of the survey! I'm personally in the 5-9.99 bracket. I've always thought e-books should price comparably to a paperback.

Jericho Ambrose said...

Hey Brandon! 2 things:
That link for the previous post seems to be for draft.blogger.com. You may wish to double check that!

i definitely am flexible on ebook prices. I would of course love lower ebook costs, however if the author still works for the publisher then I beliefe JA konroth as has explained how little an author still makes on these books, so I'm ethically fine with the book bein around the cost of a paperback.

However is the Author is self publishing, I think if they can afford to they should most definitely be listing their books at a price that will appeal to a wider audience when they can. But ultimately the author is a small business person and if their writing is good enough the buzz should be strong enough to withstand a higher price point.

So, yeah. Pretty wishy washy. For established authors I'm willing to go up to 9.99, for someone I'm not familiar with I do feel a breaking point at around 2.99. I would hope for either stellar reviews or longer lengths the more a new author exceeds the 2.99 limit.

Nathan Fischer said...

On the one hand, I feel like e-books should cost less. But I have absolutely no rational reason for why this should be. The fact that you have to buy an e-reader doesn't matter too much. You also have to buy bookshelves to keep books on if you buy them in any significant number, and comparatively an e-reader can hold a lot more books for a lot less than the cost of numerous bookshelves.

I'm not an author, just a consumer - and a poor one who can afford very few books at that. But I think that a $25 brand-spanking new hardcover probably shouldn't cost less than $15 in electronic format. Maybe it should even be the same price.

I cannot figure out why we think e-books should cost significantly less than their paperback / hardcover counterparts, though. There is, as far as I can tell, no rational reason why this should be the case. Especially when many people prefer electronic to paper. They're obviously not "losing out" when buying electronic in that case.

If we're truly paying for the story and not the medium (as someone else mentioned), then we ought to be willing to pay whatever the story is worth, regardless of how it's delivered. And if I don't want to pay a lot for a book, then I wait until it's been out for a while, or I get it from the library, or I go to used book stores. There are a lot of options out there for cheap books. I'm not sure why e-books have to be among the "cheap" options.

dianehenders said...

I wrote a post on this a few months ago, and then discovered that Bob Mayer had done a much better job here:
http://writeitforward.wordpress.com/2011/05/30/the-pricing-of-ebooks-and-perceived-value/

The pricing versus perceived value issue is still important. But the way the royalty structure currently exists in e-pub, you also need to consider how much of the purchase price goes to the author in the end.

It'll be interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Stephanie Faris said...

Hardback books have never been a consideration for me. I'm a State employee who hasn't gotten a raise since 2006. I also have a fairly addictive writing habit that has to be fed by me reading as much as I possibly can in the genre in which I'd like to be published someday. I don't mean to be cheap -- it's by necessity only. This is why many of my books these days come from the library.

I have Kindle app for iPhone and love reading books on there. Once library books can be loaded onto it, that is how I will be doing my reading, 100%. If I were going to buy one of the 5-10 books I read a month in e-format, PAPERBACK would be the comparison on which I'd base it, not hardback. And it also should be considered that children's and YA novels under 200 pages probably aren't selling for $15-$20 in paperback. I think, this in mind, that I should never pay more than $5 for an e-book and I refuse to do so. There are no printing costs and these books are under 200 pages. As long as a cheaper alternative (paperback and library) continued to be offered, I will continue to choose that.

However, if the day comes that I'm barely scraping by, all bets are off and my Kindle app will be loaded down!

Sierra McConnell said...

I vote for $5.00-$9.99 because everyone needs to eat, and I would really like to be able to eat one day, too. :D

Lisa Yarde said...

Unlike the first poster, I don't see how any pricing structure ensures quality. Now that I've got that out of the way, I believe ANY ebook should not cost more than $7.99. That's the high average of mass market paperbacks. I get it: trads have overhead that justify higher pricing. But having done ebook conversion / setup of my own books, there is no justification in my mind for sustaining a higher pricing model.

John Chu said...

Anyone who says "the cost of transforming a manuscript into an e-book is next to nothing" has likely never tried it, or has seriously undervalued her time and effort. (The other possibility is that she is ok with really horrible typography.)

I'm also not fond of the "I think you shouldn't be paying 10-12 bucks for something that costs next to nothing to do" argument. That uses the rhetorical sleight-of-hand of pretending one aspect of the cost is the entire cost. Yes, the marginal cost of producing an additional copy of an ebook is low, but the price of an ebook has to take into account more than just the marginal cost. It also has to take into account that writers, editors, copy-editors, artists, marketers and everyone else involved in creating the book deserve to be paid. If your typical book only sells several thousand copies, it can't be priced that low if everyone is to be paid enough so that they can afford to create the next book.

Until people stop thinking of ebooks as lesser versions of books, it's hard to see why ebooks will be profitable in the general case. People expect that they should cost less than books even though, until we get to the point of making the first copy, ebooks incur all the same production costs as books.

Yes, intellectual arguments on why people "should" value ebooks more don't do much good. People have an intuitive sense of an ebook's worth then they back their way into rationales that aren't always rational. I'm just saying that until we get to the point where people find ebooks desirable as thing unto themselves, they won't be able to carry their fair share of the production costs.

Charles said...

None of the above? It depends on various other factors which aren't readily apparent with the given info.

Carolyn said...

Why have a title of "what should eBooks cost" and then tie the answers to the existence of a hardback?

That's a broad question with a narrow set of circumstances that don't apply to a lot of books.

I've never been much of a hardback buyer, and only for books I'm really excited about and don't want to wait for the paperback.

But most of the hardbacks I'm willing to buy are several hundred pages, and now, ironically, I don't want them in hardback because they're too big, too unwieldy and too heavy. I'd MUCH rather read them on my iPad.

The vast, vast majority of my eBook purchases are of books that were never in hardback.

Mostly I'm profoundly irritated that the eBook of a MMP is the same price as the MMP iteself. It's a ripoff and I am buying far fewer agency priced eBooks in favor of books that are more reasonably priced.

There's a developing network or readers and blogs who review self-pubbed books that are as good or better than any traditionally pubbed book, and I'm buying a lot of those these days.

Anonymous said...

Set the prices in the middle. This way authors and publishers and agents can still make money, and no one's getting ripped off.

.99 is just too damn cheap for new releases. Back lists, fine. But new releases are only diminishing themselves. A few established, highly competitive authors are out there trying to pull this off right now with new releases they've self-published, and they are not only lowering the bar for other authors, but also shooting themselves in the foot.

Cathy Yardley said...

I'm still on the fence about all of this, but I'm reading all the comments with interest. Hopefully traditionally publishing will figure it out and streamline their costs. I'll pay more for my favorite authors because I'm addicted. But an author I don't know? Not so much.

Stephanie Faris said...

The comment above about the time and cost to convert something to e-book format got me thinking...maybe that is the case. Still...I just looked up "The Help," a bestselling novel, on Amazon.com and found the Kindle version is MORE expensive than paperback. I'm not buying that it costs the publisher more in time, effort, materials, etc. to create an e-book as it does to print it. Am I wrong that Amazon is the reason these books are more expensive than paperback? Is Amazon taking a huge cut? I don't believe publishers and authors are getting more of a cut of e-books than paperbacks...so something's wrong with that pricing model.

For me, it comes down to an overall choice. I'm not going to buy a Kindle (or, in my case, start using my Kindle iPhone app more) as long as I'm not seeing that I can save money on books. Then it comes down to how much I'm saving on shipping/tax and just how much I HAVE to have my book NOW, rather than waiting a few days for it to arrive. This is speaking strictly as a consumer, not a writer, but I think it's important to think about the readers. Kindles aren't cheap...and I honestly would prefer to read that way. But would I pay more than I would for paperback, even if I had a Kindle? The answer is no. I'd just set my Kindle aside and read the paper version.

Lura Slowinski said...

I agree with John Chu's comment above. We really do have a pervasive sense that an ebook is a "cheaper" version of a book, even though we live in a world that is saturated with paper in all forms. (In other words, why expect production costs of books to be so high?) And there is something a little disturbing in the knowledge that books are now apparently worth less than your average cup of coffee from a Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts.

I voted in the 10-15 bracket because I like to put my money where my mouth is. I don't mind matching my emotional investment with a monetary investment.

Nathan Bransford said...

K.L. and Stephanie-

This post will help shed some light on the costs behind e-book pricing.

guarantee?? said...

Even if it costs money to format the ebook, it's a ONE time cost. Then you sell forever. Printing has a cost every time.

If I were an indie, I'd be glad traditionally published ebooks cost so much. Not sure how that fits in. Just saying.

As for some guarantee of quality, you know that Snookie's book is being traditionally published, right, and that Anthroplogy of an American Girl was originally self published and was so good that an imprint of Random House picked it up?

Also, there was that little James Frey incident (traditionally published) that was, well, you know, not true. The guarantee there was so good that people got there money back. But not their time, of course.

Anonymous said...

their money, sorry

Geoff said...

I won't pretend to know what an e-book should cost, though I voted in the $5 - $9.99 bracket. I'm okay with my indie release being anywhere from free to $3.99, and I tend to buy indie books with similar pricing.

What kills me is when I see on Amazon that a newer title is at $9.99 for an e-book and $10.99 for a hardcover. I understand that the $10.99 price point is a major cut from what it costs to make that hardcover, but why are companies still pushing hardcovers? At such cut rates, are the returns still worth it. It seems to be they'd want to slash the prices of the e-book, embrace the trends and reach new readers.

Look, if a story is good enough and I loved it enough, I will go buy that hardcover for my library, even if its $25. But I can't afford to take the risk on a story or author I know little about. That's why if the hardcover and e-book are priced so close to each other, I'll take a pass on the book, 9 times out of 10. It seems cheaper e-books from big companies could sway a consumer like me. I'm sure I'm not alone.

The English Teacher said...

Nathan, this poll is a bit over-simplified.
I agree with Josin; a self-published book should cost less than one published traditionally. After all, with self-published work, the author can set her/his cut of the profits on amazon, but a traditionally published author can't. Plus, there are more people to pay in the latter scenario.
So, although I don't agree that a reader has a "guarantee of quality" with a traditionally published book, as I've seen plenty of awful stuff that was traditionally published, I do agree they should cost more.
And that means I can't even vote in your poll because I have two separate answers. I feel that self-published e-books should fall in the up-to-$5.00 range and that traditionally published e-books should be in the $5.00- $10.00 range.

D.G. Hudson said...

I said $5-$10, since that's what I would pay. I pay that for a discounted hardcover. Since it's an e-book, and is dependent on an e-reader or transferring it to another device to be read, I won't pay more.

Authors need to offer e-books, but when the e-book cost supercedes the paperback cost of a book, you've lost me as a customer. The e-book experience doesn't justify higher costs, IMO.

That said, e-books should be on the market at the same time as the hardcover or paperback for those that prefer that format, but the pricing has to be stabilized - for each format. Pricing seems to be on a roller coaster at the present; with market share being grabbed by those willing to take a loss leader on one of their books.

This sets a bad precedent for authors, and other performing artists. Loss leaders are a marketing tool for corporations, not for creative endeavors. But once the consumers get used to having something for free, it becomes an expectation, and eventually the norm.

Are we slitting our own writing throats? Build it and they will come, so the fantasy goes, but price it too low and the readers may wonder -- is it any good?

Josin L. McQuein said...

I think you're misinterpreting what I mean by "quality". I'm not talking about the storytelling or author skill, I'm talking basics.

Better than 90% of self-published novels aren't readable. Literally. They're incoherent, no grammar, no sentence structure, no spelling, etc. (Try reading a random block of them sometime.)

There are stellar self-pubs out there, sure, but you have to wade through hundreds of unreadable things people have thrown up on a whim to get to the one someone had edited or actually crafted as a novel.

With a commercial novel, that danger's gone. The story may still suck, but I at least know I'll be able to read it.

Jenna said...

I'll really range on what I'm willing to spend. I'm willing to spend 1-3 on self published, 6-8 on genre publishing, and 10-15 on mainstreem publishing.

DearHelenHartman said...

I voted based on what I'd pay and deep down, I'm not sure I WOULD pay that much. $25 hardcovers by Big Name authors or sometimes just Hope to Be Big Name authors can actually be had for 20, 30, 40 even 50% off as soon as they are released. The bigger then name the less the actual cost of a hardcover so... and in ebooks these books are not just competing against all the new hardcover/print releases but all books and new books that can't be had anywhere But ebooks.
The playing field is leveled - I would buy classics and even unknowns and self pubs for 2.99 all day long over most of the tired stuff being churned out by traditional publishing these days at 5.99 - 9.99.

Carmen Webster Buxton said...

I voted for $10-15 but I wish there had been a $10-12 range. For one thing, the hardcover price might be $25 but not that many people actually pay that. When you see the Kindle edition at $13.99 or even $14.99 and the hardcover at $17, it seems ridiculous. I know that's because Amazon is discounting the hardcovers, but do you think most consumers care about the why? They only look at the numbers.

Darlene Underdahl said...

I just can't see pricing a new full-sized book at less than $4.99/$5.00 - that doesn't seem right.

Unless you're picking up books in a thrift store. But they generally aren't new.

Fawn Neun said...

I can't click any of these, because my opinion is $3-$8 depending on the popularity of the author, the length and the genre.

I think pricing eBooks at $15 is ridiculous.

Rebecca Stroud said...

For starters, I can't believe anyone pays $25 for a hardcover. I've been reading since I learned how and I've never spent that much on a book.

That said, I see there is still the perception that e-books are inferior to traditionally published works. And I find that sad (maybe because of some of the messes I've been reading lately that have "supposedly" been profesionally edited).

Sure, you may have to wade through some dirt to find that e-book diamond in the rough but, any more, the same can be said for the trads.

So, as for price? No opinion. Since I've wasted many dollars on hardback/paperback garbage, it wouldn't be fair to compare...especially since I am a self-pubbed author.

Lexi said...

I voted for the lowest price, because high pricing of ebooks will simply lead to more widespread use of torrents. Most popular books are, I believe, already available free on pirate sites.

Publishers can set any price they like, but there are a lot of people who, if they feel they are being ripped off, know there is an alternative. The fact that it's illegal won't stop them, and I doubt publishers will be able to combat piracy.

However, as an indie, I welcome publishers setting high ebook prices :o)

Reena Jacobs said...

@Josin With a commercial novel, that danger's gone. The story may still suck, but I at least know I'll be able to read it.

I wouldn't want to pay a dime for a story which is unreadable because of grammar, typo, etc (which you can determine simply by reading the sample) or a sucky story (which you typically don't know until getting past the free sample).

The burn is all the more greater when the book sucks and is presented by a traditional publisher because the book has gone through so many hands. Some of the most disappointing books I've read over the past couple of years are from established authors in traditional publishing. It's almost as if once they get their foot in the door they no longer have to put forth quality work.

No... I'm not willing to pay more for traditional published work because more people have rubbed their hands on the manuscript. With the exception of a couple of authors, I've lost my faith in traditional side's ability to put out stellar work. I have yet to find a book, with the exception of one author, that offers a reading experience 3x or more of that of a $2.99-$4.99 work.

If traditional publishers can't fit into the price and demand model and offer a product at a comparable price to similar products, perhaps they are in the wrong business.

I myself have only purchased one traditional eBook ($6.99), and I was sorely disappointed in the reading experience. The book couldn't even add aesthetic value to my home because it was digital.

Since then, I've turned to indie eBooks in the $0.00-4.99 price range. I'd give traditional work the same opportunity if in that price range. As far as I'm concerned, every book out there (traditional/indie or debut/established author) is a risk investment these days. I might land a winner. I might end up with a throw away.

So I ask myself... how much am I willing to pay for a book which turns out to be a dud? Preferably nothing, but $4.99 isn't going to send me into a verbal rampage.

Though I listed free, I should mention that I don't even bother downloading a free book unless the work is already on my to-read list. So free is just an added bonus to me.

If you're wading through crappy indie books, I'm sorry. I don't seem to have that problem. Most indie authors I read come to me by word of mouth. I simple type in the title of the book or author and voila! I can download my next read. It's a similar process I use for finding traditional works. Other works catch my eye in the "customers who bought this item also bought" or the recommendations from the online distributor.

Online stores are not a slush pile where you have to read through EVERY sample to get to something good. You wouldn't go into a book store and read EVERY first few pages of a book to find something good. Not only do folks not have the time, the idea is just ridiculous. Sometimes people have to use a bit of common sense... or the search feature.

MichelleKCanada said...

I noticed that a few folks made comments about who would buy hardcover anymore. I'd like to offer you why I do.
My answer is totally silly and perhaps I am opening myself up for mocking but here it goes...
If I am in a book series (if I started with a hardcover) I want to finish the series in a hardcover so that they all match on my pretty bookshelf *pets my pretty bookshelf*

Ok so there you have it. I want Janet Evanovich's book 17 released later this month so it matches the others. I want Diana Gabaldon's book 8 when it comes out in hardcover same reason. (not going to list all my series don't worry)

Having said that, I have not started any NEW series via hardcover. Just continuing.

Thanks for listening.
MichelleKCanada
http://anotherlookbookreviews.blogspot.com/

Dick Margulis said...

The PPB (paper, printing, and binding) cost of a $25 printed book is about $3.25. Throw in a buck for bulk shipping (probably overly generous) to the retailer. So that's $4.25 in cost differential. All other costs (editing, design, composition, cover art, publicity and promotion, retail discount, distribution charges) are essentially the same (maybe some variation in discount and distribution costs). So the way I see it, the fair price is $20 plus.

Robert Michael said...

Most readers don't take into question the cost of publishing a book. They could care less. Do you care how much money your dairy spent on hay and labor to get your milk/yogurt/cheese? Me neither.

The value of a book is determined by its perceived value (which takes into account tons of factors) and the price point at which the highest volume of books can be sold at the highest profit. The market will bear what the consumer perceives as a good value proposition.

To a reader, the only value proposition is the entertainment/cerebral/spiritual treasure that book may offer. A potential reader asks herself "Do I think I will like this book? Do I think it is worth the price tag on it?"

Not too different from the question we ask ourselves at the shoe store or when purchasing a new television or i-pad.

In this example,I think the standard is based on the $25 hardcover. At this price point, it is likely an established author and the book is highly anticipated/aggressively marketed and comes at a high cost to the publisher due to a large advance, etc. In this case, asking anything less than $15 for the e-book would be a disaster. A lower cost would devalue the print version. It would also set a price point precedent (nice alliteration)that may hurt the publisher's other offerings at a lower price point (get a $25 value for $5 and pay $5 for a $12 trade paperback--not a good tradeoff).

When we are spending $4 a gallon for gas to travel 15-40 miles, how do we put a limit on our entertainment value of a 5-8 hour reading experience at $3.99? We spend $9 or more to watch a 2 hour movie. We spend $.99 per 4 minute song. I can go on. I am rambling now. I will stop.

JP Garner said...

Does anyone pay $25.00 for hardcovers anymore? I know that is the retail price but between Amazon and discounting at all of the chain stores, I don't think I've paid that much for a book in a long time.

marlenedotterer said...

I'll pay up to $10. But sorry -i t really depends on the book. What size? I'll pay $15 or $20 for a hardcover story that's around 100,000 words. I'll pay $8 - $10 for the same book in paperback. The e-book should be cheaper.

For me, that's the bottom line. Whatever it costs, the e-book should not cost more than the print version.

Anne R. Allen said...

Great that you're doing this poll again. I'll be interested in seeing how the results compare.

MJR said...

If it's a new hardcover that's hot off the press (not self-published), I think $10-$13 is fair, maybe a bit more if it's super-hot. I've paid that if I really wanted to read something and don't want to wait until the library has it etc. If the book has been around a while, I won't pay more than 9.99.

Since the publishing industry provides my family's food and shelter, I like to support it! I'm not sure how it can survive it eprices go too low.

markwilliamsinternational.com said...

"@ Josin L. McQuein
Better than 90% of self-published novels aren't readable. Literally. They're incoherent, no grammar, no sentence structure, no spelling, etc."

I'm impressed. You've obviously read every self-pubbed book so you can make this claim.

Why is it that opponents of self-pub like to just pluck figures out of the air to suit their argument?

You stick to paying $10 for an ebook if you want to. We wouldn't want those shareholders struggling now, would we?

Nicole said...

I tend to agree with one of the earlier comments - my gut response is that ebooks should cost less than paperbacks, which should cost less than hardcovers. In reality, I know it's not that simple due to the timing and release of each format.

I voted for the $.01 to $4.99 bracket, but I really wish there had been a $3 to $7.99 option. On one hand, I think .99 cents is much too cheap for a story in any format, and I'd gladly pay more. On the other hand, if I had to pay $10 for an ebook, I'd just go get the paperback instead.

For me the ideal number is somewhere in the middle.

Stephsco said...

I am planning to buy an e-reader this week! I would pay $9.99 - $12 for a brand new book out only in hardcover. For paperbacks or books that have been out for a year or more, I would prefer to pay under $10, somewhere in $5-$9.99.

The cheaper books catch my eye for sure, but my time is valuable, so I base my book choices on reader reviews on blogs and goodreads. If I really want the book, I will pay for it. Or get it from the library, which I pay lord-knows-enough in taxes for already!

Rebecca Knight said...

I recently indie pubbed my book, and I chose to put it at $2.99. That seems to be a sweet spot where it's less than a paperback, but not so inexpensive that the author doesn't get a good royalty.

Reading the first comment, I'd have to respectfully disagree with Josin on one point--I believe the reader determines what the quality of the story is, either through sampling or reading the description--for most indie books.

You can tell pretty dang fast if it's something you will enjoy or not :). Also, the less expensive an e-book is, the more likely readers are to take chances on new authors.

Before I made the decision to publish on Amazon, I'd unknowingly bought about a dozen e-books from indie authors. The price was right, and I'd enjoyed the sample, so I bought them!

Josin L. McQuein said...

@markwilliams

I'm not an opponent of self-publishing, quite the opposite, if the person's done the research to know what they're doing.

I'm an opponent of bad information about self-publishing, which is what seems to pop up most often.

Stephanie Faris said...

Reading the comments, it seems a lot of people are equating "e-books" with "self-published." I didn't make that leap. Pretty much every book is available in both print and electronic version now. I doubt very seriously I'd ever buy a self-published novel unless I knew the author or she was recommended. Not that there aren't some good self-pubbed books out there; I just prefer to have the endorsement of a publisher I trust.

Kristin Laughtin said...

I voted for the $5-$10 option, but I'm on the higher end of that spectrum. I know how much work goes into producing an ebook, know it's not that much cheaper than producing a print book (except for mass markets), and I think it's fair to charge that much for most of them.

Nicole L Rivera said...

I can get a used book for $3.99 with shipping. Publishers and authors make nothing off used book sales. If they offered an e-book at $3.99, I would buy that versus spending on a used book.

Anonymous said...

The race to the bottom is distressing. Good for readers, sure, for now. But bad for anyone in the business of books, excepting monster distributors, such as Amazon.

I'd like to see top authors work to keep prices from collapsing, and for the rest of the business to follow.

I don't want to have to sell a bajillion copies to make a living. It is a lot of work to sell books, and I can't afford to give them away.

D_Blackwell said...

I strongly favor higher price points. I'd like to add that the argument of manufacturing and distributing costs is specious. The cost of the product is secondary to the cost per sale, the cost of marketing in both dollars and time.

Eastbaywriter said...

I self published a book @2.00 but I'm a first time author so what do i know.

Don 'Fleury
Harding A Two Dollar Novel
available on Kindle and Nook

Adam Heine said...

I voted for $5-9.99, but only because I think $14.99 is too much. I probably would've gone for a $8-12.99 bracket.

Though I fully agree with Josin on the price difference published vs. self-published, as well as brand-named vs. no-name. There's room for all the prices.

Also, did you see this article, Nathan? It looks like two weeks into the Sunshine Deals, books priced higher than $10 are making a rebound in sales. Maybe.

Claire Dawn said...

I don't think whether the book is hardcover or paperbook should affect the e-book. Whatever the physical book is like the conversion to "e-" requires the same thing.

For me, the price should be somewhere between $8 and $12. I think $15 for an e-book is too high.

veela-valoom said...

To me $9.99 seems perfect when something is a hardcover. For a highly anticipated hardcover I think $5 is too low but $14 is much to high.

For example I bought Beauty Queens when it was released for $9.99 on ebook. I was excited for multiple reasons. First: It was released the same day as the hardcover Second: I felt like I was getting a deal without feeling like I was cheating the author

Regardless of logic I have trouble clicking the button if the price is above $10. I don't know why but I stop and think whereas when it's cheaper I just impulsively click. I'm not saying I won't buy a book for more. When i bought Monsters of Men by Patrick Ness I didn't even check the price (just did, it's the $9.99 price point). I needed the book at that moment.

I'm very bothered when the ebook is priced higher than the paperback. It baffles me and I pretty much won't buy the book. When that is the case I'll either get it at the library or won't read it. I don't buy physical copies of book. Too much dust and too much clutter.

I'm also bothered when publishers just won't release a book in ebook. For people like me who don't have physical space for more books it puts me in a quandary and they lose my money.

E said...

I read the first reply in comments and decided not to read any further (comments are usually where a topic turns sour for me). However, I did want to say "self-published" doesn't mean "not edited, nobody invested time and nobody invested money". Self-published CAN mean the author hired a freelance editor, hired an artist to design the cover and invested plenty of money.

Whether you've got quality guaranteed...well, there are plenty of books by prominent publishers that I've shelled out $7.99 for and returned two chapters in, or that I've put back on the shelf after reading 10 pages.

Melissa said...

The most I'd pay for a e-book is $7.99. A full audio c.d. is priced at $9.99 on average on iTunes and Amazon. However, music can be enjoyed over and over. Books are usually read once. So they should be less expensive -- I'd say in the $4.99-$5.99 range. I don't buy the argument that it necessarily costs more to produce them. Sure, if you're on the East or West coasts, where the cost of associated labor is much higher. Produce an e-book in a nonunion state with no state income tax, and the cost of production would most likely decrease by more than 50 percent. If the music industry can produce an album and sell it for $9.99 -- and recording is a far more expensive process, comparatively -- certainly the publishing industry can do it.

Teel McClanahan III said...

In my experience hand-selling paper books, I've found that there are two types of book buyers; those for whom no reasonable price is low enough and those for whom almost no price is too high (but too low a price kills the sale). I've tried applying what I learned from those experiences back onto my eBook prices and discovered that they seem to bear out. To the latter group I can easily sell them two paperback books for $50, but if I price an eBook below $5 they assume it isn't worth reading. To the former group, asking $14 for a paperback is pushing it and they'd never consider paying more than $5 for one of my eBooks.

So what should an eBook cost? I say: Price for the people who are willing to spend money, not those with tight wallets. I voted $20+ in your poll, because the people who are spending $25+ on hardbacks (ie: the readers who have been supporting the bulk of the publishing industry for decades) are willing to pay $20+ for electronic versions of the same books.

It isn't that the rest of the readers don't matter, but I believe that price parity (or near to it) with the current market-price (not just the list price) of the book is appropriate. So, after 18 months, when the hardback can easily be picked up for $5 and the paperback for $7, the eBook should also be $5 or less. If your backlist book is always available for $0.01 in hardback on Amazon Marketplace, the eBook better be in the $0.99-$3.99 range (ie: less than shipping). New books? The ones whose sales are meant to support the industry? Price 'em high.

I know I can't afford new hardbacks most of the time, but I'm more than willing to wait, along with the rest of the cheapskates.

Lisa said...

Josin McQuein said:


A pro e-book should cost more than a self-pubbed, simply because you're not only paying for a brand name by way of the author/publisher, you're paying for a base guarantee of quality. You know it's been edited and you know it's going to be properly formatted.

So...how do you know whether an e-book is a "pro e-book" - whether it has indeed been edited?

I have no idea, when I look at Kindle books, which ones are 'professional' and which ones aren't.

Delorfinde said...

It's hard to say for me. I'd probably put the second one as I'm pretty skint but not completely broke yet, but as it's all in dollars I'm confused as to how much that really is in pounds! So my vote isn't all that relevant. But I voted anyway :)

Lex said...

I couldn't find the poll...;o(, so I don't know what the ranges of choice are. Regardless, I think an e-book (new release) should cost between $2.99 and $7.99. As an indie author and self publisher I refused to join the .99 crowd because, contrary to some of the posters on this subject, it does cost money to write and self publish a"pro" level book. Time is money and it takes a lot of time to produce quality work.

Unless I missed it, no one has mentioned marketing and promotion of the self published book. I think that should be added to the price; the traditional publishers certainly do that. There are several ways an idie author can promote his book for free, but it takes A LOT of time and, again, time is money. The returns (book sales) on this free marketing are slim. I've spent hours and hours on blogs, writing to book reviewers, etc and I can tell you it's a monumental effort, especially if you're also holding down a full time job.

Over the past several months I've read about thirty .99 e-books. Of those, a good 75% were poor quality and the stories were blah! The others matched traditionally published books in quality and the stories were great. I think other constant readers have experienced a similar percentage and are shunning e-books in that price range. The opportunity to sample before buying is great, but also, often misleading.

I recently purchased a traditionally published e-book for $9.99 because the genre was near to that of my own. The marketing for this book was superb, the reviews - all excellent. I read the sample and was hooked. I got the book and - it sucks. After the enticing sample, the author more or less repeats himself over and over; there's no real story, grammatical errors galore and the formatting is as bad as the worst 99 center!

I published my paperback (through Createspace) at $10.99. I would like to have priced it lower, maybe $7.99, but couldn't because I paid $39 for the Expanded Distribution program and $10.99 was the lowest price option.

Sofie Bird said...

For those of you surprised anyone pays $25 for a hardback: in Australia we're paying $39. $25 is our paperback price, count yourselves lucky ;) (And it's not the exchange rate, either - our dollar is higher).

I selected under $5, because that's what I'd pay for an unknown. But I'd be happy to pay $15 for authors I like, and pretty much anything for my favourites.

And to the "traditional books should get more because there's more work in them" - One: if an author sets up their own publishing company (especially with multiple pen names), how will you know 'traditional' from 'indie'? Two: do you think there's no work in running your own business and publishing your own books? And Three: the market doesn't run on sympathy dollars, it runs on what people will pay. A mediocre tradpub book isn't worth more money than a stellar indiepub just because the tradpub costs more to make.

David Gaughran said...

John Chu said:

Anyone who says "the cost of transforming a manuscript into an e-book is next to nothing" has likely never tried it, or has seriously undervalued her time and effort. (The other possibility is that she is ok with really horrible typography.)

@John

Have you produced any e-books? Do you have any idea what you are talking about?

I've released two and they do cost next to nothing. As for typography and what not, SIFT book reviews said "This is the most professional design - both inside and out - that I have seen since I started reviewing at SIFT."

The difference between print book and e-books is that all costs for e-books are sunk costs (editing, design, formatting). In other words, you pay once to produce it and you can make infinite copies of it, and (in theory) sell infinite amounts at zero extra cost.

With print books, each time you go back to the printer it costs you more money. But there are other costs with print books - typesetting, printing, layout, distribution, and storage, that you don't have with e-books.

But the biggest thing is returns. Returns are what is killing the publishing industry. What other business destroys half the product it produces?

Returns don't really exist with e-books, or at least, when a customer returns an e-book it doesn't cost you anything.

Of course e-books should be cheaper. Significantly cheaper. But all those Manhattan office buildings won't pay for themselves.

Emma Cunningham said...

It's important for the author and the publisher to be able to make enough money on the sale to keep them printing more books.

To be honest, though, I don't generally compare the cost of the ebook to the print copy. I judge the price based on how much I'm willing to pay to read that book, by that author. Since I wouldn't switch to the print copy if the ebook was out of my budget, there's no point in making the comparison.

Eva said...

Assuming we are talking mainly about big publishers whose books come with that pesky DRM. And seeing as I'm not actually buying the book, but rather the right to read the book I went with the $5-$9.99 bracket.
The day I can buy an ebook in any store, own it and read it on whichever reading device I have, without having to break the law in order to do so I'll be happy to pay somewhere in the $10-$14.99 bracket. That said I'd still expect the price to drop down to (or even a bit bellow) the price of the paperback once it comes out.

Bill Az said...

I voted $5-$9.99, but I think it really should be $5-$9 (none of that 99 cent crap...)

Basically: the price should be 1/2 the paperback price or 1/3 the hardover price.

Emily Wenstrom said...

I work in marketing, and I run into this problem a lot: people don't like to pay for the thinking that goes into something. They want to pay for the hard product that results from it, regardless of the time and effort that went into making it creative and one-of-a-kind. Creativity is too wishy-washy a concept for people to feel comfortable shelling out dollars for. Then couple that with a digital product, something that still can't be held in your hand?

People just don't think that way. At least, not yet.

But between the rise of the creative class and the digital economy, I do think a shift in this thinking is right around the corner. Newspapers, books publishers and all content developers are working to adapt, but consumers will adapt too. It just takes time. Time to get used to handling digital content as a real product ... and unfortuantely, probably time to see what happens to these important industries when their services are not properly valued.

J. T. Shea said...

John Chu, good point about the marginal cost of producing an additional copy of an e-book. The incremental cost of producing one more of almost anything is less than most people expect.

And you're all too right about some writers undervaluing their own time and effort. They seem so eager to turn themselves into self-employed slaves. Some loudly boast about leading a race to the bottom and denounce anyone with greater aspirations. Talk about sour grapes!

Of course, their low valuation of their time and effort could be accurate...

David Gaughran said...

And you're all too right about some writers undervaluing their own time and effort. They seem so eager to turn themselves into self-employed slaves. Some loudly boast about leading a race to the bottom and denounce anyone with greater aspirations. Talk about sour grapes!

Of course, their low valuation of their time and effort could be accurate...


@JT Shea

This is a bit of a straw man isn't it? Who boasts about leading a race to the bottom? Who is eager to turn themselves into slaves?

None of the self-publishers I know (and I know many).

In fact, all of them are quite savvy businesspeople who know exactly what their time and their work is worth.

You seem to be falling into the trap of treating e-book pricing emotionally. The job of any publisher should be to price the work at the point which brings in the most revenue for the publisher and the author. Nothing else should factor into it.

Self-publishers don't price at, say, 99c because they think that is all that they or the book are worth, it's because they have either figured out that (a) it is the price that generates the most revenue, or (b) it will allow them to capture a greater number of readers who will then go on to purchase the rest of their work at higher prices.

Let's have a bit of respect, please.

Angela Wunter said...

I would say that depends on the content and the pages but has to be under the price of an paperback of the same text.
Thats how grin publishing sets its prices for their > 190,000 e-books and books. Source: http://www.grin.com/

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