Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Ebook Prices From the Reader's Perspective.

When I first started this blog, I did so with a very simple strategy, namely that I wasn't going to make an ass out of myself until I absolutely had to. Hence, mostly shutting my face about writing or publishing until I've proven that I can actually sell something. However, what I do have under my belt is twenty some-odd years of being a reader, and a good fifteen or so of paying for those books out of my own pocket. That's, like, three doctorates. If those trashy romances I hid from my mom until I was sixteen only knew what educational value they possessed! But I digress.

There's a discussion making the rounds in ebook circles, mostly indie, about what the "correct" price for an ebook ought to be. One fear is that, now that indie ebooks have burst the idea that an ebook has to go for ten bucks a pop in order to be quality or professional, there's not going to be any bottom until the books are free or sold so cheaply that writers can't make up in volume what they sacrifice in profit per book. Since anyone can indie publish, the supply is bound to outstrip the demand and drive prices lower and lower until no one can make a living wage as a writer. A $2.99 book in competition with a $.99 book will invariably lose, and then the $.99 book will lose to a cheaper alternative, and so forth, just like an expensive television cannot compete with its less expensive cousin as long as they're both doing roughly the same things.

Guys, speaking as a reader on this, humans just don't think that way. (By which I mean that I don't think that way, but what the hell: wildly generalizing we shall go!) Money is an abstract. It's only useful in that it gets you stuff, places where you can keep that stuff. When I buy the cheaper television over the expensive one, I think of the difference in terms of the groceries and cable bill. When I buy one physical book over the other, I'm thinking in terms of where the hell I'm going to put it when I'm done reading. That doesn't work quite the same way with ebooks, so long as a few caveats are kept in mind. The difference between a $.99 and $2.99 book, or even a $.99 or $4.99 book, isn't large enough to be computed into the all-important stuff algorithm. It's not "this book OR that book", it's "this book AND that book." Which can (and frequently does) get me into trouble when certain impulse control issues come into play, but I'm assuming that most of you don't snuggle your Kindle against your chest while shrieking about how you are now to be addressed as the lizard queen after you've gone on a good word-binge. There is a certain maximum amount that I'm willing to pay for an ebook, which currently favors the indies because the difference between $2.99 and $12.99 is officially big enough to curb my impulsive side and bring the stuff algorithm into play, but most of the discussion I'm seeing is using $4.99 as the absolute top-most price.

There are also side discussions going on concerning self-respect and the value that one places on one's own time and effort, but that's largely irrelevant to the argument that I'm making as a reader. Keep in mind, though, that it's also going to be irrelevant to everyone else approaching the discussion as a reader, but if you're thinking it through enough to start busting out formulas that make my eyes cross just to look at them you're probably not pulling out any of the ~artistic sensibility~ standbys.


  1. Excellent post Mari!!
    The best I read about the topic actually (from a reader's perspective that is.)
    I am wondering if many readers do think along the same lines, because after all, almost all indie best-sellers are priced at the infamous 0.99 point.

  2. @FEM4Ever:

    Thank you!

    You know, I honestly don't know. Most of the people actually breaking it down into algorithms have been those arguing in favor of higher prices. I mean, my completed untested perspective is that a $.99 book might be good to get people paying attention to you when you're one of few, but once the market becomes crowded with them, $2.09 per book is a hell of a lot better than thirty-five cents. A difference of two dollars isn't enough to make most people stop and weigh their purchase.

  3. Love the post Mari!
    I noticed one trend among many authors and that is they charge half the price of their paperback book for their ebook. I didn't really noticed when their paperback version was $9.99 and their ebook versions were $4.99. But I did take noticed when their ebooks were around 6.99 - up.

    I could see myself paying $6.99 for a one shot ebook, but not for multiple books in a series. I could do the series if there are pictures, and I mean a lot of pictures. LOL

    Thanks for the wonderful post!

  4. @Rene Nightingale

    Thank you, I'm glad you liked it! Any place over five bucks is the point at which I stop and start to think with budget-brain rather than lizard-brain, so I figure that's a good upper limit for ebooks.

    (Small e-publishers have also shown that there's no convincing reason for electronic books to cost more than about six bucks once the costs of physical production have been removed from the equation, but that's an argument for another day.)