Pricing eBooks

One of the most talked about issues in eBook publishing is price. Do you charge 99 cents? $2.99? $5.99? Or follow NY publishers and go $8.99 and above? What are people willing to pay for your novels?

Right now I’ve priced my backlist eBooks at $2.99 for a full novel and 99 cents for a novella. Some people have suggested I might make more sales if I dropped the price for the novels to 99 cents as well, but I’m not so sure. Two weeks ago, bestselling author Shayla Black spoke at the Austin RWA chapter and claimed she had MORE sales when she upped her e-book prices to $2.99 from the original 99 cents. How can that be? Well, it’s all about perceived value.

Limited Edition Snow White Doll

To take it away from books for a second, the Disney Store recently offered up a special “Disney Princess Designer Doll Collection” — a limited edition set of Barbie-esque replicas of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, and the rest of the gang. They were offered at $59.99 (a much higher price point then their very similar, but non-limited edition dolls) and sold on one day at one time until they ran out. Once the 8,000 or so of each doll was gone, the company said, they would never be made available again.  

Well, people freaked out! They had to have these “special” dolls. They waited in line for 12 hours at the Disney Store, they crashed the Disney Store website, trying to order. The dolls started going up on eBay for hundreds of dollars a piece. People saw value in these dolls–because someone from Disney told them they were valuable–and were willing to pay for that perceived value. Are these dolls any more valuable then the ones you can buy at WalMart for $12.99? Yes. But only because people perceive them to be.

Same deal with Beanie Babies, Cabbage Patch Kids, Tickle Me Elmo. The list goes on.

Sure, eBooks aren’t limited edition. (Though wouldn’t it be interesting if an author decided to try something like that!) But the idea is the same. If your book is priced too low, many readers will consider it to have “less value” then one priced a little higher. Maybe they’ll assume it’s only 20 pages long. Or that you vomited it out in your sleep (Shalya’s words!) and you didn’t spend any time working on it. If you don’t see value in the work you put online, how do you expect a reader to?

But don’t take my word for it. NY Times Bestselling author Barbara Freethy put out a press release yesterday to announce her millionth eBook sale. And she makes it a point to talk about price in the first paragraph of the release. 

Unlike independently published authors who publish at the $0.99 price point to fuel sales, Freethy’s books are primarily priced between $2.99 and $5.99. Her self-published books come from her extensive backlist, whose rights were reverted after the books went out of print. Freethy repackaged the books and put them on sale again, finding gold in books that had been taking up space in her closet.

Backlist books priced cheaper then what a New York publisher would charge, but not given away at a basement bargain price. Readers perceive value in these newly packaged books (which have professional covers–something we’ll talk about soon!) and are thus willing to pay for that value.

Not everyone agrees with this theory and, of course, I’m still experimenting myself. And I’m not even saying that $2.99 is necessarily the sweet spot. New models are being created everyday and it’s possible someday books will be free–with subscription models or advertising as the revenue generations. All I’m saying is no matter where things go, you need to keep perceived value in mind when pricing your book. Value what you’ve created and others will value it, too.

One of the great things about self-publishing is you’re not stuck with any decision you make. Try different price points. See what works for your books. Maybe price your first book in the series at 99 cents to entice readers to continue on with other books. Maybe hold a one day or one week sale. Maybe even give some books away through a Smashword coupon if they sign up for your blog or newsletter. This kind of thing shows you value your book, but are willing to give readers a deal because you value THEM as well.

Oh and by the way? No matter what you choose to charge, it’s bound to be less them traditional publishers who are still going off their print models. My traditionally published eBooks go for $8.99. And yet, as an author, I end up making less per book then when I charge $2.99 for my backlist, go figure.

Some articles on Perceived Value.

eBook Pricing Power is Undermined by Perceived Value

What is the Right Price for a Book? (Dear Author)

Race to the Bottom (A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing)

eBook Price Strategy on Amazon (


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