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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Welcome to From Paper to Pixels

My name is Mari Mancusi and I’ve been a traditionally published “legacy” author since 2005. I’ve started this blog to chronicle my adventures in ePublishing and to share news, research, links and tips that I come across along the way.

A little about me: I published my first book with an independent genre publisher back in 2005. It was a mass market paperback time travel chick lit style romance called “A Connecticut Fashionista in King Arthur’s Court.” I got paid a $2,500 advance and was promised a whopping 4% royalty rate. Today that seems insane to me, but at the time I probably would have taken even less. Let’s face it–I was getting published! I would have an actual book printed on actual paper and sold in actual bookstores! It was more than a dream come true.

I went on to accept more low advance deals from the publisher over the next few years. I wrote six mass market romances, one Young Adult, and two novellas. Though the money was pathetic, I liked the freedom of writing for a small publisher. They would allow me to push the boundaries and write what I really wanted to write–whether it be a 1920s time travel, a chick lit expose on TV News (my day job at the time), or a post-apocalyptic zombie thriller. In the meantime I also picked up bigger contracts with two Penguin imprints–Berkley and Dutton Children’s. I started to make a living as a midlist author, especially with my Blood Coven Vampire series for Berkley.

But then my first publisher started having financial troubles. And word came that they were changing their publishing model. Oh yeah, and they couldn’t pay the royalties they owed for the already published titles. Which is a big deal when you’re not getting a big advance–you depend on the money you make on the back end. 

So my agent did the only thing she could do–she demanded the rights to the novels be reverted back to me. It was a bittersweet moment–I had a lot of good memories with my first publisher. But I wanted to make writing my career, at the end of the day. And that meant I needed to get paid.

Now, with the rights for nine backlist titles in my hands, I realized I suddenly had the power I’d never had. I could put my titles online and sell them for a discounted price. This way I could not only allow my readers access to my backlist at a decent price point, but also perhaps make up for all that lost money from my publisher. And if the experiment worked? I’d start writing front list digital first books as well. Right now I’m still keeping my “day job” as a legacy author — with two more trade paperbacks from Berkley coming out next year. (Books 7 and 8 of the Blood Coven series.) But who knows, if the experiment is successful–what will happen in the future. I truly believe ePublishing has unlimited opportunity and am excited to become a part of that world.

This blog will chronicle my journey from paper to pixels. Unlike many e-pub blogs that are written by industry pros or those who have already succeeded in creating an epublishing empire, I don’t claim to be an expert. I’m just like you probably are–muddling your way through this brave new world of self-publishing.

In addition to blogging my journey, I also plan to reblog interesting articles, feature industry experts, showcase successful authors and offer up useful links. By aggregating all the information out there, I hope to create a useful resource for others interested in self-publishing either now or in the future.

Thanks for stopping by! Let the games begin!

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