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27 April 2012 @ 02:37 pm
more on ebook pricing  

…because this is an interesting discussion. To me, anyway. :)

Okay. First off, where I’m coming from: Amazon, B&N and possibly Smashwords don’t kick in their 70% royalty rate until $2.99, so from where I’m sitting except for an occasional Special Offer, anything below that price seems like wasting my time (because I can’t really imagine selling SO MANY copies of something at $.99 or $1.99 to make up for the loss, though who knows, maybe I’m totally wrong about that).

To my mind, at $2.99 a reader deserves at least a SFWA-standard “novelette”‘s worth of words–around 17.5K. That’s 5 or so 3-5K short stories, or one longer-but-not-novella-length story. We’re talking about, say, 30-50 pages of story.

Novellas, which range from 17.5-40K by SFWA standards–well, we priced “Easy Pickings” at $2.99, but in retrospect I think maybe something in that range ought to be $3.99, perhaps. That would be somewhere in the 50-150 pages of story length.

Novels, by SFWA standards, are 40K+ (150+ pages, more or less). This is where it starts to get hairy for me, because does one price a short novel, say, NO DOMINION, which is 60K, at the same rate one prices a 150K novel? My inclination is no. And this is difficult to determine because in the print world, 60K novels are scarce on the ground except in category romance, where they in fact cost around $5.

So okay. Say I price NO DOMINION at $4.99, which I think is a pretty fair price. Then let’s say I write THE REGENT’S FOOL, which would have been book 3 of the Inheritors’ Cycle. If it stayed in line with the other two Inheritors’ books, it would be 150-170K, which is more than twice the length of NO DOMINION. If you were to get a mass market paperback of that, it would cost either $7.99 or $8.99. So would I (theoretically) price that at $7.99, and a middle-length novel like a Walker Papers, which ranges from 100-115K, at $6.99?

Well, no, actually, I probably wouldn’t. I’d probably set them at $5.99 and $6.99, although in my opinion we’re getting into a hazy grey area here, because while I can hear you protesting that e-books cost less to produce, and that’s true because there’s no physical book to print, the flip side is that the book still requires the same *work* that the printed edition costs. And those are things like this:

- me to write the book
- someone to edit the book
- cover art
- book design
- marketing

With the exception of marketing (which I haven’t properly figured out yet), those same costs are much inherent in any e-book I’d put out, except it’s my own money paying for cover art, editing and possibly book design, rather than my publisher’s money. This is probably in itself reason enough to argue for a further markup of the price to match publishing house prices, but OTOH, the publishing house is also printing books, which costs (as far as I can tell from the invoices I’ve gotten on my own author copies of books over the years) about 20% of the cover price. So okay, for a 100K+ novel I set the price a dollar below what a mass market would cost, and that more or less covers the “bargain rate because there’s no print edition” percentage of the cost.

(Begin digression: books like mine, published by a New York publisher as e-books, do not cost $9.99 or indeed $14.99 to try to screw the reader out of their money: they cost that because they’re paying for all of the above. Furthermore, bookstores pays the publisher $7.50 for that $14.99 book, which means all of the above is coming out of the $7.50 a publishing house is getting paid for that book. Subtract 20% of that $7.50 for printing costs, and appreciate that publishing is *not* a get-rich industry.

And Amazon is buying those books at at least $7.50 and selling them at a loss in order to draw people in and encourage them to buy Kindles. This is not sustainable for Amazon in the long run and it’s sure as shit not sustainable for the publishing industry, which is why Tor’s decision to release books DRM-free (and Baen’s having always done that) is a big deal.

End digression.)

I suppose the point of all this is that figuring out the e-pricing is tricky, and that I’m actively interested in how writers are approaching it and what readers think is fair. So talk to me! :)

(x-posted from the essential kit)

dancinghorsedancinghorse on April 27th, 2012 02:16 pm (UTC)
At Book View Cafe we've discovered that the sweet spot for ebooks seems to be $4.99. Anything much above that and you lose readers. The .99 and 1.99 specials will bring them in and may run up a lot of numbers, and there are some who are trying price pulsing, but I'm too damn lazy.

This is backlist however, which means publishers paid for the editing etc., though we do the formatting and design new covers. We're still figuring out original titles. I plan to price my Kickstarter YA at $5.99 because [a] original and [b] backers get it for $5 and I want them to feel they're getting something a little extra. I don't know how high I would go with a fully original novel versus a revision, which is what the funding is paying for. Will watch your experiments with interest. I am getting editing through the co-op, which makes it much more feasible to keep the price down. If I had to pay an editor, I'd be thinking along the lines you've described.
kitmizkit on April 27th, 2012 02:22 pm (UTC)
Yeah, the $4.99 thing is a definite consideration. Almost anybody'll buy a book for five bucks, but after that it does slow 'em down. Since I don't have backlist to experiment with, I'm coming at it from a slightly different place, but--this is hard stuff! :)
Laura Anne Gilmansuricattus on April 27th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah - not having backlist makes you look at the work-costs as we ll as the production costs.... the worker does not work for free, in any endeavor.
dancinghorsedancinghorse on April 27th, 2012 07:48 pm (UTC)
As long as royalties are so much higher for DIY, it can average out--but that presumes that you get significant sales. And that's a really big presumption.

I was interested to note that my Kickstarter earned me slightly more for the book than the original advance for version 1.0. Kind of weird. And it will earn more once it's published.
Michael Curry: altonmcurry on April 27th, 2012 02:18 pm (UTC)

I think one tricky bit is that most readers (those who are not writers) probably don't tend to think much about wordcount when they buy books unless the book is either really short (like a category romance) or really long (like a doorstop epic fantasy), so whether a book is 90k words or 140k words isn't something they'd expect to be factored into price. That would seem to argue against tweaking price based on exact wordcount.

Maybe a good plan is to price as high as you think the market will realistically bear, based on what's being charged for e-books that you consider comparable to yours, and then experiment with lowering the price to see how much it increases sales?

kitmizkit on April 27th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's a very writerly way to look at it. But somebody elsewhere commented on Kindle (or whatever)'s stated page count as being what she decides what she's willing to pay for it, which is why I added in the page count suggestions.

Realistically I don't have enough *material* to really experiment, so I suppose I'm trying to get it as close to right in the first place as I can. :)
Michael Currymcurry on April 27th, 2012 02:48 pm (UTC)
Actually, I was suggesting you experiment with changing the price of the e-book after it's already on sale. Toby Buckell did a post last year about his experiments with that: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2011/04/01/a-year-of-selling-tides-from-the-new-worlds/
Jen: Readingindiana_j on April 27th, 2012 02:38 pm (UTC)
As a fairly new Kindle owner, I have to admit I was kind of taken by surprise by the price of the books when I started to download. Having a few authors on my reading list at LJ and a few blogs I visit, however, has helped a lot with figuring out why they can or do cost that much.

I did struggle with it for a bit and I've come to the realization that, regardless of the format, there will always be authors that I'm willing to buy at a higher rate than others. And some where even $1.99 seems too high. ;)

E-book prices are really a focus point right with the Apple / others being sued thanks to it, so it'll be interesting to see what happens in that field.
kitmizkit on April 27th, 2012 02:40 pm (UTC)
And some where even $1.99 seems too high. ;)

*laughs right out loud* :)

Yeah, e-book pricing is a Very Hot Topic right now, much larger than my own little flirtations with it!
Lisa CohenLisa Cohen on April 27th, 2012 03:09 pm (UTC)
This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately. I priced my debut title at $2.99. Ultimately, I think the $4.99 price point feels right for an eBook, but being a relative unknown, I didn't think I could entice folks to take a risk on me at that price.

I wouldn't price it lower because of the royalty structure and because I think a book as a work of art is worth more than a buck.

As a reader, I have an issue with paying close to the trade paperback price for an eBook. Yes, the author deserves fair recompense for his or her work, but so much of the price of a physical book is for paying production/manufacture/storage/shipping costs for the actual item rather than paying the artist. I'm willing to pay a small premium for the physical object.

When the eBook approaches the price of the physical book, I'd rather pay for the physical book. Yet the writer in me knows the writer will make more money on the eBook.

Aargh. So complex!!!
Geek of Weird Shit: weldinggows on April 27th, 2012 04:19 pm (UTC)
This is about where I'm at, too. I don't do e-readers, though, so for me it's pdf world or bust. With that, $4.99 is about the top price, and I really only do it with authors I already like anyway.

To add to the real/ebook and pricing/artist compensation dilemma, there's the whole used-book-store option, too, not to mention, y'know, the library.
S. L. Grayshadowhwk on April 27th, 2012 03:10 pm (UTC)
I am a couple steps behind you in this process, so I don't have much to contribute.

Other than to say that it seems to me that if you have a backlist available, doing the .99 thing for the first few days of your -new- release seems to get people to take a look and maybe go back for the older books, but after that, it doesn't make much sense to me. And for someone without an electronic backlist, it's not much good at all.

I think I will probably aim for the $3.99/$4.99 myself for a full, never-before-seen novel (Hi, Tybalt) and maybe $2.99 for a revision like TDU. I think. Maybe.
Tim Graytimgray on April 27th, 2012 03:28 pm (UTC)
I think there's definite value for a -new- author to set a first title (esp in a series) at a low price point to get people to take the gamble.

It worked on me last week. After reading about a young chap who was self-publishing his fantasy series I looked him up on Kindle and grabbed book one to read on the train. Unfortunately it's really poorly written, so that turns out to be anti-marketing!
anthony_lionanthony_lion on April 28th, 2012 03:20 pm (UTC)
I always download the free sample first if I 'try out' a new writer. That has saved me from ending up with crap books on several occasions.

Sooner or later, though, crap writers will catch on to this function and 'make the effort' with the first chapter, possibly get it it professionally edited, or just rewriting the first chapter of a good book...
jamileigh17: Booklovejamileigh17 on April 27th, 2012 05:15 pm (UTC)
As a reader: Depends greatly on the author. There are some (like you) whom have never left me disappointed in their books, where I don't even look at the price of the book, I just click buy. That's probably about 10 people. There's a tier of a ton of authors where I've enjoyed their books well enough, some I maybe even love, but others not so much. Those I won't pay more than the paper book costs, and prefer to keep it under $10. For trying new, unknown authors, I generally just download the sample, and only buy it if I feel it's wonderful. Those, again, under $10, and if there's a paper book, I want it the same or less (when it's less, I feel like I'm getting a deal in addition to the convenience of ebooks).

There are millions of books out there, more than any individual can read in a lifetime. While they're not all interchangeable, if the book is too expensive, or worse, the ebook isn't available? Unless it's one of my top favorite authors, (where I'll likely buy it in BOTH paper and ebook anyway so as to have something for them to sign at some future point), then I likely will just end up with it languishing on the TBR list. Given as that list is currently hovering around 600 items, it's very, very easy for that to turn into a lost sale.

I think one of the lessons we need to learn from the music industry is how the market views the product. What's the value of the experience, of that story itself? Is this a story that I'll blow through in an hour? Or is it one that I'll savor and enjoy, possibly (depending on the reader) repeatedly?

I think the best thing would be if publishers could all sell their ebooks directly, like the epubs have been doing for years. Leave the middle man out of it, and everyone wins. Publishers get to set their own prices. Readers get (hopefully) a slightly cheaper price, and when they don't, they can vote with their wallet and their comments. This would actually encourage readers to explore more at the publishers' websites, possibly leading them to find other books by the same publisher that they'll enjoy.

(Also, this long comment reminds me why I'm not so good at twitter for anything interesting.)
Turning the Schmaltz up to 11pullthestars on April 27th, 2012 05:52 pm (UTC)
The thing is, right now a lot of the bigger publishers ARE setting their own prices. Simon & Schuster is the one that decided that they wanted to sell the new Stephen King book for Kindle at 16.99 (18.99 for the one w/ additional audio and visual!), not Amazon.

I think that it is a bit naive to assume that if the middle man (Amazon, Barnes & Noble, etc) is out of the picture, that the price for e-books will magically drop to 'reasonable' amounts. I think that they would continue to charge whatever they darn well please, and those prices will continue to be higher than what we'd like to pay, and we won't really have a choice for paying less.

These are the publishers that are also attempting to screw over libraries by charging EXORBITANT amounts for their e-books, and limiting how often they can loan them out to people.
"It states that a licensing change "will include a checkout limit for each e-book licensed." Harper Collins has since been identified as one publisher driving this change and they had reportedly set their checkout limit at 26. What this means is that a library that buys an e-book has the rights to lend that e-book out 26 times, then the copy will expire and require a new copy to be purchased if they want to retain it in their collection. In other words, the library doesn't really own the copy of the e-book they bought."

There's a reason why on most things I waited to get the paperback -- hardbacks are just too rich for my blood. And now that the ebooks are starting out at hardcover prices, it's affecting what I buy, and so either I wait for the price to drop, or I see if the book is available from the library.
mikaela_lmikaela_l on April 27th, 2012 08:02 pm (UTC)
I might be alone in this but for me wordcount play a role when I decide wheter or not to buy a book. For anything below 15 k words 1.99 is the upper limit.

That said, I am picky when it comes to indie books. I prefer authors that have been published before, even if it is just a small press.

Chrysoulachrysoula on April 27th, 2012 09:10 pm (UTC)
Posted comments on G+. Must remember to never do that again and instead come post them here.

*deep breath* *walks away*

Oh. As a purchaser, impulse buy is 3.99 and lower. 'definitely gonna read' is 4.99-14.99, but it may wait until I feel like I have the cash to spare.
dreamerfoundwyldreamer on April 27th, 2012 09:57 pm (UTC)
I've had a kindle since last November and now buy most of my books in e-book format since I'm running out of room for physical books in our tiny apartment :)

I find that I am willing to pay paperback prices for e-books that are from authors I know that I like and books in a series that I'm already reading. For new (to me) authors I'm a little more hesitant to pay $7-$12 for something I'm not sure about. I find that I'm more likely to buy something I'm unfamiliar with when it is on sale for under $5.

I actually do think about word count and will check that out when considering what I'm willing to pay but I've dabbled a bit in writing and am somewhat aware of what goes into getting those words on the page.

If more publishers drop the DRM I will likely be even more willing to pay the same price for ebooks as paperbacks because then I will feel more confident that I can keep that book no matter what reader I'm using down the line.

Michellemsagara on April 27th, 2012 11:03 pm (UTC)
Smashwords gives you the 70% at 0.99 or at 2.99 or higher. You get less, I think, because of the costs of transaction (paypal? 3rd party?), but the higher rate applies across the board. Or it did.
kitmizkit on April 28th, 2012 08:22 am (UTC)
No, I just haven't gotten anything up on Smashwords so I didn't know. :)
katedonovankatedonovan on April 27th, 2012 11:24 pm (UTC)
among the costs:

- me to write the book

is my favorite!
LiveJournal: pingback_botlivejournal on April 28th, 2012 12:16 am (UTC)
The Worth of Words
User shadowhwk referenced to your post from The Worth of Words saying: [...] does happen on occasion. No need to mark the calendar. Lately, there's been some great conversation [...]