Ebook Pricing Guidelines for Indie Authors

What if Indie authors, as a community, developed a method for fair ebook pricing?

Have you thought you would save paper and money by purchasing an ebook, only to find it is almost the same price as the print version? Have you noticed that this price inflation usually happens with traditionally published books, yet Indie authors get grief for charging $2.99 instead of $.99? If a Big Six publisher can charge $9.99 for an ebook, why do Indies get flack for charging $4.99? Why is it some Indies charge $4.99 for a 150-page book while others charge $1.99? It seems like an ethical pricing structure is overdue.

Most Indies consider the standard pricing structure for ebooks to be 99 cents for 0-99 pages, $1.99 for 100-199 pages, and $2.99 to $4.99 for larger works, depending on size and demand. For big books without filler, $4.99 is not unreasonable. Even at $4.99, an Indie author would only charge about half of what a traditional publisher does.

If we are going to talk about pricing, we should also talk about a lack of it, such as in the form of free promos. And we should not be afraid to do it frankly.

If a deeply discounted book is considered a bargain bin deal, what is a free book considered?

If a store offers a book at 66% off, it seems like a great deal. After all, they are practically giving it away! (They aren’t. Everyone is still making something off of the sale. Also, they are charging something for it because it has value.) Putting a $2.99 ebook on sale for $.99 is the same, deeply discounted deal as throwing your book in the bargain bin, but at least you are making something off of that sale because the book has value.

Why does Amazon allow you to give away books if they don’t make money off of them? Actually, they do make money. If that book is given away elsewhere, the customer will follow the deal; thus, if Amazon does not also offer the book for free, they could lose out on other sales. Amazon understands that even if the author doesn’t make a penny, they still can. The author, a.k.a. the one who did all the work and paid to create the product, is the one who loses.

When you give away your book, you give away your entire product.

Since it can easily cost a thousand dollars to write, edit, format, and create a cover, charging $2.99 for a 300+ page ebook is not unreasonable. An occasional sale of $.99 is fine, but do we need to lower ourselves by giving away our hard work? How many times have we seen resulting reviews like, “This book is terrible. Normally I would not have picked it up, but it was free”? Don’t forget the infamous, “I want to read that book so badly, but I will wait until it is free.” Really? For a book that costs less than a Starbuck’s fix? People will buy a liquid candy bar, and maybe even tip the staff for a minute of work, but they won’t spend less money on a book that will take them hours, possibly even days, to read. Why are we authors encouraging this behavior?

Yes, this is our fault. We are enablers. If we would stop giving away our work, people would stop expecting to get something for nothing. They would also stop leaving bad reviews based on how much they hated a book they normally never would have considered opening but did so because we made it too easy.

Many authors are concerned about exposure, and offering something for nothing is a great way to get attention. But in the case of a $.99 sale, consumers will actually read the blurb before buying the book instead of clicking because they like the cover, not to mention then leaving a bad review because the book did not gel with them. An undeserved bad review is not the kind of attention any author wants.

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If you still want to try a free promo, there is another option. By offering a short story related to one of your books, readers will get a taste of your writing along with a reason to buy something. And while you had to work to make that promotional short story, thinking of it more as investing in an ad takes the sting out of giving away your work.

The system needs to stabilize. Charging even a small amount shows that we believe our product has value. Indies are often seen as people who produce bad work in an effort to swindle a fast buck. Imagine how uniting under a code of quality that reflects our value would help lift the stigma of being an Indie. We deserve to be taken seriously.

I’d like to thank Tracey Lyons for pointing out something on Amazon’s site:

What price will Kindle Worlds charge readers for stories?
Amazon Publishing will set the price for most works between $0.99 and $3.99.

Amazon is setting the price, and I don’t see the word free there. Amazon wants you to always pay for fan fiction. We should learn from this.

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8 Comments

  1. Cherime MacFarlane

    Sort of torn on this one. I already charge .99 cents for the smaller shorts and novellas. I do not need another entity wanting money from me. A reason why I don’t belong to RAW is because I can’t afford it. I don’t get the majority of my sales from Amazon but from other retailers. I am not in KU and have no plans to enroll books in it. But in the end, I police myself as best I can. I try to put out the best book I can. For me any additional police of any kind would not be helpful. At the least it would keep me from writing and publishing any more books.

  2. I think that eBooks should be priced “accordingly.” When authors do promos, we can offer our books at sale prices. However, we need some consistency in what’s considered a fair price in a fair marketplace. If authors continually give their books away for free, we will never be able to compete fairly for a fair price. Already, readers have come to expect that they can get as many FREE eBooks as they want–hence, the popularity of sites like BookBub. To my way of thinking, indie authors are shooting themselves in the feet. An apt cliche!

  3. As always, I can count on you for fair and objective food for thought. By placing ‘value’ on our work, I think indie authors need to step back and decide which road is best for us. I, for one do not want to work for free. Writing a book and the whole process, from writing, to editing, proofreading and a marketable cover costs money. Why put all that effort into a product only to give it away? Thanks Diane for going on this fact finding mission and sharing your wisdom 🙂

  4. I love this post. I so agree. Why oh why are indie authors giving away their work. I value every minute I spend on a novel. We have set a horrible precedent. I would even go so far as to say that .99 is too low. I don’t know how much money multi-author boxed sets are making either at .99 a download. WE need to value our work. Free is not a price. P.S. if you look at the Amazon Kindle Worlds program their pricing is set at page count. And they never, as far as I know, put those books in special discount promotions.

  5. Great post, Diane. I really had to think twice about a reply. First, it is author’s choice how we price our books, promote discounted or free. But it was NOT the indie author who set the precedent for a FREE or discounted book. Amazon designed those FREE and KCD from the get go because it needed material for it’s new innovation, the Kindle. Every single promoter gained subscribers by promoting those FREE titles. It wasn’t until Amazon made changes in its affiliate program that many promotion sites began offering
    99¢ books. Some still don’t. In 2014 more and more promoters finally offered indies slots for priced books. Amazon and promoters made the market what it is today. The fact as I know it, is that putting a title FREE gains exposure for a new indie author. It takes at least a year for a new indie to learn the ropes. No book sells without promotion. I know indie authors who made their reputations early on and built up reader platforms and fans by using FREE promotions. Now they seldom go FREE. I see FREE as a marketing tool-not as a reflection of my talent or the value I put on my work. I am not a best selling author, but when I promote, I see borrows and sales and an ROI. And thus far, the new KENP pay by pages read looks like a grand slam to me. Indie authors did not create the market climate. We still don’t. Readers are savvy. They will seldom pay full price for an indie book unless familiar with the author. New indie authors publish every single day and many titles continue to lack editorial input. Readers will take a chance on a new indie on a FREE book or discounted, but seldom on full-priced. Indie authors did create that buyer hesitation and still do by ticking that publish button before a title is ready for public consumption. The thing about buying a Starbuck’s latte is you know what you are getting every single time. You know how it will taste and look, no matter where in the world you order it because the recipe is the same by company policy and standards. That is not true with indie books.
    Again, great post and some terrific insights. I appreciate the opportunity to comment.
    Jackie Weger

    • Thanks, Jackie. I am curious as to how you feel about giving away a novella as opposed to a full-length novel. I’m floored by the number of people who never consider that. I can crank out a novella in a month or two as opposed to a year. Writing a novella as a promotional investment makes sense to me. Giving away a novel does not. Thoughts? Thanks!

  6. Diane: I don’t write novellas. I write long. I can’t help it. I am firmly in the camp of author choice. I know indies who make Novellas perma-free and promote the heck out of those to gain exposure to priced and discounted full length novels. It works well for them. I use short FREE book promos to gain exposure, new readers and reviews. I have always earned an ROI once the title returned to priced. How it works is a FREE download counts as one-tenth of a sale as far as Amazon paid stats once it returns to priced. Having a title in what I call, above the fold i.e. 5,000 to 500 on Amazon gets a title on popularity lists, and in those fab ‘also bought’ trailers that Amazon runs below a book page. Readers who find a new author on Free and like the book, go straight back to Amazon and buy or borrow the author’s other titles. I have never seen less than 2K ROI on a FREE within days of a unit returning to paid, and once 5K within 15 days. The faster reviews get posted after a FREE also helps keep the book in the public eye on Amazon. A really well-planned FREE campaign on a tile can generate sales and borrows for up to 41 days without so much as a Tweet or FB posting. But I’m happy if a FREE run generates sales/borrows/25-50 reviews over the following 10 to 23 days. There have been a lot of changes in our indie universe over the past two years. Right now the market is sluggish, so I’m running small/shorter 99¢ campaigns for a 3 day total sale of a little over 600 units on a 3 unit bundle. I get where you are coming from when you say, FREE doesn’t make sense. You are welcome to email me. I can share more data in a less public forum, so as not to take up so much space and time. I share facts. Because we cannot make the best decisions for our books on exaggeration and rumor.
    Cordially,
    Jackie Weger

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