Friday, March 15, 2013


I saw a Tweet a while back that said something to the effect of: why is it that people are ok with buying a greeting card for $5 but expect a BOOK to be $.99?

It’s a good question. I was reading that as people expect E-BOOKS to be $.99 and, the heart of it, I think, is because they’re digital; they’re not tangible like a physical book and, psychologically, it’s harder to justify a non-tangible item for more money. Which is completely not fair, considering all the time spent on a book, the respect that should be given to the intellectual property of an artist, etc etc I could go on and on.

My question is: will this trend continue?

Cover your ears book lovers – I’m about to blaspheme. 

I think that NO, it will not continue…because as physical books become less and less popular, and electronic books more common, there will be far less of a physical vs. digital mentality for readers to balk at.

(end blasphemy)

Looking at the music industry, for example, when digital music first came on the scene for iPods and even CD burning, everyone wanted to get their songs for free. It was a big battle to end that (and well, no, it’s not really quite over) which involved a total overhaul in how music is accessed. You CAN now go to iTunes and buy a single song, or listen endlessly on Pandora  or even YouTube.

But the music industry didn’t die. We’re not craving any less new music. We’re just accessing it differently.

In that time, CDs have become all but extinct. If I wanted to purchase music, I wouldn’t go buy a physical CD; I’d just go online and buy the song, or the whole album, digital. And if I DID buy a CD, I certainly wouldn’t expect it to cost MORE than the digital album. In other words: as time has passed, I’ve come to accept the cost of electronic music, and its worth, to a point that it’s just about equal in my mind, because digital is much more prevalent in my life.

Of course…there were also those huge campaigns against illegal music downloads, lawsuits, sitting in movies watching a preview that screams at me IF YOU BUY A BURNED DVD YOU ARE BREAKING THE LAW AND ARE AN EVIL PERSON AND THE WORLD WILL DIE AHHH!!!

So that probably also played a part in instilling a respect for an artist’s work, equating it to money. The rest is time; time for technology to evolve and make physical music formats irrelevant.

Time is already changing the format of books. E-readers are becoming more affordable, which means they’ll be trickling down to more and more readers, and soon, maybe we’ll have a YouTube of the book world – a new platform to figure out how to use to our advantage.

So all we need is that second part…that campaign…that screams out IF YOU PURCHASE AN EBOOK FOR LESS THAN $1 YOU ARE SLAPPING THE AUTHOR IN THE FACE!!!!!

Or you know. Whatever. Just a suggestion. I certainly don’t want to DISCOURAGE e-book sales (and freebies and discounts are a great way to gain readership).

What do you think?


  1. The logic here is a little confusing to me. If a book is priced at .99 cents, it's because the author priced it that way. Publishers certainly aren't selling books for that price. So I can't see how buying a book for the price the author selected is slapping him/her in the face.

    Self-pubbers are already moving away from the .99-cent model because there's no money in it. The reasonable price point for an e-book seems to be around 2.99 to 5.99, which to me seems like a sweet spot. That's perfect impulse-buy price.

    1. Hi T.L. - the deal is that authors are pricing that way because readers won't buy otherwise. If a self-pub is above the "sweet spot" you mention, it's likely just not to be bought. That's what I meant; a vicious cycle, because authors want to make money, but have to price lower to sell, but truly, is $2.99 (LESS or EQUAL a greeting card!) really what a whole book should be priced at? Or are authors being forced to under-price to keep up?

      And publishers, especially digital publishers, do indeed price that way! Digital romance novels are often $2.99, novellas $.99.

      Just food for thought. :)

  2. I agree with everything you've written. I love buying a 99cent book--but it doesn't mean I'm going to read it over the others any sooner--I may even forget about it. Soon, very soon, I also feel the tangibleness of ebook vs. the weighted variety will close. And I suppose, when buyers realize the years of work that goes into the book they're enjoying.
    When my kids tell me about their friends downloading stuff ofor free, I remind him of all the work the artist had to do, and how would they feel? They get the picture pretty fast.

  3. I've always thought that $5 was a fair price for a book - especially a mass market or digital book. But it's interesting to make the comparison to something like a greeting card because, yes, we pay that without thinking because it just costs what it costs. It meets our expectation and I think as our expectations of ebooks change we'll see pricing shifts.
    But it's definitely an interesting time as we figure all this out.

  4. I really like this post. You've given me a lot to think about. I'm an aspiring author who absolutely loves paper and ink books, but my sister is self pubbed in e-format @ 2.99. I do know how much work she put into that book. She's brave in going this route. And I admit I've been hanging back, watching to see how it goes. I'm kind of eccentric. I like CDs. I still have *gasp* cassettes, lol. Yes, I know I'm a dying breed. ;)

    An interesting thought, put to me by a friend who does feel justified in the piracy of music: "I bought the vinyl. I bought the 8track, I bought the cassette, I bought the mp3. How many times do I have to pay for the same song in my lifetime?"

    I likened this to being the same deal as if you want the paperback after the hardcover comes out. You'll pay for it. Because that's how it is. Why shouldn't it be the same for digital books? Of course the prices of these newer/current(?) types of pub format do seem to traditionally decrease in price. Yet DVD's and BluRay seemed to cost more and continue to cost more than VHS tapes, but streaming video is pretty darn cheap. It really does seem like it comes down good marketing and figuring out how to harness those new platforms in ways that benefit the artists.

  5. I think the pricing of e-books will remain steady in the $2.99-5.99 range. People were willing to try the new format for 99 cents and will continue to buy thier favorite authors regardless of price, up to a point. But I think readers are becoming less likely to try a new author at the super cheap price, having been burned by a few poorly written downloads. It's kind of like wine, you'll pay a lot more for something you know is really good, but if you're at the grocery store, you're not going to take a chance on too cheap or too expensive so you stick to a comfortable price range where you've found good quality at a reasonable price.

  6. I self-pubbed my first novel in December 2012. I sold it for three weeks at 99 cents to give it a boost and to give family and other obligation purchasers a break.

    Since then I've done one 3-day promotion where I gave 8341 copies away for free. Otherwise, I've kept the price steady at $2.99.

    Months one thru three I earned $22, $200+, and $350 respectively. This month I'm on track to earn just under $500. I'm not getting rich, but it takes time to build a business and to prove to readers that I'm worth their investment. I'm guessing it may be a while before I can charge $5.99 for a novel, but I'll get there.

    As a digital ebook consumer myself, I have no problem paying $2.99 for untried authors whose sample chapters read well and $5.99 for authors that are tried and true. I'll sometimes pay more for favorite authors of fiction and truly useful works of non-fiction.

    I believe over the next couple of years the price for full length novels will settle out as follows: $0-$0.99 for short promotional stints, $0.99-$2.98 for iffy works, $2.99-$5.99 for engaging audience-building authors, $5.99-$7.99 for well-established authors, and $7.99 and up for super stars.

    1. I think you may be spot on with your breakdown of author levels. However, the one issue that may muck that system up is the authors ability to change the price themselves. Here's what I mean. Let's say this breakdown does become adopted and just generally 'known' to most readers.
      A newbie such as myself comes in and thinks "My story rocks and I don't care if 'iffy' works or 'audience builders' are priced lower, I'm awesome and think I should sell it for $9.99". Then, just to reinforce my own thoughts to others I go out and purchase reviews to put on Amazon.

      So, person goes out (looking for a really good book) and see's the $9.99 and assumes I must be famous but they just haven't heard of me and see all the rave reviews on the book and buy a copy. They get shafted and writers reputations everywhere are damaged.
      Until there is a way to protect readers from this kind of under-handed behavior (since assumed social contracts are unenforcable) I don't see how a system like this will formulate. I strongly believe that Amazon needs to find a way to weed out fake reviews or put some restrictions (which I'm firmly against) on authors ability to price their own works.
      Sorry, I'll get off my soapbox now. Great to hear that you're doing so well on your sales though :) Great job!

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  8. While I generally agree with you, your arguement has a flaw. You're really talking apples and oranges when you compare a physical greeting card with an e-book. Now, if you did a more comparative study and asked if someone would pay more for an e-greeting card vs an e-book, I think the answer would be different. I generally only send free e-cards but if I did purchase one I would pay as much as $1.99 for it, and that is because of the animation and sound is easily worth what it would be to print. I know those aren't easy to create so it justifies it. I would, however, still pay more for an e-book. $.99 for a short story seems fair but for the longer stories I've even paid $9.99 which is very close if not equal to what I've paid for printed copies of the same book.

  9. Natalie, Do you think part of the epub pricing problem is that so many people are self-epubbing books that are twenty pages, fifty pages, or even less, calling it an EBOOK? Many people still look at a COVER and think it's a book. Online you can't tell if the cover has five pages behind it or five hundred, a physical book has the mass. If you don't take the time to check the word count, read the sample chapters or whatever, you don't know you're buying a brochure or an epic. I started e-pubbing so that my stories are out there off my shelves so someone might find them. One day I'll figure out how to market them, but selling for .99 is like saying that I've got a brochure, not a serious book.

  10. I'm not upset by digital books costing as much as their paperback counterparts. What I don't like is paying 10.99 for a digital copy when the paperback is only 7.99. This could be more damaging for the author if I buy the paperback, then gift the book to someone else when I'm finished reading it.

    1. I'm with you. I would have a serious problem with spending more on an ebook than a printed copy. I haven't found any ebooks that are more than the printed version, but if I did you can bet i'd be buying the printed one.

  11. I keep waiting for Hallmark cards to disappear, but it's cultural and people spend $ on them. With ebooks vs physical books I think you have a good point:)

  12. Thanks Mark Noce for your good posting. I Think that this post is about free books.
    It helps to reads with another person to communication.

  13. The general interest in books, let alone e-ones has dipped in the last couple of years. I see it as commercialization of just everything as the imepding factor. Secondly, the old-school reading nutters find solace in paperback than e-versions. Personally, I find it quite distracting to read an ebook hence would never buy one. The paperback still rules:) Just a perosnal opinion.