Ebook prices

Today I learned that one of my favorite authors is coming out with a new title in a couple of weeks. This is the second book in a series I´ve wanted to read for a while, so I figured I´d go ahead and grab the first one and perhaps preorder the second. I was looking forward to this, since it´s been a while since I last read anything by this author.

I´ve should have expected what was to come. This is a traditionally published author, and ever since the big publishers got their way with Amazon a couple of years ago, their ebook prices has steadily increased. So I shouldn´t have been surprised when I saw the price tag: $8.99 for the first, and $19.01 (!) for the preorder.

Okay, this is a favorite of mine, after all, so I might have grumpily coughed up $8.99, but 19 bucks for an ebook? Heck no. Maybe in a few years, when the publisher has squeezed his most loyal readers (anybody see what´s wrong here?), and puts the title on sale, I might consider it. If I remember. If I still care. Unless I remember this and gets annoyed again.

There are so many wrongs here, I´ll have to pick them apart one by one.

First. Ebooks are cheap to produce. I get that producing a paper book is more expensive, and needs to be priced higher. I mean, I price my paper novels around $15, and make less than I do on an ebook priced at $3.99. And there are costs associated with ebooks as well, but this is an investment, meant to be producing an income for decades. Once the production costs, such as editing and cover design are covered, the cost of producing an additional ebook is marginal. So, the more savvy traditional publishers are pricing their ebooks at 6-8 bucks these days. And indies, whose business models generally rest upon ebooks, are selling theirs at 3-8 bucks. My novels are generally priced at $3.99, and I guess this is sort of a middle ground. I could have gone up a dollar or two, but I´m happy with $3.99, since it is a fair price to both parties; To the author, since it makes more than a paperback would have earned, and to the reader, who gets a book for less than a third of the paperback price. This is called a win-win situation, which is about as good as it gets.

Second. From the prices above it is obvious that the publisher is squeezing the most out of their most loyal readers. I hesitate to use the word fan, but I guess if a reader actually goes ahead and buys this book at $19 this is a true fan. Now, I wish I could ask the publisher: if you have this kind of true fans, why are you treating them this way??? These are the people you should treat the best, they should get the introductory offers, the special launch price. Instead, the publisher is greedily demanding they pay almost 20 bucks for an ebook! I know this may seem a normal price in some countries, such as here in Norway, but generally this kind of pricing is unheard of. An ebook generally cost between $3 – $10, with a segment as low as $1, and a few just above $10. A first-in-series book may be priced at $1 or even free, while the rest of the series is priced higher. This is a normal range, and most readers seem to have a limit at about $5-$6, depending on how well they know the author.

Third. Publishers are in business to make money. They can speak all they want about culture and art and whatnot, but at the end of the day they are businesses. When Amazon, another business trying to make money, tried to push prices down, the big publishers fought back. They wanted to set the prices (higher) themselves. Now, Amazon has more sales data than anyone on the planet, and their data suggested that lower prices not only sold more books, but made more money as well. These are two distinct issues, and should not be confused. As an indie, this is something I´m well aware of. Because of the royalty rates, I need to sell six books at $0.99 in order to make as much as I would at $2.99. But if I priced my books too high, I would´t sell anything. So everyone needs to find their balancing point.

But back to the publishers. Ever since they «won»the argument with Amazon, their prices have steadily increased, while their sales have dropped (In many cases the ebook edition is more expensive than the paperback!). This is the origin of the myth that says ebook sales are dropping. It isn´t. Ebook sales by the biggest publishers, who prices their books at 12, 15, 20 bucks (!) are dropping. Of course they are! And then, when publishers report this, the media (and let´s face it, these people aren´t always the sharpest pencils…) is all over it, writing stupid articles about how ebook sales are dropping, and that it was all a fad.

If you look at the smaller publishers, and the indies, who are making up a large and growing portion of the market, their ebook sales are increasing every month. Add to that the fact that industry statistics only count books with ISBNs, the «ebook sales are dropping» argument becomes even more invalid. A few ebook retailers still demand ISBNs, but the biggest one doesn´t! There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of titles out there without ISBNs, and some of them are bestsellers! It used to be that every book carried an ISBN, but that is simply not true anymore.

The real picture is this: Ebooks are selling more every months, but the big publishers are losing market shares. The reason, unless you already guessed: Ebook prices. They are, simply put, pricing themselves off the market. The reasoning may be what many are speculating, that this is a way to protect paper sales. I don´t know. It might be as simple as a combination of greed and ignorance (which is what I believe). The fact remains though, readers won´t pay 20 bucks for an ebook. And you shouldn´t. Not even for a favorite.

6 thoughts on “Ebook prices

  1. SANDY SKIBO

    Thanks for comments about ebooks, Andreas. I heartily agree with you after reading this article. I get my notifications through BookBub which redirects me to amazon.com. I don’t mind paying 3 or $4 for ebooks but you are right. the costs have gone up and I will not order ebooks that cost ten or fifteen dollars. More people need to speak out against gouging the prices. I continue to be an ardent fan of yours. Coolbreeze20716

    Reply
  2. SHEILA BEITLER

    I thoroughly enjoyed your article. E-book prices going up as they are makes me hesitate to buy them, especially if it’s a favorite author. However, in my case, it’s different. It isn’t that I buy e-books exclusively no matter the cost, I buy them because I can’t hold a paperback any longer due to medical reasons, my kindle is perfect for me. Naturally, I now pick and choose which e-books to buy , but I don’t hesitate if it’s an author I follow. But I feel the squeeze, I’ve noticed prices inching up. I get BookBub notices daily. It sends me to Amazon if I want the book. I have no problem with that. But these costs are ridiculous. Sure it hurts the readers, but it isn’t fair at all to the writers. At all.

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  3. Alan Doverty

    I totally agree with you everyone should make money from their labours, I have like you seen an increase in some authors prices and quite frankly feel like they think they can charge what they like. Now is this the authors or Amazon or in my case I books. Since being introduced to BookBub I have came across a hell of a lot of excellent writers some new some old but I feel better for reading new and up and coming writers and these are the ones that I like to keep with these days, so for all these authors please keep up the good work.

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  4. JT Brock

    Excellent blog post. I agree that $20 is too much for an e-book. I also think that what you (and some other authors) are doing is a great idea. you give away the first book in the series for free, and then charge a reasonable price on the subsequent titles. I bought your book “RIft” and so far have enjoyed it so I bought the next book “Covenant” and will likely buy the third book as well. If your book had been $10 or more I likely wouldn’t have bought it at all because i wouldn’t have taken a chance on it. I think a lot of authors with high priced e-books have the same problem, no one (or not many) people will take a chance on an author if they’re not familiar with him/her. but reasonably priced e-books will sell more because people are willing to take a chance. and like you said, if they sell a lot more they make more money than if they were priced higher.
    i hope that this method is working for you. you’re a fantastic author and I’m glad I took the chance on your free offering as I have become a fan and will likely buy your other ebooks as well.

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  5. Robert Bixler

    I have recently been reading many books for free from Kindle Unlimited. Considering I may end up reading over 100 books in a year, I don’t even look at books that are more than $10. If a well known author i have been reading for years adds a new title in a series, and they cost more, i sugn up for an ebook or hardcopy from the local library and read other things while waiting. Even $3.99 for an ebook is high as there seem to be many options I can find for other books for less that I find I also enjoy. If it is a continuation of a series I started reading for less, I will consider spending that … but there are so many books out there.

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  6. Bob Quick

    Hi Andreas, I am catching up on your blog in fits and starts as I am new to your followers! I completely agree with your comments on the rising prices of e-books, particularly new releases by established authors but sadly others seem to be jumping on the same bandwagon. Whilst it is only fair that authors should receive the due reward of their labours, it is manifestly not fair that their followers should be expected to pay through the nose for the pleasure of reading them. When I have queried this the replies received (when, indeed I get a reply) are little more than ‘passing the buck’ exercises and lead nowhere.
    Most of my books come from Amazon via their ‘kindle unlimited’ service and Bookbub is an excellent source of reasonably priced authors, many of whom, like yourself, I had never heard of before.
    Best wishes, Bob

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