Wednesday, October 6, 2010

E-Book Pricing - Part I

What price to charge for an e-book? This is the great debate amongst Indie writers.

Hanging out on a few independent writer sites, I've noticed this issue cropping up. It is the one foremost in my own mind. Joe Konrath made a good case on Kindle boards (sorry can't find the link) and has another blog post about pricing here. Zoe Winters has touched on the subject here and here. Joe and Zoe are only two people, but both are very visible.

Kindle and Smashwords are the two venues I'm the most familiar with, but there are more. Publishing through Smashwords opens up 4 other markets – Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony and Kobo. (PubIt! just went live. As a reader, I'm excited. More books for my Nook!)

The Kindle store doesn't allow Indie writers to give their work away. In fact, Amazon may have raised the royalty rate to 70% to bring the price of e-books UP to $2.99 as well as down to $9.99. While Smashwords hasn't set a minimum price – they have "coupon codes" so a writer can price their book at a competitive level, yet still give away discounted or free copies as needed.

I want to point out is that many Indie authors are selling their books for $.99 or giving them away. Selling a book cheap (or free) was the way that Winters and Konrath got noticed. As the numbers of Indie authors have skyrocketed, cheap reads are very common. Perhaps too common, there is a lot of downward pressure on book prices.

There is a precedent for freebies on the 'trade' side, too. Ellora's Cave and Harlequin give e-books away. Barnes & Noble gives away a book a week to Nook owners.

I'm kicking myself for losing the link for this – but I picked up the price list below from somewhere. (I'm so sorry, whoever you are!) I found this place from a link of Zoe's, I've posted it here to give us a benchmark.

$0.99 Short Shorts: Under 3K
$1.99 Shorts: 3-7K
$2.99 Stories: 7-15K
$3.99 Novelettes: 15-35K
$4.99 Novellas: 35-50K
$5.99 Novels 50-70K
$6.99 Super Novels: 70-140K
$7.99 Super XL Novels: 140-250K
$8.99 Super XXL Novels: 250K +

*Edited 9/18/2011 - The source is Selena Kitt - from her romantica/erotica publishing company. So the prices are valid for the Romance genre.*

Pricing by length makes sense to me. This list is from an e-publisher. Some would say a 'professionally' published e-book rates more money than a lowly self-published book. Following this price schedule would be a huge step up – "Let's Do Lunch" would sell for $6.99 just by word count.

A second point is that e-book length, as well as pricing, appears to go in two different directions. The women's fiction/romance/erotica market is going shorter, while the fantasy side is getting longer. Hmmm…Does this reflect the free time available for each gender? I know that I don't read modern fantasy anymore, because the darn books are too long. I digress – back on track.

Is this a textbook case of 'the cream rises to the top?'

Joe and Zoe – who gained their popularity with $.99 books, are vocal about raising prices in a time when more people are saying 'Indie books are worthless crap.' Since they are the 'cream' of the Indie world, they may be on the right track for themselves, but not for everyone.

I killed my sales by upping the price of "Let's Do Lunch" to $2.99. There are a number of caveats to that statement. The book is available in more markets than just Kindle, thanks to Smashwords, it even has an ISBN number. Having the sales drop from 4 a week to 0 was a big 'oh shit.'

The reason that I'm 'coming out' on this issue is that I promised myself in the beginning that "Lunch" was an experiment. I could document the 'ups and downs' so other wannabe writers could check this blog for 'real time' results.

Back to pricing – Is $.99 the only answer?

Unknown, self-published authors may feel they don't have a choice. Is the market saying 'if it costs more than a buck, forget it.' to unknowns like myself?

Should we drop the Kindle price back to $.99 because we're desperate to see some sales? Or, raise the price to the charts 'market levels' to combat the pressure for cheap/free reads? Either way changes to Smashwords take weeks to trickle down, while the Kindle contract stipulates they will have the lowest price.

Splitting the price to the different markets could be a good way to test my pricing theory. I could drop my Kindle price to $.99 and leave the rest the same. This could also be an ugly can of worms that I don't want to freaking open! I can see an price war – of my own doing – that will take months to clear up.

*Edited 9/18/2011 - Dropping the price to $.99 didn't work for me. What it did was change the 'Also Bought' list to $.99 and free e-books. This in turn cause more problems as I tried to raise the price to $2.99.* 

*What did work for me was releasing a second e-book. This was 'Impressive Bravado' a 7k short story. The release of this e-book as a freebie in March on produced sales through the summer of 2011. (You can get a free copy from Smashwords through 12/31/11 with this code: HT72M)*
Marketing is a pain in the tush – get on with it!

The ugly truth is that marketing is now the 'make or break' for a writer. It doesn't matter if you are published by a 'trade' publisher, or if you self-published. New writers don't get any marketing help.

Short of hiring someone to market the book, how should a writer work out some kind of marketing strategy? There are plenty of review sites, more 'author interview' sites. Neither of these made any difference in my sales. (Not even Authors on Show, though they gave me a week of phenomenal hits.)

Creating a marketing co-op could be an answer, if I decided I didn't want to write and wanted only to market other writer's books. In my case, joining a co-op would be a better idea. Yet when I look at the one co-op I'm familiar with, it doesn't look so good. is the co-op I'm talking about – I see where they are trolling for authors – but not advertising their content. Book prices vary by length and the purchased package. Yet I don't see them taking advantage of their content by marketing the site to readers. They have no brand. This mistake may kill the site.

*Edited - 9/18/2011 - Looks like the site is dead. There are no blog posts and the newest content appears to be from 2010.*

Content is valuable – to simply charge authors for disk space is a waste of resources. Kindle is a brand. Barnes and Noble is a brand. Authors on Show has the right idea. (Go Team AoS!) could learn a lot from AoS.

Even though my efforts at marketing (besides the $.99 price) have been futile, other writers are looking to me for advice, and/or help marketing their books.

Talk about the blind leading the blind.

*Edited 9/18/2011 - this is my most popular post, with the most hits, on this entire site. The chart has proven more useful to more people than I ever expected.*

For more on this topic:

E-Book Pricing Part II 
E-Book Pricing Part III
E-Book Pricing Part VI

Related links:
Authors on Show - Showcases Authors in UK
Impressive Bravado - Short Horse Story by K. A. Jordan
(You can get a free copy from Smashwords through 12/31/11 with this code: HT72M)
Let's Do Lunch - Women's Fiction by K. A. Jordan


Marion said...

I'm finding that using forums including the Amazon UK and US forums as well as Mobile Readers and Kindleboards does help push sales up. However, the ratio still means too many hours on forums for sales that don't add up to much. If you don't want to give your book away, you can use coupons with Smashwords. Mobile reads will publicize them, and people will download freebies on Smashwords. When Amazon set $2.99 as the minimum for 70% royalties, a lot of writers raised their price to $2.99, but I think the sweet spot with volume is still lower. In any case, keep your day job.

Jean Davis said...

Very interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Ms Kitty said...

If only I still had a day job. (LOL)

I'm signed up to give books to the troops. I had a 50% off coupon for my week on AoS - but no sales.

I'm completely burned out on marketing...this week. I want to start writing again. I'm finding it hard to market and write. As you say, it takes a lot of hours to market a single book.

Lorraine said...

Very informative and a great help to me, thank you. Talking of thanks, what super plugs for us. Sad the site is playing up. Front page gone all funny on us.Just as well our authors are on all the other pages.

The pricing scale was a great help, if it's Lulu, do you know if you charge more for printed copy than you do for the download or is it the same? Thanks x

Ms Kitty said...

I know very little about paper publishing, so sorry.

Otherwise I'm glad to be of help.

I hope you get the issues with the site fixed.

Rosanne Dingli said...

Length is not the only factor: there's also genre... and the all-important quality. A lot of buyers are wary about quality and will not be the first to buy, or the twenty-first. Someone has to prove something readable, and few people believe rave reviews any more. My paperback mainstream mystery novel outsells my literary eBooks (shorter and more highbrow and ethereal) by a very very long chalk.
My guess is that people who read highbrow stuff are not yet digitally organised. Give it another two years or so.

Ms Kitty said...

Thanks Rosanne. You make a good point about genre and the quality of the work.

I posted the chart because too many Indie authors like myself don't have a clue. The pressure on us to give away our work or sell it for .99 is powerful. Without some kind of model, the average Indie will sell their work for a pittence.

When Amazon upped their royalty rate to 70% they sent a very strong message to Indie writers. "Stop giving your work away. Raise your prices."

Now the question for Indies is 'how much should I be charging?'

I got nearly 40 hits the first day I posted this. I seem to have hit the topic at the right time.

Marci said...

Hi Kat, off topic, I love how you introduce yourself on your blog ;)

I don't have much to offer about pricing but has been interesting to hear about the publishing world of e-books. It is interesting how the internet changes marketing. I know I have downloaded several ebooks for free. I wish you the best on your venture!

I hear you on not being able to write and market at the same time. For me, one state is more active and one is more still. I have a hard time going back and forth between the two! Before I write/counsel, I find myself needing to unplug and prepare myself to change gears.

Ms Kitty said...

Hi Marci - I read somewhere on LinkedIn that BEING a character is very important to get noticed as a writer. So here I is. (lol)

Marketing sucks. Yet there is no way to get around it. I had to spend 16 hours a day on the internet to sell 4 books a week. This doesn't leave me any time to take care of the farm, my family or my critters.

Let alone leave any time to write the next book. So I blog and let the sales ride for a couple of months. Things will pick up around the holidays.

Marion said...

@Ms. Kitty -- The message they are sending is mixed. Yes, you need $2.99 to get the 70% royalty, but Amazon recently lowered my 99 cent novella to free resulting in an incredible boost in downloads. Now that the "sale" is over, sales are slow once again. The difference between free and really inexpensive seems to be enormous for many readers.

Ms Kitty said...

There are a lot of cheapskates that buy free books. Honestly, I don't think they read the books, they just collect them. (G)

Aggie Villanueva said...

Hi Kat. I'm an author, author publicist ( teach a lot about marketing at my blog (

I really liked this post and have added it to my revolving posts on all my social media sites. Thankx for a great post.

Ms Kitty said...

Welcome, Aggie

Ms Kitty said...

An FYI on this issue: On Amazon I lowered the price on my book to $1.99 for 3 weeks. I sold one copy, to a friend.

Meanwhile, on Barnes & Noble, my book sells for $3.25. I've already out sold Amazon.

B&N was hit so hard on Christmas that the site was down for three days. I was trying to get my book up, and missed the big push.

The long and short of it: I raised my Amazon price to $3.99. Their data spiders will find the lower price and discount the book. That will put it 'on sale' which may get me a few more sales.

You can bet that I'm going to take my own sweet time getting 'Swallow the Moon' up on Amazon. They can wait until last.

Ms Kitty said...

Then there is this joker who thinks reading the $.99 e-book will destroy your mind.

Chris Longmuir said...

I'm just mystified with pricing. I have 2 novels selling at $3.99, and 2 books selling at $0.99, and the $3.99 books are selling way more than the $0.99 ones. I also notice that if I followed the chart on pricing, my novels should be $6.99. I really can't figure the whole thing out.

Ms Kitty said...

Welcome to the land of (pricing) are in good company.

I understand! Some days I think it can't get any more confusing - then somebody puts up another post.

I was getting ready to drop the price on 'Swallow the Moon' - from $4.99 to $.99 - then I got another RSS feed from Dean Wesley Smith.

You can read it here:

I didn't do it, and thanked him on his blog for the timing.s

The only advice I can give you is this:

If you have a book that is selling well at a certain price - don't try to fix it!

Guy Anthony De Marco said...

While pricing can be difficult to nail down, I think the biggest issue facing indy authors is they have a single book out there. The more chances people get to see your name, the better the odds you'll get a sale.

Suggestions to improve your sales:

1. (First, the obvious) Write something worth buying. Get positive reviews, and get them often.

2. If you have one novel, it's tough to find in the ebook soup. Try posting some short stories or non-fiction Kindle singles. Add the first chapter of your novel to the back as a "bonus". Include a link in the ebook to buy the novel.

3. Price the Kindle singles for .99, and put them elsewhere for free or something odd, like a nickel. Your singles will be a loss leader. If people like your writing style, they're more apt to buy your novel.

Great blog post, and even though it's a year old, it's still timely. Good luck, and keep writing!

-- Guy

Ms Kitty said...

I agree, those are the most logical things to do.

The floods of 'Dollar Dreadfuls' have made it even more difficult to get a new book noticed.

The review sites are swamped. Some have reading lists over a year long. I started sending out ARCs 2 months before I published the 2nd novel.

Even with the best book I can write, hundreds of free books (now over 6k this week) in the hands of readers - I've got a handful of reviews for "Let's Do Lunch" after a year and a half.

It wasn't until I joined the Amazon Premium program that I was able to get the book noticed. Currently, it is #2 on the UK Free Romantic Suspense chart after a week of being free.

It has been as high as #5 on on the US Free Romantic Suspense chart.

Those aren't sales - those are downloads.

If this works, which it may not, it may kick-start the sales of "Swallow the Moon" but this is a long shot.

Today is the last day for the Free Promotion. As of this morning the download count is:

Let's Do Lunch 12/17/11 am

Amazon US = 3265
Amazon UK = 2911
Amazon DE = 6
Amazon FR = 1
Amazon ES = 1
Amazon IT = 0

John McKenzie said...

Hi Ms Kitty! Thanks for leaving the url on the Meet Our Authors thread!! I found this really interesting! I've just started on this Kindle business and I got a pal (mainly) to upload my ten books this year. I was going to just leave them and get on with other things I have to do, but I'm now spending more than an hour a day on this clicky clicky computery promotion business. I've just retired from working part time in school libraries, and I've got enough to pay my bills, so I should just forget all about trying to sell ebooks, but there's something addictive about doing stuff like writing this comment!! Hope your book sales zoom!! John McKenzie

Ms Kitty said...

Hi John!

There is something - maybe it's the company of other writers?

I always enjoy talking to people who are in this crazy business.

My sales actually took off over the Holidays because I got into KDP Select before the 'big guys' so now I can say I had 10 days on the UK Romantic Suspense Bestseller's list.