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How much should your book cost?

November 23, 2011

The following was in answer to a question on another site, “How much would you pay for an ebook, vs. a print version?” Oddly, as I write this in the middle of November, 2011, I’m seeing a surge in print versions of THREE HUNDRED ZEROES, that I cannot explain. Is it people trying to beat the holiday rush? Is it some small rebound in our dead economy? Did the battery die in their Kindle?  I can’t put my finger on it. Anyway, here is my reply to the question:

I have a feeling that when Gutenberg started printing the first books,  was there a big debate over pricing: was a printing press book worth less than the scribe/monk version? Was it worth more because you could actually read it? 

When I was much younger and a hardcover book sold for, say, $4.99 (US), I would wait until the paperback version would come up (purely financial reasons) and it would sell for $0.50 or $0.75. Now the paperbacks are selling for $5.00-$10.00 in the department stores. This is, of course, authors much better known than I.

Hardcover books are not much more expensive today (proportionally) than they were back then, running around $25.00-$50.00 now. Take all of those prices of yesteryear and multiply by about x10.

That said, a print book, hardcover or soft still has certain process and resource requirements that an ebook does not: paper, ink ,distribution, etc. On the other hand, the ebook (if properly done!) still needs a writer, editor, distribution network and security to ensure the reader is a buyer. I suspect there are other costs I haven’t considered as well.

So, how much should an ebook cost? It boils down to maybe two driving factors: the writer/publisher costs to produce it and the profit margin that the market will bear. Since most of the first factor is about the same to produce the book, the only thing that really drives the price is what the epublishers think the market will bear. This in turn is determined by how well known/popular the writer is. Stephen King, Bill Bryson, Susan Collins etc. are the high-priced spread and the publishers think they have to keep their ebooks in the stratosphere because they fear if they lower the price of the ebook, it will detract from their print sale profits.

They’re probably right, however, they haven’t really figured out yet that the quantities in ebooks might make up the difference. This industry has changed so quickly that the big houses just are not capable of following it. Amazon’s Kindle is a blessing and a curse at the same time and they just don’t know how to deal with it. Given time, they’ll figure it out, at least the ones that survive.

My guess is they’ll settle on some number like $7.99-$9.99 for the big names and then play like they used to do with the paperbacks and drop at some point to $3.99 or so.The movie industry seems to be a little further ahead of the curve with the movie theater to DVD transition, but then they’ve had thirty years to come to grips with it, the book sellers—maybe 3 years?

As for Indie/self-publishers, they have a different situation. Most are not common, household names and cannot expect to charge in the same price ranges as the best known authors. My guess is, currently, that $0.99 to $4.99 is the best they can expect. This keeps the price low enough that someone may take a chance on an unknown title and still gives the writer something for their hard work. Of course, this also builds a reading audience, which, for an unknown, is perhaps more important than profit. As a reader, I almost never will pay more than $4.99 for any writer’s book in ebook format, I just don’t think they’re worth it, there is no paper, shipping and inventory.

It will be interesting to see how it all plays out. For the time being, as an Indie author, I’ll just have to keep guessing at the best prices for my books and be happy with my results. Judging by the fan mail, so far, so good.

Thank you to all of my readers, and Happy Thanksgiving!

Dennis “K1” Blanchard

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