Lake Atitlan, Panajachel, Guatemala

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Pricing Ebooks

WiDo Publishing began in 2007 as a print publisher, later releasing titles as ebooks as well. They price new releases at $3.99, and $2.99 for older titles to stimulate interest and attract new buyers. Recently they experimented to find that magic number for bringing in the greatest number of ebook sales

As I mentioned in my previous post, $2.99 is the lowest Kindle price to get the 70% royalty rate from Amazon. WiDo tried .99 for two books: Ghost Waves by W. Everett Prusso and my novel Uncut Diamonds, both released 2009 in print, 2010 as ebooks. Results were interesting.

The drop in price made very little difference in sales. Both authors had only one book on Kindle. Neither of the books had significant sales, although mine were higher probably because I had developed an online presence and the other author had not.

My sales went up a bit with the .99 change but then held steady. They weren't enough to make a difference in profit so WiDo put it back to 2.99 and sales continued at the pre-.99 rate. It may go back to .99 for a time with the release of House of Diamonds, as a promotional price.

The cut didn't affect Ghost Waves sales. Although the hardcover print book did alright for $19.95, it hasn't done well as an ebook regardless of price.

WiDo's top selling ebook is In the Mirror: A Memoir of Shattered Secrets by Ann Carbine Best. It came out in May and there are no plans to drop the price to $2.99 as it continues to sell steadily at $3.99. Not by huge numbers, but consistently, and more every month.

Another new release is Cloak by James Gough, a YA fantasy to be released in hardcover November 15 as a special gift edition for $25.95. It is currently available as an ebook for $4.99, the highest WiDo has priced a new ebook release. The somewhat higher price hasn't seemed to affect ebook sales for Cloak, at least not its first month. People who wanted it bought it.  

I'm using WiDo's examples because as a publisher, they're dealing with a variety of authors, titles and genres. So price variations can show interesting trends. And what it has shown in WiDo's case is that if people want a book, the price of a few dollars isn't going to matter. And if they don't want it, the .99 tag won't convince them to buy it. Maybe a few, but not in high enough numbers to overcome that price's  weak profit margins.

It comes down to that age-old question forever baffling writers and publishers. What does the public want to read? What inspires people to pay for a book? Simple answer: If it's what they want, they'll make the effort. They'll look for it in a library or bookstore or on their ereader. Book sales come from writing and publishing what people want to read. Give customers what they want and sales will come, whether the book goes for .99 or 9.99.

Are there any ebooks that should be priced at .99? Books that would sell significantly better at the rock bottom price? Consider this. When paperback novels first came out they were cheap, they were exciting and their enticing covers and fast plots appealed to pulp fiction readers. The .99 ebook is like the new old-time paperback pulp fiction novel. 

There's a large population of ebook buyers looking for the .99 fast read. It has to have an enticing cover and a fast-moving, action-oriented plot, preferably with a healthy dose of sex. Very much like the hugely popular paperback novels of the 1940s. If this is what  you write, and you can do it well, and you churn them out pretty fast, then you could sell a lot of .99 ebooks. Because you will be giving this audience exactly what they want at the price they're looking for.


  1. Interesting post, KarenG. I wonder if the reviews made a difference. If a lot of readers gave the big sellers four and five stars, then it stands to reason that people would gravitate toward the popular books.

    Also, I believe word of mouth could make a huge difference for sales. For example, my son bought Hunger Games because five kids in his class were reading that book and they all liked it. I think it's sort of a domino effect. If one person likes the book, then they pass it to another and so on.

    Thanks for taking the time to conduct this research. It was very imformative.

  2. I really think the price of eBooks should have a logical relationship with the price of the hard/paper cover that is currently availabe... And out in hardback (meaning new) $3.99 seems very fair--though a hardcover over $25 is, I assume fatter? so the $4.99 seems fair there, too.

    My attitude on these is under $5--seems fair, so long as that relationship is logical. I think SHORT works--novellas, $.99 is probably what I'd expect, but for an actual novel, three bucks is a good deal. OVER $5 though, I probably would only be willing to pay for a book that is being chatted up everywhere... the latest, big, popular thing, and even then, I might wait for the price to come down (just as i've waited for paperbacks on all but 'continuing series I am sucked into'.

    So I think you are doing it smart.

    I DO think though--you get a series up there, offering the FIRST for $.99 is smart... it's for a shelf, not a book.

  3. I still can't get over the fact that there are 99cent books out there - this ebook thing is truly a fascinating process! Great objective advice too, KarenG, to whoever is going the 99cent route!

    Take care

  4. A most informative survey, Karen. I think $3.99-$4.99 is good for an ebook. I shake my head when "famous" authors' publishers have the book on Kindle for over $10. I'm on a tight budget and there are a LOT of books I want to read; but I can't buy books at that price, and above. Even at the $4.99 level, I hesitate. I have to really want to read the book. I'm for $2.99 to $3.99. But I think you're right with the $.99, IF you can churn out title after title on subjects people crave to read. In this case, I say go for it. And finally, I'm glad WiDo is keeping mine at $3.99. It sounds like a win-win for both of us. :o)
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets

  5. Interesting! Thanks for sharing these examples, Karen.

    In the UK, chick lit seems to fall into the low-priced category. Many publishers -- including big ones, like HarperCollins - have dropped their books below £1 for mid-list or debut novelists. But with more established ones, they've kept the prices high, which supports your theory that if people want it, they'll pay for it.

  6. Personally, I think pricing books at 99 cents is a huge mistake. People are accustomed to paying as much as $25 for books, and yes, ebooks should be cheaper. Conceptually, they're cheaper to produce. But I wouldn't take it lower than $9.99. Classics for free is one thing, but authors must be paid for their work, and I don't think anyone would balk at a $10 book. Teaching buyers that they can get books for 99 cents is wrong and setting up a bad precedent IMO.

    This soap box moment brought to you by LTM... LOL! :D <3 Thanks, Karen for the informative post~

  7. Hi Karen,

    Sounds good to me the way you've put the marketing aspect of prices to the test!

    I do think most people, even those who are on budgets expect to pay a fair price for an artist's work. The ones who grab ever freebie going and snatch at bargain basement books on Amazon etc., are the kind of people who keep their hands in their pockets and look the other way when they see a charity box!


  8. This is fascinating. Also, the fact that Ann's book is a memoir as opposed to the other books, which are fiction, correct?

  9. I won't pay over ten dollars for an eBook and I usually don't go over eight. My first book came out at $4.99 and my publisher dropped it to $2.99 after a few months. It did consistent sales until recently when it spiked up the charts - and had held there for many weeks!

  10. Very interesting. I've heard of authors offering their books for free for a week or month and then they put the price back and have great sells. The market is always changing.

    Thanks for the info.

  11. Fascinating! Thanks for sharing all those details : it's much appreciated.

  12. Interesting and fascinating! I guess it's going to take some time for everything to settle into some type of pattern.

  13. A comment on Alex Cavanaugh's information about what CassaStar has done. I checked his numbers and he's in the top 1000 on Kindle sales and in top 50 of sci fi action sales in different categories.

    Based on his comment about how his book struggled for awhile and then started going up and staying there-- it appears that the sci fi action adventure audience has found CassaStar and is buying it, so Amazon features it on their "If you like this you'll like this" lists, which puts it in front of more of the same fans and thus those really awesome numbers. To be in the top #1000 or even close in US Kindle sales is very very good. And to hold it there is excellent.

    So congratulations Alex! You have found your audience and it is growing steadily, which means your next book will rise higher and faster, bringing sales of CassaStar up as well. You can now keep writing your brand of sci fi action for as long as you want and it will only increase sales on all your books. This puts you in a very good place as a writer in today's market. Keep writing, my friend.

  14. Good information. There really is so much more to good sales than a low price. Attaching success to just one factor is unwise.

  15. Very interesting post. I think peple who want the book will pay the price. I also think people have a limit on what they will pay for an e-book. I know if an e-book is not within my limit then I buy the book in print (but maybe I'm weird).

  16. Interesting to see the variation in number trends. I too believe if it's what the readers are looking for, then they'll buy it.

  17. Great post! I read today that pricing at either $0.99 or $2.99 puts readers off because they know they're dealing with an indie author instead of a traditionally published one. Personally, I have books at both prices, though I've been both traditionally published many times and have also self-pubbed (through choice). I've found a mix of different prices work well, though I do admit I tend to stick to the two prices. I liked LTM's point about giving the reader too much for nothing and lowering their expectations. Not so long ago people were happily forking over $25 for a book, now they're bulking at paying over $5. Unfortunately though, I've found the $0.99 price tag does work, but not for the long run. You might get a few months of high sales, but what then?

  18. Enjoyed your post a lot! Before I priced "Remy Broussard's Christmas," I checked stats here and there. Me being me, I decided not to push the envelope at $2.99 but to open it at $3.99. I realize I'll take a numbers hit but am willing to suck it in in because I think indie books are priced waaaay too low. Talked about that on today's post.

    Anyway, when I saw Remy published, the tears fell. What a wonderful moment.

  19. Really interesting post, I would love to see prices rise so writers can make something back but the trend is definitely downward currently. What do the public want to read? Good question. For writers, I think the key is to start with a really good book to market first.

    Thanks for sharing such great insight on e-books and pricing!

  20. Wow Karen. What a great post. It's so interesting to see behind the publishing.

    I'm not up on the e-books, so it's hard for me to throw in my opinion. But I agree with Talei, you have to write a good book first. ;)

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  22. So this is interesting to me because you hear so much about .99 books, making it sound like the way to go. But I'd rather pay more for a book I'll love, rather than .99 for a book I won't. Great information, Karen. Thanks!

  23. Hi Karen .. so pleased Ann's book is doing well .. and I've started reading Farm Girl when I'm with my Ma ..

    I wonder what 'chap books' or very short books will sell for .. the one's that are now .99c or a £1 over here ..

    Great news re Alex' books too .. and when one succeeds the others may well follow ..

    Thanks Karen .. cheers Hilary