Why The $0.99 Ebook Should Go Away

My wife, Carolyn, is a professional photographer. We had a discussion sometime ago about how it was difficult to convince some people to pay the appropriate price for professional photography when so many non-professionals charge cut-rate prices. I thought that people looking to hire a photographer would recognize the difference in quality and would therefor pay the higher price. I now think that was naive.

I visited writer Nathan Bransford’s blog yesterday and read an article on how attitudes toward e-book pricing seem to be changing.

So why the change? Why do people suddenly view the e-book as being worth less than they did a year ago? My simple answer, and it was the same for some of the commentators on the article, is the $0.99 e-book.

Why Charge $0.99 For an E-book?

There’s a number of reasons authors give to justify a bargain basement price for their e-books.

  • Readers are more likely to take a chance on something new/unknown if it’s cheap.
  • Price is the way indies can best compete with publishing houses.
  • I don’t care about money so much, I just want my book to get out there.
  • If I make this one cheap, more people will buy it & get hooked on my writing. Then I can charge more for the next books.

To an extent, all of these points are valid and true. But the question I find myself wondering is; Are we helping build these expectations in readers? Are there other ways to accomplish the same thing without selling ourselves out?

My Problem with the $0.99 E-book

I admit, this is mostly a perception thing. When I think of a book on sale for $0.99, I envision a garage sale. In that garage sale is a box of old paperbacks that have sat unloved and unread for years. Their spines are broken, their pages yellowed, and to be frank, they smell.

I have a problem thinking that a piece of writing I have dedicated possibly a year or more to would be valued on par with that when it’s brand new.

The other factor here is royalties. Amazon will pay 70% to the author for any e-book priced $2.99 or higher (though I understand at a higher dollar value, over $10, they drop the percentage again). Any book priced under $2.99 is paid a royalty of 30%. I understand this isn’t all about money to people. And if that’s the point, if you really want to get your book into as many hands as possible, give it away for free on your website. What you choose to do on your website is your business.

But when a book is for sale in a marketplace for such a low price, it devalues all comparable books. If a large percentage of well-written Young Adult novels are priced at $0.99, then after a while, won’t readers expect that all well-written YA novels should be $0.99? Aren’t we creating our own demon? If every book priced at $0.99 was an aberration, this wouldn’t be a problem. But apparently, there are some really well written books sitting in this price range. So readers are getting the message; Good e-books not written by a huge name author are only worth $0.99.

Why do you think virtually every hardcover, trade-paper, and mass market book are priced in a similar range by the big publishing houses? Because over the years they’ve built that expectation in readers and they know readers will pay those prices. Funny thing, new authors published by a big house are priced the same as established authors. Why? Because the big publishing houses have agreed that if they think it’s worth putting into print, it’s worth a certain price-point. For a great many number of years, readers have agreed.

So why would indies seek to set the bar so low when they’re finally getting some respect and recognition for their work?

Alternatives to the $0.99 E-book

First off, indies should take a page from the big publishers and agree on a standard pricing scheme for e-books. Perhaps stories less than 10,000 words should be $0.99, novellas at 20,000+ words are 2.99 and full novels are 4.99. This is all ball park, but if indies could establish a “norm” of pricing, it would condition readers.

Am I saying an indie should never offer a promotional price? No. But for a full novel, a good promo price should be $2.99, not $0.99.

If indies want customers to give them a try with little to no commitment, put the first third of your book on your website for free. Or, if you have a novella or series of short stories, put them on your site for free so people can get a taste for your style and content.

Traditional publishers have too many people to pay. They might be able to match the $4.99 price point, but I doubt they will beat it anytime soon. In this way, indies still are competitively priced in comparison to traditionally published authors.

Don’t forget community and word of mouth. In the large world of the internet, word of mouth can do more for your book than price. Get the word out. Send copies to book bloggers, give free copies away to your followers on Twitter. And if you read an indie book that you love, show that love by giving a good review on Amazon, Goodreads and plug it to your followers.

Don’t Devalue Yourself

Writing is a lonely pursuit. Most writers I’ve met, myself included, are very critical of themselves and their writing. While we fear the reaction to our work, we also crave it. I sometimes wonder if the $0.99 price point is more about ego, or lack thereof, than it is about marketing. Perhaps some writers think so little of their book and their ability to market that they believe it is impossible to succeed without nearly giving the book away.

If that’s the case, we need to stop being so hard on ourselves. Whether indie or traditionally published, we have all poured a considerable amount of hours, sweat, tears and sanity into the words we produce. What needs to happen is a fair price for such works needs to be established and maintained. The big houses have done it for years, maybe it’s time for indies to stop being so independent and to start looking at the larger picture. Through promoting those indie titles that exemplify the best of work and maintaining a consistent pricing scheme, indies will be able to make money and get their books out to readers without being a garage sale.

What are your thoughts? Is the $0.99 a good or bad thing?