In a recent post on a Facebook group, someone complained about paying 99c for a book that was advertised for sale, then finding it only had 185 pages. “I don’t think I should have to pay more than that for 185 pages,” she said.
I was a bit taken aback. 185 pages. That’s around 50,000 words, maybe more.
The discussion ranged widely and came to no conclusions, but it sent me back to the perennial question we self-published writers need to solve on their own. What price is a good price for an ebook?
(Note: all the prices below are in US dollars)
Average price for an indie published book
Author earnings says that indie books averaged $3.87 in May.
This is an increase of 5% in the past 15 months. By contrast, ebooks on Amazon from big-5 publishers have increased in price from $8.29 to $9.53.
Average price for a bestseller
According to Digital Book World, the average price for a bestseller in the first week of April was $6.14, and it’s been hovering around $6 for some time. Most of these are by big name authors, and traditionally published. When you buy a big name author, you know exactly what you’re going to get. When you buy a book from one of the big name publishers, you can assume a certain level of copy editing and professional publications values.
Indie books might be well written and professionally published, or they might not. It’s up to readers to decide whether they’re willing to pay 50% more for a ‘name’.
So what is a fair price for 50,000 words?
Third Scribe has written an interesting article on book pricing. They’ve based their assessment on 50,000 words (the same figure, I’ll remind you, as our Facebook friend’s 99c book). I’m not going to quote at length, but here’s the summary table – and it doesn’t include the cost of all the stuff that goes in behind, such as websites, newsletters, accountants, and so on.
Tallying these up…Editing: $1,200
Cover Art: $400
Grand total: $2,100 ($12,100 if you count the author’s time).
That is a real, no bullshit, actual, honest to God cost of what it takes to produce a quality book in the digital age.
How many books does an author sell?
It’s hard to get the figures, but best estimates seem to be that 50 to 100 sales in the first year is average, and 250 sales in the lifetime of the book is pretty good.
And remember that, for books sold on Amazon, the author gets 35c of the list price of a book priced under $2.99.
To make back those basic costs – not your time, just your production expenses – at a cover price of 99c, you’d need to sell 6,000 books. That’s 24 times the average.
So people cut corners. They skip the editor and do their own cover art. Which impacts quality and disappoints readers. That’s not a path I’m prepared to go down.
How do readers feel about price?
Of course, the costs to the supplier are not the only factor. We’ve also got to consider demand.
Dear Author posted an interesting assessment of how readers feel about price. The quotes below summarise their views. Click on the link to see the whole thing.
1) 99c = I’ll buy you but I’m in no hurry to read you. There’s no question that 99c will result in sales but how many people are reading it?
2) $1.99 is a dead zone.
3) $2.99 – $4.99 is the “I’ll try you even though I’m unsure whether I’ll love it.” I think this is the discovery price range.
4) $5.00 to $7.99 is the “I’ve read you before and enjoyed what I’ve read.” This price range is reserved for authors you’ve enjoyed in the past and figure you’ll be entertained for a few hours.
5) $8.99 and up is the “I’ve read you before and I love you.” At this price, you are foregoing purchasing at least one other book, if not more.
And Mark Coker of Smashwords has the figures to show that a 99c book may sell more copies, but a book priced between $3 and $3.99 will generate more income.
I have no conclusions
I don’t know the answer. I’m learning as I go, and trying new things. I’ve given away one book, a novella of 24,000 words, to show my writing style to prospective readers. I’ve priced a long novel at $3.49. And I’m thinking of putting A Baron for Becky – a long novella of nearly 50,000 words – on the market at $2.49. (It is currently for preorder at 99c.)
One lesson I did take from the discussion is to be very clear about labelling. So I’m going to change my book descriptions to say how long the books are. Beyond that, it’s all experimentation.