How Much Should I Charge for My E-Book?

4 Jun

I’ve experimented with my e-book prices at lot over the past couple of years. For a week—its first—Mousetrapped was $4.99. I soon learned my lesson there, and dropped it to $2.99. Just before Backpacked came out (at $2.99), I dropped Mousetrapped to $1.99 hoping it would lead to more sales, thus leading to more sales of its sequel. When sales of Mousetrapped inexplicably tanked for a month or two, I dropped it to 99c to get them going again. Half-way through its life, I increased the price of Self-Printed from $2.99 to $4.99. I’ve run four of my titles through KDP Select. And recently, I increased the price of my only fiction title, Results Not Typical, from 99c to $2.99, and now it’s selling better than ever.

How much should I charge for my book? is one of the biggest questions facing the soon-to-be-self-published author. But I think self-published authors a year, two or three years in should also be asking themselves how much should I be charging for my books now? The answer is as much as you can, i.e. the highest price at which your books continue to sell consistently well. Lower than that, and you’re doing yourself—and possibly your work—a disservice. You might also be sending out subconscious messages about your book that are turning off prospective readers. Higher than that, and your sales might slow to a trickle. Yes, it’s nice to earn seven or eight dollars off each sale (!!), but not if you’re only making two or three sales a month.

So how do we decide how much to charge for our e-books? I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is almost always $2.99. At $2.99 you earn 70% off most Kindle sales and you say my book is worth something. (For those of you who doubt that $2.99 is a high enough price to say that, you may be in the wrong business.) I’ve decided that going forward, $2.99 is going to be my default price for full-length books. Here’s why.

99c is SO Last Year

Once upon a time, 99c was the go-to price for self-published authors—especially authors of fiction—but the tide appears to be turning against such low-priced books. Setting your book to such a low price no longer guarantees sales, if it ever did. Whether or not it’s true, having the lowest price-tag possible attached to your work sends a message to potential readers that it may only be worth a sum they could make up in change found beneath their sofa cushions.

I know it’s extremely difficult for us self-published authors to get perspective when we are surrounded by other self-published authors all the live long internet day, but you have to remember that the vast majority of readers do not read self-published books. You’re kidding yourself if you think they do. Yes, they might read them by accident, but they’d never choose to. Many avoid them, as a rule. So our next task, as self-publishers, is to show this group that our books can be as good as the ones they’re used to. We must show them that our books are worth their attention. And I don’t think 99c is the way to do that.

Now I know the other end of this argument is that if we’re supposed to think like that, we should be charging $9.99 for our e-books, because that’s what traditional publishing charges (as a sweeping generalization). But we have other factors in play—no track record, editorial approval, credibility, etc. being one giant one—and when we take that into consideration, I think we land on $2.99.

Sometimes we also have to consider the other books in our category. This happened to me with Self-Printed. I was charging $2.99 for it until I went looking for a reference guide myself about another subject, and noticed that the #1 bestseller was $9.99, while the #2 was only $1.99. I thought two things: the #1 must be a fantastic book if it’s so expensive and it’s still #1, and the #2 must be pretty rubbish if it’s so cheap and still can’t manage to overtake the #1. When a book promises to contain valuable information, the price has to go some way to conveying that.

A Discount On Sofa Change? So What?

As a newly self-published author, you need to build a readership. It’s your main priority. At the beginning, this is far more important that earning money. So you do whatever you can to entice people to “try” your book. Right now, a free promotion period with KDP Select seems like a good option for any self-published author just joining the party. If I was about to release my first ever self-published book, I’d definitely give it five days free as part of its launch. Readers, reviews and potentially even some Amazon algorithms looking our way: what’s not to like?

A discount on 99c is what’s not to like. Free isn’t all that attractive if the book is normally 99c. And remember that in other currencies, it’s even less. In Euro cent, it’s about 77c. In British pence, I think it’s 59p…? So if you charge 99c for your book, neither free downloads nor Prime borrows sounds like a good deal. But $2.99 to free? Now that sounds like something I can get on board with.

The first time I KDP Selected Results, it was 99c. It was downloaded just over 3,500 times. The second time, the price of it was $2.99, and it was downloaded over 20,000 times. Coincidence? I think not.

The same goes for review copies, or giveways on your blog. Why would I bother entering a competition for a free copy of something if I can just have it for 99c?

The Discerning Reader

I personally believe that the less you charge for a book, the less time people spend humming and haahing over their decision whether or not to click “Buy”. Therefore if your price-tag is 99c, you’re likely to experience what I call the “I’ll Give It a Go, I Suppose—And Then Hate It and Shred Your Insides With a Spiteful Amazon Review” factor.

Those of you who live in Ireland will be familiar with the phenomenon that is Pennys. (Primark, in the UK). It’s like a cheaper, high-fashion version of Target, except without all the non-clothing departments. In Pennys, you can get the latest trends for less than the cost of the magazine you had to read to find out what they were. The clothes are so cheap they’re practically disposable. Combined with the fact that the stores also tend to have the longest fitting room queues on the planet, you’re more likely to walk out with something you hope will fit rather than something you know will. If it doesn’t work out, so what? It was practically for nothing. If you don’t like it, you can bring it back or, at worst, be down a few euro. No big deal.

The same thing happens on Amazon with 99c cent books. Except if you don’t like it, you get to tell everyone else by way of an Amazon Customer Review. Horrible, acidic, ego-blasting reviews written by people who got something they weren’t expecting because they didn’t know what to expect. They didn’t take the time to read the synopsis, or even the other reviews, because what’s the worst that could happen? They’re only down 99c. It drives me mad to read one-star reviews that complain about things that either a) have been covered in the product description or b) already highlighted by another reviewer. Why didn’t they read that before they bought it?! Because we were charging so little for our work that we encouraged them not to.

99c Leaves No Room for Manoeuvre

My absolutely favorite thing about self-publishing e-books is the flexibility it offers. Whether you’re a self-published or traditionally published author, whether writing is your business or your hobby—or even if writing isn’t anything to do with your career at all—you can use this e-book business to your advantage. In other words, not every published e-book has to be a full-length book.

I’ve just released an e-book of all my “self-printing” themed posts, The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated. (Which is FREE to download for Kindle until Tuesday.) I’m charging $1.99 for it. This is partly to compensate me for the money I spent on the cover and the hours I spent, first of all, writing those posts and then the far more headachy hours I spent compiling and formatting them, and partly because that’s where it “fits in” in the scheme of all my other books.

We’ve established that Self-Printed is $4.99 because it’s 110,000+ words of valuable information that I believe will help other authors sell books. Next, my full-length books—Mousetrapped, Backpacked and Results Not Typical—are $2.99 each. Then, The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated, coming in at $1.99. Why didn’t I charge 99c for it? Because next month I’ll be releasing a smaller, shorter book—More Mousetrapped: A Little Bit More From That Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida—which, it being only 35,000 words and intended to be bonus material to the main book, is only going to cost 99c.

So:

  • Self-Printed, reference, 110,000 words+ @$4.99
  • Mousetrapped, memoir, 70k words @$2.99
  • Backpacked, memoir, 70k words @$2.99
  • Results Not Typical, novel, 95k words @$2.99
  • The Best of Catherine, Caffeinated, blog material, 120k+ words @$1.99
  • More Mousetrapped, bonus material, 35k words @99c (not out yet).

Two things are at play here: fairness and expectation. It’s simply not fair to charge $4.99 for a book that, if it were printed, would only have 10-15 pages. I don’t care if it contains the meaning of life; it’s just hoodwinking people. It’s fiddling the mileage on a used car. Similarly, if I was still charging 99c for Results, readers would expect More Mousetrapped to be the same length, since it’s being offered at the same price.

And if you think that people would in fact be thinking, Wow, I got a great deal on Results!, tell me: how are the sparkly unicorns in Delusional Meadow? I admire your faith in humanity, but PEOPLE DON’T THINK LIKE THAT.

(While we’re on the subject, I think if you’re offering a shorter-than-normal e-book, you should specify the word count on the Amazon product description.)

Selling Less Makes More

Obvious, but worth stating nonetheless.

At 99c, you make a 35% royalty, or about 35c. That means you’d have to sell around 286 copies to make $100.

At $2.99, you make a 70% royalty, or about $2.09. That means you’d have to sell around 48 copies to make $100.

Big difference, eh? I think in the first year of your self-published career, readers have to be the priority. If that means charging 99c for your books—or some of your books—so be it. I also think if you have a number of titles, charging 99c for just one of them (the first in a series, for example) is a great promotional tool. But once you’ve established yourself, you should move away from 99c, using it only for shorter books.

The answer to the question how much should I charge for my book? is as much as you can and still sell copies of it. For the average self-publisher, I believe that’s now $2.99.

Want a FREE book? Well, today’s your lucky day! Especially if you also like things that are pink.

Find out more about my books here. Sign up to my newsletter here. (Don’t worry. Nothing much happens.) Receive all future posts direct to your inbox by subscribing; look for the subscribe boxes in the footer or sidebar. Follow me on Twitter @cathryanhoward. Do all that and I’d estimate you’d be completely sick of me in approximately 11 days’ time. Best just to come back here whenever the mood takes you, me thinks. 

42 Responses to “How Much Should I Charge for My E-Book?”

  1. authorsanon June 4, 2012 at 08:51 #

    Reblogged this on NewsLetter.

    • Tommy February 18, 2014 at 13:12 #

      Great post :)

      I have a question..what would you charge for a 5k article that solves a problem in a popular niche? .99? $1.99? $2.99? I know .99 seems the most logical, but the information is valuable and in demand and 30 cents per copy for it is a tough sell (as an author).

      • catherineryanhoward February 19, 2014 at 14:37 #

        It’s not about how much the material is worth on a case by case basis. If books were really priced in relation to their worth, some of them would be hundreds of dollars. You have to consider the marketplace. If you can get a full-length book for sofa change, I wouldn’t charge more than 99c for an article. I would also be extremely explicit in the product description that that’s what it is/that’s the length of it. Also it’s not helpful to think ‘I make 30c per copy’. A traditionally published novelist who has spent 10 years on a novel can still only say ‘I make $1 per copy’ (if that). You need to think about the long term reward.

        • tjcharles February 19, 2014 at 14:45 #

          Thank you! That is great perspective.

  2. Vividhunter June 4, 2012 at 13:26 #

    This is such a tricky question, but I think you’re right, especially to take into account aspects like the length and people’s perceptions of a cheap product. I wonder if the type of book also alters people’s idea of its worth. Travel memoirs are fun, good to read at the beach, but perhaps are considered more of a one or two read book. I think $2.99 is an attractive price. ‘Self-Printed’, and other similar how-to books, could be considered an investment. People associate good education with expense, so a larger price tag might actually drive sales? Just thinking out loud…

  3. Ann June 4, 2012 at 13:45 #

    This isn’t price related but how did you deal with “republishing” existing information? I just started reading your new book on self pub which is great. But you say it comes from existing blog posts. I’ve heard of a number of authors getting accounts frozen by Amazon for publishing “information freely available on the web”. That info has not just been public domain but post and excerpts from their own websites. As a self pub myself, I’m curious how you dealt with this.

    • catherineryanhoward June 4, 2012 at 14:19 #

      Well I think this is a very grey area, and I might actually contact KDP for clarification. The only way this might be an issue, as I see it, is in terms of KDP Select (which content has to be exclusive, at least digitally), but since the book also contains a preview (of another book that’s only available on Kindle) and I think there’s a big difference between content spread out over two years on a blog and a book where you can access them all, I’d be ready to argue my case there, if it comes up. However if I lost in the KDP Select argument, I wouldn’t really mind. As for publishing existing blog content, I know of several books available for Kindle (and that have been available for Kindle for ages) consisting of “best of blog” material, and as it’s my material and not public domain, I would imagine it’s my right. I’ll certainly blog about it if anything comes up.

  4. gardenlilie June 4, 2012 at 14:05 #

    Wonderful. Thank you.That is what my e-book ‘Kiss Ride’ is on amazon. I went round n round, dropped it to 99 cents and twice now for free/KDP on selected Saturdays in June/July. I’m so glad to be on your page as I now have it set at 2.99. Thanks.

  5. nazarioartpainting June 4, 2012 at 15:45 #

    Definitely it is a question that everyone do. Thank You for the tips.

  6. Ken Preston June 4, 2012 at 16:50 #

    Interesting post and a question which most self publishers are vexed over. So far I have always put the word count in my product description. I believe its only fair.

  7. T. W. Dittmer June 4, 2012 at 17:05 #

    Nicely done. The idea of Amazon skimming 65% comes into play too. The author does all the work, after all.

    • catherineryanhoward June 5, 2012 at 11:51 #

      But Amazon is letting you sell your work on their platform, and converting it for you as well. I don’t think a 35% royalty rate is unreasonable, especially when they offer a higher rate for higher prices. I’d encourage all self-publishers not to forget that we’d (a) be in a very different position if we didn’t have Amazon allowing us in and (b) only be making 10% (or less) from each sale of our book if we were traditionally published.

      • T. W. Dittmer June 5, 2012 at 14:45 #

        Let’s not forget the download fee. It’s all relative as to how much they deserve for the “service”, but more a state of mind when thinking of who should be grateful to whom.

  8. C. June 4, 2012 at 18:49 #

    Ah, the subject of pricing one’s own novel.

    We have a pretty decent range of prices on our shelf. Short Stories area always $.99, because that’s fair and reasonable. (they also sell the least) Full length novels (Which for us are approx. 150k or more) range from $2.99 for our first novel and $5.99 for the other two. We’re probably going to price the next series at $6.99, because they’re all 190k+ and they’re the centerpiece of our writing careers.

    The funny thing, is that the $5.99 books sell just as frequently as the $2.99, and those all sell more than the $.99 shorts. Who knows why.

    My biggest thing is that I hate seeing too many $.99 price tags because, in my opinion, too many devalue the indie community on a whole. Authors don’t deserve piddlings in exchange for their work, and 2-4 dollars is not excessive, especially not when traditional publishers are asking $10+ for what may as well be the same quality story. I say, we should stop begging for sales because ‘it’s cheaper and you might like. Please, please try.’ That doesn’t help anyone.

  9. walshachill June 4, 2012 at 19:12 #

    I always read your script when it arrives in my Intray. Seldom comment but that does not mean I am not taking it in. All in… I have availed of the free offer and your book now reposes on my Amazon Kindle which in turn reposes on my laptop. So far, well up to expectations. A very useful – and entertaining – Vade Mecum… I make notes as I peruse with a view to posting an honest review, in time…
    A previous post of yours, Catherine, prompted me to explore how to make my book free on Amazon. I followed the links and hey! hi! my magnum opus, Notes on the Past Imperfect – with an eye-catching cover by Andrew Brown – is now free this week on Amazon… So do please pour yourself a coffee and…

  10. jensine June 4, 2012 at 19:34 #

    enjyed the post but LOVE the pink typewriter picture

  11. millie on her world June 4, 2012 at 19:47 #

    Such great advice and insight to self publishing! I nomiated you for the One Lovely Blog award :)
    Details can be found here (http://millieonherworld.wordpress.com/2012/06/04/one-lovely-blog-award/) and thanks for sharing your work.

  12. Author, G. D. Grace June 4, 2012 at 20:08 #

    Reblogged this on Author, G. D. Grace.

  13. Tahlia Newland June 5, 2012 at 03:17 #

    Charging for length is sensible, but I think novels over 80,000 words should be at least $3.99. For $2.99 I only expect a novella or short novel. I have some single short stories out for 99c and they sell quite well. They satisfy those who just want to try something you’ve written. I did get one 2 star review from someone who complained that it was too short though – she clearly didn’t read the blurb. I think that authors who charge 99c as a regular price for full length novels are doing us all a diservice.

  14. Crystal June 5, 2012 at 15:53 #

    As a graphic designer, I appreciate that your self-published books don’t LOOK self-published. For me, the cover is still a huge factor determining whether or not I will buy the book, even in electronic form.

  15. lovelylici1986 June 5, 2012 at 16:31 #

    You have confirmed what I have been thinking over the past few weeks. What you’ve said here makes perfect sense. Thanks for sharing!

  16. C. M. Barrett June 5, 2012 at 22:16 #

    Thanks so much for your post. I agree with $2.99 as a base price, but I wonder about the first book in a series. Mine is currently $.99, based on the idea that it’s a low-cost introduction to the author’s writing and to the series. I would value your opinion.

  17. harperpages June 7, 2012 at 20:59 #

    Reblogged this on harperpages and commented:
    A good take on something I’ve been a-ponderin’ lately.

  18. cynthiamorris June 13, 2012 at 18:19 #

    Thanks for this conversation. Here’s what I think, since you asked. :)

    I just have such a visceral NO! to charging $2.99 for my novel. I think $8.99 is a fair price for a good book. I don’t like cheap things (the stuff from Penny’s – why bother!?) and a good novel for $3.00 seems too cheap.

    I just spent $6.00 to watch two episodes of Mad Men. Two hours of entertainment for $6.00 seems worth it. A novel that will give hours of reading pleasure is worth at least that.

    I’m all for a bargain, don’t get me wrong. I worked for years at a second-hand bookstore, so I’m used to getting books at a deal. But still, a second-hand book sells for $7.00 these days. Why should a digital book be less than half that?

    The good thing about it is the prices are flexible. We can adjust as needed. I’m just glad 99 cents isn’t standard anymore.

  19. Dr. Charley Ferrer June 13, 2012 at 21:19 #

    Thank you for the insightful information. I priced my books, BDSM The Naked Truth and BDSM for Writers originally at $9.97 however felt that was too much for an eBook. Ironically after a reader showed his prejudice for the “topic”, (Dominance and submission) I dropped the price by half to $4.97. My eay of “Fighting ignorance through availability!” At this point BDSM The Naked Truth has reached #9 on Kindle’s Top 100 List for sexuality and non-fiction. Am really proud of that yet still looking at more ways to promote and get the word out to help decrease misconceptions and prejudices. Can you also touch upon that topic. Thanks.

    Live with passion,
    Doctor Charley

  20. Seeley James June 14, 2012 at 19:17 #

    Great post, Catherine. Timely question.

    I’ve been in sales and marketing for 30 years and I can tell you: buyers only look at perceived value. Never at price. Think about buying a toaster, if it was $0.99 you would be skeptical but buy it never expect it to last more than a couple toastings. Same with books. You don’t have much expectation for John Locke, if it makes you laugh once, you got your $0.99 worth.

    I’ve surveyed the market today (ever changing sands) and believe the consumer sees it this way: A great indie book, on par with published authors should command $4.99 (See R.E. McDermott ). A less confident writer might choose $2.99. Anyone going below that has little faith in his/her writing. In other words, a consumer thinks, Why spend 6-10 hours reading something cheap?

    Writers have to price where they think their value lies.

    When 20th Century publishers price a hardcover at $16 and an e-book at $12.99 they demonstrate how little knowledge they have of the current market.

    (BTW: $0.99 is OK for a blog collection because of the convenience factor.)

  21. small sofa June 15, 2012 at 20:02 #

    If some one wants expert view regarding blogging then i
    advise him/her to visit this blog, Keep up the good work.

  22. Eric T June 16, 2012 at 12:49 #

    I very much agree with what you’ve written, Catherine.

    Early on, I set several books at 99c and, now thinking that this was a mistake, have raised books to either $2.99 (eg for first in series or best read first) or $3.99. I’m pretty sure that selling at 99c is going to say all the wrong things to would-be readers, along the lines of “you get what you pay for” or that this price is what the author her/himself thinks their own work is worth.

    I’ve also stopped running Kindle Select free promotions. Chances are that the book will simply disappear along with several hundred others into a to-be-read pile that probably won’t ever be read. Free promotions also generate very few Amazon stars or even simple Amazon “likes”. And furthermore, Amazon seems to have changed their algorithm so that freebies only count as a percentage of a real sale and so that an author’s ranking is based not on unit sales, but the monetary value of sales.

    Anyhow, thanks again, and good luck with your writing.

  23. Nina Soden July 23, 2012 at 23:26 #

    I had been going round and round with myself on what to price my book. This really did give me the insight I needed. Thank you so much.

  24. sigmawebmktg November 9, 2012 at 19:02 #

    Really found this useful, Catherine, as we’re going thru the initial stages of how-the-heck-do-we-publish-our-inDesign-created-ebook-on-Amazon? Sharing the thought processes and experimentation that you did was really useful in moving our thinking along. Thank you!!

  25. Mary November 15, 2012 at 01:44 #

    I stumbled upon your site, and I’m glad I did. I just completed an ebook, but I was unable to decide what is the correct price to put down. After reading your article, I found the information that I needed. Thank you.

  26. Rissy November 16, 2012 at 00:38 #

    Thanks for posting this. I am an independent graphic novelist working on her first graphic novel. My book is an eight part series. Each part is like a short so I think I will charge $.99 for the first part in the series. When all eight parts are done I am going to compile them together as a collection, and I guess I will charge between $4.99-$6.99. What do you think? Thanks again for the advice.

  27. Nick Marquet December 24, 2012 at 05:48 #

    What a great blog, what great followers and comments. I found this after posing the question how many words should an e book have…Not really sure if that was answered but I had been asking myself this question a while ago. However I believe that the only real way to determine your price is to test. If your optimum result is profit on the book then you need to set a price to maximise sales. So 1000 downloads a month at $.99 is better than 50 at $9.99. You should run experiments. Is the title the best it could be…run multiple tests on the effectiveness of your title. You should also never underestimate the power of a good cover. Make 4 different covers and monitor sales. ‘The 4 Hour Work Week’ was no ‘title by chance’ but was tested using google adwords. They ran multiple tests and the title that won generated the most sales. Takes a bit of the romance out of the whole process, but if you don’t do this you can rest assured someone else will.

  28. pronutritionreader February 2, 2013 at 02:41 #

    I am thinking of writing a couple of books myself and this article help tremendously. Thank u

  29. Poester3700 May 29, 2013 at 23:10 #

    This really helped me! I’ve been thinking about self publishing for a while now, and will be realizing my first book this summer via ebook. I could never really decide, and now I think you’ve solved my problem! Thanks!

  30. stephen August 18, 2013 at 03:37 #

    Excellent article. I will be facing many of these issues as well..

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