It’s that time of year again, and I’m not only dragging out the Stuff I Found While Procrastinating Online Gift Guides, but also replaying some of my most popular “self-printing” posts from the last twelve months for those who might have missed them first time around. They’re in no particular order, popularity-wise. Today’s asks—and attempts to answer—the question, how much should I charge for my e-book? (Also, see the end of the post for some news on how much I’m charging for my e-books this December…)
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. I’m charging $1.99 for it. [UPDATE: This e-book is currently 99c.] 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. [UPDATE: Since I wrote this post, I began selling Backpacked at $3.99 because it was "newer" than Mousetrapped—and it sold at that price.] 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.
- 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.
UPDATE 5/12/12: Between now and Christmas, I’ve decided to have a little e-book sale. I’ve dropped the price of Mousetrapped from $2.99 to 99c, Backpacked from $3.99 to 99c and Self-Printed from $4.99 to $2.99 on Amazon’s Kindle store. If you’re considering downloading Self-Printed, remember you can buy it directly from me on My E-book Store page in all major formats.