Wednesday, May 2, 2012

The Perfect Ebook Price

It seems sometimes that no one is talking about anything except ebook pricing. Whether it relates to owning vs. leasing content because of DRM, or piracy, or costs to publishers (always misrepresented, but that's another post). Now, Paulo Coelho posits that the best way is the iTunes way: $0.99 ebooks.

His logic? Making an ebook that cheap prevents piracy because it's easier to buy an ebook legally than go through even well-lit back channels to get a free version, and at $0.99, the price isn't enough of a barrier to divert people into piracy (though you'll note that this is a "sale." Because this price point is unsustainable).

But piracy is not completely a bad thing, nor is it something we can stop. Ever. Cory Doctrow will tell you that. People will pirate if they want to, and they won't if they don't. Making content more accessible by removing DRMs is going to be more effective than low-pricing publishing out of business. Piracy doesn't put industries out of business. Monopolies and bully-pricing do.

Looking to the music industry as a model of how we want book publishing to end up is a mistake.

They, too, were obsessed with piracy, 15 years ago. They did not stop piracy. Now, in most cases, music sales don't even make the profits. It's the tours, the merchandise, the endorsements. And do you know of any authors who can create enough of a spectacle to fill Madison Square Garden??

Popular (read, money-making) music is produced through a few hyper-consolidated means (the same producers and song-writers work on pretty much every song you hear by Katy Perry, Beyonce, and Rhianna) and distributed, essentially, through ONE channel. That would be Apple, ladies and gents. Book publishing has our own Big A looking to achieve this status.

Music's obsession with preventing piracy, rather than improving content and innovating sales mechanisms, is part of why they're where they are. When they realized that fighting piracy is like fighting a flood with a thimble, it was too late.

Music's evolution, a reactionary rather than proactive one, should serve not as our model but as our warning.

What do you think? What would you pay for an ebook? If we've all agreed that $0.99 is the right price for a song, does that transfer to a book?


  1. Looking at the music industry is such a bad idea, as you pointed out. I think e-books are worth at least $9.99 each. I'd probably pay up to $17.00 for one. Sure, it doesn't have the cost of the paper and ink and whatnot, but I'm paying for the story. That's worth so much more than $.99 to me.

  2. Frankly, I get really ticked off when I see $9.99 ebooks when I know I could go out and buy the paperback for the same price. I converted to ebooks because I wanted them to be cheaper. I think an ebook ought to cost about half the cover price of a print book. ($5.99 is a good sweet spot, I think. But even upwards to $7.99, I still feel like I'm getting a good deal.)

    I know it's a bias of mine, and not a GOOD one, but when I see $.99 ebooks, I assume they're either short stories, self-published (and therefore not thoroughly edited or beta'd), and I skip right over them. I know self-publishing isn't always a bad thing anymore and some self-pubbed books are great, but still.

    I look for that middle-range price point between $2.99 and $7.99 and stick to it, unless it's a book I really, really want and have heard good things about.

    1. Kelley, I agree! I hate it when publishers ignore that there are some reductions in production costs for ebooks--and those should be passed along to readers!

      Also agree on the bias about cheap ebooks, although I probably wouldn't feel that way about a Paulo Coelho book. ;)

  3. I don't want to post on in your comment section, so I'll just say I'm glad to hear you advocate proactive approaches.

    Books and songs are two different things. When I see a book that costs $0.99, I'm automatically dubious. I have to wonder if the work was put through its paces between final draft and publication.

  4. An ebook should cost about the same as a mass market paperback.

    Unless it's for a special, short-term promotion, 99 cent and free ebooks equal poor quality in my opinion. I've downloaded freebies and 99 cent books on my Kindle that were not special promotions and virtually ALL of them were unreadable.

    That said, I also won't pay more than 9.99 for an ebook. For that price, I want something I can hold in my hand and actually turn real pages.

  5. Kelley already said it better than me. But, I do usually look at the price points between $2.99 and $7.99. A $9.99 ebook is the one I absolutely cannot live without, and if I'm paying that price point I'd rather have paperback.

    All that said, I know authors not self-pubbed do NOT set the price.

    1. Fantastic point, Tina. This has to be publishers' responsibility.

  6. I like the $2.99 price point, but with royalty rates being what they are, if I'll sell better at a higher price, I'm all for that. (Maybe I ought to try it. Hmm.)

    One point, though: most songs on iTunes aren't 99c any longer. Most are now $1.29.

  7. I would pay $4- I mean, $3.99!- for an ebook without blinking too much. If it's in the $8- $10 range, I'll expect a longer book. If it's more than that... nope! (Or it's a textbook.)

  8. I'm with Joyce. To me ebook equals the mass market paperback. To me the sweet spot is 2.99 - 7.99. I've paid more but they are the exceptions.

  9. I don't believe that an ebook should ever cost more than the lowest-price version of the hard copy. Given my druthers, I'll purchase the hard copy if it's the same price as the ebook, and I'll always buy the hard copy if it costs less. For me personally, it's a matter of saving money.

    I was in a LT relationship with a recording artist and had the misfortune of being in said relationship when piracy became a serious issue for musicians. What my ex found is that people who are going to steal music will do so regardless if it costs 99 cents or $10. Making music cheaper didn't do anything to curb the tide of illegal downloading during that time, and that still holds true today.

  10. Sure, individual songs are/were 99 cents on itunes, but should individual songs be equated with an entire novel? Why aren't we comparing the price of ebooks to the price of the whole ALBUM? In my head, an individual song is like a chapter to the whole book of the album. Sell short stories for 99 cents, sure. And if you're serializing your novel, sell each chapter for 99 cents, maybe. But as an author, I think the full novels I've produced SHOULD be worth more than 99 cents. I'm providing more than 3 or 4 minutes of entertainment and content in a novel and for that reason, among others, the comparison to individual songs just does not make any sense to me.

    All that said, if ebooks are the new mass market paperback (and it seems to me that mass markets really are giving way to ebooks) why shouldn't they cost the same amount as a mass market paperback? I can understand concerns by publishers that if ebooks are priced down to that level, and released concurrently with hardcovers, then ebooks will undercut the hardcover sales and weaken returns -- I don't understand why ebooks DO have to be released concurrently with hardcovers, though it seems to me, that a happy medium in that area might be to sell hardcovers packaged with a free, or reduced price, digital download of the ebook as an exclusive from the publisher's website, so the people who want the ebook immediately can feel like they're getting a DEAL WOW, TWO VERSIONS FOR THE PRICE OF ONE! And the rest of the world who would wait for the paperback anyway can wait for the ebook to come out concurrently with the trade paperback at a mass market-equivalent price.

    I mean, look, I'm cheap. I'm not going to pretend otherwise. With the exception of Harry Potter, I have never been interested in getting a hardcover on its release day, so maybe I am biased in that respect, and maybe I'm not even a typical consumer. But if there is a physical edition of the book available to me for cheaper than an ebook, why in the WORLD would I ever buy the ebook? The better value there is definitely in owning a physical copy that no one can reach their invisible hand through and delete from my kindle at some later date. (When someone steals my physical book and torches it, that is called theft, for the record, though that's a whole different can of worms.)

    I guess the other answer is to go with the half-the-price method Kelley mentioned above. Then, while the hardcover is the only physical edition on the market, Publishers can keep the ebook price high. Once the Trade and Mass Market editions come out, the ebook price should drop with them. Why can't ebooks have multiple editions just like print books? Maybe the ebook that comes out with the hardcover has extra bonus features that the mass market release doesn't. Package interviews with the author, bonus short stories, etc, to make the consumer feel as though they're getting something SPECIAL, and then release another edition later that's just the book by itself, bare bones.

    I feel like there is so much potential to make this Not-The-End-Of-The-World, and to give added perceived value to ebooks in a way that costs not much of anything to the publisher. Ebooks do not HAVE to be the nemesis of publishing! We just have to find the right way to approach it!

    1. I'm going to take the 'Hallmark Greeting Card Approach' on this one and say, "Yeah, that sounds like something I'd say... just with smarter words and better pictures"