What is the proper price for an ebook?

There’s been a lot on the news wires and internet sites recently about the prices of e-books. What is too high? What is too low? There’s a wide range right now. You see e-books priced $10 or up. (The Language of Flowers  by Vanessa Diffenbaugh is priced at $11.99 on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble.)  You also see books priced at 99 cents or a little more.

I would be willing to buy the e-book, on the advice of several friends who have told me how good this book, in paperback for $10 or so, maybe even $15. I don’t know that I’m willing to spend that much on an ebook. The only time I might is for an author that I absolutely love. I’m not a hardcover buyer, unless – again – it’s an author I love.

I realize some might call me a hypocrite, because my e-book is priced at $9.99. I’m not sure why it’s that high. I’m a relatively unknown author. I’m trying to build my “author brand” and all of that, and I want to work on getting the price of my e-book down, which is why this argument intrigues me.

A lot of what drives this argument is the ongoing case with Apple and Amazon and some supposed price fixing. There’s a lot of opinions about it. This Chicago Tribune article tells a lot about that, but the gist of it is that Apple convinced publishers to no longer sell e-books at a wholesale price to Amazon or other vendors. The e-books sell for whatever price the publishers set, and Apple collects a 30 percent cut of the revenue.

That has little to do with the question in my head about the price of ebooks. A Huffington Post article pretty much sums it up for me:

“Readers are scooping up ebooks for 99 cents, that alone speaks of a demand for material at that price point. After all, to some readers, an ebook is seen as nothing more than a download. Many authors spend a year or more writing their books, and 99 cents seems ridiculously low and unfair. At the same time, an ebook for $9.99 seems equally unfair to the reader.”

In all seriousness, 99 cents does seem like a very low number for something you’ve poured your time and effort into developing. The idea of the low-priced e-book is to get people to give your book a chance. It’s how you get followers, and people who will recognize you as an author and pick up your next book because they saw you wrote it. It’s a marketing gimmick, and it’s not a dumb one.

At the same time, $9.99 for something in a digital format – that you don’t actually really get to touch – seems like a lot. This Information Week article tells us that part of the problem is the book publisher/Apple price fixing. However, Michael Hyatt, chairman of Thomas Nelson Publishers, argued that e-book priced do include a significant discount (as it’s already about half the price of the usual physical book, depending on the format).

“Some people assume that these two items represent the bulk of a book’s costs,” he said. “They don’t. Together, they account for about 12% of a physical book’s retail price. So eliminating these costs doesn’t do much to reduce the overall cost structure.”

He admits that there isn’t any actual printed material and there are minimal delivery costs, but elsewhere in his blog he writes, “Publishers still have to pay for acquisitions, royalties, editorial development, copy editing, cover and interior design, page composition, cataloging, sales, marketing, publicity, merchandising (yes, even in a digital world), credit, collections, accounting, legal, tax, and the all the usual costs associated with running a publishing house.”

So the $9.99 isn’t too much, according to the publishers. One writer at The Guardian, however, disagrees. He wrote that the traditional big book publishing companies have, because of their greed, helped him to think a lot harder before he buys – which they don’t want him to do, obviously – and to rediscover his local library and used book stores in his community.

“Sure, I can afford the higher prices,” Dan Gillmore wrote. “But the greed of the publishers has inspired me to make different plans. Now I reserve bestsellers at my local library – run by people who love books: imagine that! – and read them whenever they are available. … I still buy some new physical books, especially by people I know or admire. These purchases are the kinds of books I know I want to own and keep, for future reference or to be able to pull off the shelf at any time.”

I will be following his example and getting out my library card. Until this all gets sorted out, I am going to be following the conversations and news closely. I don’t know if prices will be coming down any day soon, however. This PC World article says that they might come down a little, but probably not as much as most consumers would like to see.

What do you think is the right price for an ebook?

I'm a lover of writing and books. I graduated from South Dakota State with a master's degree in communications in 2011, the same year I was first published. I'm a wife and mom, and I work in content and digital marketing in South Dakota.

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Posted in Intrigues
10 comments on “What is the proper price for an ebook?
  1. This is a hot topic of discussion among the indie and small-press circles. Very good read . I think the Pew Research report that came out on the 4th may even indicate that a sizable number of e-book readers may be willing to pay the premium prices however, most of us are always looking for a deal. Most important, IMO, is the idea of actually using a library card – would be great to see a jump in traffic at our public libraries. Thanks for the post!


    • brwesterberg says:

      It would be good to see more traffic in our public libraries. I am not happy to say, though back in my hometown I visited it once a week, I’ve rarely been since I moved. That’s changed for me this year, and I hope it changes for others as well.

      • My wife and I used it exclusively to find books for the boys and as they got older they came long to pick out books. I’ve got to say that I think it’s a great alternative for our own reading as well. Lately I’ve been swamped with reviews and now a contest so it may be that I block out some time for a library book among the other commitments.

  2. Reblogged this on The Motley Chronicles and commented:
    A great post by Brittany – what should be the average price of an e-book? Better yet, a great tip on how you can have it all and read what you love for free!

  3. Dan Gillmore took the words out of my mouth. I’ve been buying books with that $15 price tag on it and they’re just not turning out to be titles that I want to keep if I finish them at all. So I have new resolve to use my library card for books that I haven’t read and I can work on getting through all those books on my shelves.

    All the titles I downloaded for my e-reader were free except one. Most of them are in the public domain because I’m just more interested in the classics right now.

    • brwesterberg says:

      I download a lot of free titles myself (have to love the classics). I have a few that I’ve paid for. Usually, I use my e-reader to buy books written by authors that I don’t really know yet. It’s cheaper to find new authors that way. I buy the physical books of authors I know I like. I’ve had a couple runs like you had, where books I bought turned out to be ones I didn’t care to keep, and I don’t want to do that anymore, either.

      • I noticed that Kindle has some free books in their Kindle store so I downloaded some of those. I figured if I liked these authors I can buy other books they’ve written because the price tag wasn’t too bad for their other e-books.

      • brwesterberg says:

        I do the same thing. I think it’s a good thing for authors to do, offering their books for a limited time for free, as a promotion. It’s turned out well for a lot of authors, from what I’ve read.

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