Question: How Much Should an eBook Sell For? Answer: Check Out What Hugh’s Doing.
My background is retail sales management. It was my job to determine whether or not a deal could be made. I’d look at the amount the customer was offering and try to maximize the profitability for the company. Yep, I was one of those guys. I was in the recreational vehicle business and I was constantly asked by friends how much their trailers or motorhomes or a trailer or motorhome they’d spotted was worth. There are wholesale books you can refer to and listings online of similar units that are for sale but all of those are just guidelines. The true answer is always the same no matter what the product is. It’s worth whatever the market will bear. The price of a product or service is determined by what a customer will pay for it. E-books, whether they’re produced by a self-published or traditionally published author are no different.
Since Amazon are the big man on campus let’s deal exclusively with them for this discussion. As most authors know your royalty rate is set at 70% of the selling amount if your book is priced between $2.99 and $9.99. Anything above or below and you’re paid at the 35% level. That’s a great deal for writers and my e-books pay me more than some of my print books. My print books, which also sell through Amazon and Createspace sell for $10.00 to $12.99 and depending on where the book is sold I earn anywhere from $0.90 to $3.49. Whereas with my e-books, which are priced between $2.99 and $4.99 I earn anywhere from $2.00 to $3.20. There are those minor little charges that Amazon claw back so the percentage is never exact, so what I’m giving you are actual numbers. The temptation as you earn an extra (approximately) $0.70 every time you raise your price by a dollar, is to keep increasing your price, and that doesn’t always work out.
I speak to lots of authors. They actually ask me to come to their writers groups and libraries and they listen to what I have to say. Sooner or later I’m sure they’ll be doing far better than I am and the invites will end but for now I’m enjoying getting out and discussing writing and publishing with authors who are at all different stages. The one thing I hear over and over when we talk about pricing, especially from those who have a specialized experience, even though it might pertain to only a niche market, is that their book is worth more money. Because of the amount of content, specialized content, which sometimes can include pictures or graphs, and knowledge that can’t be found anywhere else, their book should sell for at least $9.99. Or, perhaps $8.99 at the least. They have plans to run a sale from time to time and reduce the price by a dollar or two or three but with the amount of sheer expertise that their book has within its pages it’s worth almost ten bucks. At least.
They use my own arguments to support their claims. They tell me to go to the very same Amazon product pages that I suggest they study. They point out books that are in the top five hundred overall and are selling very well and are priced in that ten dollar, or greater range. The majority of those books are traditionally published book written by well-known authors, but that doesn’t deter them. Their book will sell for ten bucks. Usually, it doesn’t though. It just doesn’t.
Before I released my first book I had been trying to find a traditional publisher for about eighteen months. I’d had lots of rejection letters from agents and publishers, over one hundred and thirty actually. Nobody wanted to publish my book but I knew I had a potential bestseller. My beta readers told me so. I knew that if I could just get my book out there, on a platform such as Amazon’s, the world would recognize my brilliance and my star would shine brightly. And, I’d be able to charge big bucks for my books. I was wrong though, and it didn’t work out that way.
I’ve told my story many times on these pages and I won’t bore you again with the details but suffice to say I had to make some changes to my product presentation before I was able to find a great number of readers. I made the changes I had to and fortunately I have found readers, and after a while my book took on a life of its own. I’ve been very lucky. One of the changes I made was pricing. I currently have five books that I’ve published and one is non-fiction but at that time I was only dealing with novels. I’ve priced my novels anywhere from free (temporarily) to $0.99 and then up to $6.99. I don’t do that anymore. I have a very simple system to determine what my books should sell for. I do what Hugh does.
There’s a huge encyclopedia of knowledge in front of us. If I write a novel I can go to the top selling fiction books on Amazon’s website and see what price they’re selling at. I can usually tell from the names of the authors or the information on their product page whether they have a traditional publisher or Amazon imprint behind them or if they’re self-published. I want to compare the pricing of my books to other Indie authors or the authors who Amazon has published through their imprints. Here’s a list of Amazon_Imprints. Then, after checking out my individual category I see what Hugh Howey is up to. Currently Hugh has a couple of novels that are in the $2.50 to $4.50 range and his novellas which make up part of his bestselling Wool omnibus are priced at $0.90. And, his box set of five novellas that make up the omnibus currently sells for $4.50. A lot more readers know who Hugh is than know who I am. He’s written some great books and readers have supported him and in the process he’s built a brand. Including my friends and relatives (and some incredibly loyal readers) I have a tiny little sliver of a following. But, I have nothing compared to the following Hugh has. I’m sure you can see where I’m going with this. If Hugh, who is doing a great job of finding readers for his work, is pricing his books under five bucks I should be too. And, I do.
Now, for those of you who are all ready to tell me that non-fiction is different. You’re right. It is. If I look at the top sellers in almost any non-fiction category, the traditionally published books are selling above five bucks and sometimes stretching even beyond the ten dollar range. If I keep looking down the category to the lower sellers I can see some of the self-published books are following suit. Unfortunately, they’re not selling. Whereas the top producers are sitting in the lower hundreds of Amazon’s overall rankings, the Indie produced books are in the hundreds of thousands rankings.
E-books are underpriced. There’s no question of that. For the amount of permanent enjoyment that they offer and the fact that you have it on your kindle forever a reader should be paying more. My books are professionally produced and I’m proud of the work I do, but when it comes to determining a price there’s only one aspect I abide by. The price will be determined by what the market will bear. Even though I, like most people don’t like being told what to do, I’m going to make some bold statements. Get ready. Novels for new or even established writers should sell for less than five bucks. Ideally they should be priced in the $2.99 to $3.99 range. Non-fiction books by a new or newer author, regardless of their expertise, should sell for $3.99 to $5.99. That’s where I sell my books and although my sales plateau from time to time I sell books every day and some months I actually make enough to live on. And, if you don’t trust me, check out what Hugh’s doing. That’s what I do.