E-book Pricing

My post on royalties earlier this week generated some interesting responses, particularly with regard to e-book sales.  My e-book sales were, at best, 4.3% of my total sales (for The Stepsister Scheme).

Several people said my e-books were priced too high.  The printed book cost $7.99 (U.S.), whereas the e-book was available for $6.99.  If the price were lower, I’d sell more e-books.[1. Please note that I have no control over my book prices. Those are set by the publisher.]

Well … sure.  And if the price of the paperback were cheaper, I’d sell more of those.  That’s basic economics.

Beneath those responses is, I think, the belief that e-books just aren’t worth $6.99.  We’re still arguing over the value of an e-book, meaning both how much does it cost to produce, and how much are people willing to pay?

There’s an assumption that e-books should be cheap because there’s no printing cost.  But printing costs are only about 8-10% of the overall cost of producing a book.  Shipping and storage are also a factor, but the majority of the costs aren’t about the physical book.

For the sake of argument, I’m talking about professional, commercially produced books.  You have to pay the author’s advance and royalties, the cover artist, the editor, the copy editor, the typesetter, the sales force, and that doesn’t even get into distributor costs or the percentages taken by retailers.

“But then how do you explain all of those cheap/free e-books on Amazon, Jim?  If they can do it, why can’t you?”

I can, actually.  I’m planning to re-release Goldfish Dreams as an e-book, and it will be significantly cheaper than my other books.  This book has already been commercially published once, and the rights have reverted to me.  So a lot of the professional work has already been done.

When the rights revert to me for my other books, I may consider doing something similar.  Cheap e-books seem like one good way to keep an author’s old backlist in print.

But those initial production costs have to get covered somewhere.  Sure, I could skip straight to self-publishing for my next book and bypass the publisher, but I don’t have the expertise to produce a good product, and I don’t have the sales force or distribution to get that product out there.

One thing I’ve considered is that it might be cool if the e-book price dropped 50% a year or two after a book came out, assuming the book earned back most of its costs in that first year.  But then, why couldn’t you do the same with the print book?  (I’m sure there are reasons; I’m just letting my mind wander a bit now.)

I don’t know what the “right” price for an e-book is, or if there’s one correct, fixed price point.  $6.99 seems reasonable to me, but it’s obvious some people disagree.  I’m personally reluctant to buy an e-book for more than $10 … but if the alternative was a $25 hardcover or waiting a year for the paperback, I might go for the e-book.

I know this is an old and ongoing debate.  But I wanted to put a few of my thoughts out there as to why “Just make the e-books cheaper!” doesn’t strike me as the answer.

Discussion welcome, as always.