What Are You Worth? (Pricing Indie Books)

I’m sure you’ve all heard the expression, “You get what you pay for.” But, how true is this phrase? In the literary world, this phrase doesn’t seem to apply. For example, I’ve found some real gems in the Kindle slush pile for only 99 cents. I’ve also paid thirteen dollars for a traditionally published book and felt ripped-off long after I read it. When you buy a book, you won’t know whether the price you paid is worth it until you’ve read that final page. Even if you utilize the “look inside” feature on Amazon and read a sample, there are no guarantees you’ll enjoy the entire book. A disappointing 99 cent book will leave you feeling as if you lost time and money, while an enjoyable book priced at $13.99 can leave you feeling as if it were worth every penny.

A reader’s concept of value is dependent upon many factors. So, how do we decide how to price our books?

If your book is contracted with a publisher, you probably won’t have any control over pricing. If you’re an author who acts as your own publisher, pricing is a huge consideration. What price point do you use? Do you give away your book during free promotions? How important is pricing?

Amazon offers an incentive for Kindle books priced at $2.99 or more. Books priced below $2.99 receive a 35% royalty while books priced higher can receive up to a 70% royalty. Books that are exclusively on Kindle are eligible for free promotional days. If you publish on Smashwords, you have the ability to generate coupon codes in order to offer free promotions. There are lots and lots of options for pricing and promotions.

I’ve heard conflicting opinions on pricing. Some authors/publishers believe a 99 cent price point is appropriate for an e-book by a brand new author. They believe that in a market where hundreds of e-books are free every single day, 99 cents has become premium pricing. Other authors/publishers believe charging 99 cents for a novel not only cheapens that particular book, but also cheapens books in general. While pricing a book at 99 cents might encourage a few readers to take a chance on your book, the low price also means you’ll have to sell more books in order to make a little bit of money. Which school of thought is correct?

There’s no proven method to pricing. Assigning value to your book can feel like assigning value to yourself, and in many ways, that’s exactly what you’re doing when you price your book. How do you value your time? Your talent? It’s isn’t just about your book and your cost associated with hiring an editor and cover artist–it’s about the time you spent writing your book.

As anyone in sales or marketing can tell you, assigning a price involves more than determining how much money you want to make. You also must consider how much the reader will be willing to pay.

Story time…. A few years ago, my son wanted to have a garage sale so he could make some money to buy an Xbox. He gathered up some old toys including his old Playstation 2. He decided to sell the Playstation for $200. Why? Because that’s how much money he wanted and that’s how he valued his Playstation. Would anyone in their right mind pay $200 for a old Playstation when they could buy a new one for less? Absolutely not. My son was very disappointed when I explained to him some basic concepts of sales and marketing. While he didn’t want to undervalue his old Playstation, he still had to sell it at a price others would be willing to pay.

The Kindle market is like a garage sale.

Part of the reason books sold by major publishers can sell for $13.99 is because these are books readers already want. The authors of these books already have a readership. The books are talked about. There’s a buzz surrounding the new release. People are willing to pay top dollar because they believe the book is worth the price.

A new, self-published author who prices an e-book at $13.99 is going to be facing an uphill battle. Though you might feel the book is worth that price (and it very well might be), you will have a hard time convincing others to invest in your book. Without a proven track record, without an advertising campaign, without the backing of a major publisher, $13.99 is going to be a hard sell. Like my son and his Playstation, you can try to sell your book at a price that reflects the way YOU value your book, but you probably won’t be able to convince anyone else to buy it.

You might be wondering,”What’s the perfect price?” Ah, good question. There’s no perfect answer. While some writers won’t worry about pricing because they “just want to get their book out there,” others spend a great deal of time researching their pricing options. Pricing your book will depend on many factors–the length, genre, intended audience, the amount of time you put into writing the book, and your costs associated with producing it. If you’re an author who is interested in one day making a living from the proceeds of your books sales, pricing is extremely important.

While sifting through the massive inventory of Kindle books, I’ve seen thirty-page e-books priced at $4.99 (or more). I’ve also seen full-length novels being given away for free on a permanent basis. Some authors price the first book in a series at 99 cents and then increase the price for subsequent books. There doesn’t seem to be a consistent pattern in pricing and Amazon doesn’t offer any guidelines.

What’s your opinion on pricing? If you’re a publisher/author, what has worked for you? Do free promotions kick-start sales? Should pricing reflect the value of your book? Or, should authors price the books to sell? Is cheaper better? Or, do cheap/free books devalue authors? I would LOVE to hear your opinions on this issue. Maybe we can figure it out together.


11 thoughts on “What Are You Worth? (Pricing Indie Books)

  1. You made a good point here. I try keeping the price of my book down where people wanted to buy it while at the same pricing it high enough for me to make a profit from it. It is truly a balancing act of finding the right price for people to want to take a chance on a reading book.

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  2. I like the $2.99 price for novels. I think that’s a reasonable price. People are willing to spend that on a gourmet coffee, I’d like to believe that one of my books gives at least that much satisfaction.

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  3. I struggle with this. $2.99 seems reasonable, but so does $4.99 to me. It’s still cheaper than a paperback or any traditionally published book. At under $5.00, it still seems like it could be an impulse purchase, and it allows you to run a sale at $2.99, instead of forcing you to drop to $.99 for the sale price. I had my book priced at $4.99 until fairly recently when I dropped it to $2.99. The drop didn’t affect my sales. But I didn’t really advertise the sale either. I just dropped the price to see what would happen. I’ve heard you just have to experiment and see what seems to work best for you.

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  4. I’ve read SO much about pricing, and the information seems to change every week (in part, I suppose, because most of it is based on opinion rather than fact.) My thoughts as a reader?

    Free: I’ll get it if I think I might read it some day, or if I know the author, but I’m not likely to read it any time soon. I know it’s a psychological illusion of some sort, but I do assign more value and get more excited about things I was willing to pay money for. There’s absolutely no urgency there when the book was free, unless I would have paid money for it anyway (e.g. a book that was priced higher, and I caught it on a free day). I haven’t read most of the books I’ve picked up for free.

    99 cents: I used to think this price point reeked of desperation, but now I know that there are authors with good books who use this price point. I’m still more likely to get it if the book was priced higher and 99 cents is a temporary sale price, but at this price I will buy books just to support the author, even if it’s not really my “thing.” Still not likely to be a high priority on the reading list.

    $2.99: I agree with MishaBurnett, this is a great price for an e-book. True, I’m less likely to make it an impulse purchase, but if I spend this, I’ll at least try to start the book soon, and give it a chance to grab me (since I DID pay my hard-earned money for it…). The price is low enough, though, that I’m willing to take a chance on an unknown author.

    $3.99-$4.99: If it’s an author I’ve liked before, a series I’m already into, or the book has been highly recommended by someone I know has similar tastes to mine, I’ll go for it. Definitely out of impulse purchase range for me, though.

    $5.99-$7.99: I have to KNOW I’ll enjoy the book, and be unable to get a print version for less than $9.99

    Above that, I have a “no way in aich-eee-double-hockey-sticks” policy on e-books. I don’t enjoy them as much as paperbacks, so I’m not going to pay paperback prices. If an e-book (usually traditionally published) is priced the same as the paperback, I’ll probably not buy either, just out of spite.

    I haven’t published any books yet, but I have a basic pricing plan worked out. I don’t think my base price for a novel (mine run in the 100,000 word range so far) will ever be under $2.99, but I’ll do 99 cent promotions, especially on the first book in a series (like having a sale on that one when the next book comes out, etc.). At this point I’d rather sell a few books at $2.99 that are likely to get read and reviewed than a thousand free copies that are going to stay in TBR limbo forever. But that’s just my perception and opinion, and is subject to change. Pricing slightly higher and having sales does seem to have the advantage of reaching both the bargain hunters and the people who refuse to even look at a 99-cent book.

    Sorry for the long comment… you said you wanted information. 😉

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  5. Of all the aspects of being self published I find pricing to be the most difficult item to decide upon. On the one hand I, obviously, would like to charge a higher price, more in line with what I feel my work is worth. I would certainly be delighted to charge the $2-99 and earn 70% royalties. Then I think if the book doesn’t sell then I would get the 70%, so 35% of 99 cents is better than 70% of nothing. Then of course when (alright if) the book starts to sell you start to wonder … perhaps I should have charged more. I tend to experiment with prices up and down, though I have to admit that I am currently stuck on the $1 to £1.30 mark.

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  6. When you think about the price of a movie ticket it seems like nothing to drop up to $10 per person in some areas of the country. But It seems most people are afraid to pay more than $2.99 for a new author. Sadly as a new author you have to decide how much you’re willing to sacrifice in the beginning. You look at the 50 shades books initially were $4.99, by the time I ended up buying them the publisher upped the ebook price to $9.99 a piece because people would pay it. If they would have priced it that high to begin with it wouldn’t have taken off. so do you discount until it gets hot then slowly up the price? Or do you start out high and hope for the best?

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  7. Another great post Tricia and quite a tricky question. I tend to think generally ebooks should be low, not only to entice the reader to ‘take a chance’ on a new author but also as ebooks themselves are cheaper to produce than paper versions. As my books are large in length and illustrated I think it’s reasonable to charge paperbacks at around $9.99/£8.99 and hardbacks at a max of 12.99. For ebooks though, $2.99 is probably the most I’d charge with .99 cent promotions (similarly £1.99 range with 99p promotions), Very tricky though.

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  8. New releases at the book store are generally $25. I question whether any book is worth that, given current economics. In general, I don’t buy novels for over $10, merely for budget reasons. I also don’t spend less than $3 and have only downloaded classics or Indie how-to’s for free. I plan on pricing for me in this respect. I like the middle ground: $3-7 for ebooks, which is still a broad range. For my personal one, I’m leaning towards ~$5.

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  9. After much debate, testing/experimenting, and research, I am leaving my book priced at $3.99 where it gets decent sells. Patience and marketing are my new best friends. It will be coming out in paperback soon and I am planning a $0.99 promo on the eversion when that occurs

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  10. It depends on your book length, genre, and your intent on writing and selling your own book in the first place. People who intend to “go pro” probably want to build up their audience first, so they bring them in with a low price. As time goes on and the book increases in legitimacy, so to speak, you can demand higher prices.

    Overall $3 is a good starting point; it’s easy to move up and down from there without too much pain. Free is just for marketing campaigns.

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