How to price an e-book

At the WW, we’re no conservatives. The publishing industry is in a state of change. New authors face, for the first time, a real question about whether it makes sense to approach the market by the traditional agent/publisher route, or whether to go it alone.

For now, I think the vast majority of authors still need the resources and experience of proper publishers. There are some striking exceptions, of course, but it’s still notable how many self-pubbers end up working with the biggest firms (EL James & Random House, for example.)

But it’s still vital to understand this new market – and one of the most critical interrelationships is that between the price of an ebook and the eventual sales. I’ve just come across the chart below, which is the best thing I’ve ever seen on that topic. (Click here for source.)

What the chart says very simply is: price too high and you throttle sales. Price too low and you give away money without any addition to sales. (My guess is that readers assume, correctly, that a $0.99 ebook is often not going to be much good.)

There’s a weird twist here, however. Traditional publishers are deeply reluctant to sell books at the $2.99 level. Although they might boost sales on an individual title by pricing low, they can’t boost sales overall by slashing prices because in the end a reader is only going to buy and read so many books a year.

So there’s a curious way in which ‘trad’ authors are inhibited by their publishers. The most obvious and proven method of increasing sales (and readers) is to cut the ebook price … yet that’s the method least favoured by publishers.

I still think that regular publishing is the best move for most authors. That’s not mere talk. I’ve got a non-fiction project that I’m tinkering with and am trying to figure out whether to sell it via my agent or whether to publish it myself online. I’ve not finally decided, but I’m inclining (about 75/25 let’s say) to go the conventional route. Like I say though, these things are moving all the time. The right answer today may well not be the right answer in a year’s time. As the Bard remarks, Don’t speak too soon, cos the wheel’s still in spin, and there’s no telling who that it’s naming. (And no, not that bard, this one.)

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  • Thanks, Harry.

    For more analysis on ebook pricing, Dean Wesley Smith wrote a couple of in-depth blog posts on it a little while ago:

  • Interesting and useful. Raises many questions I keep asking myself: is self-publishing the way to go? Is the 99-cent e-book price too low to attract a serious readership?
    Until I can secure a professional collaboration with an agent and publisher, I’m enjoying the other route enough to carry on working at it. Like you said, Harry, it takes time!

    Many thanks for your insight and the excellent graph.