Low E-book Pricing: The Compensation Problem


By Catherine Ryan Howard at catherynryanhoward.com:

If you haven’t already heard, there was a bit of an incident at the Harrogate Crime Festival last week. During a panel discussion called Wanted for Murder: The E-book (for anyone surprised at what happened, shouldn’t that title have been your first clue?) bestselling crime writers Mark Billingham and Laura Lippman, seated in the audience, got into a bit of a heated debate with the panelists, one of whom was mega-selling cheap e-book author Stephen Leather.

There were accusations that authors who sold their e-books cheaply were devaluing books in general by selling theirs for less than “half the price of a cup of tea.”

Now personally I think that it’s very easy to say books are being devalued by cheap e-books when you’re a New York Times bestselling author (if you’re a nobody with no credibility, e.g. me, you have to sell your books cheaply in order to win readers), and the only people adversely affected by this—if anyone is—are the Six-Figure Advance Gang who might not be getting such large deals anymore, and actually I’d guess that more authors than ever, both traditionally published and self-published, are earning money from their writing in this new publishing world, and earning more of it, and anyway why are we all worried when it’sextremely unlikely that the purchaser of every 99c Stephen Leather release is buying them instead of the one £25 Michael Connelly hardback he used to buy before? Can’t we see that it’s far more likely he either never bought that £25 hardback, or he’s still buying it too?

Read the full story at catherynryanhoward.com.

See also Mark Billingham Goes Hell for Leather at welovethisbook.com.

What do you think? Are ebooks priced too low? Let us know in the comments below.

About Author

Publishing Talk is the online community for publishers and authors interested in social media marketing, digital publishing, self-publishing and the future of the industry. It is run by social media consultant, author and ex-publisher Jon Reed.


  1. I will be a first time author in October and am still pondering the price I will set my book to. As I go thru the process of writing, it truly pains me to know that after the hard work that goes into writing a book (drafts, outlines, etc.) that I’ll have to settle on a price no higher than $3.99, but that’s the price we newbies pay. As for .99, that’s completely out of the question for me…unless its a shorter work.

  2. The man with the smile in his eyes on

    I wonder if airlines are really worried that the perception of the worth of flights have been devalued by the fact that sometimes, actually quite often, you can buy a flight for a fraction of it’s normal price? We live in a world where we are all used to dynamic pricing… we’re not stupid.

  3. Lindquist Ben on

    I also think prices are too low as we lose our perception of value in cheap books. At least going to the library is an inconvenience to prod us to pay attention ito them.

  4. This is interesting, the value of a book. I am a first time author and I set the price of my book ‘A Deadly Connection’ at $1.99 because I am an unknown. As a new author my value isn’t as high as an established author.

  5. I pretty much just ignore the pricing trends and go with my own flow. I price according to length.

    A novella? 1.99

    A regular size novel? 2.99

    A small collection of short stories? .99

    A larger than average novel? 3.99

    Now, I haven’t published all of these types (yet) but this is basically my self-made pricing model. It is, in my own opinion, crazy-talk to price a novel (50,000 to 120,000) at .99.

    I mean, it obviously isn’t all about the money. I’ve given away my first book for free multiple times. People really like that and I enjoy doing it. But the only thing I can imagine going through the head of a reader when they come upon a decently sized novel priced at ninety-nine cents is, “Okay, either this author is making a money grab or he/she realizes it isn’t worth any more than one cent less than a dollar.”

    That’s just how I see it. If you feel comfortable with all of that and disagree with me. Cool. Welcome to the thunderdome.

  6. There’s a silver lining to cheap e-books. I would argue we’re living in the Golden Age of the Impulse Buyer. Availability and affordability have conspired to put more eyes on more books than at any time in the history of publishing. That can’t be all bad, can it?

    But back to the impulse buyer. The brick and mortar retailers have always argued that aggressive pricing encourages customers to buy more books. For the most part, this theory is garbage. The person who comes to a bookstore to buy the next Harry Potter or Hunger Games will leave the store with one book and either more money in his pocket or less money. But put those books on a virtual shelf at 50% off, and it’s click city. I routinely get monthly bills of $100 for Kindle and Nook purchases I don’t even remember making.

    The question still is, will these impulse buyers compensate for the exponentially smaller margins of e-books? And on that front, I remain unconvinced.

  7. Lower prices do devalue e-books. However, until the customers learn that they are actually going to get quality that price-point is unlikely to go up.

    As authors we need to make sure that the higher price-point is a mark of quality rather than quantity. After the hundreds of hours spent on the product, pricing it at $.99 devalues the author as well.

  8. I’m not sure the price of an e-book or print book should be determined by how long the author has been publishing. I usually find I get what I pay for — and I’ve been disappointed by poor writing more than once and it had nothing to do with the cost of the book. I have two novels, both on Amazon in print and Kindle. I priced them both based on average prices of similar novels already in print. It is also nice to know Amazon allows me to change those prices, up or down, when I wish. I do think $.99 devalues the product and the author.

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