Monday, January 30, 2012

Ebook Prices

By Clare Langley-Hawthorne

I just saw a recent analysis by Booklr of the top 100 Amazon Kindle books versus the top 100 Barnes & Noble Nook titles in respect of their relative price points. The results are, I think pretty interesting for anyone considering 'indie' publishing, and in demonstrating the role price may play in different e-book 'markets'. 

According to the Booklr survey 35% of the top 100 books on Kindle were free or priced under $2 compared to 0% for the Nook. 61% of the top 100 books on Kindle were priced under $6 versus 39% on the Nook. In the higher price bracket, the results are also pretty different with 27% of books on Kindle priced above $10 versus 40% on the Nook. 

These results suggest that customers have quite different book buying habits in these two 'e-reader' markets. It also points to a potential new culture for the Kindle in which customers tend to buy what is free or less than $2. As an author, this signals to me that if I was to go the 'indie' route, I would need to consider price very, very carefully indeed. 

The Booklr analysis indicates that the average price for a Kindle top 100 e-book is $6.48 compared with $8.94 for the Nook - which gives us a rough gauge of the price differential between customers for both platforms and opens up the debate over the impact of free and cheap (99c) e-books on overall pricing trends. 

So for all your authors considering the indie route, how are you approaching the issue of price? If you are traditionally published, what kind of price point has your publisher set for your e-book? And how much influence do you think Amazon is going to have on driving e-book prices down?


  1. It is hard to glean anything from those figures. I remember several years ago, I was in the airport in St. Louis and there was a long row of newspaper vending machines with many different kinds of papers. All that had a price still had newspapers in them, but the ones that were free, though they had nothing but ads in them, were all sold out. If one isn't careful, one might conclude that people are unwilling to pay for newspapers and all they want to read are ads anyway.

    It should be no surprise that the free and cheap stuff is the best selling. But that doesn't mean those books are the most respected. Though I am willing to offer my books for free, from time to time, to encourage people to look at them who wouldn't otherwise, as a general rule, I do not want my books priced below the $3 mark, which is the point at which it seems Kindle buyers will purchase a book without considering what it is about. The higher priced books may not be selling as well, but they often make more money than the cheap books. But what I really want are readers who want to read my books, not bargain hunters who may eventually read my book, or they may not.

  2. I agree with Timothy, Clare.

    The nice thing, like Jim pointed out in his post yesterday, is the freedom I have to choose the price point, and my own definition of success.

    At this stage of the game (Rookie) I've found the novels move at a higher price point with promotions sprinkled in, timed around holidays and special occasions.

    It's a learning process. Marketing 101. What price point gets me readers, not bargain hunters, who may store my books on their Kindle, but never get to them?


  3. Timothy and Paula, I'm still trying to come to grips with the whole pricing thing. Sure the free and cheap books sell but I wonder whether the top 100 list on kindle distorts our view on what is really selling in the marketplace overall. I notice on the NYT bestseller list their are only two indie authors in the top 20 - most of the bestsellers are those whose e-books typically sell closer to the $10 than the $1 mark (and they are the same bestsellers that appear on print lists too). As a reader I am not as influenced by price as I am by reviews and my own level of interest in a book. As you say, Timothy, we can't necessarily draw too many conclusions from this study. - It's still food for thought though!

  4. As an unknown writer I have found that the .99cent range is fine for my books. As I start to grow a reader following I will (in time)raise my prices. (I have found one of my book series growing a steady following.) I buy a lot of low price and free books for my kindle and I read them. I hope most people do the same. In the end, it's all a shot in the dark and all I can do is write the best I can and keep my fingers crossed.

  5. Interesting post (do you have a link to the Booklr article?).

    I launched at $0.99 and have since raised the price to $3.99. Sales have dropped, obviously, but not quite by as much as I'd thought, which is reassuring.

    The interesting thing is that, since roughly mid-December, my sales on B&N have vastly outstripped my sales on Amazon, even at the same price point. I'm chalking it up to some luck in algorithms - Too Close to Miss is getting recommended with different titles on B&N than on Amazon, perhaps.

    I think there is something to your notion of the reader markets being different for Kindle users vs. Nook users. Not completely alien, but different in small ways.

  6. Those are interesting stats, but, as above, I'm not sure what they say. I released my book for $2.99 in both venues and it has sold far better on Amazon. At my sales levels, that can be classified as anecdotal evidence and dismissed. I chose $2.99 because it was the lowest point at which the higher royalties are paid. It's not that I expect to make appreciable money here. I was only trying to find the point where people might be willing to try an unknown, but valued my time and effort more than a buck.

  7. Purely from the standpoint of a reader, not a writer, I tend to purchase books that are priced no higher than maybe $5-7 bucks.

    But the .99 cent thing feels weird to me. Whenever I see novels for sale for .99 cents, I just keep thinking to myself "that author should value their work more than that." But I don't crunch the numbers. If it's a viable way to do business, then so be it.

  8. Clare, the Kindle version of THE PHOENIX APOSTLES (Midnight Ink, 2011) is priced at $8.77. On October 18, Amazon dropped the price to $1.99 for one day. The Kindle book went from 20,000 to #1 in a matter of hours and remained there for 2 days. The Kindle version of THE GRAIL CONSPIRACY (Midnight Ink, 2005) is priced at $9.19. On December 14, Amazon dropped the price to $1.99, again for one day, and it went to #1 by mid-afternoon. Both books bumped Suzanne Collins' HUNBER GAMES out of the top slot, a feat I haven't seen anyone else do. In both cases, my email feedback and postings on sites like Goodreads jumped 10-fold or more. And the sales numbers for the trade paperback versions of the two along with my other books also went up noticably.

    Although these books are priced by my publisher, not me, it was obvious that pricing is a major factor in affecting sales, and should be carefully considered by any author about to go indie.

  9. My collection of previously pubbed flash and shorts is going up at 99 cents. They've all done their original job and are reprints.

    As a reader I have a high tolerance for 99 cent books. I look at them like a magazine or newspaper. If I like them, cool, if not, no great loss. I have never had the thought that the writer should "value" their words more. To me, it's the reader that determines value.

    I may go to $2.99 if, I know you or something really compels me in the cover art and description. I don't look at 5-star reviews for indies, too many sock puppets. Sometimes I'll pick up a book with hilarious scathing 1-star reviews (such as, "the language just insulted me to the very core of my being, I refused to have my Kindle polluted with such filth." "Vile and venal" is another favorite.

    As a reader, I look at cover art, the description, and the fame of the author in my pricing equation. For example, if your book was put together with some sort of cover generator program, odds are I am going to be looking for a 99 cent price tag. It smacks of beginner. Cover art matters. Next the description. Typos, hyperbole, promises to change my life and outlook on "X", etc. puts you back into my 99 cent bracket.

    Pros, I'll pay full price for, up to $9.99. I'm stubborn. That is my limit for an ebook. Basically, the price of a movie ticket. Beyond that, I want the physical book.

    I can see the difference between Amazon and B&N. Amazon has become Wal-Mart to B&N's department store. I am much more price sensitive in Wal-Mart. I am there for one reason and that reason isn't the ambience - it is the price. When I want a shopping "experience," I go to the mall.

    I live in Wally world country (HQ is about 3 hours south) so we get a lot more WM news here. Such as a huge shakeup in execs. WM had been on a relentless loss-leader price-cutting binge on the theory that bargains brought in customers who stayed and paid full price for more "luxurious" goods. WRONG. People picked up their bargains on their way to the mall. Profits dropped, heads rolled.

    Psychologically, people who shop at B&N are willing to pay for the same item, just to not shop at Amazon.

    Great post and info! Thanks!


  10. There are so many variables I don't think we'll ever be able to make hard and fast pricing decisions. My experience in e-fiction is that $2.99 is still the "sweet spot" for novels or novellas. 99¢ is best for shorter works.

    So what about the John Locke model? Multiple novels at 99¢? It might work for some, but even Locke could have made more money selling fewer at $2.99. But his goal was to get to a million first, and then land a traditional contract.

    I think I prefer FREE for a time, as a promo. Kensington made PAY ME IN FLESH free for a day and it shot to #1 on the fantasy list that same day. I've done the Select program with a couple of stories, and it does generate new readers.

    But I have the same reaction to 99¢ novels as BK. There's a bit of a blip on my radar screen. I think of it as a novelty rather than a novel.

  11. Interesting isn't it how perceptions, price and the venue (Amazon versus Barnes&Noble) affects book buying decisions. I admit to being leery of the 99c ebook but I also love it when there is a promo that let's me try an author for free - I downloaded the first Dana Stabenow Alaskan mystery book for free as I had heard her at conferences and wanted to start at the beginning of the series. If I like it, I would not hesitate to then pay full ebook price for others in the series. I think Joe shows just how powerful price promotions can be! The model is so new as Jim said, we need to wait and see how it pans out. Some authors go for multiple 99c books others for one free and then priced around $2.99 or above. John, I saw the link on the author agent representation digital rights site and will try and dig out a link and pop it in. Terri Lynn, Amazon as Walmart seems very apt!

  12. I just saw an interesting blog post by Libby Fisher Hellman on this very point that was picked up by Forbes. Will try to post a link in this blog post as it details her experience with Amazon's KDP select and how the expectation of readers now seems to be for free books!

  13. Here's the link to the Forbes article;

  14. Here's the link to the aar reference I used to the booklr survey:

  15. I'm pricing at $2.99 because that's the lowest you can go and still get a 70 percent cut. (Though 70 percent of nuthin' is still nuthin'.) Thanks for the Forbes link -- interesting and depressing.

  16. Yes, I know...the Forbes article made me feel rather depressed too!

  17. The party line I have been hearing is that while free or $.99 prices work to generate interest in an author, in the long run, if an author doesn't put a value on his/her hard work, no one else will.

    After all, if someone is willing to pay $6 for a venti latte with chocolate and a caramel shot, they'd be willing to pay the same for some emotional and mental stimulation as well.

  18. Don’t forget that the new mentality is that if it’s in e-form it should be free. Amazon is certainly encouraging that attitude with their lending library for Kindle and free movie/tv streaming for Amazon Prime customers. As long as Amazon gets theirs they don’t seem to be concerned with whether or not the content creator gets a fair royalty payment. Perhaps this attitude is why Kindle customers purchase at a lower price point than Nook customers: Amazon attracts those with the “e should be free” mindset.

    When I look at Nook’s Steals and Deals I have to confess that my mindset is of the opinion that if it’s a self published book for 99 cents it’s almost undoubtedly crap. I’m sure someone out there has a new favorite that is of this ilk, but…. A book is more than simply 99 cents to me. It is also an investment of several hours of my time to read it. I’m not going to buy some POS simply because it’s 99 cents. One could argue that once I figured out I didn’t like it I could just move onto something else because it’s only 99 cents. Ok. Do that enough times and I might just as well have spent $ 6-8-10+ on a book that I really wanted to read.

    Free/.99/$ 2.99 etc prices do affect me somewhat, especially when looking at authors I’m not familiar with. I bought the first JA Jance book when it was a deal (meh). After hearing about The Hunger Games for so long I bought the Nook version because it was $ 4.74 or something. I liked it so much I bought (and read) the other two in the series. Today I see Richard Kadrey’s Sandman Slim on deal for .99. If you’d like to read a really stylish and fab urban fantasy I recommend trying this. IMO these types of temporary deals are great for finding new authors. I always look at the Deal of the Day (American Gods was up recently for $ 1.99) and regularly peruse Steals and Deals, but I only buy when the book engages my attention. Again, it’s not just my money, it’s my time. Right now I’m reading 11/22/63. That cost me $ 14.99+tax, and I’m good with that.

    If an author doesn’t value his/her own work then why will the reader?

  19. I'm thinking $10,000.00. That's the value I'd place on it. Sorry I was thinking that's what I'd pay for an Aston Martin. I'm going to do $1.00 for a couple of weeks then 2.99 or so. Of course that's like after I finish it.

  20. I just saw that the UK's Guardian newspaper also just ran a piece on whether we are actually experiencing an e-book bubble which is now making me feel even more depressed! Here's the link:

    And JRM, an Aston-Martin would be rather nice...not sure I'm going to be able to afford one though with any e-books yet - then again, like you, I have to actually finish the book and get it out there to earn anything at all from this 'bubble'

  21. I've tried a lot of different promos over the past year of having mine all on as ebooks. The best promo was using Kindle Nations Gold package coupled with a Kindle giveaway, for two of my titles which pushed them, then priced at $1.99 to the top ten for two weeks each. Since then I've tried price changes, giveaways, etc and not seen much of a sales increase. Right before Christmas I raised my prices (demonstrating perceived value was my motive) from $2.99 to $4.99 and sales for January ended up being double what they were for December. Don't know what to say about that, except that maybe the buyers saw the same perceived value I did.

    Today I moved all of my titles to KDP Select (I've been getting less than 5 sales per month for a while on B&N so figured the trial wouldn't hurt), and plan to offer one book for free once a week for the next three months to help promote the others which will remain priced at $4.99.

    All in the name of science...and money.

    I don't want an Aston Martin, my arthritic knees don't like little cars. No, my wife has fallen in love with the Porsche Cayenne, the $100k model.

    That's a lot of eBooks.

  22. Thanks for sharing those links, Clare. I think that for a new/unknown author their best bet is to price their first novel at 99 cents. If nothing else, you can get friends and relatives to buy at that price, and they can get friends to buy at that price, and if enough people notice, they might buy without even knowing who you are. If you're an established mid-list author who might be out of contract, I think $2.99 to 4.99 is a good range for getting re-established. Of course, the beauty of all of this for an independent is that one can react to the market fairly quickly and reduce or increase the price of their wares as the case may be.

  23. That's true Joe, authors can adjust the price and see what happens when they go the indie route. Basil, interesting indication of the issue of perceived value versus price. I think it's important that authors don't devalue their work!