Ebook Pricing: What’s The Perfect Number?

Whether you’re a self-published author with titles on Amazon or selling a non-fiction book on your website, product pricing is a major component of your marketing plan and income projections. I’m guessing you’ve spent a lot of time considering price point tactics. But let’s face it, the cost of ebooks – both theory and advice – is all over the board. What’s an author to do?

ebook and ebooks in letterpress typeSince I’ll be releasing my second novel soon, I went looking for guidance that would help me build a workable pricing and book promotion strategy into my business plan for next year. What I found was surprising: it seems free ebook giveaways are out of favor, and authors who select the 2.99 price point for a well-written novel might be leaving cash on the table. And there’s more. Let’s break it down.

Per Kobo’s Mark Lefebvre, the move away from $1.99 is clear
Publisher’s Weekly ran an article about Kobo Writing Life (KWL) that included a great sound bite about ebook pricing trends from Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing and Author Relations. Per Lefebvre, the $1.99 price point is “dead … not just for us, but also, it seems, on other platforms,” pointing out that 99¢ KWL titles sell twice as many copies as those at $1.99, and that “$2.99 sells more than four times more.” Authors most often start at $2.99 “and walk the prices up,” he said. About 80% of the KWL titles that sell consistently are priced in the $2.99–$5.99 range, and he also pointed to “a bit of a lift in the $7.99–$9.99 price range.”

When you’re deciding on a promotional plan, remember that KWL allows authors to give away titles for free. Authors can distribute to Kobo via Smashwords or publish directly on the KWL platform. For more info, read my Kobo post.

Note this important takeaway: “A low price point may be a hook, but it’s the quality of a work that attracts readers, not the price.”

Link here to read the entire article: Kobo Writing Life: A Year Later.

Per Smashwords’ Mark Coker, authors may be underpricing
Smashwords CEO Mark Coker’s May 2013 Booklovers Convention presentation revealed important points gleaned from his platform’s data. In the presentation he ponders the question, “… is $3.99 the new $2.99?” noting there are “fewer titles to compete against at $3.99, and authors appear to pay no penalty in terms of sales volume.” Per Coker, “I see untapped opportunity [at the $3.99 price point], where indies may be able to raise prices but not suffer unit decline.” He concludes “some authors are underpricing.” Smashwords data also reveals …

  • $.99 remains popular, but shows a big drop compared to their 2012 study.
  • $.99 to $1.99 underperforms in terms of earnings. (Per Coker, $1.99 is “a black hole.”)
  • $2.99 is the most common price point with indies.
  • $2.99 to $6.99 is the sweet spot for maximum earnings.
  • Indies have virtually abandoned the $9.99 price point compared to 2012’s study.

Note this important takeaway: “Data-driven publishing decisions are irrelevant without a great book. Write the greatest masterpiece you can, and then review the data for ideas that at best might enable you to add incremental improvements to reader enjoyment, accessibility, and word-of-mouth.”

Link here for Coker’s complete presentation: Facts & Figures for Financial Payoff – New 2013 Data

Per author Cheryl Bradshaw, ditch “free” and go with 99 cent promotions
So what’s up with free ebook giveaways? According to author Cheryl Bradshaw, it’s time to leave Amazon’s KDP Select program. “At some point Amazon started changing their algorithms,” she says. “This meant when a book came off the free list, instead of seeing a huge spike (a lower book ranking) as well as a nice increase in book sales, it wasn’t happening … to the extent I’d grown accustomed to, [and] recently I’ve been seeing a meager spike, fewer sales. Maybe short-term, maybe forever, but for me it means it’s time to try something different. In my opinion, a .99 promotion (not all the time, just as a sale) is the sweet spot right now.”

Link here to read the entire article: 99 Cents is the New Free!

Per Joe Konrath, the case for $3.99 is strong
In February 2013 Joe Konrath wrote, “I have my novels priced at $3.99, my novellas and short story collections at $2.99, my trilogy sets at $9.99, and short stories at 99 cents.”

Link here to read the entire article: A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing

Bottom line: There is no one “right” pricing strategy
Miral Sattar, CEO of BiblioCrunch, outlined a trio of author’s pricing strategies in an article published by PBS online. In her final words she notes, “The important thing to remember is no pricing strategy will work if your book isn’t in its best shape. This means having a well-edited, error-free book, an eye-catching cover, and selecting the right categories for discovery.”

Link here to read the article: How to Set the Right Price for Your Self-Published Book

Based on the information above, my conclusion regarding sales strategy might not be earth-shattering news, but here it is, and this will be my strategy in the coming year:

  • Avoid the $1.99 price point entirely!
  • Price previously released (backlist) ebooks at $3.99.
  • Scheduling regular .99 cent promotions can help maintain sales of the entire line.
  • Pricing newly-released titles higher for a limited period after their initial launch can work well for authors with a loyal readership.
  • Most importantly, no pricing strategy will sell a poorly-written, proofed and edited book.

Readers, what do you think about ebook pricing strategy?

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40 Responses to Ebook Pricing: What’s The Perfect Number?

  1. Michael Kelberer October 21, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    Hi Molly,
    First – congratulations on being at the pricing stage of your new novel :-)
    Here’s another resource – a post on Digital Book World from last April on Ebook Pricing Strategies…especially look at #5: Price newer titles higher than old ones.

  2. Anne R. Allen October 21, 2013 at 3:21 pm #

    Really useful post Molly! I’m forwarding this to my publisher.

    • Molly Greene October 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

      Thanks, Anne! It’s tough to know where the right price point is, but it looks to me like the more successful titles an author has, the higher pricing they can command.

  3. Robyn Jones October 21, 2013 at 3:24 pm #

    This is great stuff, Molly. I’ve also been sifting through the financial reports for my upcoming ebook. Thank you for putting it all together in this great post.

    • Molly Greene October 21, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

      Thanks, Robyn! Lots of authors are still getting results from free giveaways, but it looks like the trend is to .99 – let me know what else you find out as you research!

  4. Richard Alan October 21, 2013 at 3:46 pm #

    Hi Molly,

    As I have been preparing for a launch of my re-edited, updated, series I have been struggling with how to price them. This post has provided me with the information to make an informed decision. Thank you!

    • Molly Greene October 21, 2013 at 4:01 pm #

      Thanks, Richard, and best to you on your re-launch!

  5. John Chapman October 21, 2013 at 3:52 pm #

    Nice to find people agree with you isn’t it. I’ve being saying $3.99 is the ideal starting price for a while now. It seems to place you higher in the rankings and gives you room to manoeuvre while still getting the 70% royalty at Amazon. Drop it to $0.99 as a special, limited duration promotion if you need.

    The Free price? Only if it’s book one of a series and has a hook for the second book.

    • Molly Greene October 21, 2013 at 4:03 pm #

      Thanks, John, and I have a feeling most people would arrive at a similar conclusion after reading what the platforms have to say about ebook sale trends. Too bad Amazon isn’t out there providing self-published authors with a little more guidance :-)

  6. D.G. Kaye October 21, 2013 at 4:26 pm #

    Hi Molly, great post as usual and timely for me as well. As my book is just returned to me from my ‘second editor’, I am also battling prices around in my head now. I am inclined to agree with John Chapman from what I have been reading and also in David Gaughran’s ‘Let’s Get Visible’ it seems to me the new pricing strategy sweet spot is $3.99 so that’s what I am going to do! :)

    • Molly Greene October 21, 2013 at 4:39 pm #

      Thanks, D.G., and yes, it looks like $3.99 is the place to be. Best to you on your upcoming book!

  7. Joy October 21, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

    Hi Molly, I’m going to try out your pricing structure if Kindle will allow it. I originally priced my longer short stories of say 6000 words at $3.99 and my novel at 11.99 and my novella at 4.99, but Kindle changed these prices by adding on at least $2 to each price tag.
    I’m going to try pricing as you suggested and see what happens, but if they set the prices back again is there anything I can do?
    I’ve tried asking this question on Amazon and a few other authors complained of the same thing.
    Best wishes,
    Joy

    • Molly Greene October 22, 2013 at 10:45 am #

      Hi Joy, I haven’t heard of Amazon raising prices, but I believe they retain the right to price-match if your prices are higher on another platform? Read their fine print. Also, pricing your novel’s ebook at $11.99 kicks it down into a lower royalty category, which is why the $9.99 price point is typically the highest self-publishers go.

    • Jason October 28, 2013 at 4:42 am #

      Hi Joy

      I experienced the same thing – Amazon adding $2 to the price.
      In my case, it turned out that they haven’t changed the price for customers in the US. It looks higher to me, because I’m not in the US. Amazon adds an amount, varying by country, for all customers outside certain territories.

      So, as a customer in South Africa, I get $2 added to the price of all Kindle books I buy. My book, which I priced at $2.99, appears to me, to be priced at $4.99. To people in the US though, the price is the correct $2.99.

      On a different note, how have you found the $3.99 price point for your 6000 word shorts?

      • Molly Greene October 28, 2013 at 9:14 am #

        Thanks, Jason, for that explanation. As for pricing “shorts,” I’m going with Konrath’s pricing structure as noted in the post!

  8. Elizabeth Ducie October 22, 2013 at 12:55 am #

    Hi Molly. Another great post. I’d already come to the conclusion that the freebies don’t work for me, so it’s good to see that confirmed. I was also interested in the suggestion that short stories should be priced lower than novels. That makes sense. I’m off to change my prices accordingly.

    • Molly Greene October 22, 2013 at 10:46 am #

      Freebies can still gain readers, so don’t cross the idea off completely. Let us know how your amended pricing works out!

  9. Martha Lancaster October 22, 2013 at 8:07 am #

    Thank you Molly. I am the point of publishing my first e-book. I’m new at all the business part of publishing. I’ve been focusing on the writing, but now I need to have all this valuable information you wrote about. This information helped me clear up a few questions I’ve been pondering.

    • Molly Greene October 22, 2013 at 10:47 am #

      Thanks, Martha, and best to you on your upcoming book launch!

  10. Ted Fauster October 22, 2013 at 8:47 am #

    I give all my eBooks away. The entire book. I charge only for the printed versions.

    • Molly Greene October 22, 2013 at 10:48 am #

      Hi Ted, that’s an interesting strategy and I’m sure it gains readers!

  11. Deb October 22, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    While it’s great that you’ve chosen the right PRICE for your book, be aware of the barriers which might prevent people from buying it. Two which are frequently forgotten, especially by U.S. authors –

    a) The international market. (i.e. does the website allow people from all over the world to buy your book easily and quickly, and can they ALL by it at the same time)

    b) Does it have DRM. (I’m one of a growing number of ebook buyers who will not buy a book if there’s DRM applied, because it means I don’t actually own it. I’d have paid for the rights to read it on a particular tablet/computer, at a particular time. Can’t be bothered with that).

    • Molly Greene October 22, 2013 at 2:24 pm #

      Thanks, Deb. We’ll all consider your points.

  12. Laura Zera October 22, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    Thanks for doing the research, Molly. That was a great update.

  13. Shirley Ford October 23, 2013 at 6:51 am #

    Thanks for a great article. I have a novel coming out in the next week, so this info has been really helpful

    • Molly Greene October 23, 2013 at 8:58 am #

      Shirley, best of luck to you on your upcoming launch!

  14. Helen Karol October 24, 2013 at 3:03 am #

    Hi, I still find KDP select works for me with promo days but free all the time does very little except devalue your product.

    I have a short story prequel I wrote as a promo for my book Chance & Choices. I put it free in all outlets except Amazon through Smashwords and .99 cents on Amazon. People bought it on Amazon and it generated sales for C&C.

    I was hoping Amazon would price match but six weeks later it was still selling at .99. Yesterday enrolled in KDP and had more downloads on one promo free day than six weeks on Smashwords!

    Interesting to see if this increases sales.

  15. Radhika October 24, 2013 at 7:55 am #

    This is so useful! Molly, thank you so much for organizing all the data in such a succinct manner. Though I feel this may apply only to the U.S. market. Is there any data for international (also, Asian) markets?
    -Cheers,
    Radhika

    • Molly Greene October 24, 2013 at 9:51 am #

      Thanks, Radhika, but I didn’t turn up any international stats about pricing at all while I was searching. If you find anything, please be sure to let us know!

  16. J. D. Brink November 11, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    Great post, Molly! This is an issue I wrestle with constantly and still haven’t nailed it. Everyone seems to have different opinions and there’s no way to say who is “right” about it. I think part of the draw for me to play with price is because I can change it so easily. But as you allude to too, the difference of a few bucks isn’t going to generate miracle sales if your book isn’t ready to be read. Or if no one knows it’s out there.

    So for me the question of “How do you get attention?” is bigger than, “What’s the right price?” I think you need people to discover you first, then playing with pricing comes into effect. Any suggestions on that topic…?

    • Molly Greene November 11, 2013 at 2:12 pm #

      Thanks, J.D. And I don’t think there is any one “right” way. It depends on your marketing strategy, the number of titles you have published, and seasonal sale variations. I’ve never been a member of KDP Select, but I’m toying with trying it for the first 3 months my 2nd novel is out. And I agree, when you’re new on the scene, play with pricing to SEE if people will discover you – that’s my best suggestion!

      • J. D. Brink November 15, 2013 at 7:52 am #

        I’m also thinking of trying KDP Select on my next book. I don’t really like the idea of being exclusively with Amazon, but to be honest, 90% of my sales have been on there, so… Hard to make a good argument against trying it out. We’ll see. Thanks, Molly!

  17. Anna Bayes December 9, 2013 at 3:28 am #

    Hi Molly,

    Thank you sooooooo much for this article. I was kind of foolishly following my previous publisher’s pricing policy, completely ignoring the fact that as an Indie I really should set my prices with a better “market-advantage”…

    So, 0.99 for short stories, 2.99 for novellas, 3.99 and up for novels and anthologies… that sounds so much more professional now, LOL…

    Can’t thank you enough! :-D

    Anna

    • Molly Greene December 9, 2013 at 1:29 pm #

      Thanks, Anna! I’m so happy if the post helped you, and I wish you huge, consistent, ongoing sales!

      • Anna Bayes December 10, 2013 at 1:53 am #

        Thank you sweet Molly!

        Wish the same success back at ya! ;-)

  18. Wayne April 11, 2014 at 7:05 pm #

    Molly,

    I am blogging about this over on my blog, and I was impressed by your post. So, I will be linking back to your post.

    Thank you for doing so much of the work.

    Wayne
    http://christian-book.org/

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