Friday 19 October 2012

Low Priced Indie Books... Did they Ruin Things for the Rest of Us?

The other night, I managed to get into a debate over the same thing twice - the price of ebooks!

In the early indie days, the $0.99 price tag was a jumping point for several now indie publishing rock stars, most of which have now signed up with one of the New York big boy publishing houses. But while they've all jumped off the indie bandwagon, they've left the rest of us floundering around in a market place saturated with low price (and often low quality) indie books. That in itself is fine - everyone has an equal right to publish in this day and age - but the affect it has had on the readers is more important. Readers now expect to pay no more than a couple of dollars for an indie novel, yet will happily compare that indie novel to one of the New York published novels which would set them back $10 and more!

I read a post on Amanda Hocking's blog that one of the reasons she took a big publishing contract was because she knew, however hard she worked, the editing would never be good enough unless she had someone who was at the top of their game working on her books. I can understand this thinking, especially when readers pick up an indie book and read it expecting the same sort of editing that the book would have received if published by a big house.

I am a big believer (now) that a book shouldn't be published unless it's been edited professionally. An author should try to save every penny to pay for the editing. However, I didn't always have this opinion. When I first got on the indie train I thought just having another author edit my work would be perfectly fine. It wasn't.

So what is the right price to charge for an ebook? Let's look at the costs. (The following are an approximation and obviously do vary!)

Editing - $300 - $500
Proofreading $75- $150
Cover design $120
Isbns $30 (for two - one for ebook, another for paperback)
Paperback upload (Lightning Source) - $60
Advertising/email subs/website/hootsuite etc. (optional, but neccessary!) $100 per month approx.

Before the book is even published an author is looking at an outlay of up to $760, and then another $100 a month going forward. If an author prices their book at $0.99, they would need to sell well over 2000 copies just to break even. In the indie world, with so much competition, most indie authors don't even earn $500 a month!

So what is the right price for an indie novel and did those early pricing strategies set the rest of us up for failure?

Yes, and no. Unfortunately pricing is still the biggest tool indies have against the mighty power of the big six. I price my novels at $4.99, but I don't think I would put them much higher, even though traditionally published indie books charge more. Is this because I think my books are worth less? In a word, yes, I do. I'm not saying that my story or writing is worth less, but I'm not dividing my profit between a number of people. Once my costs have been paid off, the profit goes in my pocket, unlike a traditional publisher who have on-going costs including paying staff and royalties to the author.

So do I think $0.99 is too low a price for a novel? Yes, definitely. $0.99 should be a price reserved for short stories. I even think $2.99 is too little, but I can understand authors using that pricing in the hope people might try out the novel of an author they've never heard of.

Pricing will continue to be an issue, with some readers steering clear of low priced ebooks because they automatically think the books will be poor quality, and some readers even refusing to pay for an ebook because there are so many free ones out there. (This actually happened to me - someone read one of my books, loved it, and then actually laughed at the idea of paying for another one... like authors don't deserve to be paid for their work, unlike any other industry out there!).

What do you think is a reasonable price for an ebook? If you're a reader, do you tend to try out the cheaper books, or try to steer clear?


  1. You've touched on some really interesting points there, for sure.
    I've not been indie published, and I'm lucky to make 500 a quarter, never mind a month!!

    As for ebook pricing, I agree. 99c should be reserved for shorts or promotional periods. And I also agree on your point that readers come to expect to pay the same across the board, without taking into consideration what went into the book. It's frustrating to say the least. My ebook spend limit is no more than $10, and that's pushing it! I'm happier paying between 3 and 7 for a full.

  2. I hate to say it, JoAnne, but I only started making decent money when I made the jump from being traditionally published to going indie (but that's a whole other blog post, lol!).

    I'm hoping that over time the price of ebooks will start going back up again and readers will recognise that a $0.99 price tag will mean they're getting a short story, or at least they'll appreciate that they've got something for practically nothing. Unfortunately, us indie author haven't done ourselves any favours on that front.

  3. As a reader, I don't think $5-10 is unreasonable. At the end of the day this is your livelihood. Being part of the iTunes generation does make that $0.99 price hard to pass up for most. People don't realize what Rovio charges for it's Angry Birds games doesn't contribute very much to profit. They then don't see the corollary between apps, songs (individual songs and not the entire album), and books. In the case of indie authors I think a lot of people don't really look at it from the perspective that this is how you make your money. There isn't a world tour or radio plays or Youtube views or merchandising to subsidize your earnings.
    That mainly only describes one demographic though. The other one I see quite often is people that truly prefer paper books. I personally am not part of that mentality. I prefer ebooks and I find it much easier to get through books over 200 pages in the print version. Seeing a percentage when I pick my Kobo up is for whatever reason easier for me to wrap my head around and is less daunting. I think the current state of ebook prices compared to print prices from large publishers is a big hurdle to get people to want to read books digitally. If you go to Amazon, Kobo, or Barnes and Noble (I'm in the US so that's the only real perspective I have) and see an ebook you know you can get at a brick and mortar store for less, you're not going to stick around for long. If they don't stay long enough because the stuff on the front page is too expensive, chances are they won't get deep to see the indie books, good or bad.
    I hope some of that made sense.

  4. Thanks for your comment, Tyler! I'd never considered the fact that bigger publishers also make money from merchandise. They also have the ability to get into book shops, so their print book sales are a hell of a lot more than an indie author's will ever be.

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