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State of Confusion with capital buildings and overlaid by "state of confusion."

Confusion abounds when deciding the best price for ebooks.

Please note that material such as this is time sensitive and may vary somewhat from one genre to another. I offer what is here as a framework for your own research and thinking. Do your homework.

Many fairy tales surround pricing for indie ebooks. Looking over the first four pages of the Smashwords bestseller list for full length science fiction, I see only one title for sale at the often-recommended price of $1.99 – everything else is higher, most of it much higher. I have been studying the price issue for months and have concluded the following:

  1. Free ebooks attract what I call the freebie hounds. These folks have learned that they do not have to pay to read. When you stop giving away your ebooks free, they just switch to someone else who is still doing that. They are philosophically opposed to paying for ebooks. Francis W. Porretto is the best example of this problem – 100,000 free downloads followed by lacklustre sales.
  2. Then there is what I call the 99 cent set. This group are mostly young people who see no difference between a tune download and a novel download. Tunes are 99 cents, so ebooks should be the same. They are philosophically opposed to paying more than 99 cents for anything that is downloadable. Raise your price and they all go away. Romance author Ruth Ann Nordin saw an 80% drop in her sales when she upped the price of her early books from $.99 to $2.99. She no longer gives away free novel-length works and prices all her new books at $2.99.
  3. You have probably read many times that print authors make only 40 or 50 cents on a mass-market paperback sale. This fact is routinely trotted out to justify the 99-cent price point for ebooks. You read far less often that mass-market paperbacks always sell in the tens, sometimes the hundreds, of thousands. Even with their books priced at 99 cents, what indie author can expect such sales?
  4. Summarizing points one through three: neither the freebie hounds nor the 99-cent set will make you any money. At 40 cents profit per ebook, 1000 copies sold will net you a paltry 400 dollars.
  5. The self-publishing phenomenon has shattered the market into a million pieces. The overwhelming majority of indie authors can expect only a small number of sales. This undeniable fact changes the pricing situation completely. Any businessperson will tell you that with slow moving items, you have to make a substantial profit per sale or it simply is not worth your while.
  6. The readers you want are those who believe an author should earn a little something for their trouble. These folks are less numerous, but they are willing to pay a reasonable price for an ebook. Build a following among them and you can make a few dollars.
  7. Psychology plays a role here. Charging too little for your work makes some people think it must be no good. In their eyes, a decent price tag makes you look respectable. This is the old, “You get what you pay for” philosophy.
  8. Conclusion: Accept the fact that you are incredibly unlikely to win the internet sales lottery. Charge a fair price for your books (I like $4.99), and work on attracting those who are not just looking for a freebie or a 99 cent anything-will-do special. Indie fantasy author Brian S. Pratt sells many ebooks at $5.99. He uses a single novel-length freebie as his lead in.