Saturday, 26 January 2013

What's it worth?

When I wrote my series of blog posts, last month, about my experiences with self-publishing, I made the comment: 'I could write a whole other blog post about the pricing of ebooks.'  So that's exactly what I thought I should do now!

I went on, after the above comment, to say that people expect ebooks to be as cheap as chips, or in fact cheaper. I'd go further and say that applies to print books too. How has this come about, and how does it affect us - not only as authors, but as readers too?

To be fair, we all like a bargain, don't we! Who wouldn't grab a new book priced at £1, for instance, if it was a book you really wanted to read?  But would you necessarily buy it just because it was only £1, even if you weren't sure whether you were going to enjoy it - rather than a book next to it on the shelf priced at £5 which was by an author whose previous books you'd loved, or whose books had been highly recommended to you by a friend?

Since the start of the ebook revolution, how many of us can honestly say we haven't occasionally gone for a bargain at 99p or less which has left us wondering why we bothered? I suppose it's easier to shrug it off because it didn't cost the earth, but the feeling of disappointment remains. We all know that self-publishing, especially of ebooks, has enabled lots of good writers to reach a readership previously denied them - but has also opened the floodgates to other books which perhaps might have been better never seeing the light of day! So maybe, as readers, buying the occasional dud is the price we have to pay for wanting cheap books.

As an author, I priced my self-published ebook editions reasonably low, mainly in order to compete in a cheap marketplace. But I have mixed feelings about the concept of giving ebooks away for literally next to nothing. I do realise that there are no physical costs involved in the publication of ebooks - no paper, no printing, no cover or binding costs, no distributor or shop premises to pay for. But the item for sale still represents a year of my hard work; the intellectual property is mine. Why would I give it away (other than in an occasional free promotion in the hope of generating more sales)?

I think the expectation of free (or very, very cheap) ebooks came about in much the same way as some people expect free music downloads. They can't see a physical book, or CD, on a shelf - the item being offered is just 'out there' floating in cyberspace, and there seems to be a belief that because of this, it should be available for whoever wants it.

A similar feeling seems to have evolved about print books, in this case I think because very cheap paperbacks are readily available second-hand, not only from traditional second-hand bookshops (it's harder to feel aggrieved when these are supporting worthwhile charities!) - but also now on Amazon, for instance, where you can sell your own books second-hand, and of course on EBay. New books are also very heavily discounted in the big book store chains as well as in supermarkets. Gone are the days when the printed price on a book was what you paid for it!

That price, printed on a paperback's cover, is nowadays normally about £6.99 or £7.99, and I actually think that's very reasonable and realistic. I've heard people gasp 'I'm not paying that!' for a book, and yet pay almost as much for a magazine - and then pay the same for just two or three birthday cards. Is that really how little they value a book by one of their favourite authors?  Mind you, I've also known people who believed I, as a published author, was receiving the whole £6.99 from each sale of a copy of one of my books!  Oh, how I wish!! 

My new self-published print books, 'Sophie Being Single' and 'Debra Being Divorced', are currently priced at £6.62 on Amazon and trust me, I receive even less per copy for these than I received from my traditional publisher for my other books!

I do think they're worth the money - but then, I suppose I would! I wish I could sell them cheaper - because I'd like to sell more of them. But it's not possible, so I can only sell to people who are interested in the books themselves, rather than in a bargain for a bargain's sake.

Meanwhile 'Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel', the third book in my Olivia Ryan 'Tales from' series, is being released as an ebook by my publisher, who has priced it at £4.49 on Amazon ... roughly four times the price of my self-published Kindle versions of the other two 'Tales from' books.  Again - I think it's worth it - it's the latest Olivia Ryan book, still available in print, and I don't believe £4.49 is an excessive price for a commercially published ebook from one of the big publishers.

Here it is. If you haven't yet read it on Kindle it's available for pre-order now, and published later this week.
Tales from a Honeymoon Hotel

What do you think is a reasonable price for an ebook? And a paperback?


  1. A thought provoking post, Olivia. Thank you for raising these issues.
    I’ve been browsing some of the US writing blogs recently, and these women are selling colossal amounts of self-pubbed Ebooks on Amazon Kindle – a jaw dropping thousands a week in many cases. (or so they claim)
    Given that they strive to ensure the books are as well written, literate, and as professionally marketable as they can possibly make them, these writers put their success down to pegging their book prices at 99c
    At that price royalties are only 30 per cent, but if you can sell that many books then who’s arguing.
    I’m not sure the philosophy translates across the pond, though.
    I actually sell more of my higher priced Kindle books than the cheaper ones.
    And my daughter surprised me recently by saying she never downloads the cheapie books because at such a low price she didn’t think they would be worth reading!
    I wonder how many other UK Kindle customers think that way? x

  2. Interesting post. My agent decided to price my ebook at £2.87 as she felt it was cheaper than a paperback buy at the supermarket, but not so cheap it was practically a giveaway.

    I must admit that unless an ebook's at a reduced price of 99p for a limited time - to attract sales - I think such a low price hints that the content may not be of a high standard.

    I would happily pay a fiver for a paperback I liked the sound of :o)

  3. Rena, it's interesting that you think the situation in the US is different from here in the UK. I agree, although it's not easy for me to comment as my books sell much better in the UK than the USA (where I've seen it claimed that they are 'too English'). But it does seem to me that the Americans are even more eager for a freebie (or a cheapie!) than we are.

    Karen, I think £2.87 is a perfectly reasonable price for an ebook. I've priced my own self-pub'd ones cheaper, especially those from my back list (because the print books were released several years back). But you have made a very good point about low prices signalling a possible low standard. We can't win, can we!!

  4. Given what I have just written on my own blog this has given me some food for thought.

  5. I've just caught up with your blog, Colette, and I do sympathise with your thoughts. Self-publishing is a good option these days, although you do have to work very hard to make your work stand out among the many thousands being published. x

  6. For me, writing has always been about getting the story out there.