Tuesday, February 28, 2012

2012 Suggested E-book Pricing by Dean Wesley Smith

As readers, we’ve been at this new phase of electronic reading now for going on two years, with regular readers now in the play instead of only early adaptors. This new trend of traditional publishing pricing is setting the price bar pretty firmly above $5.00 general level.
The lower prices are either because of length of the work and if a novel, an extreme lower price will often make readers more weary and cause the novel to jump through more hoops before bought. (Again, talking about regular book buyers, not writers or discount buyers.)
– There was (for a time) downward pressure on prices in electronic books in 2010-2011, but this trend has pretty well faded and now reversed (except at the high levels of pricing, meaning books above $15.99 still find a ton of resistance). A very vocal group of indie booksellers are keeping the pricing lower for some indie publishers. They confuse “sales” and “discounting” with original Suggested Retail Pricing.
But traditional publishers are holding the prices high and most readers (not all) are accepting that, when the price for the ebook is in a reasonable range. (Note: I said “reasonable range.” Very few ebook readers will pay above $15.99 for an ebook without the early-purchase premium on the book, meaning it’s just released from a favorite author. Studies have show that there is a very strong resistance above $12.95 price point.)
— All this is for what I call “normal readers.” A reader who would ONLY buy a book from a discount bin or cheaply at a used bookstore will disagree, of course, and love the 99 cent novel trend. But normal readers, the masses that are now starting to enter the electronic reading world are fine with paying a fair price. And if the price is reasonable, won’t even notice the price for the most part.

My Suggestions for Pricing in 2012

These ebook prices are slightly different than my earlier suggestions. And for ease of stating, I am using word count as markers. This is not always the case. Word count in some genres, such as young adult and early readers or fat fantasy, can vary. So these are only guidelines.
And only my opinion.
Short Fiction (Under 3,000 words) $1.49
Short Fiction (3,000-6000 words) $1.99
Fiction (6,000-9,000 words) $2.99
Fiction (9,000 to 15,000 words) $3.49
Fiction (15,000 to 20,000 words) $3.99
Fiction (20,000 to 30,000 words) $4.99
Fiction (30,000 to 50,000 words) $5.99
Fiction (above 50,000 words if backlist) $6.99
Fiction (above 50,000 words if brand new) $7.99-$8.99 (maybe higher for a short time if attached to a paper book release.)
Those are my pricing suggestions here in early 2012 for ebooks. I think they would have been slightly off a year ago, slightly too high for the market back then. But now, as electronic reading goes into this new phase, out of the early adaptor phase, I think the above pricing is fair and following trends in publishing in general.
Every writer is different.
Every publisher is different.
You must decide what kind of publisher you want to be.
Remember, my opinions are based on my desire to be a long-term publisher, selling in all markets all over the world. Short term gains are nice, but not something I would spend much time chasing.
We shall see how these prices work over the next few years. I might be doing another pricing update a year from now. But I don’t think so.


  1. My publisher has set prices for my novels at $2.99, and that point sells pretty well. At $3.99, sales dropped off significantly (although it's not like sales across all the platforms has left a trail of burning electrons at $2.99).

    Part of it is audience, and part of it I think is name recognition and established readership that has to be considered in the pricing mix.

  2. Hi Terry,

    I think the whole pricing thing is different for every author. My novels are priced between 3.99 - 4.95, but I have priced my novellas at .99. I hope that readers would take a chance on a .99 title and if they liked what they read, would come back and buy the full-length novels.

  3. Personally, if a book isn't at LEAST 120 pages, I don't want to see a price on it that is more than 99 cents. If I can read a book in just than 3 hours, it's not a book, it's a short story. I'm happy to pay up to $5.99 for a NOVEL by a known entity, but generally am only comfortable paying about $2.99 for an unknown, and only if I know it is a full-length novel.

    Now, keep in mind that I am the sort of person who will buy books even if it means I go hungry - I have and likely will again. I also live with my husband, trying to survive off less than $13000/year income, with annual medical expenses of around $2500 on a GOOD year, and you get an idea that yeah, I am a bit tight with my money as a result. However, I think I, like a lot of people, tend to be biased toward spending less for an ebook because there just isn't the same meaning behind it - it's not something that you can hold. Plus, there aren't as many expenses that go into it - at least for traditional publishers. They don't have to have it printed, stored or shipped and that's a huge money saver.

    And Debra, that is exactly what I"m talking about - the novellas at 99 cents are a good starting point - other people I've talked to feel more comfortable buying short stuff (I like a long book myself) and if they like a 99 cent novella, they'll go and buy a longer book for more. I've done it myself - got a book for free, or cheap, and if I liked it, gone out and bought everything else I could lay my hands on for that author.

    Anyway, just had to comment, as these topic seems to be making the rounds right now. Off to do some editing now! :-)

  4. Hi Katie,

    Thanks for commenting. I know how many books you read and it's good to hear what a voracious reader like yourself feels about the whole price point of ebooks. I plan to keep my full-length novels (100K words) at 4.95. There is a lot that goes into publishing besides the time it takes to write the book. There is editing (no author should skip this step), and a graphic artist for the cover. I actually had 2 graphic artists working on the cover so publishing Assassin's Curse cost about $600 (that's before any expenses for publicity).

  5. As a reader, when it comes to books on the Kindle/ Nook, I refuse to spend over $5.00, for anything- self-published or traditionally. There have a been a couple of rare exceptions but if you're a new indie author, you're not going to draw readers in by setting your prices high. And when I can go to a store and buy a paperback version of the book (that is mine, that I can loan out however many times I please and do what I want with it), for less than the Kindle version, there's a problem with that. So just because traditional published companies are holding their prices high doesn't mean people should give in. Giving in ensures that what they're doing is okay, and it's not. It's cheating people like crazy.

  6. Pricing was always a curiosity to me. I asked myself decades ago who decides how much a piece of art is worth? Who says a Picasso is worth millions? How did our ancestors know how much jewelry and fabric a bride was worth? In the long run, the buyers - the market, the audience decides. Pricing my art and books is a challenge and I appreciate the article as a reflection of audience analysis. I did wonder how long really really cheap indie books would stay cheap. Something else to consider, I learned this when pricing my tutoring services, people know they get what they pay for, and sometimes a price too low is shunned as junk. Thanks for this piece, it was worth reading. - M

  7. Thanks Jordan and Michelle for commenting. Pricing ebooks at 4.95 is $3 less than the usual mass paperback price of $7.99. I agree that they should be less because you don't get to pass them around like your would a paperback, but I'm not a fan of the $2.99 price point for a full-length novel. A year's worth of effort writing the story certainly should be worth more in my opinion. I also understand the viewpoint from reader--that they don't want to take a chance on an expensive novel for an unknown author. Wasn't every successful author unknown at one time though?

  8. No way. I'm not spending more than $3 for an untried/unknown author. Just because it's higher priced, doesn't make it good. Just because it's cheap, doesn't make it bad.

  9. I recently raised the prices on most of my Kindle books. Here's why: http://robonwriting.com/2012/02/10/freudian-friday-ebook-pricing-for-indies/

  10. I have to agree with the point about buying full-length ebooks at $2.99. I'm generally unwilling to spend more than that on an unknown author to me unless the book came highly recommended by someone whose reading taste is very similar to mine.

    These days I find I'm reading more new authors and the prices are generally between $0.99 for novellas and $2.99 for novels.