Since the dawn of the digital books, a battle has raged on pricing, between those who price high and those who price low:
- High: The publishers lead this camp, because of course they want maximum profit on a book sale. Never mind that the publication hasn’t included the costs of printing and distribution; they want an ebook’s price to sit close to the print book price. They cite the costs for legal work, editing, design and administration. And, of course, there is the intrinsic value in the book being a body of work on which an author has worked tirelessly.
- Low: It was the early Amazon self-publishing success stories that saw minimal pricing lead to massive sales – authors like John Locke and Amanda Hocking. They followed the ‘pile them high and sell them cheap’ strategy, a kind of Wallmart approach, with the idea that readers were more likely to try an unknown author for just 99 pence or 99 cents. And it worked – so much so that a trend began, and every 99 price point publication began to damage the credibility of the high-price ebooks.
Interestingly, the price war has become something of a cerebral argument on the value of a digital book versus a print book, instead of a fight to the death. For if all books were priced high, how would the quality, traditionally published books stand out? And if all books were priced low, what hope would a small press or independently published book have against books created by the giants of publishing?
Take, for example, the top 10ebook bestsellers in the US for the week ending 10 October:
- Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn (Penguin Random House): $7.99
- Stepbrother Dearest by Penelope Ward: (Self-pub): $2.99
- Outlander by Diana Gabaldon (Penguin Random House): $4.99
- Gray Mountain by John Grisham (Penguin Random House): $11.99
- Killing Patton by Martin Dugard (Macmillan) $9.99
- Burnby James Patterson (Hachette): $9.99
- Personal by Lee Child (Penguin Random House): $10.99
- The Best of Me by Nicholas Sparks (Hachette): $4.79
- The Maze Runner by James Dashner (Penguin Random House): $5.72
- Captivated By Youby Sylvia Day (Penguin Random House): $7.99
The average ebook price across the top 25 is $7.74, up from $7.57 the preceding week. There are several strategies at work:
- A self-publishing author opting for a low price – but not too low; the 99c/p price point has fallen from favour
- New books priced very high – such as the John Grisham; capitalising on the impatient of keen fans and shouting ‘quality book – see how much we’re charging’.
- A film tie-in book, The Best of Me, priced at $4.79 to attract mass sales as the film is released.
- Romance novels at a lower price point: note Outlanderat $4.99, cheap for a Penguin Random House novel.
Meanwhile, the Hachette versus Amazon war on ebook pricing continues to be a hot topic of conversation in the media. Amazon wants to set a $9.99 limit price on most ebooks; Hachette does not agree. This week bestselling author R.L. Stine spoke out in favour of Amazon’s goal of keeping e-book prices low. ‘To me, the lower the price, the more books you’re going to sell,’ Stine told HuffPost Live.
What do you think about ebook pricing? How much will you spend on an ebook? Does a 99 pence or cent price point make you nervous, or eager to click ‘Buy now’? Will you spend five or six or seven dollars or pounds on the new release from your favourite author that’s only marginally cheaper in ebook format than in paperback, or will you refuse and wait for the price to drop? Are you keen to see ebook prices come down, because, like the 32% of respondents to a recent survey by market research firm Mintel, you prefer paper books but opt for ebooks that cost less? Or areyou one of the 25% who read more than you used to because ebooks have made reading more affordable?
I would love to hear your thoughts.