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Pricing Your Ebook at 99 Cents: Pros and Cons

| Posted in E-publishing |

32

99 centsAs indie authors, we’re able to choose the price for our ebooks, so we can sell them for $10 or $5 or even $0.99. While $2.99 is the lowest you can list your ebook for if you want the desirable 70% royalty rate at Amazon (Barnes & Noble has a similar deal), some authors are finding it worthwhile to sell their ebooks at the lowest possible price point: 99 cents.

Some people are strong proponents for this tactic and others are vehemently against it. I’ll try to stay neutral and present some of the pros and cons today. Ultimately, though, there’s little harm in experimenting, so if you’re thinking of trying it, you might as well!

Advantages of Pricing Your Ebook at 99 Cents

  • At 99 cents, many readers feel there’s little risk in “giving it a try.” Let’s face it: there’s a lot of cringe-worthy stuff out there in the realm of self-published fiction, so readers might think twice about spending more on an unknown indie author.
  • Selling your first ebook at 99 cents can work similar to a “loss leader” in the marketing world, where you take a hit on the first product in order to entice folks to buy your other products (i.e. Book 1 in your six-book fantasy series may be 99 cents, but those who enjoy the first will probably go on to buy the rest, which you can sell at a higher price).
  • For shorter works (i.e. novellas, short story collections, and short stories), this may be a fair price point. Most folks won’t want to pay three bucks for a 10,000-word story, but they may be willing to try it at 99 cents.
  • You may sell more ebooks. This could improve visibility, especially in the Amazon store where your work will start appearing on other books’ pages (in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” area). You may also make it into Top 100 bestselling lists for your category. Sales could increase to the point where you’re making more than you were at $2.99 because you’re selling so many more copies.

Disadvantages of the 99-Cent Price Tag

  • You may not sell more ebooks. I can show you plenty of examples of 99-cent ebooks with lousy sales rankings. This can’t be your only marketing strategy.
  • You may lose money. Because of the way royalties are structured at Amazon, you’ll only get 35 cents per sale on a 99-cent ebook while you’ll earn $2.05 on a $2.99 ebook, so you need to sell roughly six times as many copies at the lower price point to make the same amount of money. For some folks, this pricing strategy pays out (especially when they have higher priced second, third, etc. books for readers to go on and purchase). For others, it doesn’t.
  • Your ebook may have a lower perceived value that turns some readers off. While lots of folks like a bargain, I’ve seen others who’ve written blog and forum posts entitled things like, “Why I won’t buy your 99-cent ebook.”
  • Your ego may suffer. I’ve seen quite a few authors cringe at the idea of selling their work for so little, and they’re quick to point out the math and how pitiful a wage they’d be earning at 35 cents per book. (Though most of the equations I’ve seen don’t factor in the unlimited shelf life of an ebook…. The math starts to look better if you assume you’ll be getting sales for years to come.)

There we go: four pros and four cons. I know this list isn’t exhaustive, so feel free to add your own in the comments! Or let us know which side of the fence you’re on. Thanks for reading!

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Comments (32)

Great list.

As a reader, I’m more likely to try that new author at 99 cents. Once they’ve hooked me though I’m willing to pay more cause I know they’ll deliver.

I think one of the primary issues with 99 cent books is the massive floods from books that aren’t ready to be published. In a maneuver to sell thousands they are sinking their costs to increase sales numbers. The problem, I see, is by doing so they drive down Tue ‘fair price’ consumers are willing to pay. By cutting their profits to win over a larger audience I think they are selling themselves short.

Waiting until your book is ready to be sold, and I think consumers will be willing to pay the 4 – 6 dollars.

Wonderful post. The biggest disadvantage for me selling at $0.99 was my ego. I admit, I don’t have the greatest sales. ๐Ÿ™‚ So, having similar sales at $0.99 was just adding insult to injury. Like you said, lowering the price to $0.99 doesn’t guarantee additional sales. Though I admit, my sales at $0.99 was a little better, but not enough to make a difference… and certainly not enough to appease my ego.

Eventually I came to the point where I’d rather set the price at a higher rate and sell nothing versus make pennies at the lower rate. Cut off my nose to spite my face? You better believe I will.

Since I’ve raised my price, my doubts about pricing have faded. I’m not selling myself short, and the readers get a wonderful book for a reasonable price.

Every time I think I’m ready to coast, Lindsay offers up some compelling new strategies to try. I just dropped the price of my newest short story collection “Box of Lies” to 99 cents. It was the loss leader argument that did it for me, as well as Raelyn’s confirmation that 99 cents is the “take a chance” price.
I think it IS odd for an author to know that the fruits of his efforts are available for about the same price as a pack of gum. But, hey. Maybe that just means gum is overpriced.

Kevin ~ I think what you’re talking about is on the lines of “Your ebook may have a lower perceived value that turns some readers off.”

I think most authors truly think their work is ready for publication when they query or self-publish. True, some authors are more conscientious about their work than others, but I don’t think most think they’re trying to trick readers into purchasing crappy work.

The 99 cents model is more about being competitive than anything. I’ve read some $0.99 books I’ve thought of as 5/5 stars. The one time I purchased a $6.99 eBook from a small press, I wished I could get my money back or at least a partial refund.

Same thing for $2.99 versus $0.99. There’s really no guarantee one will be better than the other. The price difference isn’t the dividing line between awesome and kickbutt work.

In fact, I’ve heard a couple of self-published authors who are doing well beyond making just a living mention their books are sorely in need of editing. Not that I encourage putting out unedited work. I’m saying that pricing isn’t just about the quality of work.

Lindsay,

All those points are spot on. What I would take away from this post is that you really have to try and see what works for you. There’s no real science to selling books, is there?

Reena ~

I do sort of mean that, and honestly, I’m not talking about the people who believe their books to be ‘ready’. This might not be the most popular of opinions, but I am almost convinced a lot of people see success and immediately rush to emulate it. I am generally a positive person, but I’ve seen a great insurgence of available ePub/indies with the recent market exposure from the individuals like Amanda Hocking, etc.

I would like to pretend that this is a coincidence, but I know it isn’t. There are a number of people who like her were submitted their books to agents for years. A LOT of these MS’s are in dire need of editing and maybe a few weeks on the shelf to cool off. They aren’t bad concepts, just unpolished. How many times have you gotten up from the keyboard with a big smile on your face and victory in your heart… only to re-read what you wrote the next morning and realize a lot of your thoughts never made it to the page. ๐Ÿ™‚

I don’t think ALL .99 cent books are in this market, but when people see big sales numbers they rush to be a part of that crowd. The problem, in my opinion, is the rush.

From a personal perspective, I am editing/re-writing/editing/re-writing and will hold my head high as I set my price point above the .99 crowd. I hope, as I’m sure everyone else does, that the few books I do sell will help to encourage others to spend what they would on lunch, for the entertainment I hope they value.

(Wow, this is a lot of opinion from me. I want to go on record as saying I’m only talking about full-length novels. Novella/Short-Story/essay/etc. pricing is something completely different. Also, I am not disparaging any author from charging for their work whatever they feel like charging. I just don’t like the current trend of books suddenly dropping to .99 cents in hopes to garner sales. In my opinion it is sort-sighted and non-sustainable)

Lindsay,

This is a debate I’ve seen going on all over cyberspace, specifically on Konrath’s blog. While I understand people want to make money right away (who doesn’t?), we are an instant gratification-type of society.

Instant results, or forget it.

We’ve all been conditioned on the old publishing model, the one that says, “You have to hit it out of the ballpark, or your stuff gets remaindered next week.” On Dean Wesley Smith’s site, he says the new model is to put out great stuff, quickly, and then allow the readers to find you. It might take a few months, maybe six months, maybe a year.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that it’s okay if it takes a while to earn some dough, and that you don’t have to worry about making a big hit right out of the gate. We’re now “allowed” to take our time to find readers and turn them into repeat customers, as long as we keep putting great stories out there every three, four months, or whatever.

I like Dean Wesley Smith’s pricing structure: 99 cents for short stories, $2.99 for novellas/short novels, and $4.99-$6.99 for novels. I’d consider dropping a novel or novella to 99 cents for a week or month, but not as its usual price.

BTW, I noticed one of the star self pubbers out there dropped her/his one novel to 99 cents after it was only out for a month or so; it’s still at that price, and he/she *still* doesn’t have any other stories out there as yet, about 9-10 months after that first one came out.

I’d like to think I’d have more patience than that. Just have to wait and see. ๐Ÿ™‚

It’s interesting to see how this progresses. I think even Amazon was probably surprised at all the .99 books. Obviously they prefer the higher prices, but didn’t exclude the lower prices completely. But unless they decide to take away the sub-2.99 option (like they forbid free books,) then each author just needs to decide what works best for them.

And that’s the beauty of it. An indy writer is not some anonymous cog in the corporate gears, forced to do what everybody else does. The entire process can be custom tailored to meet the needs of the individual writer and whatever their definition of success is.

I think that’s pretty cool.

I feel the same way as Raelyn – I’m more willing to take a chance on a new writer if their book is $0.99. Or even if it’s $2.99, actually!

I’m still dithering about what to do when my book goes up for sale. I’m inclined to price it at $2.99 because it’s over 70,000 words long and I think it’s worth at least that much but I also feel as though I should start it at $0.99 just to see if it helps sales. As you mentioned though, luckily we can experiment and see what works.

Enjoyed the post!

I think a first book at 99 cents is smart. Although it won’t entice some, it will bring about readers who maybe otherwise wouldn’t have taken a risk on an unknown.

There are always going to be those not-yet-ready-for-primetime at any price in the ebook world as it is. If you put out a quality product, why worry about other people? You will rise to the top then earn a higher price on your susequent offerings. That’s how I see it. Some 99 cents wiill be wasted. Some won’t.

It’s cool you can set your price and see if there’s any difference.

I agree with Kevin’s comment to a certain extent. There are a lot of bad books out there, but there are even more bad 99 cent books with poor edits and amateur writing.

I don’t think price says anything at all about the quality of the book, but it could give readers the wrong impression if the reader experienced a poor record of choosing good 99 cent books to buy. In that case, a 99 cent book *must* have a great cover to make it stand out from the 99 cent amateurs.

As long as the book’s premise is enticing and the cover looks professsional, 99 cents would make it easier for readers to switch over from “maybe” to “okay, buy right now.”

I want to post a rebuttal to myself, if you don’t mind? ๐Ÿ™‚

I’m not saying, nor will I ever say, that a .99 cent book is defacto bad or poorly written. I’m only saying that a lot of the current self-pub trend is a lot of unpolished/unfinished MS’s are being pushed onto the internet at .99cents.

I have read some good .99 cent’ers, and I’ve read some very bad .99 cent’ers. I’ve read some very good ‘corporate’ published stories, and some very bad ones.

Typically the very bad ‘corporate’ published stories are bad concepts or bad concepts “for me”. A lot of the .99cent books I’ve seen are either poor technically (rife with errors) or the stories are direct clones of well received titles, or transparent stories that really could use some ‘beefing’ up.

As co-author of a 50,000 and counting best-seller I can vouch whole-heartedly for the 99c approach (69p on amazon.co.uk).

As debut novelists with an unknown book and unknown name it’s safe to say 50,000 people would not have paid 2.99 four our book when they could buy a top-selling name they knew for a little bit more.

If some idiot looks down on our book just because it is “too cheap” than that’s their loss. Or wy not buy our 99c book and give two bucks to charity.

As authors we write because we have a story to tell and we want to be read. Making money is a bonus.

We don’t have the overheads, the staff, premises, printing costs, distribution costs and middle men involved with a paper-published book. And we don’t have share-holders to please.

How could we possibly justify asking readers to pay more?

The idea that 99c undervalues the author’s time and effort is just spurious.

Say Joe is a fast typist and can write 80,000 words in six months but Fred took a year to write the same length novel. Does that make Fred’s novel worth twice as much? Obviously not.

Let’s say both completed their novel in nine months. Are we saying 2.99 is a fair price for nine months work but 99c is not? Why not make it ten dollars. Or twenty? Or a hundred?

Fact is, NO-ONE is going to work for nine months for 2.99, or ten bucks, or a hundred.

It’s about volume of sales, not the amount of words you wrote or how long you agonized over chapter three.

99c is a fair price for an ebook.

@kevin – check out the reviews and threads on am.co.uk about Charlaine Harris.

A huge seller with a massive legacy publisher behind her yet apparently her e-books are riddled with typos and errors.

It’s not just the indie publishers, and it MAY not be their fault.

We have seen downloaded versions of our novel that contain errors we know for sure (because we still have the original documents to compare) were not uploaded, and were not present in the quality check before we published.

It seems that Kindle downloads are prone to introduce technical errors that are nothing to do with the author / publisher.

@Mark –
I’m not really going to debate the points… we all have opinions and ideas of what works. I’m glad your book is selling so well! ๐Ÿ™‚

To clarify, by technical errors I meant spelling/grammar not the obscure white space or odd typesets.

I like short stories, novelettes or novellas for 99 cents. It’s also not a bad idea to price a first novel in a trilogy or other series like that. It seems a bit low for a full novel (as opposed to an apparently not even copy-edited manuscript, of which there are rather too many around…)

Authors I haven’t tried so far have the easiest time getting me to give their stuff a try if I can get something completed for free – short story available for free perpetually, giving out coupons for a limited time… or pricing at 99 cents, and being listed at Kobo while there was a $1 off coupon active there.

I’m trying to develop a habit of giving samples a try, but so far I’ve moe often paid 99 cents for something unsampled by an untried author than that I picked up a book costing more than 99 cents after sampling.

My very limited experience may not help much, but I’ll “throw in my two pence” as they say. I published my first novel only 3 weeks ago, at $2.99 for 1 week. It sold about 20 copies. I then lowered the price, thinking I’d boost sales. At $0.99 it dropped to 0 sales for a whole week.
I put the price back up to $2.99 and whoosh (maybe not quite so dramatic), it went up to roughly 1-2 sales a day.
Of course, there could be lots of reasons for that happening.

I also forgot to mention that when I was asked how much my book was, and I said 71 pence, the person asked why the hell was so cheap, and do I value my book so little?
I went bright red and was very embarrassed, though I don’t think I should have been really.

Many thanks for the thoughtful comments, everyone! It’s interesting to hear about what’s working for folks and what readers think too.

I think most readers are like that, Raelyn, even though some sneer at 99 cent books. Lots of us like a bargain or a chance to try someone new without much risk of loss.

Good luck with the 99-center, Mark L. I’ve definitely found people seem to prefer novels to short story collections (prices regardless), but maybe you’ll sell some more copies and get people hooked on your work that way.

Reena, I’m always surprised how many readers can overlook the grammatical errors. I have no problem overlooking a few typos (I’ve found myself that even a professional edit won’t catch all of those!), but basic recurring problems at the sentence level make me wince, and I can’t get past that stuff. But we all know other writers make the toughest critics. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Syd, nope, no science for sure! I think it’s a lot of trying different things, sticking with it, and finding what works.

Nancy, good point about us wanting quick results (and being disappointed when they don’t show up). Most of the indie success stories I’ve read have involved the authors making very little in the first 6-12 months, with their earnings gradually increasing until they reached a tipping point and then, bam, they’re pulling in five figures a month.

Jon Mac, you’re right in that Amazon probably was surprised! It’d be interesting to find out how their earnings are affected by all the 99-cent ebooks. Do people buy these and not buy higher priced ones or do they simply buy a lot more books than usual?

Nicole, the nice thing about this game is that you can try both price points and see what works best. ๐Ÿ™‚

I think we do tend to worry too much about what others are doing, Mpax! And there’s a natural tendency to try to emulate what successful authors have done in particular. When all we can see is that so-and-so selling thousands of copies a month has priced her ebook at 99 cents, we might assume that was the only factor that led to her success.

Frida, yes, the price really doesn’t mean much insofar as quality of ebooks goes (I’ve started treating small press releases the same as I treat indie ebooks–I read a healthy sample before buying because I often find the quality to be similar but small-press books cost more), though not everyone has figured that out yet. ๐Ÿ˜‰

Kevin and Mark, thanks for the thoughts on both sides of the camp. Nathan Lowell is someone doing very well, and his ebooks are priced at $4.95. Then we have lots of examples of success at 99 cents. It just shows that there’s no one road we all have to take.

Anke, you’re brave to give unknowns a try, even at 99 cents, without reading the sample first. *g*

Glynn, that’s when you have to be ready to explain your whole mastermind marketing strategy. No need to be embarrassed at 99 cents when you have a plan to take over the world with your ebooks. ๐Ÿ˜‰

This is such a hot topic right now. I priced my debut novel at $.99 for all of the reasons that you listed. I felt it was a good lead-in strategy– it would hook readers who would then pay $2.99 for later books in the series. My book has been out for approx two weeks and sales have been decent. Not through the roof or anything, but decent.

I was talking to an experienced indie author about this and mentioned that I was considering raising the price to 2.99 in a month or so and she advised against it.

She said, “You’ve got to stop thinking about it as though your novel is only worth $.99. It is not about what your novel is worth. It’s about getting people acquainted with you. Readers are not going to pay high prices for unknown indie authors. You need to get a following and a higher sales ranking before you even consider raising prices.”

She just sold her 20,000th book in a six month time period, so maybe she knows what she is talking about.

Either way, my debut novel is staying at $.99 for now. The beauty of being an indie, as someone else already pointed out, is that we are flexible. We can change what we are doing as we go along.

This is such a hot debate. Everything I have published right now (7 works in all) are either short stories or novelettes. The short stories are $0.99 and a couple of the novelettes (which are part of a series) are $1.49. Have I had great sales? Not really.
But us self-published authors need to remember this is a marathon, not a race. Our works are always there to buy, and if what we write is good, the sales will eventually pick up. If what we write is good, the price factor isn’t as important.

[…] Buroker presents Pricing Your Ebook at 99 Cents: Pros and Cons posted at E-book Endeavors, saying, “A look at some of the advantages and disadvantages of […]

I debated this same issue with myself on my blog. Ultimately, I’m in the $2.99 and above camp.

It does take patience to make it in writing. Writing non-fiction articles on spec and setting my own prices for years, bottom line is every price has a buyer. Even a book priced at $999.99, some idiot, one day, will probably buy it just because. After it sits for decades, of course and becomes an urban legend.

There is another side to consider as well, and here’s what I did. After I decided I would charge more, I next asked myself what could I do for my readers because I charge more? See, that’s the secret of places like Walt Disney World (I did the Summer College Program eons ago, lol). Because Disney goes above and beyond in customer service, or the “magic,” no one talks about $3 water bottles and $4 ice cream cones. Because if Little Johnny drops his ice cream cone, the nearest cast member brings another one, and the family comes back next year to spend thousands of dollars on a family vacation.

If you price too low that you can’t make a living, and also provide superior customer service to your reader, you’re going to burn out. I saw it in non-fiction writing, the writers quick to sell 1,000 words for $5. They didn’t stick around. And then complained when it wasn’t worth their while.

If you’re going to blog, hold contests, meet with readers, raffle off free copies, market, and network with other indie authors, you aren’t going to be able to sustain that level of activity for $.35 per sale. $2 per sale? There you have a good chance to make at least minimum wage doing what you love.

A few years ago I had a novel traditionally published – it sold very few copies, had only 7% royalties, and is now out of print.

I am happy to sell most of my books at 99 cents, and receive a constant trickle of royalties for life.

My primary motivation was not to make money, but to get a message out. Publishers (even some self publishing places) demand a high price for e-books. I think that is unconscionable. I believe $2.99 is a fair price.

However, because my main motivation is to get out a message I have dropped the price of my book on addiction, “Up From Down”, to .99 cents. That works for me. It remains to be seen whether I sell more or not

People donโ€™t really buy on price. They buy on value, and then rationalize the price

[…] more on this topic, check out Lindsey Buroker’s blog and Patty Jansen’s blog Must Use Bigger […]

What I’m confused about though is how no one mentions that it’s pretty much free to make copies of an ebook while making copies of an actual book costs money. Most prices for a book usual include the cost of the time to create it, the time to print it and the materials and transportation and such. While ebooks, once they’re uploaded they are done. No printing or any of that. So why should I have to pay the same price for an ebook that requires vastly less effort than a real book? It makes no sense to me. Now 2.99 or less I can understand for an ebook. Anything more and it’s just price gouging. Part of the reason I admit I usually find alternate ways to get ahold of a book since our local borders has gone out of business and nothing has replaced it. I will never pay the same price for an ebook as I would get for a physical book.

I think ebooks should cost less than paperbacks and hardbacks for this reason, but at the same time, it’s not as if there are *no* costs involved in creating an ebook. Even an indie author usually pays for editing, cover art, and formatting, not to mention the hundreds, if not thousands, of hours that went into writing the story. Nobody owes us anything for our art, but if you want an author you like to continue publishing, then it has to financially make sense for them. I think around $5 is a fair price for a full-length digital novel, but to each his own.

I bought a new NOOK and got some free books. Among them I picked your Dragon Blood 1-3 set.

I hate sword and sorcery stories. I hate dragons. Everyone knows indie books are full of errors, like spelling, formatting, etc.

The books sat in my queue for 6 months but I finally broke down and read them. I loved them. Have already bought all the Dragon Blood books on Amazon. Now I’m looking for more of your stuff. Keep on publishing. I totally agree with your “lose leader” plan. If you had priced it about $5.00 I wouldn’t have bought any.

Glad you enjoyed the books, Eric!

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