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December 15, 2011

How Much Are You Willing to Pay for an Ebook?

Coins and paper money spilling out of wallet

Readers come in all types.  Some buy hardcovers, others wait for paperback, some only borrow from libraries, and still others buy the super-deluxe collector’s edition of their favorites.

I’ve always thought of myself as a paperback reader who would spring for the hardcover for “keeper” books, but the ebook revolution is making me take a closer look at my reading habits. I’m adding more to my to-be-read pile (in both the ebook and paper book versions of that pile) than ever before.  And that means I have to analyze how I’m spending my book money more than I did before.

Are We Too Reluctant to Spend Money on Books?

A while back, Roni Loren had a great post on her blog about the price of books and why a good story should be worth more than a cheeseburger.  She pointed out that we often spend twenty bucks for a two-hour movie or a mediocre meal, and yet we balk at spending that much for a book that will entertain us for hours upon hours.  Why?

Roni gave a lot of reasons, from this being the Walmart discount generation to the many self-publishers listing their books at $o.99 while hoping readers give them a chance.  But she also mentioned the downside of authors going along with these low-price expectations:

“[W]e’re teaching people what we’re worth. Authors are undervaluing themselves and their books. Something that takes you six months or a year to write … shouldn’t be the same price as the Christmas pencils in the dollar bin at Target.”

Print books have built-in expenses preventing the race to the bottom, but ebooks don’t.  We’ve quickly gotten used to the idea that ebooks can be cheap.  So the question my wallet has been asking me is, how much should an ebook cost?  Should it be the same price as a paperback or cheaper?

Personally, I hate paying very much for an ebook and I wondered why I had that attitude.  After all, as a writer, shouldn’t I be supportive of other authors wanting to make a living?  My answer was “Yes, but…”  *smile*

How Do We Judge the Price of an Ebook?

Ebooks do have a different intrinsic value than paper books.  If I have a choice between a paper book and an ebook at the same (or even close to the same) price, I’ll choose the paper book every time.  And yes, I love the smell and the feel of real books, but my reasons go deeper than that.

  • DRM: DRM (digital rights management) is what prevents us from being able to copy a book from one format or computer to another.  I shouldn’t have to worry about whether I’ll feel like reading a book on my desktop computer, my laptop, or my Kindle before buying it.
  • Ownership: This goes along with DRM in that we don’t feel like we own something if we can’t do what we want with it.  Also Amazon has taught us that we don’t really own ebooks, as they’ve pulled books out of users’ Kindle libraries before.  *loads gun*  I’d like to see someone try to take one of my paper books off my bookshelves.  Hah!
  • Quality: Too many ebooks have formatting errors and are of general poor quality.  This goes for self-published and traditional published books.  As Jane pointed out at the Dear Author blog: “[I]f the higher priced goods are crappy, then readers might as well pay $.99 instead of $7.99.”  And don’t get me started on authors who figure that because they can easily upload corrections, they don’t have to even try to make their books perfect.
  • Physicality: I like being able to easily flip back pages to remind myself “who was that character again?”  I like being able to turn a book that I didn’t enjoy into something positive by giving it away or donating it, rather than the pfft-gone nature of deleting unwanted ebooks.  In other words, I like books to be tangible.

All that said, I love my Kindle and have no plans to give it up.  But there are definite “cons” against ebooks that I take into consideration when deciding how much to spend.

My Take on Ebook Prices

I buy many of the $0.99 ebooks, figuring that something has to be pretty bad for it not to be worth a buck.  (And there have been some at that price that I didn’t buy after checking out the free sample.)  I don’t usually question spending $1.99 either.  At $2.99, I expect professional quality and the book has to be at least a decent-sized novella or I’ll feel ripped off.  At $3.99 and up, the book had better be a full-length novel and any mistakes will be judged harshly.  And I don’t think I’d pay more than $6.99 for an ebook because I believe they’re worth less than a paperback for all the reasons I listed above.

But I wonder if I’m off-base in how I view ebooks.  I’m also the type of person who pages back on ebooks so I start “properly” at the cover and not at the content page where Kindle usually opens files.  (Yes, I really do that.)  So share your thoughts in the comments and let me know if you think I’m crazy (about ebook stuff, if you go off on tangents about other ways I’m crazy, we’ll be here all day).  *smile*

What kind of a book-buyer are you?  Hardcovers, paperbacks, or ebooks?  Is there an upper limit to how much you’ll spend on an ebook?  Is it different than your limit for paper books?  If so, why?

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Vicky Dreiling

Jami,

I always enjoy your thoughtful posts. The only indie books I’ve bought were from well-known authors’ backlists. I’m a very picky reader, so I would never buy a book simply because it was cheap. Price can affect perception of the quality. A cheap book only appeals to me if it’s written by a well-known author (usually temporarily discounted) or a new author who has gotten buzz.

Christy Farmer

Jami, I share most of Vicky’s (and Roni’s) sentiments. I still purchase hardbacks and paperbacks but I am also embracing e-readers. I am lucky that I’ve been able to purchase my favorite author’s backlists during temporary promotions when it comes to e-books, but would I buy ‘any’ book at random? NO. Just my humble opinion but they are either established authors I love, or (here’s the biggie…virtual friends who I enjoy interacting with online!)

Susan Sipal

Jami, your comment about being an author and how that affected your perception of e-book pricing made me remember a habit I stopped years ago when I first started writing. I’ve been writing for a decade now (gasp!), so when I first started, there weren’t e-books, but there were the little mom and pop used book stores galore. I LOVED these places and would come out with bagfulls of cheap books, which I’d return for more when I finished. It broke my stupid little heart when as a writer I finally realized I’d never been supporting my favorite authors with this habit. So, I stopped (well, except for maybe the occasional block-buster who didn’t need my 50c anyway….or to support the library friends’ fund…or, well just a few here and there. 🙂 Anyway, I totally agree with Roni’s statement about a book, ANY book, being worth more than a pack of pencils. But we’re in change right now, and the market is incredibly competitive, and everyone is looking for any edge they can get. The price of a book, for many authors, is only ONE source of revenue for writing that book. Speaking engagements, workshops, online revenue from other sources…all these things figure into the whole picture. I think this is the perfect example of what you talk about when analyzing traditional versus self publishing. One size just doesn’t fit all right now. But as authors we have to value our own work, or no one else will!

heatherponzer
heatherponzer

I’ll pay $10 or less. I’m pretty irritated when it’s more than $7.

Julie Glover

I have no problem paying up to $10 for an ebook. I think $2.99 is still pretty cheap – less than a kid’s meal at McDonalds. If someone regularly prices their books at $.99, I do start to wonder how quickly they’re churning them out and how good they could be. But I have seen deals where books usually $2.99 are on sale for $.99; that I would definitely do. Price, however, doesn’t influence my buys as much as whether I have heard good things about the book or the author. Then, as long as it’s in the reasonable range, I’ll purchase.

Brooke Johnson

I’m willing to pay up to $9.99 for bestsellers and other traditionally published ebooks, but for self-published or indie books, I draw the line at about $5.99, and even then, it has to really grab my attention. The reason I’m willing to pay so much for traditionally published books is because of all the overhead that goes into the book. With self-published, there is a lot less overhead, so the author gets a much higher percentage of the retail value than the trad-pubbed author. I have nothing against buying $0.99 books, but it has to really catch my attention and have good reviews for me to consider it. As for my own books, I priced THE CLOCKWORK GIANT at $4.99, because I feel that it’s worth that much. Originally, I was going to sell it for $2.99, but I soon realized that for something that took me several months to write, I was selling myself short. My book should be worth more than pocket change. I would never price a novel less than $2.99. To me, it devalues not only the book, but the effort that went into the book. But I have no problem pricing short story collections or novellettes under that price point, seeing as they take less time and are much shorter. Right now, I’m trying to promote the ebook as being the same price as a Starbucks latte, yet worth much more. “My book will give you hours of enjoyment, and unlike a latte, you can…  — Read More »

Suzanne Johnson

Great post, Jami! I absolutely agreed with Roni’s argument–why should something I spent a year working on, and working hard, be cheaper than a small soft drink at the drive-thru? I don’t have any control over what my book sells for in digital form–that’s my publisher’s decision, but every author suffers from the indy-driven 99-cent mentality. When I first got my Kindle I downloaded all the freebies and cheapies I could find, basking in the novelty of it. Most of them got deleted unread. Now, unless I know the author or the publishing house, I don’t download them even if they’re free. Because maybe every book is worth 99 cents, but every 99-cent book is not deserving of my very limited reading time. And I’ll happily pay $6.99 or $7.99 for an ebook I know I’ll enjoy and want to re-read in the future. Maybe I’m in the minority, though.

Kerry Meacham

I think all of us are willing to pay more for more value. If you’re a new self-published author, it is going to be very hard for you to make large sales period, so if you price it too high you’re hurting yourself. If you’re a somewhat successful author with several books out, then you can tease at a low price to get people hooked. I’ve bought low priced ebooks, and liked them enough to also buy other books from the author at a higher price. Honestly, I wouldn’t have paid the higher price initially.

The one thing I like about ebooks is the sample. I’ve done samples on 25-30 books I didn’t end up buying because I didn’t enjoy the first few chapters. That simple. No need to spend $0.99 on something I know I don’t like. But good books? Man, I bought THE HELP halfway through the sample because I could already see I was going to love it. I don’t remember what I paid for it, but I bet it was over $10 through the iTunes store. Incredible book, my type of book (southern), great voice, great villian, great heroines. I just loved it. It would have been a bargain at $25.

I’m going off on tangents here, so I’ll stop. 😉 Great post, Jami. Thx.

Pamela Beason

I measure book value in terms of entertainment dollars. I am willing to pay as much for a book in any form as I would pay to go to a movie. But I don’t spend my entertainment dollars lightly, so it has to be a movie or a book that I have reason to believe is reasonably good. I never buy anything simply because it’s cheap.
As an author, I work hard to make my books excellent and error-free reads and I have won multiple writing prizes, so I find it a bit insulting if readers suggest I should sell them for only 99cents. Really? You don’t deserve to get paid for YOUR work?

Buffy Armstrong

I spend a shocking amount of money on books. To me, the few hours of entertainment and joy I get from a book is well worth it. I love stories. I go crazy without a book. Last year I bought a Nook so I buy most of my books in digital format. I love my Nook. I don’t go anywhere without it. If it starts to power down, I panic.

I have a problem buying an e-book that I can buy for the same price as the print addition of the same book. I bought the Nook so that I don’t have books piling up in my tiny house. I usually donated old books once a year to my local library’s book sale. I received a small (very small) tax writeoff for this. Now with my Nook, I get no such deduction.

I would appreciate if e-books were just a little bit cheaper than their print addition cousins to make up for this.

That’s all I ask.

As far as Indie books go, I’ve bough a dozen or so in the last six months. I’m a sucker for the under $5 price point. I can’t help myself. It’s an addiction.

Nancy S. Thompson

I agree wholeheartedly. I much prefer a hardback to anything, though trade paper fiction is acceptable, but with the economy sagging and my check book in even worse shape, I just can’t justify spending that kind of money.

I’ve been using my public library for the last year or so simply because, with the amount I read, I would go broke otherwise. I did recently purchase a tablet with the Kindle app. I haven’t used it yet, but that’s mostly because I don’t know how. Last night, I asked my husband to figure it out for me and let me know so I can buy my friends’ books.

But I still don’t think I’d spend much money on something I don’t truly own, meaning I can’t do whatever I want with it, which includes lending it to a friend. But I think if I ever were to really get into ebooks, I would probably only spend as much as $4 or maybe $5 at most, though I’d prefer to hover around the $2-$3 range. Then again, I’ve learned to live pretty frugally over the last 3 years.

Gene Lempp

I’m not sure I’d spend more than $6.99 on an ebook (which is the most I’ve ever spent on one) for generally the reasons you listed above and I see the cost of producing an ebook (including self-delivery, no use of gas, etc) as lower. I definately wouldn’t buy one over $9.99 because, understanding the pricing, the author is getting less at that point. This would also serve as my own pricing maximums for offered material.

I think for starting works that $0.99 is a good price. Unknown author, reader is being asked to risk time (which is more precious then money), etc. Not sure it is the best choice for an established author, it could be counter-productive in the long term. However, those with series of 3-10 books seem to do well by offering the first at $0.99 and books 2+ at $2.99 and up.

I’m not sure any of that makes sense. Squirrel?

Do I think Jami is crazy? Aren’t we all 🙂

Marcy Kennedy

I’ll pay up to $20 for a physical book because it’s physical, and I recognize the greater expense involved in creating a physical hold-in-your-hands version. But when I could only get physical books, I purchased fewer of them because of the cost. I also only purchase physical books that I know are going to be keepers.

I will not pay the same for an ebook as I will for a print book. I know they take the same amount of time and effort to write (or at least they should), but producing one copy costs the same for the publisher/author as producing 200. Cost can’t only be calculated based on writing time.

That said, I have a personal beef with authors pricing their ebooks at 99 cents because it drives the price down for all of us. A book should cost more than my cup of coffee. I have no problem paying $4.99 or even a little more for a good ebook. (By good, I mean a book that isn’t riddled with typos, has a strong plot and interesting characters, and has clean, engaging writing.)

pranaknits

Jami–
Interesting topic. This is a similar discussion I have been having with a musician friend of mine, people balk at paying for a 99¢ song not realizing all the hard work, years of training, etc, that goes into producing that song. Much the same argument for undervaluing authors for their work at the 99¢ mark.

I like my Kindle, and like you I always flip back to the cover to start the book, overcoming Kindle’s forced starting point. I am finding I like my Kindle for research and others books I’ll tend to highlight. I really like like that feature. But I don’t like Kindle’s other forced format– linear reading. I, too, like to flip back and forth through a book and that is problematic in a Kindle.

Would I give up my Kindle, no. I have downloaded mostly a mixture of the classics and some best sellers that I see featured on the late night talk shows. I like the immediacy of the Kindle. I like adding books to my wish list.

Now, if I could only add time to read them all to that wish list!

Sonia G Medeiros

I loved Roni’s article. It really made me think about my feelings towards eBook pricing. Recently, I read a JA Konrath article on the subject. It seems that many eBook readers are moving towards a slightly higher price on eBooks. $3.99-4.99. It seems that enough folk have come across dreck at the lower price levels that they’re less likely to take a chance on the lower priced eBooks. Almost seems counterintuitive. But the post was pretty convincing. Plus, the royalties are higher at $2.99 and above, I think.

Jami's Tech Guy

Great post Jami!

I saw your post’s topic early this morning but couldn’t read it until now. Figuring it too unsafe to read while speeding across Phoenix, I did the next best thing… I pondered the question as I was driving.

You hit nearly all the points I used in my calculation. Since eBooks have a lower cost of production, I’d expect some of that savings to be passed to the consumer.

*does math*
Okay, I’d pay $100 billion dollars for an eBook. Wait, that’s not right.
*checks math*
Oops. Forgot to carry the 1. That’s embarrassing.

The most I’d pay for an eBook is around 75% the cost of the paperback. But only for proven authors.

Echoing what others have said, if this is an author’s first book and they don’t have strong reviews by trusted readers or a significant sample of their work available, I’ll be hard pressed to pay more than $2.99. Worse, quality-wise I’ll expect it to be on par with that of a proven author. I want to be rewarded for being an early adopter.

-TG
@jaytechdad

PS. Don’t disparage the ‘Christmas pencil’ – how long would it take all of us working together to make a single pencil? 🙂

infinitieh
infinitieh

I have such a love/hate relationship with ebooks! On one hand, the ebook is the format by which I started reading romances (on my laptop). On the other, I now almost exclusively play word games on my Kindle even though I have plenty of ebooks on it as well. I just can’t stand to read on the Kindle; I’ve gone back to reading on my laptop although my tablet is a good compromise, so far. A very important part of the book reading experience for me is the cover; it’s how I remember the book. Without that image, like on the Kindle, I tend to forget what I have read and what it was about – I can’t tell just by the title. As for paying money for an ebook, I absolutely refuse to pay more than $2.99 for ANY ebook. After all, it’s not the same as OWNING a book; it’s more like LEASING. I can only read it in a specific format and who knows when that will become obsolete (not unlike how Kindle is going to drop mobi). I can’t give an ebook away, donate it to the library, sell it back to the bookstore, or wallpaper my room with the covers (hence the “leasing” comparison). I also almost never re-read a book (unless it’s by P. G. Wodehouse or Terry Pratchett) so buying an ebook is more like paying a surcharge to read it sooner than borrowing the same book from the library, even with the…  — Read More »

Patrick Samphire

Excellent post, Jami. Thanks!

I tend to figure that an ebook is the right price if it’s a dollar or two less than a print version. I simply don’t buy 99c books unless they are a specific promotion, because I can’t help but think they are going to be junk, and I have too many books and too little time to read junk.

I ranted on exactly the same subject a little while ago (http://psamphire.livejournal.com/65094.html), and it’s always gratifying to find someone who agrees! 🙂

Patrick Thunstrom

I love my kindle, and it’s loaded up with a bunch of free and cheap e-books, but the truth is I don’t have time to read every book that crosses my path, so I’ve stopped looking at $.99 ebooks for the most part. I occasionally find one worth it, but the number that I feel like I’ve wasted my time (A bigger crime in my case) is really too much.

As for what I’ll pay, I’ve considered everything up to about 6.99, as at that point I can get hard copies. Length matters less with me, a book who’s plot is delivered perfectly could be a novella and worth more, as I view it.

Also, I agree on the DRM problem.

Carradee

For me, there’s first a difference between what I’ll pay for non-fiction and what I’ll pay for fiction. I’ve paid $9.99 for non-fiction e-books that I knew I’d use and reread. But my cutoff for e-books is $6—and I usually won’t even pay that much.

Because one of the big reasons I buy paperbacks is to share with friends. I’m a personal library. One kid I know has a father with a theological library that’s probably larger than some seminaries, and she borrowed A Little Princess from me this week because she hadn’t read it yet. Two boys I’m tutoring are borrowing some Star Wars books from me. My mom’s friend is borrowing two Seanan McGuire books; my friends are borrowing books by Patricia Briggs and others.

None of those folks I’ve mentioned read e-books.

I’ll readily download something for free if I think I might be interested, but if I’m going to pay for it, I have to really want it, either because it looks to be exactly what I want to read, or because I know I’m interested and I like the writer (from the blog or online meetings).

Though frankly, if I had more money to spend and my friends and family didn’t keep getting laid off and needing help, I’d probably be less picky.

Sally

I expect to pay a couple of pounds or so less than the paperback version for books from publishers, and £0-£2.00 for self-published books depending on how hard the author’s worked to get a following.

I’ve just self-published a couple of e-books and I’m actually quite frustrated that I can’t get Amazon to do them for free because I need to be realistic about what I’m worth and as a complete unknown, with no idea of whether my target audience actually like them, unfortunately currently that’s nothing!

Roni Loren

Thanks for the link love. 🙂

And first a disclaimer: My debut will be 9.99 in ebook form (something I have no control over as the author) so that does color my perspective a bit.

However, I do agree with you on the appeal of paper vs. ebook. If I know it’s a book I’m going to want to keep, I want a hard copy because an ebook feels less “owned” like you described. Plus, I’m a flip back kind of person too.

But what we’re paying for is the story and the author’s work in putting it together, so while I do think an ebook should be a bit cheaper than the paper version, I don’t think it should be dramatically different. I kind of think paper is going to become the new hardback and ebook the new mass market paperback–so perhaps the difference in price could be similar to that structure.

And I do think that if publishers want to make hardbacks more enticing, they should bundle it with the ebook version like they do with Blu-Rays/DVDs. Like the Stephen King book I used as an example in my post. It’s a HUGE book. I bought the hardcover because it’s a keeper but when I went on vacation, I dreaded lugging it around and wanted it in ebook. So I wish they would put the two together so that you can interchange as needed. That would make the added cost of a hardback more appealing IMO.

Lauralynn Elliott

I’ve paid .99 for books that were so good I would have paid more for them. I’ve paid 2.99 for books I wish I had paid much less (or nothing) for. This is a really tricky question. I used to always price my ebooks at .99 just because I thought I was helping the reader be able to buy more books. I would rather someone be able to buy five books at .99 than one book at 4.99. But later I realized that if I was going to try to eventually make a living by writing, I was going to have to price higher than .99. What I’ve decided to do for now is price my novellas at 1.99 and my novels at 2.99. And when a book gets old enough to stop selling well, I’ll probably reduce it to .99. Honestly, I won’t usually buy an ebook for more than 2.99 unless it’s an author I know is great or I’ve read a sample and it hooks me. At 2.99, indie authors are usually getting more royalty per book than traditionally published authors do at a higher price. Because we have less pieces of the pie to give up. LOL

dawn rae miller

I expect to pay at least $9.99 for an eBook from a major publisher.

When it gets to self-publishing, I expect to pay less. However, when I see sub-$2.99 books, I question their quality. It seems to me many SPers put books out at $0.99 in hopes of selling more. But the fact is, if the cover is crummy or the blurb bad or the sample horrible, no one is going to buy it.

I priced my book at $4.99 because I think it’s worth that much. I have a professionally illustrated cover, a professional editor, and an agency behind me. To me, that price competes with “Big 6” books by being cheaper but of the same quality, and it sets the book apart from the stigma – which is developing, in my opinion – of the cheap, low-quality eBook.

Murphy

Hi Jami! Great post as usual. 🙂 My thoughts on this are twofold. As far as the cheaper ebook offers go, I think a lot of purchasers have been burned. *raises hand* so, consequently, they’re a little reluctant to look at the 0.99 draw unless they like being screwed-over or their crazy or–Meh, back to my point. I did the cheap route and where did it get me? Stuck in shite-text hell, that’s where. Wait, *taps index fingernail to front tooth* on the flipside, I’ve also been lead to bask in the light of one of the cheap story’s and found it filled with text-heaven. What does that tell me? It tells me that I need to pay attention to reviews, recommendations and my own instincts. And, as an author, I need to know one thing. If I write a book that is someone’s cheap text-heaven one day, it pretty much guarantees that on another day – I will be priceless (by that I mean, you know, no more that 12.99 😉 ) Building a readership is where it’s at and if you’re good at what you do people will want to read it. No big secret here. I don’t care where your exposure comes from. Traditional, epub or self-pub – if you can’t deliver the goods? Joe public isn’t going to be nice to you. That’s all I’m saying about that. I do LOVE Roni’s insight here. When she says: I kind of think paper is going to become…  — Read More »

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