Ebooks: What We Buy vs. What We Read
Between the rise of self-publishing and the agency pricing settlement, the industry is struggling with how to price ebooks. Before the settlement, many self-published authors enjoyed the attention they received at the low end of the pricing scale. On the other hand, many traditionally published authors bemoaned the high prices their publishers set for their ebooks, which were often higher than the paperback price.
Now traditional publishers are experimenting with lower ebook prices and competing with self-published authors in the bargain bins. According to the Dear Author site:
“Digital BookWorld keeps track of the average price of a bestseller and at the end of August, the average price had reached an all time low of $6.33. According to a May report by Mark Coker at Smashwords, two of the most popular price points are 99c and $2.99.“
No one knows how prices will settle out. But one thing authors don’t talk about as much is how pricing strategies might change depending on their goals.
Does Price Affect Whether We Read a Book?
I have way more books than I’ll ever be able to read. My to-be-read pile of physical books has taken over one end of my desk, and my to-be-read pile of ebooks stands at 250+ and counting.
Yet I keep buying more books. Why? Well, obviously because I’m compulsive about buying books I want. *smile* But also because I keep finding new books that interest me.
However, just because a book interests me enough to buy it doesn’t mean I’ll drop everything and read it right away. By the time I get around to selecting the next book to read, it’s likely I’ve forgotten about books I picked up a couple of days previously.
So how do I decide which book to read next? I don’t have a system. I just skim through my list until one catches my eye.
Usually the things that catch my eye are the same things that justify me paying more for a book. Perhaps I know the author or have heard a recommendation or it’s been buzzed about online.
So in my case, I’m more likely to read the more expensive books. I had a reason for purchasing them, and that means I probably have a reason to read them.
I wonder, is that the norm? And if so, should that fact affect the choices we make when pricing our books?
One-Time Sale vs. Repeat Customers
Many authors price on the low end because they figure no one will be willing to try them if their books are too expensive. That’s a valid concern, especially for untested self-published authors who need reader momentum before they can prove themselves via reviews and buzz.
But does that lower price come with side effects? Maybe a lower price causes less interest, such as setting lower expectations. Or maybe a lower price merely reflects less interest, such as buying a book only if/when it’s cheap or on sale. Or maybe it’s a combination.
Regardless, if a lower price means less interest, millions of ebooks could be languishing on ereaders and might never be read. If those books are never read, those readers are less likely to purchase the author’s other books.
In other words, I wonder if there’s a sweet spot in pricing where readers are willing to buy an untested author and are more likely to read the story. To the polls!
Pricing Poll: Where Are Your Price Points?
I put together a few polls for us to compare notes. I’m asking people to share their thoughts on:
- Is there a price that’s too cheap, creating low expectations?
- Is there a price that’s more likely to lead only to a one-time sale?
- Is there a price that will create more interest in reading?
- Is there a price that applies only to books we expect to love, reflecting our interest?
- Is there a price that’s too expensive, no matter what?
(Note: Polls are now closed and the results are listed in this post about author income and ebook prices.)
How do you decide which book to read next? Do ebook prices affect whether you read a book? Do you think higher prices reflect or create higher interest (or a combination of both)? Should authors worry about whether their books are read? Or should they worry only about making that first sale?Pin It
I’m like you, in that the more I pay for an e-book, the sooner I’ll read it. There are a few exceptions—authors I buy more to support them than to read them—but usually those are authors I, um, edited or beta-read or something.
I’ve paid $10.99 for a novel before, but it was a deliberation for me. It was a book I wanted very badly, immediately, and I actually cut corners on some other parts of my budget to be able to get it. (And the only reason I decided to go ahead and get it was that I knew I’d want to reread at least sections of the story, more than once.)
LOL! at the authors you buy to support rather than read. Yep, I know how that is. But I’ll often actually read those first because I’m curious and want to see what changed from when I’d seen it before. 😀 Thanks for the comment!
Something I forgot to mention—I’ve downright forgotten more than one book I picked up for cheap or free even when it was something I wanted to read, badly, and picked up on sale. For example, I’ve been slowly picking up Kris Rusch’s novels, but I’m focusing on one penname/series at a time. I started with the Kristine Grayson books. I happened to get one on special from Sourcebooks, and by the time I got a chance to read the book, I’d forgotten I had it, and I didn’t find it again until months later.
Lindsay Buroker has her first book in her Emperor’s Edge series available for free. I downloaded it probably a full year before I actually read it—because I kept reading her blog and seeing descriptions reminding me that it sounded interesting—and then I promptly bought every single title she had out, and I’ve been a fan of the buy-new-releases-even-before-the-official-announcements-are-made type since. Even though that first book free has worked for her, to enable her to make a living at her fiction, I have to wonder… With free being so common as a promo, how many people are actually remembering they have that freebie, much less reading it, even when it sounded fantastic to begin with?
LOL! Yep, I’ve done that before. I also have the Kobo app and have probably gotten the same book on two different platforms. *head desk*
And that’s exactly what I wonder about free. Like, does free equal an impulse buy in our mind so we’re not mentally reminding ourselves that we really wanted to read it. Interesting questions with no set answer, no doubt. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
It makes me wonder if Jeaniene Frost’s publisher has the better idea—post a long excerpt, perhaps 40% of the book, so that browsers get caught up in the story and then buy a book they never intended to because they want to know how it ends.
Seriously. I’ve learned to avoid the samples for Ms. Frost’s books, because I always end up buying them even when I’m planning not to do it. She’s not even my favorite author! That isn’t an insult to her as a writer—her stories just tend to be steamier than I enjoy. But due to that sample thing, I actually have several of her titles.
LOL! Oh that’s interesting! Where are these samples listed, that you come across them?
Ilona Andrews often links to them, and the samples are…on the publisher website, if I recall correctly. I think the sample size has been reduced, lately, but I’ve been intentionally not reading the samples for the last few.
I have seen a 40% excerpt for at least one book, for at least a while, because I remember being startled by that…and being annoyed when I bought an e-book not in my budget because I was too invested in the story to give it up when the excerpt ended. 🙂
P.S. Ilona and Jeaniene are friends. I just realized that wasn’t clear in what I said. 🙂
Ah, yes, I’ve probably seen those links but I haven’t checked them out, so I didn’t know the excerpts were that long.
While I understand the annoyance, I also think it might be a smart sales tool. 😉 Thanks for the comment!
Good point about how lower prices make books look more “crappy” and “cheap in quality.” Books that are free or at a very low price will tempt me to buy them, but they would look unprofessional too. I think higher prices both reflect and create higher interest. And in my opinion, it’s more important for an author to get readers than to make money, but that’s because I personally care more about “getting the story message/ characters out there” (spreading the ideas) than about making money. My day job will take care of the latter, haha. How I decide what to read next: 1) during the school semester, as I told you, I tend to read literary classics—novels with a slower pace, because modern novels are too addictive and I feel a compulsion to finish them asap, lol. Not at all good if I want to focus on getting good grades. Otherwise: 2) If a friend is VERY insistent that I read a certain book or series, I would probably prioritize this book or series as in I’ll read it (them) right after I’m done with my current book or series. 3) Recommendations on the front and back of the book may attract me depending on what kinds of things these recommendations say. For instance, I was attracted by the reviews on Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed because they talked about love between brothers and sisters. I dig stories about sibling love. Lol. 4) Similarly, what is in the… — Read More »
Hee. I know how that is. In fact, I could say that for life in general. If I don’t prioritize something, it doesn’t happen. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
I have a very hard time paying more than $3 for an ebook. I have two books I’m slated to review in February, and when I went to pre-order them (because I haven’t been able to get my hands on advance copies) I pre-ordered the cheaper one (which was around $6) and placed a hold on the other one at the library (this one was $11). I like the $.99 and free books, and I’ve found a bunch of them that have led me to read others by that author or pick up the rest of the series, but I’ve also found the longer they stay on sale like that (because these are usually self-pubbed authors) it’s often because the author forgot to increase the price 😛 And I think higher prices actually drive readers away – we’ve become so used to the lower prices from self-pubbed authors and digital-first publishers that we’d balk at paying $7 for an ebook. I’ve been known to wait until I’ve gotten a gift card to Amazon or until the next book in the series is released (since they often lower prices in anticipation). An author would have to be on my auto-buy list for me to want to pay more than $3 or $4 for an ebook…and that list currently consists of two authors (I now own every single book by those two authors, something that rarely happens for me). Here’s something else I’ve noticed: YA ebooks from major publishers tend to be… — Read More »
Yes, $2.99 seems to be my limit for authors I’m not familiar with. That said, if I have a great recommendation and I read the sample and love it and nothing in the reviews trips me up, I’ll go up to $3.99 or $4.99. 🙂
For authors I know and trust, obviously I’ll go even higher. But I have a hard time justifying more than $6.99 for any single ebook. Those numbers haven’t really changed over the years, so I wouldn’t blame any recent “used to free” attitude in my case. 🙂
That’s a good point about YA and their typical hardcover releases affecting ebook prices. As a reader, I don’t like that attitude. An ebook is an ebook, and the print release shouldn’t affect pricing.
Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and for the comment!
Jami, For me, price isn’t the main factor, but it IS a factor, as a lot of my favorite authors, select books, or certain series aren’t in my library network, so I have to buy a lot of what I read, in terms of authors I know, love, and/or follow. When it comes to discovering new authors, for my personal sanity I have to go on a book by book basis, and I think this can be hard for authors to sort through more than lay readers. Even if we’re not talking about supporting authors we (personally) know, and on that point, I only buy a friend’s book if it’s something I’m genuinely interested in. But if I beta-read that book and know it’s well done but not my preference, I’ll always recommend it to those who love that kind of book, this way I’m giving word of mouth to the book, without the “Integrity Issues” you’ve blogged about at length before, Jami. I don’t buy much fiction in ebook format as my personal preference is print, but if I book I’m interested in is ONLY available as an ebook, I have things I look for. I’m starting to experiment with ebooks (From an author standpoint) and debate often about pricing. I don’t want to alienate readers if I price it too high (10+ USD), but I do get there can be issues with pricing too low because it can be perceived as “Cheap in a BAD way…” That said,… — Read More »
Yes, price is just one of many factors for me too. But there is still a price limit I have for ebooks unless I’m really desperate (as you said, if there’s no other way to get the book). 🙂 Thanks for chiming in with your comment!
hi jami, interesting set of poll questions
i answered best i could, but price is almost always over-ridden for me, low or high end, if it’s something i really want, either because of the subject or the author
i’m also wondering what changes, if any, new subscription services like oyster and scribd might do to the landscape
i do believe these netflix like services will work, but exactly how, i’m not sure; i’m dipping into them though to see and, honestly, hope all the various ways of reaching an audience with our creative work continues to work well for both the artist and recipient
thanks again, best wishes for all of us 🙂
I understand. I struggled a lot with how to structure and word the questions, so I could capture the information I wanted to learn. There are many variables in play. 🙂
I haven’t studied the details of the subscription services very much, so I don’t have an educated opinion about them yet. Right now, like you, I’m not sure if/how they’ll work. LOL!
Thanks for sharing your thoughts and for your comment!
I started the polls but realised I’d have the same comment for each one.
I know a lot of indie authors and read a lot of indie stories, and I’m aware of the strategies behind their pricing decisions, so, the lower end of the pricing structure isn’t an issue for me. I decide what I’ll read by other criteria. (reviews, reading the first few pages/chapters, etc)
The higher end of the scale is a different matter. There are far too many great stories out there for anyone to read in one lifetime anyway, so if I had to choose between two books I liked equally and one was priced at $4.99 and the other at $6.99 or higher, I’d buy the $4.99 one.
Print copies are a different matter. If I love a story I’ll probably buy a print copy after I’ve read (and already bought) the ebook, so wouldn’t be prepared to pay ‘full’ price there either. – which brings in book ‘bundling’ into the picture. Like movies are starting to do. Buy your cinema ticket and DVD/blu-ray/digital download at the same time.
That being said, I’d probably mortgage my soul for a signed box set of the Harry Potter books or Song of Ice and Fire. (if GRRM ever finishes it!) … or everything in the Honor Harrington Universe … or …
Interesting and great point! Like you, I don’t hold a “free” or “$.99” price against an author because I understand the strategy behind it. I’ll usually check the sample and reviews though so I don’t clutter my Kindle any more. LOL!
Also like you, I’m excited by the possibilities in bundling, such as KindleMatch. I hope indies are able to take advantage of programs like that. Thanks for the comment!
Just like you, I have way too many ebooks right now. Mostly free ones I’ve collected just to see other samples of writing. So at the moment, I will only spend money if a book is from an author I already like.
That’s probably a good policy. I’m not restrained enough to follow it though. LOL! Thanks for the comment!
Very interesting post and poll, Jami. Made me reflect on my spending habits re. ‘physical’ books versus e-books. I have to admit I resent paying more than $10 for an e-book as I just know it will sit on my kindle until I finally find the time to read it (no matter who wrote it). After reading it I usually delete it, or if I really liked it, buy it in ‘real’ book form. My keepers are all physical books – those, I don’t mind paying whatever I must for.
Yes, I’m more likely to reread and treat physical books as “keeper” books, so like you, I’m willing to pay more. For books I love, I think nothing of buying them at full-price hardcover prices. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
While i won’t buy a book that I feel is overpriced I’ve never considered a low price as a mark of crapitude. If I did I’d never use the library. I know this is often put forward as a danger (that readers will be put off by free price-point) mostly I’ve found it posited by authors with a vested interest.
Free books may well be crap, but the same could be true of a book that’s 19.99 and a bestseller. There’s a lot of crap in the top ten books and it’s very popular crap. There is no correlation between price and quality with art, even if some people are convinced there is.
I’m not saying free books won’t be crap, they may well be. They might also be great. My point is you can’t predict quality based on price point.
I agree that price doesn’t necessarily indicate crap–or quality. My curiosity is more about whether certain price points make a book more likely to be read. For example, if we spend a certain amount on a book, will we mentally place that higher on our to-be-read pile so the money isn’t wasted?
I don’t know the answer to that, but I thought it was an interesting question. 🙂 Thanks for the insights and the comment!
Great topic, Jami! I have mixed emotions about this. My sons usually want to read ebooks by known authors, just because they’ve heard good buzz about them. And they read on two different types of devices. So I’ve bought double copies of each Maze Runner stories at about $9 each. Ouch! But on the opposite spectrum, I read book one of WOOL because it was free. I’d heard such great things about it and thought heck, it’s free. Loved it. Bought the Omnibus. Got my son hooked on it. I think it boils down to word of mouth!
LOL! at the double copies. Yep, I know how that is. 🙂
For me, samples really work at driving interest too. Hmm, I wonder if there’s more authors could do to drive readers to check out the sample? Interesting! Thanks for the comment!
Before buying, I always look inside and read the opening sample of a story by an author I don’t know, no matter the price. I’ve gotten picky with my time and my money. With ebooks, I go the bottom of my downloads and start with that one, no matter the genre. I’m getting to the point of using my new clothes rule for my books, have to get rid of something to make room for the new thing. I use my wish list like a lay-a-way. It does make me feel like I have some control.
I’m with you. Even for the free books, I check out the sample now so I don’t waste my time.
Actually, now that I’m thinking more about it, I wonder if the fact that I used to not check out the sample when I first got my Kindle is contributing to my reluctance to dig too deeply into my ebook TBR pile. Like, since I know there are stinkers in there, only reading the known quantities is an avoidance method. LOL! Hmm, maybe I should just clean out my Kindle and solve that problem. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
When choosing my next read from the bottom of my selected books, I don’t see a price sticker, I don’t remember what I paid for it, and everyone gets a chance to thrill me. Remember when cleaning out the closet you might find some burried treasure.
Very true! That’s why I said I’m more likely to pick by the “recommendations/author name/word of mouth” stuff that makes it more likely that I was willing to pay for the book at the start. But you’re right that if I clean out my Kindle, I’ll probably find some treasures. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
Ebook prices are tricky for me, but I am a thrifty person, even when it comes to reading. I like ebooks but if the choices is between a $15 ebook and a used print copy for $5.99, I’m going with the less expensive option. There are exceptions but I generally go with the option that lets me buy MORE books. I’m not opposed to a free or cheap book. I usually check out the synopsis and the sample and if I’m not hooked by the first page, I pass. I’ve found some gems in the free stacks… a lot of times I’ll see a book offered for free because the author’s like… 10th book is about to release, so they’ll put their first release on sale to draw new readers in… I’m a total sucker then, because then I’ll buy that author’s entire back log.
How to choose what’s next? I read a lot of pre-publication books for NetGalley and Edelweiss. I like to read and have a review up on or before the book release date so I keep a calendar that pretty much dictates when I need to have a book read. In between, I really skip thru my TBR and see what looks good, check recommends from friends or book blogs. I might try that Book Jar idea I saw on Book Riot.
Ugh, I can’t imagine paying $15 for an ebook, so I’m right there with you. 🙂
Now that you mention it, I got hooked on my favorite author because she offered her first book in the series for free when the 5th or so book came out. I finished that first free one and gobbled up the rest. 🙂 Thanks for your insights and your support of the reader community with your reviews!
Loved this post. And you GOTTA teach me how to do the poll thingy.
LOL! I use the PollDaddy plugin. I’m not sure if it’s the best/easiest, but I don’t run polls frequently enough to do more research. 🙂 Thanks for the comment!
[…] time, we talked about our reading habits and whether the price of an ebook affects its ranking in our to-be-read pile. (If you haven’t answered the polls with your answers to that question yet, please check out […]
[…] Petrocelli says that writers gain nothing from ebook subscription services, while Jami Gold talks ebooks: what we buy vs. what we read (includes a […]
[…] P.P.P.S. If you haven’t answered my poll questions about your ebook buying and reading habits, please check out that post. […]
Great, thought-provoking post! So for me, and as a few posters have said already, lots of things override me decision to purchase an e-book. But when it comes to price, a higher price won’t put me off as long as I know it’s worth it, and the publishing company isn’t intentionally gouging. So “worth it” for me is the 4.99 – 8.99 bracket. Above 9.99, and I think it’s a gouge. It’s an e-book with zero overhead other than the cost of the first copy, and it galls me to pay hard-cover prices. Honestly, I think e-readers should be rewarded for making the lives of publishers easier. As for the free books, I have noticed myself checking out many more authors that offer a free book, then staying to read the rest of their titles or books in a series, than I originally thought I would have. It’s a marketing tool that I’m completely on board for. I don’t at all associate quality of writing with the price. Instead I see it as writers taking a bigger risk to put their works in the hands of the readers to get them to read more. Does that make sense? When a writer offers a free book, I see them as being more personally involved and connecting with the reader (me) than the standard publishing business model would be. Regardless of the whether they are independently publishing or not. I see it as a choice the author must have made, and therefore… — Read More »
I agree. I can’t think of many reasons that would justify over $9.99 for an ebook.
Interesting! Yes, that makes sense about how an author who offers a free book can seem like they’re reaching out to their readers more. It’s an invitation to check out their writing that seems above and beyond in some circumstances.
And maybe that’s what it comes down to–if their other books have normal-ish prices, the free one seems more inviting than if they’re all “under”-priced. At least, that’s my interpretation. Others may think differently. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your insights and thanks for the comment!