A related question

Sunita has a great post up over at Dear Author about the hidden costs of the $0.99 ebook.  I haven’t commented, primarily because I’m not a consumer of $0.99 or free ebooks for the most part, but also because I haven’t worked out my own opinion about the value/risk relationship and social “responsibility” of readers to the reading/writing/publishing ecosystem.  There is a great conversation going on about the value of the $0.99 ebook (or the free book) as a loss leader and social value/risk of cheap ebooks.

At least one commenter (to whom I will link if I can find her again in the 100+ comment thread) has mentioned excessive pricing as a counterpoint to the cheap ebooks.  What is a reasonable price for a novella?  In the last couple of weeks, two of my favorite authors have released ebook shorts of approximately 20 and 35 pages each, priced at $2.99.  While I respect their desire to make a living writing and their autonomy in setting prices for their self-published work, that price seems excessive.  Taking the shorter ebook into consideration, at least 2 of the pages will be “wasted” with author bio and copyright information, leaving a story of perhaps 18 pages costing $3.  That works out to ~$0.17 per page: I can think of very few paper books I’m willing to pay that price for — maybe the annotated edition of Emma? But that is a beautiful object, while this is a very short story that I don’t even own, after all — I just have  a license to it, I can’t resell it or share it or swap it legally.

After being burned by a similarly ridiculous price by the same author earlier this year, I’m reluctant to pay that price for an even shorter (and older, reworked) piece now.  While a lot of readers love this author, he’s edging off my auto-buy list after a few too many overpriced shorts.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “A related question

  1. Tamara

    Thanks for that. I’ve been sitting here, fretting over bumping my prices back up to 3.99 a copy. Now I feel a little better about it.

    • I can’t speak for other ebook readers/buyers, but I am far more likely to buy at $3.99 than $0.99. At the lower price, I assume self-publishing and a serious lack of polish. I’m less likely to assume that about a $3.99 price point, which my mind equates to a category print price. (As someone who began reading romance via categories that hewed to a strict formula and received editing and polishing from Hqn and Silhouette back in the day, that’s a positive association.)

  2. Thanks for the compliment! I’m seriously impressed by the quality of the discussion, I didn’t really expect it but I think it captures a lot of the issues (and the different sides of the debate).

    I fully sympathize with your unwillingness to pay $2.99 for a short. I did pay, but I understand why lots of people won’t. I haven’t discussed this with authors, and I don’t think it came up in the comments, but I assume a big part of the price point decision is that it is where Amazon changes the royalty rate from 35 percent to 70 percent. So you get 35c at .99, 70 cents at 1.99, and 2.09 at 2.99. You have to sell a lot more at 99c to net the same total. For authors with a built-in audience, it’s probably worth the risk, since even if they lose half of their sales, they’re still ahead.

    Amazon wants everything in the 2.99-9.99 band, and it doesn’t differentiate according to length. It would make far more sense to have price bands reflect length, so that, say, an author could price a short story at 1.99 and get 70 percent back, but a book would have to be 2.99 or even 3.99 minimum.

    But don’t get me started on length issues. I think it’s great that the novella is being rediscovered, but it’s playing havoc with pricing expectations. When I read SFF blogs and comment threads I see people worrying that no one will pay more than 4.99 for a 140k novel.

    Oh, and to Tamara, I’m with jmc, I’ll buy at 3.99 before I’ll buy at .99 because I probably won’t even sample at the 0.99 price point.

    • I can respect the business decision that an author makes in setting a particular price in order to earn what they’ve determined is the royalty rate that makes writing worthwhile. Ultimately it’s a business decision for me, too, in that I weigh the time/pleasure of reading against the price and may take my book budget elsewhere.

      But I really struggle with what seems like extreme pricing — actually, extreme prices not just for self-published work like that novella but by e-publishers like Loose Id and Riptide, among others. For better or worse, the lock-step pricing of mainstream publishers built expectations that all publishers now have to deal with (or not, as the case may be). Asking me to pay the same price for 20 pages as I would pay for a category novel grates, as does asking me to pay the mmpb equivalent for 100 pages. Given those prices, a 140k novel for $4.99 seems like a bargain. The lack of uniformity leads either to frustration when I wind up with a novella when expecting a novel, or to hunting down length information at publisher or author websites, which is often more work than I want to undertake. If the book is by a new-to-me author, I’m less likely to do it and instead spend money and my time doing/reading/consuming something else.

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