On e-book prices and reading value

I have read a ton of opinions on e-book prices, and what I learned is that nobody knows what is the right price for an e-book. Some writers swear that 0.99 $ attracts readers like flowers lure bees. Others say it makes your book cheap and readers won’t appreciate it as they should. I don’t even try to decide who is right here, but I cannot resist to add my two cents.

I’m writing this post as a reader. I emphasize on this, because, though I haven’t come across any reader opinion yet, who would know better what price is right than the readers themselves. So I’m talking to you, dear writer.

Your book must be a good one

It varies what readers find appealing. Some like fast-paced action and adventure, others prefer beautiful writing style. However, any of the reader groups you target, your book must be one they can resonate with. It doesn’t matter how you mastered Twitter and Facebook. It’s not important how many blog posts you wrote. You need the readers to like your writing and to want to come back for more.

Sampling works miracles for a reader who want a taste of your writing. It may sound a cliché but it’s true that the first chapter tells if the book is good. Or bad. When I find a blurb interesting, I download a sample and read into the book. Sometimes even I don’t bother to download it, but “Look inside” on Amazon. For readers who are more into paper books it’s like going to a bookshop and reading an excerpt. I’m telling you, if I don’t like the sample, no marketing can persuade me to buy the book.

Reviews are the other source I turn to when checking out a book. I don’t necessarily read them, sometimes a glance at the numbers gives an idea. If the book have three five-star reviews, they are probably written by family members and friends. In this case I have a look at the reviewer’s profile to see if he or she writes reviews frequently. If there are hundreds of reviews, that gives a good estimation how good the book is.

If your book is good, I would pay for it

So let’s say your book is awesome, and I cannot wait to read it. I would pay more than 0.99 $. I say it again, so you’re sure you have read it right: If your book is good, I would pay more than a buck. At my workplace a coffee costs 1 €, which is around 1,37 $, and it isn’t really a good one. So one buck for a whole book is nothing.

Low price makes your book look cheap

During summer I often go to one of the markets in Brussels. When I walk by the greengrocers’ stands I hear them shouting in their heavy accent, “one Euro, one Euro, good deal, one Euro”. It can be a kilo banana or mango or carrot. They apply high volume to promote their goods. They are loud, I can hear them from the other side of the market. Their fruits and vegetables might be delicious or or might not, but they promote them loud and clear. But for one Euro they’re still cheap. If I buy a kilo banana, but it rots because I don’t eat it, it’s not a big deal. It was only one Euro.

If I buy your book for one buck, and it sits on my e-reader until I forget it’s there, I don’t really care. It was only one dollar, after all. I may find it and read it later or I may not. If your book is longer than a short story, it’s worth more. At least for me as reader. It’s harder to forget about a 9,99 $ book.

I know I contradict the general reader opinion, which says: more cheap books, more reading. But psychologically it works as I described.

There is a tipping point

I like Lee Child’s books very much. When the new one comes out, I’m the first one to buy it. However, the price of the last book made me think. It was somewhere between 15 and 20 $, and I wondered if I really wanted to buy it right away or wait and see if it goes down after a few months. After a short hesitation I bought it, but the question remained whether it’s worth that money. I didn’t hesitate when the Word of Radiance by Brandon Sanderson came out. Hell, I even pre-ordered it. I have a subscription at Audible, so the price per book is set to 15 bucks, but I tell you: I would have paid more for the WoR.

Every book has a reading value. It’s quite subjective, since readers tend to have their own preferences concerning style, plot, characters and other building blocks of stories. I compare the price to the entertainment I think I would receive when reading the book. Higher the pleasure, more I would pay for it. It’s not rocket science.

There is a tipping point when readers decide the price against the entertainment value. The same amount can be too much for one book, but they would pay a lot more for the other one. It’s not easy to find out what is that point for your book.

I hear you saying: yes, yes, but there is a biiiiiiig competition

E-books turned the book market upside down. It’s very easy to publish your book, so it’s a huge opportunity for unpublished writers. However, everyone publishes books. Everyone’s dog publishes books. If e-books were paper ones, all the rain forest would be needed to print them. Which means that for a writer it’s extremely hard to get noticed. I may come across your book, I even may find it compelling, but then I think of my long to-be-read list and I figure I just don’t need another one. But. If people I trust say I should read it, there is the chance that I would. Personal recommendation still has its power.

As I said, I’m not solving the pricing puzzle, but I can tell you this: write a good book, some readers will check it out and the word finally gets around.


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