Ebook Pricing: What’s Profitable vs. What’s Reasonable

The topic of e-book pricing gets a hell of a lot of attention. I mean, lots and lots.

The publishing world is changing at lightning pace, the old guard of the big-six and their ilk are losing their grip, and nobody has the answers. Experiments are going on all over the place, nothing is static, and it’s a bloody good time to be an indie author.

The times of permafree and $0.99 seem to be over. KU has blown tried-and-true methods out of the water. Serials had their day, and have also slumped into the murk. Fads and methods such as box-sets and so forth are coming and going, and people are innovating all over the place.

Price pulsing seems to work. Or not. Maybe we could try systematically offering things on promotion? Who knows? The revered and all-powerful algorithms, those great titans of the net that govern the fortune of all would-be writers these days, are forever shifting, morphing—the great many-headed hydras hidden behind the glossy store fronts.

If you sell through KDP, the pricing service charts your profit vs. sales, and recommends a maximum yield ‘sweet spot’ for you. A lot of people stick to this, and price pulse around that. Some keep to free and are just in it for the shiggles.

But if you’re looking to take things a little more seriously, what are you to do?

Well, like I said, who knows?

Something I am noticing, however, is that there’s a fundemental disparity in pricing, and it all comes to where you sit on the ladder. If you’re an unknown, up-and-coming, or seasoned mid-lister, then you have to play to your entrepreneurial strengths. You charge what your market can support, what your readers are willing to pay. You have to slash prices or offer promotions on an ever-changing basis to shift books. Your starry-eyed visions of a large profit have to be sidelined for the sake of keeping the trickle going.

However, if you’re lucky enough to be ‘sticky’, or had a breakthrough book, then things seem to change. The price goes up, well into the $6-8 range. Fair enough, I’d consider that absolutely fine for a solid piece of entertainment.

But is this merely a premium that writers charge for a book that’s been vetted as a cut above the rest, or is this a reflection of what all writers actually think their work is worth? Are most writers now working away with the secret discomfort about how little they can charge?

Maybe. But if so, I just want to put my voice out there: I think that’s pretty dumb. The fact is that the indie revolution means that author profits have sky-rocketed. Sure, trad pubbed books charge $16.99 or something. That sounds more respectable. But the author’s cut of that? Piddly, menial, an embarassing 12% standard BEFORE the agent’s cut, and taxes. The only difference is that, before, that little catch was hidden from public view. Now, it’s slapped on the store-front for all to see.

But that’s exactly how it should be! Who cares that we’re charging much smaller amounts? We’re actually taking home most of that price-tag. The premium some authors charge is just seizing an opportunity; if people are willing to pay that much, then charge that much. Everybody’s happy.

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that upstart authors are being forced to undercharge. Many successful authors choose to keep their prices low, because that’s what their readers want to pay, or because that’s how they prefer things: they like providing maximum accessibility.

It’s time to shake out of this fug of insecurity, methinks. Charge what your readers want, because this is all about them. It’s about the writers, sure, but without your flock, what’s it all for?

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