Under-Pricing Ebooks

There’s a trend among indie authors that is based on a mentality that’s hard to be broken, and that is:

“I’m an unknown, and I just want people to buy my book so I’m going to cut the price to less than a dollar because that’s all they’ll pay for me.”

If you look at the ebook market, you’ll see vast differences in ebook prices. Looking at the top 25 books in Christian fiction, the top selling price is $8.99 and the lowest is $0.99 cents.

What’s the difference in the price?

Mainly, it’s the publishing type. Large publishing houses know that readers will buy books if they want to read them. They have tens of thousands of dollars behind the books they publish, and they need to recoup those costs. Consequently, they typically price ebooks very much the same as they price paperbacks. Ebooks don’t come with a printing cost, so there’s a lot more recouping of output with higher ebook prices.

Readers of large houses and popular authors are trained to pay that much for a book — whether it’s a paperback or ebook — and don’t flinch at the cost because it’s likely in their budget. I know that I personally would pay as much for an ebook as a paperback for my favorite authors.

Indie and small press authors will price low to get attention. You’ll likely not see an indie novel for more than $5.99 or $6.99, and those are high prices comparatively.

I know that there are “loss leaders” – I used them, too. The first book of every series I write is free. This is intended to be the “hook” – draw a reader into my world and characters with a free taste, and they’ll pay for the rest of the series. For the most part, it works like it’s designed. I’m not talking about loss leaders in this post.

I’m talking about authors who feel like no one will read their books if they’re priced higher than $0.99 or $1.99. They don’t think they’re “worth” that because they’re self-published. The problem with that business model is that it’s training readers to expect to not have to pay for books – books that cost money to produce, that take time and energy like nothing you’ve ever experienced before – books that have value.

I remember when I was working on setting the price for my Virtues and Valor series. My dilemma was based on the fact that the books are short – they’re novellas – with only nine or ten chapters each. However, they’re rich with information, full of research, and took years to even prepare to write.

I “worried” that no one would pay $2.99 for a 10-chapter novella. I’d fallen into the indie mindset of not being “worth” as much as other books. I was tempted to charge $0.99 per ebook. My husband and business partner disagreed with me. He knew the amount of research, sweat, and tears that went into each book, and the minimum he wanted to charge was $2.99.

We went back and forth for a few weeks as we lead up to publication. Then, one day I was in San Antonio at the Romance Writers of America conference, standing in line at a Starbucks in the hotel lobby, and just had my eyes resting on the prices on the menu. As they came into focus and I started paying attention to what I was reading, it occurred to me.

My books are worth a cup of coffee.

That’s true! My books are worth a cup of coffee!

This memory came home to me recently when I was at the American Christian Fiction Writers Conference in Nashville, Tennessee. I bought a cup of coffee at a Starbucks in the resort, and paid $4.09 for a medium black coffee.

  1. That’s stupid expensive. I can’t believe I paid that much for a cup of coffee.

2. My books are worth a cup of coffee. They’ll last longer. They’ll provide an imaginative experience that will come back to the reader again and again. They introduce characters that readers have a hard time letting go of.

I get that reading is an expensive hobby. Here’s what I discovered back in my early elementary days when I was the kid that got super excited when the teacher told the class to read quietly:

Library books are free!

I regularly get emails complaining about the fact that I have a free loss-leader, but the other books are “so expensive”.  Here is my answer every time: my books are available in both digital and print at libraries across the United States. Your librarian will order them for you, if you prefer print, or you can check out an e-reader and use Overdrive to read them. And it’s free!

In the meantime, unless there’s something spectacularly special going on, other than the loss leader, the other books in the series will likely not go down in price. 

And, I’m not going to apologize for that.


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  1. I do think it is important for authors to get paid for their writing. Especially because I am hoping that they are paying for a good editor. 🙂

    That said, I can’t see paying the same for an e-book as I would for a print book. The costs are less, so if the cost of both if $16.99 – that’s just crazy. But anything under $5 is more than fair and under $10 is something I’ll consider based on the author.

    And if I really want to read a book and it feels too expensive, I will request it at my library. And they have purchased every book I have ever requested.

  2. I always request the book from the library if I can’t afford it. That’s what they’re there for. Thanks for sharing this!

  3. Thank you for writing this, Hallee. “”The worker deserves his wages” (1 Timothy 5: 18).


    MaryAnn Diorio, PhD
    Author of Fiction

    “Heart-Mending Books for the Young
    and the Young-at-Heart”

    • Renate on October 13, 2018 at 11:02
    • Reply

    As a retiree, I make my coffee at home and think that Starbucks is overpriced. I cannot bring myself to pay the same price for an ebook as a paperback. Yes I agree that many indie authors underprice their books. For me the price I am willing to pay, depends on the length of the story, research, whether it is a part of a series (by one author or group of authors). My pet peeve is if as a preorder I pay over three dollars for a kindle book and then a few months later, a series or book is put on sale for less than a dollar. Or when every author in a series charges a different price.

  4. Thanks for mentioning libraries, Hallee. Readers can request any book from their local library. This request/purchase helps authors and readers. Libraries don’t return books to the publisher, so this is a firm sale for the author. The reader gets to read the book for free. And, the library may purchase more of the author’s books.

    • Becca Kinzer on October 15, 2018 at 11:33
    • Reply

    As a person who doesn’t even want to think about how much money I spend on coffee a year, I appreciated the comparison between a cup of coffee and a book of value. I think sometimes because I do use the local library so frequently, I lose some perspective on what a gift it is to be able to read books that authors have poured so much of their time and energy into for free.

  5. GREAT point about library books being free. I like the idea of encouraging readers to order through libraries. Now, some indie books are even available through library Overdrive (ebook) systems.

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