Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The Value of an E-Book

Ever since the e-book revolution began, the price of the books has generated significant debates. Should an author price the book low - perhaps $0.99 - to take advantage of all the bargain hunters, or does that devalue the book. If it is only a dollar, it must not be any good; or certainly not as good as one priced a bit higher.

That type of mindset is nothing new. People have been associating quality and value to higher priced items since forever. There is a reason that Roman royalty wore all that gold and jewels. It told everyone how important and powerful these people who could afford such luxuries were.

What is interesting with e-publishing, especially for those going indie, is the impact that lowering the price of a book can have, or even offering it free for a short time. Last year in March, I offered my suspense novel, One Small Victory, as a free read for a week to celebrate Read an E-Book Week. It had over 30,000 downloads and made it to the top ten on a number of best-selling lists on Amazon. That effort jump-started several months of significant sales that brought me a nice royalty check every month.

More recently, with a glut of free books, especially on Amazon, there is some concern that the number of free books has impacted sales of other books. Many of us who share marketing information on author lists are seeing a drop in sales this month and last. Some blame it directly on the availability of free books; others, like Brad Whittington, do not. "While I could be wrong (it's happened before) I think the free-downloaders (sic) are bargain hunters, not book buyers and don't represent a significant loss of sales. Certainly no more than used bookstores, which are the haunt of people who are not going to pay the going price for new releases."

Another writer, who is known as Polywogg, weighed in with this comment "It's a semi-popular view that free hurts the market or an author but since the e-market is skyrocketing and authors are seeing sales increases (sometimes dramatic) after freebie promotions, most of those views are not borne out by any actual evidence. I'm thinking of borrowing from Dawkins and calling it the Fear Delusion."

Anthony Wessel from Digital Book Today recently wrote in is blog, "The free book (on Amazon) is currently the best form of advertising and marketing that is available to the Indie author."   

So maybe free books are here to stay. At least for a while, and there really is no definitive answer to the best price for e-books. If you go too high, you lose volume of sales. Is that worth it? Most people are like me and really don't plan to spend more than $5 for an e-book, with only a few exceptions. I do check out free books, and if I find a gem among the rough stones, I will buy other books by that author.

The one thing I do insist on, whether I have acquired the book for free, or for $0.99, or for $4.99, is professionalism. That goes for the cover design, the editing, and the overall formatting and production. What devalues a book, in my estimation, is one that was poorly edited, if at all, or it is not easy on the eyes as I scroll through to read. I have found some so poorly formatted that there were strange symbols in place of punctuation, weird spacing that seemed to make no sense, and sections where there seemed to be something missing.

As for the near future of e-book pricing, I agree with author Stephen Woodfin who wrote the following in a blog for Venture Galleries, "The energy of the indie movement will find its way to the middle ground. This will mean price points for many e-books from $2.99 to $6.99 with $0.99 books relegated to the bargain bin, and $9.99 e-book pricing viewed as little more than arrogant elitism clung to by the big houses."

What should not vary, however, is quality. We owe it to our readers to give them the best product we can. That includes taking the time to craft a good read and paying to have the book professionally edited and designed.

What about you? Does price influence your e-book buying?


When she is not reading the funny papers, Maryann Miller is an author and freelance editor. Information about her books, her editing services, and her blogs can be found on her Web site at www.maryannwrites.com Follow her on Twitter and Facebook

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  1. I have not had the pleasure of publishing nor reading an ebook.

  2. There will always be bargin hunters and (on the other end of the spectrum)those who value things only if they pay more for them.

    As long as it doesn't become a great divide between the big publishers overcharging and the rest undervaluing themselves (and, therefore, each other) then I don't see a problem.

    But you're right about the quality...even a bargin hunter will get sick of sifting through free downloads if too many of them are done unprofessionally.

  3. You make some excellent points here, Maryann. I will very rarely spend more than $5.99 for an e-book, but at an average price of $2.99 - $3.99 for e-novels, since the author gets around 70% of that, it seems like a win-win situation all around,as that lower pricing should definitely generate more sales. I think e-books need to sell for less for several reasons, one being that if you don't like it, you can't exactly return it! And you can't preview much of it on Amazon - usually only the first 10 pages, max. Not like being able to flip through a book at a bookstore.

    And I absolutely agree that everyone needs to ensure that their book is polished before e-pubbing. Sloppy,amateurish books are frustrating and annoying, and can permanently damage a writer's reputation!

  4. I'm guessing that eventually the market will sort itself out ... in the meantime, we indie authors are left to grope blindly around, hoping to find that sweet spot between value and profit ... egad.

  5. Gail, reading an e-book is different and takes a little getting used to, especially for those of us who love books, but there are some advantages. You might like it at some point.

    Thanks for the affirmation, Jennifer. I'm not sure if a great divide has occurred but there are some rumblings.

    Jodie, actually you can return an e-book. I have not done so, but I know it is possible. It has to be done within the first 7 days after purchase. And the Amazon website being sooooo user-friendly - HA! - I could not find the tab for returning those books I was dissatisfied with.

    Also, online you can only sample the first few pages, but if you download a sample, that is longer.

    And you are so right about the sloppy work reflecting poorly on a writer, but it can also reflect poorly on the whole enterprise of e-pubbing. That hurts all writers.

  6. I've never purchased an e-book. I don't have a reader. Someday...

    I applaud your comments on the necessity of quality. All of us who choose to walk that publishing path pay the price for those who don't think editing and layout matter.

    Great post, Maryann!

  7. While I understand the beauty of free e-books as no-cost PR—I rely mostly upon word-of-mouth and next-to-free speaking gigs to get my editing clients in the same fashion—I do worry about the de-valuing of the author. What we once were paid to do, we now often pay TO do, then give away for free.

    But I will now publicly tell you how shallow I am: I will not purchase an e-book with an ugly cover. If too many words are jammed on there, or the font is inappropriate, or the title fails to intrigue—whatever the reason— a bad cover will stop me from purchasing, because I have lost faith that this author knows what s/he is doing.

  8. I think the phenomenon of free in e-books is pretty easy to understand. Enough downloads will land you on a Top Whatever chart where your title is seen... and that attention gooses sales. I also think the more titles you have, the more a free promotion impacts sales on ALL the titles. As always, in advertising it's name recognition that is key, and keeping a high profile over a long period of time. That's why little stores that run a weekly ad in the newspaper eventually get the benefits of their long-term efforts. It may take a while, but it works over the long haul as long as you have a good product and good service to back your advertising.

  9. Good points, Dani. As one author friend pointed out, the freebies are not much different from the free copies that traditional publishers give out at conventions, etc. What one hopes that will accomplish is buzz about the book that will lead to more sales. Most of the authors I know who have offered books free for a short time, have seen the uptick in sales. So it does work.

    You are so right about the quality, however. A poorly crafted or produced book will not continue to sell well no matter what advertising is done.

    Katherine, I agree with you about the covers. That is why I use a professional graphic artist for mine.

  10. Maryann, a very thoughtful and helpful blog. Thanks for including my quote. The business of trying to figure out what will happen next in the digital book business reminds me of Yogi Berra. "Predicting is hard. especially when it's about the future."
    Also, for the commenters who haven't dipped their toes in the digital pool yet, I say "Come on in. The water's fine." Regards, SW

  11. I am so conflicted over pricing my kindle books lower than my paperback books. Kindle books cost me nothing to publish, while print books have a paper cost and a shipping cost, unless I leave it all up to Amazon to sell them. I write non-fiction and poetry; both take as much time or more than a quick murder mystery (my assumption that they are quicker, as I've only just begun to write my first, but I see authors posting one after another after another.) When I dropped my two books on teaching to $0.99, neither of them sold over three months at that price. I've since raised the prices, and they still haven't sold. Just the wrong season, I guess. But while they were priced low, I felt low, as though I had let myself down.
    I don't know the right answer, or the right price.


  12. Terry, some other authors of nonfiction and poetry have shared on author lists that they do not sell many e-books. It seems like the most popular are category romance, erotica, and some mysteries. Maybe not even in that order. I do know that most of the authors I know personally do spend a lot of time with research and developing the stories instead of just dashing them off. Others?? I have no idea how they produce so many in such a short time. But then, some writers are just able to do that. Stephen King writes incredibly fast.

  13. Thanks for stopping by, Stephen. I love the Yogi quote. Perfect.

  14. 30,000 free downloads, that's impressive. I've never offered my books for free yet. Maybe I will write an outake of a book and offer that for free instead. I don't trust readers will come back to buy, after free downloads.

    The Spinster’s Vow

  15. I won't buy an ebook over 4.99, unless it's by someone I know personally. There are too many other great books that I can read instead, not to mention the free ones.

    Morgan Mandel

  16. I like to read books, it is convenient,anyway.

  17. I don't think free books impact the market that much. Don't readers tend to read what they enjoy? They're not going to just pass up something they know they'll like to get something else for free.

    Same thing goes as always, write a good book :)


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