How Much Is It Worth?

MoneyI recently heard high praise for a book by a new author and immediately went online to purchase the ebook. When I saw the price however, I was shocked. $12.99 for an ebook?!  The Bird Box by Josh Malerman, and published by HarperCollins, was so highly praised, I thought it was bound to be great. But that price completely turned me off. The pub
lisher wisely dropped the price after only a week, to $9.99 and even though I felt that was still a high price for an ebook, I went ahead and bought it. After reading it, I wish I’d waited a bit longer.

The experience led me to ask, what’s a book worth?

Last fall, I took part in my first book festival as an indie published author. I spent a great deal of time thinking about my table display, thinking about how I would process payments and track sales. I also  spent a lot of time thinking about how I would price my books. While I hoped to at least break even, making money wasn’t one of my goals.

My first goal was to build my mailing list. A fairly easy prospect. I had a drawing to give away a basket of books and the entry form included a request to be included on the mailing list. I was surprised by the number of people who made the request.

The second goal, of getting my books in as many hands as possible, was a bit more difficult.

There were around 75 vendors at the festival, all with piles of books to sell. I figured the best way to ensure sales was to price the books in a way that let people know they were getting a bargain. If you’re going to the trouble of attending a book festival, one might expect to get the book for a cheaper price than what you would find online.

Everyone around me had priced their paperbacks at $15 to $20 each. Hardcovers were $25 to $30. I cringed when I saw those prices. I had hoped to do some book shopping myself but at those prices I could only afford to buy one or two. Since I had four titles to sell, I wanted someone to feel as if they could afford to buy all of them and not feel poor.

I sold my paperbacks for $8 each and my hardcover for $10. The authors sitting to the left and right of me were horrified by my prices. One author told me I was selling myself short, that I wasn’t valuing my work. She shook her head and walked away disgusted.

Her reaction made me worry but I reminded myself of my initial goal. Selling books for $15 might have made me feel good, but I would be asking people to spend a tidy sum on an author they didn’t know. Better to ensure the purchase with a price that made the decision easier.

The result was, I sold just about every book I brought with me. Many of the people who made a purchase bought more than one title. I met lots of readers, autographed lots of books and made at least a handful of new fans.

Could I have sold as many books for $15? Doubtful. Was I selling myself short? I’m not sure. Russell Blake wrote a brilliant post on book pricing that deserves a read and some consideration. What’s the most you would be willing to pay for an unknown author’s ebook with a bunch of five star reviews? What do you think of authors who charge less? If a book is .99 do you assume it’s too cheap to be good? And are the major publishing houses, the ones charging $11 or more for an ebook, making a mistake? Or should indie authors follow their lead and crank up what we ask for our work?

6 thoughts on “How Much Is It Worth?

  1. I’ve occasionally bought paperbacks on Amazon instead of ebooks because they were cheaper. No way would I pay $12.99 for an ebook! Sounds like you priced yours perfectly for the book festival. At this stage it seems like exposure is most important.

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  2. Pingback: How Much Is It Worth? | The Passive Voice | A Lawyer's Thoughts on Authors, Self-Publishing and Traditional Publishing

  3. I really don’t understand why writers don’t get a basic business concept like the market sets the “value” of an item. You want to move more product or introduce something new to the market, discount it. Find what people are willing to pay for your product. A book is a product, nothing more, nothing less.

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  4. Writers do need to learn that there is a sweet spot between too low and too high a price. Too low attracts bargain-hunters who are not really interested in you (they also tend to be much more critical about the books, because such a low value was placed on them.) Too high prices you out of the market.

    Eight bucks and ten bucks are fantastic prices, especially for a small-reputation writer. ($9.99 probably would have been better; there’s a reason why it works).

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  5. M.L. you were thinking like a business person. You had a specific goal in mind. Then you laid out and followed the steps to achieve that goal. Bravo!

    I wish more indies would create and follow such a business plan, but I see too many do exactly what Big Publishing does. 1) Throw things at the walls to see what sticks and 2) Price too high because Culture!

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    • Thanks Suzan,
      I was surprised when no one else at the festival followed my lead. It was just a one day affair. By noon, I would have thought some would reduce their prices when they saw that things weren’t moving. Most didn’t. That said, I think ebook pricing is a whole different thing. Pricing low or free doesn’t equate to attention anymore and it’s difficult to make smart pricing choices if you don’t have frequent and steady sales with which to make decisions. I’ve found, at least after less than a year of indie publishing, it is a bit of a crap shoot. All I can really do is follow what others have done and hope it works for me.

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