Wednesday, October 19, 2011

I'm Going To Give You My 99 Cents.

I have been giving some thought to the whole 99 cent eBook issue, which has been discussed around the various writing communities. I have been involved in some discussion recently about the issue and I think it's worthy of an opinion from me, as a published author.

I am, admittedly, ambivalent about the notion of this price point.

When I wrote my novel, The Hambledown Dream, I gave little thought to the eBook marketplace and I came into the market having little concept of pricing. I quickly discovered the trend towards pricing works at 99 cents and my initial thought was 'Is this for real?' I poured my heart and my soul into my novel and the market is going to expect me to price it at less than a buck?

Fortunately for me, my publisher Michelle Halket at ireadiwrite and I discussed this at length and we were both loathe to release the novel digitally at such a low price point.

99 cents, whilst being attractive for getting large sales numbers, I believe it runs the risk of cheapening the eBook marketplace as a whole. If you've worked hard and diligently to produce a work that you're proud of, then you have every right to set a price that gives you the maximum potential for reward.

The 99 cent price point actually damages this notion. When I see an eBook listed at any one of the major retailers I instantly equate them to the old dime novels my grandfather used to buy - you know the ones? The western novels that you could (and probably still can) pick up for a couple of bucks off the newsagents shelf. Whilst mildly entertaining, most of these titles were pretty much throwaway reads, lacking in quality and literary merit. It's a shame, because I have picked a number of 99 cent titles and have found them to be excellent works of literature. 

If you have written a solid piece of literature,
and I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that I regard my novel The Hambledown Dream as a solid piece of literature, then you are doing yourself a disservice by pricing it at 99 cents. It cheapens your brand and by extension your name. It is hard enough in the digital environment, where independent authors are constantly subject to criticism that unfairly compares them on a lower rung to traditionally published authors, without further diluting the quality of works by pricing them so low. Now, there are exceptions to this rule and I think of one right off the bat - the novelette.

Typically, the novelette has a word count of around 15,000 words - significantly less than a standard novel. I think that there is justification in setting the price point lower - even as low as 99 cents - just as long as it's clear the product you are selling is in fact, a novelette. The distinction between products needs to be clear enough so that confusion and by extension arguments can't be allowed to run away. Also, there are occasional promotional opportunities that come up for authors whereby setting the price of a book at a special price of 99 cents for a limited time is acceptable and can assist in raising your profile in the marketplace. I recently participated in such a promotion and it was certainly valuable in attracting readers to my work.  But this has a limited shelf life and I wouldn't encourage authors to do this for an extended period of time.

I don't buy the argument that because the book is not a physical entity then people shouldn't expect to have to pay higher price for it. Sure, it might not have the tactile presence of a paperback or hardcover object - but what you as the reader holds in your hand via your electronic device is a literary experience equal to - perhaps greater than - any other literary experience available. There is an inherent value in this that should not be understated. The medium through which we experience a work is, in my view, irrelevant. That said, I am shrewd enough to realize that the marketplace, at present, does have its own tipping point in terms of what consumers are willing to pay. But they should pay a decent price for a literary work.

I would like to see authors price their works higher across the board. If authors, collectively priced their works higher then I do think the market would cope. There is a high saturation of users out there and I think they would accept a higher base price. I mean, you pay at least $3 for a good cup of coffee don't you - and that cup gives you what - maybe a 5 or 10 minute experience?

My ambivalence on the issue of the 99 cent price point has evolved over time from observing the market and talking with others about there own thoughts on the subject. I think that the marketplace needs to accept high price points from authors who are passionate about their work and believe it stands equally alongside both printed literature and literature produced through the traditional publishing houses. 

I therefore, don't encourage the pricing of literary works in the digital format at 99 cents.



  1. Yeah, I agree. And when I was researching e-book prices, I found that for an unknown author, the best price point was $2.99-$3.99. And believe it or not, I make as much or more off of e-books as I do off of paperbacks, which are $13.99. So I don't mind selling them for 3 or 4 bucks. But yeah, 99 cents makes the book look a bit... suspect.

  2. I'm glad you agree. I feared that I would be putting a few noses out of joint with this but I have been discussing more and more recently and people have been encouraging me to talk to my publisher about dropping the price to 99 cents "because it means you'll sell more"

    The thing is, I don't want to sell myself short and devalue my brand in the process.

    I'm in the same position as you Anne, the eBook sales are much better financially for me than the print book, which is why I've shifted focus in terms of marketing towards the digital edition of "Hambledown".

    As I said, I would like to see authors band together and price their works collectively higher. And I was thinking that Amazon itself has a role to play here. Amazon could stipulate a base price point that prohibits the 99 cent option. But I doubt they would do that.

    Thanks for stopping by Annie. :)

  3. On Amazon which is the only place I get ebooks if I see a new book for 99c I don't download it. I just assume its going to be poorly written, I won't even download the sample. Now I should probably not judge books like that and try to expand my horizons etc etc but frankly I have like 180 books on my kindle, plus actual books in my house and the library that I want to read so I tend to make snap judgements on books I know nothing about.

    I really like Amazon's 9.99 price for ebooks, its cheap enough for it to make not a real dent in my budget but I feel like the author is compensated for their work (although honsetly I have no idea how much you get back on that). Much more than 9.99 and I do get into the whole "Its no a physical book" thing, I can't lend it to someone or donate it to the library when I'm done so I'm not really willing to spend a whole lot of money because once I've read it I can't do anything with it other than read it again.

  4. And I certainly can't fault you for making your purchasing decision on that basis Carolyn. This is one of the damaging things about the 99 cent price point.

    You'd probably flip your lid if you knew how little we authors make off a single sale but it's a little better than what we get from a print sale.

  5. I'm right on board with ya! I also think, not always, but often the 99 Cent buyer is a different type of consumer. I think they download on impulse and often times don't get around to reading the books. I, in fact, have a whole pile of 99 Cent or free ebooks sitting on my Kindle waiting to be read. When will I read them? Who knows...I just don't feel the urgency.