What is it worth?

The answer ‘whatever someone will pay for it’ is as true for liberty or access to a toilet or price of books.

The former many people have paid everything they had for. It was that priceless to them. It’s the latter I’m writing about however, and the answer is ‘not much’ a lot of the time.

That’s a depressing answer, when you’ve put months or years into writing a book.

Look –it’s one of those variable answers depending who the answer comes from, and just who wrote the book – and how keen they are to get their hands on it. But the answer – compared to the rate pay per hour for your labor – must be well under South East Asian Sweat shop rates. And the skills required are possibly higher. (I’ll go with possibly).

Let’s put it this way: that paperback copy of yours of SHADOW OF LION – 270 odd thousand words, tons of research… took me 5 months of seven day weeks and 16 hour days: I got 16 cents for that. You were one of the hardcore fans who bought DRAGON’S RING in hardback? I got $2.20 for that.

But of course… it’s not just one book that sells. You’re selling the same bit of work over and over. Well, hopefully you are. That’s the theory anyway. And one should think of the number hours the reader takes to consume the product not hours you took to write it… Oh. I’m still sweat-shop labor.

Look, there is no doubt about it: most readers don’t put a high value on books. The sooner authors and indeed the whole publishing industry stop deluding themselves otherwise, the sooner and easier we can get on with making a living from this. And yes, the fact that people write for other reasons, many of which come down to ‘making the author happy for reasons outside of the Benjamin’ (be it vanity, preaching a message, status, or getting recognition in awards to let you teach in fine arts courses) really doesn’t help – not authors trying to make a living or readers looking for great reads – but it’s a fact of our profession, that trad publishing has taken advantage of – to their short term gain and long term disaster.

The key, obviously, is 1) volume. 2)getting a decent share of what as many willing buyers as possible will pay for it. The most decent share is 100%. If you’re not going to get that, as close as you can to it.

Now the big problem with being a writer is not dissimilar to any other enterprise – an amazing number of rent-seekers would like you to work really hard so they can do well. A lot of people seem to misunderstand the term ‘rent-seeker’. It’s only marginally connected with property ownership and even tangential to capitalism. Actually, many government employees and socialists are ‘rent-seekers. To explain Rent-seeking in simple terms. There is a river. Local farmers use the river to transport food to town to sell. A powerful individual (let’s call him the Baron) sets up two towers on either side of the river, and spans a chain between them. The farmers now must pay the Baron a toll to have the chain lowered to move their boats past to the sell their goods in the town. That’s just about pure rent seeking, as the Baron added no value, and just added cost.

Most rent-seeking of course isn’t ‘pure’. There’s a crumb –or more — of value, for the ‘rent’. Your publisher – for the rent they seek provides possibly editorial and proofreading services, a cover, maybe even publicity as well as access to the ‘river’ (the places where your books can go to be sold). Amazon provides storage of e-book, retail payment collection, and a retail display space. A bookstore provides retail display, and payment collection… And each of them charges as much as they believe the market will bear. And in many ways they control their toll chain across the river.

Now you can go around their toll chains. It’s not free either, or easy or effective.

But a large part of what they’re promising is the potential of volume – which effectively you’re swapping for giving them a greater share of the earnings from your hard work. After all, 100% of nothing is still nothing, and 4% of $330 000 (using examples from Shadow) is a long way short of 100%, but a lot better 100% of nothing.

But it does mean that — if you’re in this as a commercial exercise – the sales volume (and other services) you’re paying ‘rent’ for has to make it worthwhile. You can do your own sums on this – it does depend a lot on the time it takes you to produce a book as well. This is why: when people ask (and they do) if they should try trad publishing, or accept a trad publishing offer my first question is ‘how many copies could you sell without them?’ Some of us can actually sell quite a lot. Many of us can’t. The second question is ‘how many copies can they sell to people you can’t sell to (by for instance having copies in bookstores or sold via their mailing list.)

Seriously, unless the advance (which they WILL push hard enough to recover) is large, odds are you will be gaining… but probably far less than you hope, in reader numbers, and quite possibly losing financially, compared to self-pub. Trust me on this, unless you’re very lucky the ‘other services’ editing, proofs and covers, for most noobs, amount to a lick and a promise. Your vanity or self-confidence may take a boost. You may enjoy seeing it in a book-store. You have to put a value on that.

In practical terms I’ve got some name recognition. I’m too lazy and inept to launch books properly. And I still come out about quits – I earn at least my advance – which on the last trad book they say I haven’t (I.e. in volume their add is tepid). Now…

Maybe I could have made more money. Maybe not. But I decided my book wasn’t worth very much – which may have convinced some readers it wasn’t very much – and people who would have bought it on name recognition and $9.99 price tag, shied from a $4.99 price tag. Or maybe enough extra readers would have bought at $3.99 to have me end up with more money. Personally, I LIKE to price low, and hope to sell more. I’m competing not as an essential but for the beer money. (And yes, for some that beer is essential, just as for others the book is essential – but for most, not so.)

So what are your thoughts? What’s a fair price you would pay for a book? Does it vary between authors? Does a price drop from 4.99 to 3.99 change your mind? If not, where do you change your mind?

81 thoughts on “What is it worth?

  1. Now this is something I’ve been pondering on for a while.

    I suspect 6.99 is on the high end, and if I want more sales I need to drop my price. Priced at 6.99 from reading DWS and having a paperback and hardcover available to make it look cheap, because they really are expensive.

      1. “I’d love to see the the graph of how many sales you gain against price drop.”

        Wouldn’t we all! I suspect the graph is different for each book, and since each book is a unique, non-repeatable event, it would be hard to aggregate the data.

      2. But as products, books are not unique and non-repeatable. They have their idiosyncrasies, sure, but as goods that people pay for, the overall value a consumer assigns to it falls on a distribution. Almost certainly a bell curve, like other complex multidimensional phenomena. People are unique and non-repeatable, too, and we use stats to study them all the time.

        There are mathematical techniques you can use to tease out a rough demand curve, including author- and format- specific effects. Like all statistics, such an estimate is “wrong but close.” There are even techniques to estimate a dynamic model to take into account current sales and social media buzz. The challenge would be to get enough data, which would mean sales records from several authors and their books.

        If you could get a circle of authors to participate (ie provide the data), I’d be interested in talking about this. I teach marketing at a research university, so it’s in my wheelhouse.

  2. “To explain Rent-seeking in simple terms. There is a river. Local farmers use the river to transport food to town to sell. A powerful individual (let’s call him the Baron) sets up two towers on either side of the river, and spans a chain between them. The farmers now must pay the Baron a toll to have the chain lowered to move their boats past to the sell their goods in the town. That’s just about pure rent seeking, as the Baron added no value, and just added cost.”

    The Baron would argue that his chain also prevents sea pirates from cruising upriver and stealing all your goods, therefore adds value. Whether these sea pirates actually exist is left as an exercise for the reader.

    1. Pre-steam (and other engines)… going upstream was… problematic.

      Now, what happens when a few farmers get to the chain and hang bombs on it?

      1. Usually the Barron takes his cavalry out and burns a couple of farmsteads down. That’s historically what happens.

        Every once in a while the Barron meets the Seven Samurai, or the 47 Ronin, or Robin Hood. (Or in my books, a tank the size of a supermarket.) That makes for a better story, IMHO.

        1. Bombs are easy enough to manufacture that at the age of 15, I built and tested one. It nearly got me expelled from school – but I had promised my friends I’d set it off in third period, in the school yard … and it was only a small bomb … and admittedly, I was a good student but in other respects a complete moron.

          1. Easy enough to make in a modern economy, with ready access to raw materials.

            But our hypothetical farmers would have a difficult time getting sulphur, even if they had ready access to charcoal, and could make their own saltpeter.
            Also, the knowledge of the ingredients and the knowledge to combine those ingredients effectively was *not* freely shared.
            If you want to get a bit less 17th century, you’re starting to talk about making your own sulfuric and nitric acids. With proper glassware being a luxury item at best. I’ve forgotten most of the chemistry I’ve ever learned, but I’m pretty sure that would be a bad idea.

    2. The Baron (or whatever rent-seeker) ALWAYS has some excuse/reason. Against this is whole probability thing. You can work out how likely it is, and what it is worth. Look, Australian councils mandate that all plumbing (even your hand basin drain) gets done by a plumber. At $80 an hour (or part thereof). If you put in your own basin drain and you’re not an idiot – the chance of it failing are tiny – it’s not a hard job. Call it 1:1000. most of us would take that sort of chance because the damage is unlikely, and unlikely to be major if it happens. But they’re ‘protecting’ you against that risk – at $80 minimum.

      1. …and, if the materials to do it are reasonably easy to acquire, and the risk of the Baron (council) finding out is low, it’s likely that anyone with self confidence at do-it-yourself maintenance is going to at least consider doing it. Since the rent-seeking and lack of value-added are so obvious.

        Some other forms of rent-seeking survive mostly because the consumer doesn’t have (and knows he doesn’t have) the knowledge to judge whether it could be bypassed. E.g. beginning writers as self-publishers…

    3. Well, when the Dread Pirate Roberts shows up, You’ll wish you had a Baron to defend you!

  3. While some people here will be critical, Smashwords actually supplies numbers on this, about once a year. The useful number is price vs. total dollars (income x copies sold) to the author, sorted by genre. Their traditional answer has been $3.99, though $4.99 I gather is closing. $6.99 for an author I know and like is OK, but for Weber, Modesitt, Tsouras, Turtledove, Spoor I would buy the hardback or the trade paperback.

    1. I priced a short story on Smashwords, at Reader’s Choice, from zero to $4.99 (the default). I just got a payout for one month. About $1 a book. Still can’t believe I go that for a short.

      I have two shorts up there – links here:



      I do think many writers underprice themselves. When I finish my next book, I’m putting it on both Smashwords and Kindle, and promoting the hell out of it. I do think that getting the word out is critical. Too many authors just make it available, then are surprised when it doesn’t sell.

  4. $3.99-4.99 most books I’d say. It’s a case of quanity has a quality all it’s own. Frankly, a lot of readers would probably like shorter,less expensive books, so you could get more of them. Who here hasn’t bought books in a series because they were short, inexpensive brain candy?

      1. That seems a bit slow, though I certainly would not object to an author pricing their work that low. 2.99 would be anywhere between 100 to 150K, while I’d be willing to pay 4.99 to 5.99 for 250K, as long as the writing was decent.
        (I make an exception for Baen, mostly because their ebook prices were foisted on them by Simon and Schuster.)

  5. Kindle Unlimited changes this equation dramatically, depending on the length of a book. I’ll be writing at greater length about this in a couple of weeks, but here’s a potted summary.

    KU pays out just over $0.0045 for a single page read by a subscriber. If your book is (say) 100,000 words, that translates (in KENP, or KU equivalent pages, according to Amazon’s calculations) to about 360 pages. That means a KU “borrow” of your book will earn you about $1.62. If you sell that same book for $2.99 via Amazon, with a 70% royalty rate, you’ll earn about $2.00 after Amazon’s charge to download the book to the purchaser. In other words, a $2.99 price point is barely better, from an earnings perspective, than a KU “borrow”. It’s probably not economical. You’ll make more money pricing it at $3.99 or $4.99.

    However, that brings up the question of what readers will pay. For a relatively unknown author, $2.99 might be all that most buyers are prepared to pay. For someone better know, $4.99 might be feasible. I’ve been charging that for my books for some years, and I’m getting sales at that level; but there’s also growing resistance even to that price from some readers. I’ve actually had e-mails saying that I’m being greedy to charge that much, and that I should price it much cheaper, otherwise they won’t spend their money on me – or they’ll use KU instead of buying the book. Even Amazon’s beta price recommendation service from KDP recommended, for my latest trilogy, that I price it at $2.99 per volume, to maximize sales income. Of course, it didn’t factor KU into that pricing equation.

    I now take KU into my pricing calculations. If I won’t make much more per sale than I know I’ll earn on a KU “borrow”, it’s frankly not worth my while to sell the book at all! Why not just make it available in the subscription library? I’ve elected to retain my higher price point at this time, and try to make more money on sales to make up for the lower earnings per “borrow”. So far, that strategy appears to be having some success. KU reads are up, sales are lower than in the past, but on balance, I’m making a reasonable return. However, there’s no doubt that the trend is towards lower price points, and I’m going to have to take a long, hard look at the subject once this trilogy has been released in full. (The release-one-book-every-month approach is paying dividends in many ways, and I’ll have more to say about it in two to three months, when the whole marketing effort is over and we can assess it in greater detail.)

    Speaking for myself as a reader, I’ll gladly pay $4.99 to $6.99 for an indie e-book if I know the author’s work and can be reasonably sure I’ll be entertained. (You fall into that category, Dave!) On the other hand, for a newbie I’ve never heard of before, I’m more likely to use KU to borrow his book and read it. If I like it, I’ll then buy a copy to show my appreciation for his hard work.

    Just my $0.02 worth…

    1. I’ll pay $0.99 – $3.99 for someone recommended by a trusted reviewer (like the ones on some of the blogs I read). I’m not buying many of the higher priced books, even for established authors.

    2. Speaking for myself as a reader, I’ll gladly pay $4.99 to $6.99 for an indie e-book if I know the author’s work and can be reasonably sure I’ll be entertained. (You fall into that category, Dave!) On the other hand, for a newbie I’ve never heard of before, I’m more likely to use KU to borrow his book and read it. If I like it, I’ll then buy a copy to show my appreciation for his hard work.

      This, but the decision to buy paper copies is base 100% on whether I expect to read it multiple times and share it.

      I also rely heavily on free samples. If I get hooked, I’ll buy at the higher price. So what’s the min/max for free sample size?

      1. I only purchase hard cover books, even from authors I don’t know and I am just exploring. I do have about 15,000 hard cover books. They make for a beautiful library. I just don’t like ebooks and as for renting books? Never going to work for me. I re-read often. They have a book fair once a year and I leave with dozens of new books from authors I just got a chance to meet. All hard cover books. Either I’m very unusual or you may be missing a segment of the market just focusing on ebooks or KU.

        1. …and some of us are the opposite. My bookshelves are overfull & no room for more, and it’s hard to give away books/authors I liked. I used to buy only MMPB’s mostly because of space. Now I mostly buy Kindle books. Hard covers are for reference texts.
          No format covers the whole market!

  6. Since I tend to write short (less than 100K, on average 70K), I think $3.99 is a reasonable balance between “low enough to attract more readers” and “too low to earn a tolerable income.” that also gives me some room for pricing short stories and novellas, and space for a higher price for longer books. It also allows for KU reads. But I’m an “I” level author on Larry Correia’s list, and am not (yet) a major name.

  7. As a reader, I will put in my 2 cents worth, but with the caveat that I am probably not normal.
    Since 1999, I have purchased most increasing to all books through Amazon. Now the dead-tree would be hard to study, intermixed with non-books, so I will just talk Kindle. 2013 was only 4 books, so starting 2014 until present, I have purchased 1180 e-book/stories/bundles. I have been reluctant to enroll in KU, I don’t know why. KU doesn’t offer all the e-books, but enough to offset the $9.99/month.
    I am actually more sensitive to the e-book/hardback price ratio than the price, but $3.99 is the sweet point. For known authors, it is a little higher and for Baen published, whatever it takes (this is a political statement; Baen supports what I like). For a TOR published, not even the $0.02 above.
    If it is an unknown-to-me over $3.99, well Amazon has this wonderful ‘try a sample’ button so make sure your first chapter is really good. I don’t know how you get into my ‘recommended for you’ categories, but Amazon does a frightenly good job on what it suggests.
    (OK I tried to log on via Facebook for my usual avatar, but they keep putting :hteateaps://www dot facebook dot com/app_scoped_user_id/YXNpZADpBWEhVelI4ZATBPMDFBd01JNE5VUUh4UGRGTXh3ZAE1YZAmROVXNEQkZA2SlFvejVKOEE2Nl9ONzM1c2dUZA01ZAcVBkV2tjeGVJQW5xUTJrWTJYMXBsM24xN0xlRXRhSjg0UF93M1g5dnVnd3ozV3QZD/ in as my ‘webpage’ and wordpress says it is too long)

  8. I’m currently sticking to $3.99 for most of my books, and $2.99 on short story collection and occasionally the first book in a series. I tried $4.99 and it didn’t seem to increase my totall revenue on those books).

    Maybe it’s a formatting issue, but my KU page counts appear to be a hair over 200 words per KU “page.” Most of my books are in the 100K-word range, so I end up with 450-500 KU pages and make around $2.00 per full read. KU continues to provide 50-60% of my income. Still sticking with KU; it’s made the difference between doing okay and doing great, financially speaking.

    As a reader, I subscribe to KU. Most new writers I try are via book borrows. If an indie book isn’t in KU but seems interesting, I’ll happily plonk down $3.99, hesitate at $4.99, and will not buy above that price range unless I have strong recommendations from people whose taste I trust or there are other factors at work.

    For trad publishers, my threshold is around $9.99, with a handful of exceptions. A few authors (John Ringo, Larry Correia, Jim Butcher) I’ll pay a higher price for (I often buy the eARC for Baen-published books). Will not try new authors at trad-publishing prices, though. I got a recommendation just the other day, went to the AZ page and saw the ebook was priced at $11.99. Pass. Also, the number of trad writers I regularly buy has dropped significantly.

    No idea how representative my ebook buying practices are, but if they could explain why trad publishing has been steadily losing ebook market share. It also could mean that new trad authors start out with a handicap: to try out their books, the publishers expect readers to pay three times or more the price of an indie book.

    1. As one of your readers, I’ll say 3.99-4.99 is a good price point (of course, since I’m paying, 3.99 is better). If you ever DONT want me to buy your books…
      1. Have the phrase “Price set by publisher” show up on the page in the kindle story.
      2. Price the e-book higher than the paperback’s Amazon price.

  9. Just wanted to chime in here (I rarely ever comment) that I have Shadow of the Lion in hardback Mr. Dave! Probably only paper & Ebook for Dragon’s Ring. Love both of those series.

    1. Also, I’ve become a Kindle Unlimited buyer for my wife and I. We both read a hell of a lot more books now. Odd that. Though I still tend to buy certain authors anyway to make sure they “GET PAID” as Larry Corriea would say. Gotta keep your Beer and Skittles available.

    2. Thank you very much 🙂 It’s an author’s worst private fear that what they put their heart and soul into just wasn’t very good.

        1. Well, I hope so. I won’t write any more while Baen hold the rights, but I had always planned to write a children of the dragon story.

  10. My fiction novels are 3.99. The non-fiction textbooks on game design are mostly 5.99. (some are shorter and cheaper.) I tried KU and was not impressed with the outcome.

  11. I’m not an author. I do read a lot since I’ve retired. An average of a book a day is about right.
    With limited income, my price point for authors I don’t know is $1.99. For authors I know, it’s $2.99 or, in some cases, $3.99. For some authors, I’ll read anything they write and I don’t have a max price (Dave is in that category). Even in the last case, I’ll frequently wait for the Kindle version.
    I get especially annoyed at Kindle prices being the same as paper prices, and even if I want to buy the book, I won’t.

  12. These days, I hardly buy anything. I used to buy trade paperbacks at CDN $10.99 of most things, and hardcovers of my favorite authors. Correia, Ringo, Weber, Banks, Hamilton, Asher.

    Since I started writing ~2015, my reading has pretty much stopped. I make exceptions for the above authors, still buy the hardcover on opening day for my favorites. Usually I go get them at Chapters, because I still love “going to the bookstore” despite the concerted effort by everything in retail to make me stay home.

    But, change from previous, if I don’t already know there’s a new Correia or an Asher (or a Freer!) waiting on the shelf for me, I never go there anymore. The days of idle shelf browsing are over.

    I miss my bookstore trips, they used to be the highlight of my week. Just like weekly my comic store trip was a big highlight for me in the 1980’s. But, then as now, I have satisfied myself that there’s nothing in the place that I want to read, at any price. I have the money now, unlike the old days, but I don’t want what they have on sale.

    THAT’S WHY I’M WRITING. Because for sure I will not get paid enough from publishing to justify the time invested.

    For my first book, I’m looking at $2.99 as a price point, and having it on KU as well. Many authors here are reporting good results with KU, and as a no-name noob KU looks like a great place to start.

    1. You know: that’s in no small part why I started writing? Getting into book-stores and finding there was a major shortage ‘what I liked to read’. I assumed that what I wanted to read was popular (it certainly had been) and that the lack on the shelf was more down to a lack of writers prepared and able to write rollicking adventure stories I wanted to read. I didn’t think I was up to the standard of my role models, but I surely thought I could do better than some of the drekk I was angry about wasting my money on. I thought publishers would greet that with delight – boy was I ever wrong. They were the problem, not the writers. Which is why after 70 odd rejections, I finally got bought by Baen.

    2. I remember when family members would physically restrain me from going into book shops, “We don’t have TIME for this!”

      Now, I can pass them without batting an eye. I still feel the old dragon-lust for used book stores, though.

        1. After my work is done and I can wander down the street to a used book store. Glass of chilled white wine and roaming for a couple of hours. Finding a biography about Marcus Aurelius or some new novel about pre-war Spain, a history of Morocco…doesn’t that sound better than downloading a file from Amazon?

          1. Sounds nice and relaxing. Unfortunately, some of us live in areas where a used book store isn’t within walking distance, or easy driving distance.

        2. I’m not allowed in a bookstore without adult supervision. As recent trips to Austin and Dallas will attest. Nine bookstores in 8 days. Peanut butter for me.

          1. Yeah, I can definitely relate to that. Found a place that sold books for 2$ each; it was very easy to end up with 200$ of books in a pile. I still have literal 1×1 cubic meters of books in boxes in the garage. I need a big house, with a library or three.

            I miss my Dad. He used to have a ‘treasure hunting’ budget set aside. Treasure hunting was our phrase for ‘let’s hit all the good second hand bookstores in Paris.’ (we lived there at the time.) There was a particular one called Tea and Tattered Pages, that was a renovated brownstone apartment and run by an American, that was chock full of secondhand books, and we regularly raided it. If we hadn’t had much success finding secondhand books, that’s when we’d hit the chain bookstores. I remember once, we had so many books that they had to open up a register just for us. I think it was something like ‘buy 3, get one free’ and we must have had almost 200 francs of books free. There were people staring at us in disbelief at the baskets and baskets of books.

            Once when Rhys was visiting, I introduced Dad to the big Fully Booked bookstore in the Philippines. Four stories of books. Collectively, we spent about 30,000 pesos there (600 USD, roughly) I had a discount card. Recalculations resulted in “Oh, I can afford that book I had to put back brb-” We walked out of there with a new discount card for Dad, earned from membership referral.

            Rhys and I were in a bookstore about a year ago, and for a change there was stuff he wanted to get (and nothing I wanted). Normally, he’s the ‘adult in the bookstore,’ where I end up with a pile of books and then have to whittle it down (“Choose between the children you’ll take home”), but this time I was the one standing amused while he sat in an aisle, trying to choose. He looked up at me and was pouting, “You’re supposed to be the adult this time, not the enabler!” I wasn’t helping at all by saying “We’re set for groceries for a while and there’s food in the freezer, you can indulge, you know.” or “I love you dear.” *put back book I knew he wanted but was widgeting over* The people in the store were laughing.

              1. They did. When I was pregnant with Vincent, Dad and one of his friends (who he hadn’t seen in a long time) were drinking in the garden, and Rhys and I were there, for conversation and such. Suddenly they decided to invite Rhys to sample some of Manila’s night life. Initially thinking that Dad meant bar-hopping, Rhys wondered if it would be alright for me to go (he meant safe.)
                “Oh, no, the strippers wouldn’t be comfortable if a pregnant woman was around.”
                Rhys: o_O
                Me: Aw, I can’t go? Boo.
                Dad: I’m sure she doesn’t mind if you go.
                Rhys *desperate look at me*
                Me: (unhelpfully) I don’t mind. Just jealous I can’t go. I’ve never been to one!
                Dad: See? It’s okay.
                Rhys: I’ll have to respectfully decline. I have no interest in anyone but your daughter.
                Dad’s friend: You sure?
                Rhys: She’s all the woman I need.

                Later that night a much more drunk friend threatened Rhys with a summary execution and an unmarked jungle grave where nobody would ever find him if Rhys ‘ever made Tony’s daughter cry’. Rhys: “I’d let you, if I was ever that stupid.”

                  1. I found interesting that Rhys took the whole getting threatened with death in stride; later he said “It’s not something I’m worried about because I’m never going to cheat on you.”

                    Been over a decade we’ve been together so I believe him. He’s a bit single-target sexuality (and he says he’d be very hard pressed to find someone who’d put up with his cheerful insanity.)

        3. Right? I still want to go to the book store! Its an outing, I’m among My People (readers), and there’s coffee, and usually the store is nice and quiet. I still want to buy books and read them, because that’s been my main source of quiet fun since I was like 10.

          BUT I CAN’T. Because there is nothing for me to buy. I occasionally pick up some comics at B&N and leaf through when I’m in Arizona (Chapters doesn’t have comics much) and I don’t buy any of them because they’re so bad.

          Pick up a book off the shelf at Chapters, first sentence of the blurb: “In a post apocalyptic world, Princess…” and put it back down because I’ve read that one before. Maybe not that exact book from that exact author, but one enough like it that I know how its going to go. Pick up the next one: “NYC in 2064, and Battery Park is in the tide zone…” Back on the shelf, same book.

          Therefore, according to Nora KJ and Rebecca Roanhorse, I am a raaaacist. Seems perfectly reasonable, right?

          Enough whining. I’ve got zombies to kill, dammit. They stuck a bomb in the elevator at FAA HQ in Phoenix, and Laura Montgomery has to go save the day. With robot scorpions!

          1. Meeting up with some friends at an unfamiliar mall, we ended up in front of a ‘relatively small’ Fully Booked branch. I wanted to go inside, but … “WEIGHT LIMITS!” was my cry of despair as I forced myself away. When I met up with my friends, they were surprised I didn’t go in (and one of them had stopped by the store so we would’ve seen her in there if I had gone in!)

            We ended up in there anyway, and observed that there were more things in there we wanted to get than in the average Australian bookstore. =/ But weight limits.

  13. Some random notes from another atypical reader:

    — Selling your own vs using distributors applies to other fields,with similar calculations, as Dave of the EEVBlog discusses here https://www.eevblog.com/2014/05/28/the-economics-of-selling-your-hardware-project/

    — I think $3.99 is a decent starting price, since that’s the effective floor on buying a physical book from Amazon (since they’re standardized shipping at $3.99). Also remember you’re competing against other entertainment choices, used books, free books (Project Gutenberg et al), lack of time (my reading dropped precipitously after the kids arrived), and such. I’m willing to pay more for a book that I expect to re-read, but for me, $3.99 is about tops for one time entertainment.

    — On the other hand, outside of KU, the market size is elastic – if you provide compelling content, you will get more readers…

    — I think most trad pub books, in any category, are overpriced. >$10 for a paperback????? C’mon! $50 for soft cover mainstream programming book? Ouch! And let’s not talk about textbooks….

    — Finally, yes, the economics of writing means that many potentially fascinating but niche books only get written for non-financial reasons. For example, how many people are going to buy this book? https://www.amazon.com/Packaging-Machinery-Handbook-automated-packaging/dp/1479274518

  14. I sell short stories for 99 cents, novelettes for 1.99, novellas for 2.99, collections and short novels for 4.99, long novels for 5.99.

  15. I’m primarily a reader; the only self-publishing I’ve done has been non-fiction. I read almost entirely e-books these days and, for fiction, I normally buy at $2.99 or less. I buy about a book a week at that price, mostly from Amazon’s Kindle Daily Deals or from BookBub. And that’s the highest price point at which I would try a new author.

    If an author I had previously read and liked were to charge $3.99 for a book, it wouldn’t be an automatic buy as it would be at $2.99, but the chances are I would buy it if I liked the sound of the book. At $4.99, for all but the most exciting series, I would wishlist it and wait till it went on sale. (I’d say I consider at most one series a year to be $4.99-per-book exciting.)

  16. If I recall correctly, when you sell an Ebook directly via Amazon Desktop Publishing, Amazon lets you keep a higher percentage of the sale price, so long as that price is under $4. So for most Ebooks, that’s the most I consider paying, as it theoretically does best for both me as a consumer and for the author. (Tough noughies, tradpubs!)

    A second price resistance threshold is at $10, which was what Amazon originally thought was the most even trad pubs should charge for an Ebook, and still seems plenty to allow both them and their authors a profit today.

    Anything I want to read priced above that goes on my EreaderIQ waitlist until it someday goes on sale again for a price I consider reasonable for it. I’ve recently been amazed at the sky-high prices being sought for anything conceivably to be used as a college textbook.

    In such cases, I’ve often discovered my Kindle Unlimited subscription lets me read at no additional cost another book on pretty much the same subject, so college textbook price extortion almost never works on me.

    Kindle Unlimited also helps in two other ways: 1) it serves as a better sample – rather than only 10% of the book, it lets me read the whole thing, and then decide if I want to buy a copy for my permanent library, 2) it also removes my resistance to series books – I no longer mind if there are forty books in a series, because if I like them, I can read them all at no additional out of pocket cost. (I can only think of one book series for which I paid extra for every volume.)

    Long ago I was a published author myself, via a famous trad pub. For their well-abve $10 asking price, I was paid $1. So to me, an author making a profit of $1-3 a book still seems pretty fair, even with inflation.

    1. If I recall correctly, when you sell an Ebook directly via Amazon Desktop Publishing, Amazon lets you keep a higher percentage of the sale price, so long as that price is under $4.

      No, it’s between 2.99 and 9.99.

  17. Most people’s naked bodies are so awful you’d have to pay someone to look at them, even though they are, for some reason, happy to parade them in public. A handful are probably well-worth looking at for free or a few bucks.

    Very few are truly worth paying to see.

    Books are kinda like that.

    1. If you don’t think books are part of the RDA of nourishment for continued survival… I guess your priorities are drastically different from mine.

  18. In the last two years, I have purchased 0 new hardbacks, 0 new paperbacks, 0 ebooks, 1 used hardback and two or three used paperbacks.
    And have read approximately 500 books from KU.

  19. As a reader, that if you’re someone I’ve never heard of before (and that’s more complicated without bookstores to browse than it used to be – but trad publishing gatekeeping, etc.) I’m not going to plop down more than 2-3$ to try your book. Once I’m hooked, I might pay more.

    For readable but not fantastic books I’ll pay up to $5 for an e-book. For fantastic books I might lay out as much as $8-9. Of course, *my* “fantastic book” is someone else’s “good enough book” and vice versa.

    If you price your story at $11.99 for a novel? It’s unlikely I’m going to read it, no matter how much I otherwise enjoy your writing. (Oh, and pricing the trade paperback at $11.99 and the e-book at $12.99 is horrendously stupid.) I’ll just look for a garage sale someday.

    I haven’t signed up for KU because I’m not sure I’ll read enough to make it worth the cost.

  20. I have always bought a lot of books. And i enjoy a book more if i got a deal on an unknown and it surprised me. I still have my copy of “a man could get killed” by weldon hill that i bought mailorder from marlboro books in ny. 69 cents. Great book.

    Now i use amazon. If the ebook is too high (over$4.99) on a trade book i buy a used copy for $1 plus $3.99 shipping.

    I keep a list of books i would like to read. Sort the list by price every 3 days and buy it when the price drops to 99c or $1.99

    I use slow shipping on purchases from amazon and get $1 book credit for each item i buy. i live outside the usa and pickup my purchases every 3 months. These credits only work on indie books. And i find the reading fun enjoyment better than trade. Less sjw posturing.

    I find negative reviews more useful than positive ones.

    I find that the first book in a series is most enjoyable. For example scrapyard ship was great. The 2nd book hab 12 was boring. The new series star watch i am not finishing. And tge first book is often offered cheap!!

    I spent the last 30 years writing and selling software tools made a lot of money. As with books volume is key. 2 tips: clever marketing is super important and is not something that programmers and writers are usually good at. Work on it! Encourage direct contact with your customers. When you get a good suggestion act on it NOW get it into distribution fast (2 days to 2 weeks max) and publicize the help.

  21. I’m pretty exclusively buying via Kindle these days, except for cookbooks and a very few authors I want in hardback. My hard cutoff is $10 for a novel, or at most $5/book in an omnibus edition. I have a wishlist titled “Overpriced” that I dump the rest in, and scan it every few weeks for price drops. A few months back I binged on Patricia McKillip novels that had finally dropped below $10, but there are still a few stuck in the limbo of $11-13.

    Beyond that, my basic metric is “is this better than Poul Anderson?”, whose kindle books average $6-7, including most of the omnibus editions (with the exception of a ‘publisher’ called “Armchair Fiction & Music”, which appears to scrape the public domain for classic SF, slap a pulpy cover on it, and charge $12.95).

    So, at $7, I’ll buy something from a well-liked author without hesitation. At $6, I’ll buy something that sounds interesting from a new name, unless there’s anything about the listing that even hints it’s a series. Under $5, I may take a chance on book 1 of a series by a new name, unless the sub-title and/or series title are long and stupid, or the series has made it to double digits without me ever having heard of the author. I respond positively to a series where the first book is marked down to $3 or less.

    I’ve made only limited use of KU to try out new authors, but I might expand that in the future, if I find myself in a mood that can’t be satisfied by decades of affordable backlist from proven names.


  22. I’m retired and I read 5 to 10 books a week. I own over 2000 paperbacks and about 300 large softcover (mostly technical) books. I just started writing a fiction book and that has reduced my reading from 10 to 15 books a week.

    I use KU a lot and buy some used books off the internet. The few authors (Weber, Modesitt, etc,) I still buy it is always a used book because I have very limited income. I haven’t bought a new book that wasn’t technical in years.

    Before I retired I bought more used books and traded regularly. Recently I started reducing the number of books I own. Some of the ones I disposed of were not very good and went in the trash can. The number of used books stores near me is only five; there used to be 18.

  23. I’ve got one book out so far, published on Kindle/Createspace. I oscillated between $2.99 and $3.99 for a while for the Kindle, and settled on $2.99 since it wasn’t exactly flying off the shelves. If I change it, I have to change a lot of links, too.

    I settled on $12.99 for the paperback. Books for young readers can’t go much higher, unless you’re writing Harry Potters. This gives me a 90 cent royalty, which doesn’t sound like much until you look at other methods of turning out a paperback using POD. Once in a while, Amazon puts the book on discount for 10 something, but still pays the same royalty. This is kind of nice.

    Geeze, just noticed my last blog post is over a year old…

  24. When I made the leap from amateur writing into publishing my first novel, I had no idea what to charge. At first, I figured I’d charge $6.99 for the physical copy because my story was about 100,000 words long, and I’d seen others roughly that size going for about that much from the traditional publishers. Then, when I actually got my manuscript formatted for publication, I discovered the production costs alone were going to drive the price up to more than that, and both Amazon and Barnes & Noble insisted on taking a fat cut of the profits before I got anything.

    So I ran the price for the dead tree edition up to $12.99, and started selling the e-book at my original intended $6.99, but then realized compared to the other e-books on the market, that was rather high. So I lowered the price to $2.99 to make the profits on e-books closer to what I got for the physical copies. The dirty little secret of indie publishing is that it’s almost downright hostile to physical publishing; each $2.99 e-book sold on traditional markets nets me about $2.04 in profits, give or take a few pennies when the buyer is using foreign currency; each $12.99 physical copy sold fetches me $2.74 in profits at best, and that’s if some individual buys it directly; on Amazon’s extended market to bookstores and libraries and the like (where I’ve made the vast majority of my paltry dead-tree sales), I get no more than 12 cents!

    That’s why I’ve kept the prices pretty much the same ever since: I’d prefer to have people buy physical copies of my book, but who can blame my readers for wanting to buy the much cheaper electronic edition, especially when their paying over four times as much only nets me about a third more in profits per sale? If the vast majority of my readers prefer to save their money and buy electronic, so be it: the volume of sales on the e-market more than makes up for the dearth of buyers for the traditional dead tree edition. That’s also why, for anyone who does buy a physical copy, I had Amazon throw in the electronic edition for free: you buy the one, you’ve more than paid for the other already.

  25. I think we’re moving from anecdotes to data…

    I’ll at least start to read almost anything on KU. I’ve decided that “first book KU, rest not” is brilliant (I was vacillating with evil). $7 (aka $6.99) is my cutoff point, now. It happened slowly. I was buying more expensive things (e.g. the 1632 series), but there’s just so much out there that buying one book when I could have two just seems wasteful. Obviously this means I’m not reading much trad-pub. There are few exceptions (e.g. Hillbilly Elegy).

    I almost always read series(es) because novels feel like short stories and actual short stories frustrate me. I usually only buy if I’m planning to re-read. At $4.99 and below, I’ll click the “Buy Next” button without even thinking about it.

    I’ve only been disappointed in that approach once. “next” was a novella priced as a novel. I was quite upset when the story ended at what I thought was about halfway through the book.

    A big “on the other hand”, book 11 of The Silver Ships recently came out. I started reading it and had no idea what was going on. I’ve started over (currently in book 5, I think) and I’m KUing them again. I also don’t backup my Kindle, so “buying” doesn’t really get me anything that KU doesn’t. My behavior may change over time, again.

  26. Jim Baen did this when he was setting up Webscriptions and let the fans more or less set the pricepoint.

    Which was $5.99 per book for just the book and more, not sure how much more, for the ‘monthly’ bundle.

    Then he set up EARC which is $15 to get the unproofed mss hot off the plate.

    I sometimes make more off eARC than hardcover due to the higher royalties.

    1. Yeah, you probably remember me asking you years ago if you made more off of it.

      And you still owe me a beer.

  27. I wandered over to SFF on Amazon and looked at the top 100 or so ebooks, and took a gander. Some are certainly indie, some are not. The prices range from $0.99 to well over $9.99, but they’re not evenly distributed. I discovered that the middle was around $5-7.

    So I decided: the top-100 are a mix of popularity and quality. I’m branding for quality, and chose the midpoint ($5.99 first-in-series, $6.99 rest-of-series). That lets me make bundles for $9.99 (great value for the reader), short collections at $4.99, and shorts at $2.99.

    There’s no question I would sell more units if I were priced at novels = $2.99. But would it be more money? That’s a crowd that values price over quality — are they loyal? Will they ever buy more expensive books? I sell reasonably well at my prices, and it’s much easier to run ads that are profitable, make occasional opportunistic discounts, etc., all while branding to a quality crowd that is still much less expensive than trad publishing pricing.

    No one has to price at the bottom, just because some others do! Choosing the audience you want is part of your strategic branding.

  28. I’m a frustrated consumer of creative work. I’d gladly pay Dave $10US for any book he cared to write. Paperback or ebook (looseleaf manuscript. Word file…). I’ll get my money’s worth on the first read. Each re-read is a happy bonus.

    It does not make me glad to slap down the money for a rollicking good time knowing the least important participants in the process are sucking up the vast majority of the money I would offer Dave, personally, to read his work. That he doesn’t get enough out of a sale to buy the bottle cap off of a passable beer… the polite words, they escape me.

    16 cents? Impolite words escape me.

    I suspect this sort of distortion fouls the market signaling. The name slapped prominently upon a given product is generally assumed to be making money on the product. Despite some fairly complicated wholesale/distribution/retail schemes folks generally assume (correctly) Sony got paid for the TV.

    And for the book. That the writer is the last individual processed in accounting…

    Thus the misapprehension of greedy authors and outrageous pricing schemes and I ain’t payin’ that.

    Pointless rant, I guess. Other than to say I want writers to get paid enough to be incentivized to write more. So I follow these discussions to see if I can best direct my purchasing toward that end.

  29. The time commitment to read a book far outweighs the money commitment. I’d rather listen to it if it’s well performed so I can drive or play a mindless game and smoke at the same time. YMMV.

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