Apples to Oranges . . . or Pricing your Ebook and Paperback
So you’ve spent the past six months writing a book from scratch to finish and now you’re ready to click Publish but for one minor decision: its price.
Should you charge $9.99 for each copy? When you do the math, $9.99 works out to getting paid somewhere around $0.05 a day to write.
Not very lucrative, am I right?
This is why successful authors tell aspiring authors, “You don’t write for the money, you write for the passion.” This is also why most writers have second jobs. Because the average author makes less than minimum wage from their writing.
I have to admit this now and get it out of the way: I was wrong . . . kinda . . . sorta . . . whatever shut up!
I’ve stated before that I would set all of my ebooks’ prices at $2.99 or lower regardless their length and never any higher because heck, it’s not like they’re buying a real tangible book or anything, just a disposable digital copy that can vanish forever with one simple click of Delete. I then based the paperback equivalent’s price on what percentage of profits the average traditionally published author earns for royalties. I always did so without sparing a second thought, and I achieved fair success over the years with this simple strategy while not putting too much thought into it because I don’t depend on my book sales to sustain me financially so I never really cared about it to begin with.
Then I talked with a handful of prosperous authors who advised me about their own particular value systems from which they assign the prices of their books. I won’t name any names but several are very successful authors who sell extremely well, and I’d be a fool not to at least listen to their advice. None of those I talked with knew each other personally, though all of their suggestions pretty much matched up equally as to how to price books.
So I spent time researching their advice via fondling Google’s naughty little search engine to confirm as much from multiple reputable websites offering much the same information of paperback and ebook pricing. Then I decided on a little experiment, changed the prices of my paperbacks and ebooks as per the combined suggestions . . . and wouldn’t you know it, before the first day ended I monitored both bumps and dips in sales that I continued to track for months before settling on the sure conclusion.
So I’m going to present you the information I’ve gathered through research as to how best to price your paperbacks and ebooks via several alternatives and my opinions on them, as well finish with what I’ve learned through my own experience.
Here are thefussylibrarian.com’s poll results from a handful of years ago about ebook prices taken from over 1,000 of their loyal subscribers of voracious readers:
“What do you think is a fair price for a full novel in ebook format that pays an author well though also remains affordable?”
All ebooks should be free: 6%
99 cents: 8.7%
More than $5.99: 6.4%
“What is the most you’ve ever paid for an ebook from an author new to you?”
I only download free books: 9.4%
99 cents: 8.7%
More than $5.99: 27.2%
*Note: The three most popular prices in both polls are $2.99, $3.99 and $4.99 though their order of preference varies depending if the author is recognizable or not.
Understand there’s a difference between a nobody publishing their first book and a Stephen King publishing his next bestseller. King could fart on a scrap of paper and still sell well regardless the higher prices attributed his books because he’s an established author with a wide fan base and excellent reputation, whereas the nobody first-timer would do well to take the price suggestions into account then adhere to the lower end of the cost spectrum so as to build a readership. Because without readers you’re just a nobody writing sh*t that never gets read.
Here’s the suggested ebook pricing guidelines taken from multiple writing forums (such as kboards and reddit, as well many author advisory websites too many to list) by multiple self-published authors who agree:
Very Shorts (less than 10k words): $0.99 to $1.99
Shorts (up to 15k): $2.99
Novellas (up to 40k): $3.99
Novels (up to 80k): $4.99
Tomes (up to 150k): $5.99 to $6.99
Bricks (150k+): $7.99 to $9.99+
*Note: I don’t agree with this broad application for the average self-published author mainly because these prices don’t take into account how much or little you are established as a writer as well the specific genre involved. Problem being, many self-published authors envision themselves on par with already established authors right out of the publishing gate and so severely overprice their books because they demand to be viewed as equal for thy ego’s sake, whereas plenty others are so desperate to gain readers and insecure in their inexperience that they severely underprice their books.
Paperback pricing conversion is simple, according to these suggested guidelines just add $7 to $10 to the price of the ebook, and hardback pricing is suggested at $12 to $15 more than the ebook.
Keep in mind the average trade paperback novel price is $15.99 (typically ranging anywhere between $9.99 and $19.99). Also keep in mind that exceptions exist to every rule which must be taken into account when pricing: whether it’s fiction or nonfiction, the length of the book, its genre, if it’s part of a series, how long it’s been out for sale, if you are a new or established author . . . et cetera.
Here is authormedia.com’s ebook pricing suggestions:
Flash Fiction (less than 1k words): Free to $0.99
Very Short Story (1k to 5k): Free to $0.99
Short Story (5k to 10k): $0.99 to $1.99
Novelette (10k to 20k): $1.99 to $3.99
Novella (20k to 40k): $2.99 to $5.99
Novel (40k to 120k): $2.99 to $7.99
Epic Novel (120k+): $5.99 to $12.99
*Note: I also don’t agree with this one for same reasons, let alone it still leaves a lot of guesswork up to you considering the price ranges it offers for a particular word count (it suggests $2.99 as the minimum for a Novella and yet also suggests $2.99 as the minimum for a Novel, then caps 40k words at $5.99 yet caps 120k words at $7.99, and that’s a big discrepancy in word count for a mere $2 difference considering 120k reads three times longer than 40k).
I would never pay $5.99 for a mere 20k word novella from one of my favorite authors let alone an unknown author, especially in digital form . . . though I’m an old-timer who is a stickler for paperbacks and am willing to pay more to have the literal book in my hands then on my bookshelf.
Here is scribemedia.com’s Ultimate Guide to Book Pricing suggestions:
Dirt Cheap: $0.99 to $1.99
Cheap: $2.99 to $3.99
Normal: $4.99 to $6.99
High Price: $7.99 to $9.99
Dirt Cheap: $7.99 to $10.99
Cheap: $11.99 to $13.99
Normal: $14.99 to $16.99
High Price: $17.99 to $19.99
Dirt Cheap: $12.99 to $15.99
Cheap: $16.99 to $19.99
Normal: $20.99 to $24.99
High Price: $25.99 to $27.99
*Note: What I don’t like about this is no word counts are listed and neither is genre, though I do like that it implies newbie self-pubbers stick to the Cheap prices until they make a name for themselves and have at least a couple books under their writing belts, those with an already established fan base though still not a big-timer by any means adhere to the Normal prices, and those who have plenty of experience with a wide fan base and a recognizable name can get away with charging the High prices, all while leaving the Dirt Cheap price suggestions for promotional deals and loss leaders.
They also included in their article a graph chart for ebooks showing that $3.99 is the most popular and bestselling price, $2.99 is second, $0.99 is third, there’s a significant drop in sales at $1.99 and $4.99, from $4.99 to $7.99 the sales decline steadily the higher the price rises, but there is no difference in sales between $7.99, $8.99 and $9.99 ebooks.
So what to do after assimilating all of the pricing information I’ve just afforded you?
The simplest method for deciding your ebook vs. paperback prices is to choose your ebook price then adjust its paperback price so that it earns roughly the same amount of profit per sale as the ebook. So if you earn $2.50 per ebook sale then simply set its paperback price so that you also earn $2.50 per paperback sale.
I say ‘roughly’ because it doesn’t and probably won’t be an exact match. Know that 60% of all successful marketing prices end in 9, and 30% end in 5, so you want to round your paperback price up or down to end in .99. This may have you profiting a bit more or a bit less than its ebook equivalent but no biggie and don’t get greedy. Now just set that as your paperback price and get on with the rest of your day.
Easy peasy lemon squeezy!
There’s a big difference when it comes to comparing self-published and traditionally published profits per sale, and here’s the skinny on that rub.
When self-publishing through Amazon KDP you earn 70% royalties on your ebook so long as you stay within their $2.99 to $9.99 price parameter (anything more or less and that sweet 70% drops to 35%), and you earn 60% royalties on paperbacks (this doesn’t include the 40% royalties you earn if you also enlist your book in Amazon’s Expanded Distribution option . . . which I don’t recommend for multiple reasons, one of them being that it jacks up the minimum price you must charge for your book by a large amount, let alone other reasons I’ve talked about in other blogs like not guaranteeing your book in libraries or book stores despite implying so, all of which more than likely won’t carry your book because Expanded Distribution only provides them the OPTION of carrying your book if they so wish to and that’s if they even know that it exists to begin with).
In contrast, the average traditionally published author publishing through a large house profits roughly $1 to $2 per book sold: 5 to 7% for mass market paperbacks, 7 to 15% for trade paperbacks, and 15 to 25% for ebooks. These royalty rates vary, mind, starting at the low end and scaling up depending on the number of print runs, how successful the book is selling, how well known and established the author is, and other such factors, but that’s the general rule of thumb.
As you can see, they profit much less on paperbacks than they do ebooks.
By the way, the difference between a trade paperback and a mass market paperback is that a trade paperback is a version of the hardback book in a less expensive form while still retaining good quality, and a mass market paperback is a mass-produced book that is typically small with thin paper covers and relatively low-quality pages to keep printing costs down. Bestsellers are often printed as mass market paperback books for wide distribution.
Amazon KDP does not produce mass market paperbacks, only trade paperbacks and hardbacks. I mention this because another common strategy of pricing advice is to research your genre, compare the prices of competing books to yours, then price match.
But a problem arises when you price match your self-published trade paperbacks to your competition’s traditionally published mass market paperbacks since mass market paperbacks are sold at the lowest of prices because of their cheaper manufacturing cost which doesn’t apply to trade paperbacks and certainly not hardcovers.
As well if you are an unknown author then there’s no point in price matching your book to known authors who have already established themselves over years of successful sales to a wide and loyal readership — that’s comparing apples to oranges and you’re the banana.
So what’s my advice after years of publishing, achieving thousands upon thousands of sales both ebook and paperback, spending countless hours of research, and experimenting with my own books’ prices while monitoring the changes in sales both positive and negative?
Keep it as simple as possible while sparing yourself the unnecessary headache.
Despite the average Kindle ebook price being $11 (this takes into account small fish authors, big whale writers, and everyone in between), the most popular and top selling ebook prices are $2.99, $3.99 and $4.99 (again, their order depends on how known or unknown the author is). What I suggest is to find the average length of novel in your specific genre then adjust your prices accordingly.
For example, the average total word count of adult fiction novels many decades ago was 60k. Later that bumped up to 80k words. Today that number is closing in on 90k words. This also depends on your specific genre, mind, but we’ll use those figures for sake of simple example.
If you are a beginning author with little to no readership and your book is under 90k then price its ebook at $2.99. If it’s over 90k then price it at $3.99. Once you make a name for yourself and establish a wider readership then you can bump those prices up a $1 tier, meaning less than 90k now equals $3.99 and more than 90k equals $4.99. And once you make an even bigger name for yourself you bump those prices up yet another $1 tier, and so on.
Again, find the average word count of your specific genre then apply the above formula, because every genre has a different average word count for its novels. Then find the profit per sale of your ebook and adjust the profit per sale of its paperback accordingly as earlier described.
Save the $0.99 ebooks for promotional deals, loss leaders, or extremely short stories such as anything under 10k (a loss leader, btw, is underpricing the first book in a series so as to draw more readers in to reading the rest of the more expensive books in the series).
Though again there exists exceptions to every rule, such as erotica shorts which average 5k arousing words yet the typical erotica ebook price is $2.99 because erotica fans are more than willing to pay as much for such a small word count to get their mental, and sometimes physical, rocks off.
Because sex sells, baby!
Remember, with Amazon KDP your ebook profits 70% royalties so long as the price is $2.99 to $9.99, and 60% royalties on trade paperbacks.
Traditionally published authors don’t profit anywhere near those royalties, which is why so many of them have been and continue to move into the self-publishing market, and this in turn is the main reason why traditional publishers charge so much for their ebooks which are often priced equal to or even more than their paperback counterparts . . . because the dinosaur that is traditional publishing is a slowly dying industry which pays their authors far less than does self-publishing. They try to rebuttal otherwise with stats and graphs showing paperbacks selling more than ebooks (which they do by a wide margin), but don’t forget that they monopolize the current market and manipulate these figures by purposely overpricing ebooks so that many readers buy the cheaper paperback version instead, and one reason why is they pay their authors much less per paperback sold than ebook sold. When it comes down to it, publishing is a business and it’s all about the money.
But here’s some good news, Amazon KDP allows its authors to buy copies of their books at a much cheaper price than its list price, so if you take some to book signings or author events to sell then you will make even more of a profit per book sold.
For example (and these numbers are by no means exact), let us say I published a huge novel that is almost 600k words long. It’s an 800 page, 7 x 10 door-stopper of a trade paperback with a minimum manufacturing cost of around $17.00 (this means I must price it at least $17.00 to sell it on Amazon while making zero profit) and it is available to me alone at $11.00 per book with my Amazon KDP author’s discount (less shipping and handling, of course). If this book currently sells on Amazon at $20.99 per copy, I profit somewhere around $2.50 per paperback (btw, don’t think raising your book’s price $1 earns you $1 profit because it doesn’t, Amazon takes a percentage of each and every $1 you raise it). But if I buy it at author discount then sell the same book for the same price in person at a book signing, I profit $10 per book instead of the mere $2.50 through Amazon . . . and I profit even more if I raise the price a bit because it’s an autographed copy with a personal message written to the buyer.
Do you understand now why authors love book signings so much?
Ching ching, bling bling!
Either way, don’t sweat the small stuff too much. And don’t underprice yourself but don’t overcharge your readers.
The average traditionally published author profits roughly $1 to $2 per book.
The average self-published author has the potential to profit much more per book.
*Note: These price guidelines, figures and suggestions (as of 11/5/22 or previous) are applicable for publishing through Amazon KDP; other publishers may vary.
Also, let’s not forget the current economic woes we’re all suffering since the pandemic cruelly paired with rampant Biden-flation causing two things to happen: slowly turning $3.99 into the new $2.99 standard for ebooks because of the American dollar’s dwindling value on a global scale, and yet also having readers wanting to spend less money on books because they’re more worried about paying their monthly bills and supporting their struggling families than spending that money on leisure activities such as reading.
Kind of a double-edged sword, that.
**Also Note: The easiest headache-free way to price your ebooks and their paperback equivalents is by their word count while factoring in if you are a new and unestablished author, one with a growing fanbase and several books under your belt, or a veteran with a large catalogue of books and a well-established readership.
I often change the prices of my books while taking into consideration how long they’ve been out, if they are a part of a series or stand-alones, if they are fiction or nonfiction, novels or novellas . . . et cetera. Point being, the price of your books is really up to you, because you are the one who put in all of the hard work. Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t rip off your readers either.