Why $.99 E-Books Don’t Work for Me

I’ve gone back and forth for months trying to decide whether to price the e-book version of my new release, The Arranger, at $.99 or $2.99…for the launch phase. The thinking is this: At 99 cents, I’ll sell more copies, the book will go higher on the Amazon charts, and I’ll get more exposure. But I won’t make much money…unless it hits the top of the charts and stays there for a long time. But can I count on that?

Of course not. In July, I conducted an experiment and priced all my Jackson e-books at $.99. They got a little bump in sales, then quickly settled into a slightly higher level than where they’d been at $2.99, for example 25 copies a day for one title compared to 15 at the higher price. The problem is the royalty. Amazon only pays a 35% royalty on books under $2.99, instead of 70%. So dropping from $2.99 to $.99 not only means earning a third of the price, it also means receiving half of the royalty.

Straight up math: I have to sell six times as many books at the lower price to make exactly the same money. And that’s hard to pull off. There are so many authors and publishers now offering their books at $.99 that it’s hard to gain much attention with that price, especially since my books have been on the market a while and already reached thousands of readers. (And thank you to all those readers!)

After only a few weeks, my experiment taught me this: I can’t make a living selling e-books at $.99. Yet, I have to make a living. I’m a full-time novelist now and I don’t want to go back to freelancing. If I were to start editing again to make up the cash difference, I would write less and disappoint my readers who are waiting for the next Jackson book.

So all my e-books are now back to the higher price, and The Arranger will be released at $2.99. It’s still a great bargain for readers, and the plan is to leave my prices set. Readers like consistency, and I’m sure they’re as tired of the price fluctuations as I am. I certainly hope this is my last post on the subject. If you want to read another blog about cheap e-books, written with a lot more passion, check out The 99 Cent Ghetto.

Readers: Are you willing to pay $2.99 for an e-book you want?
Writers: Have you experimented with price and found the optimum?

 




16 Comments
  1. LJ,
    After reading one of your “$2.99” ebooks (Dying For Justice) I felt almost like a thief. I have paid as much as $9.99 for an ebook through Amazon by authors we all know. The enjoyment I received from reading your book as opposed to the others…what can I say. After comparing the quality of the story and the ability to hold my attention I have to say that the prices should have been reversed. There is no doubt I would be willing to pay more for your work. But the argument is about $.99 or $2.99. I would have to say don’t go lower than $2.99, your work is worth so much more.

  2. I’m a new author, and I’m launching my first novel Starweaver’s Retreat for $.99 on both Amazon and Barnes and Noble. Why? I’m an unknown quantity, and I think the price point will help offset the fact that I have no agent or publicity machine behind me. If it sells well, I might be encouraged to release the next two in the trilogy that I have planned at $2.99, but that remains to be seen.

  3. Karen, thanks for trying my series! It’s good to know guest blogging can be effective for reaching new readers.

  4. My two cents: assuming we’re talking 6.99 or less – standard paperback price – the quality of your ‘sample’ is a much more important factor in my choice to buy than a dollar or two in the price. Even for an unknown author, if the sample pulls me into the plot and introduces me to an interesting protagonist, I’m going to buy.

    Course the trick is getting your sample in front of me. In this case, it was the Poe’s daughters blog.

  5. Oh, I’m with you on this.

    My first two titles were 99c, but they were single shorts 4k to 6k. I priced my first full-length title (well, 60k) at $2.99. Boy, life is a lot easier when you are getting $2 a copy. I think I made more on the release day last week than I did in any month before.

    My next is epic HF, 120k, and I’m going to price that at $4.99. I think I might be able to pull it off. And if I don’t, what have I lost? I can always drop the price.

    Going the other direction is harder.

  6. I will certainly pay $2.99 for an eBook. I would also not want to sell my books for 99c. All the hard work that went into them is simply worth more than that. Short stories sell for 99c and a full-length novel is far more than a short story. Good luck with The Arranger.

  7. True, LJ, but I make 67 cents on a 99 cent book from Smashwords, give or take, and 59 cents from All Romance eBooks. Would love to have more sales at those venues!

    Terry

  8. This closely mirrors my own experiment with my novel Blood Faerie. I put it at 99c, and yes, I sold more, but not 6x more, so after a week I put the price back up.

    In addition, I’ve heard many authors say they got much harsher reviews (and by harsh I mean rude/nasty, not just negative) when their books were priced at 99c. I don’t know why that would be the case, but I’ve heard it enough times that I suspect there might be something to it.

    As a reader, I easily pay anywhere between $2.99-$4.99 for an ebook without thinking about it too much. More than that, and I have to be really impressed with the blurb/cover, have read the author before, or perhaps have gotten a strong recommendation from a friend.

    I will also admit that I avoid 99c books as much as the more expensive ones, and am more selective, because somewhere in the back of my mind, I suspect they might be crap. Yeah, not fair, but I realised I held this attitude after I noticed I had a few 99c or free books on my Kindle that I’d downloaded, and then never bothered reading.

  9. Terry, B&N only pays a 40% royalty on books priced less than $2.99. Their model is very close to Amazon’s, with 40% and 65% royalties, depending on price.

  10. Very interesting timing LJ. This last week I just bumped The price of The End of Marking Time to $2.99. I’ve sold thousands of copies at $.99, but with the tiny royalty rate, the book wasn’t doing much to help me make a living.

    I’m with you at $2.99. I’ve heard from countless readers that $2.99 is a steal, but the trick is getting new readers to try their first CJ West novel without the $.99 loss leader price.

    CJ

  11. I totally agree with you and the other blog – the 99 cent ghetto. Where I live, I have talked to several people who said they would not bother to buy a book at $0.99 because they feel the author has no faith or confidence in him/herself to value it any higher. But they would buy a book in the price range of say $2.99 to $4.99 and that they are getting value for their buck.

  12. I have the first of my Blackthorne, Inc. series priced at 99 cents. When I get the rights back to my Pine Hills series, I’ll probably price the first at 99 cents as well. But the rest of my novels are at the $2.99 point.

    The frustration arises because Amazon is the only site that pays that 35% royalty on books priced under $2.99. If I sell the same 99 cent book through Barnes & Noble, Smashwords, or All Romance eBooks, I make almost twice the royalty. But Amazon is where the sales are–at least for me. I’ve tried pointing people to Smashwords and B&N, but I still make almost all my sales (and not a whole lot, at that!) at Amazon.

    Terry

  13. I know what you mean. It feels wrong to sell your work so cheaply. I hope the pricing pressure lets up. It’s possible Amazon will change its structure, and everything will morph again, but in the meantime, I have to live with the reality of my limited market.

  14. LJ,
    I have to agree too. Bob makes a good point about John Locke’s million being equal to another author’s 166,000 (still a big number).

    That being said I currently have my young adult fantasy adventure novel set at $0.99. I wanted to test the price to see if the lower price and good reviews would generate more interest. So far, it has not given me much of an increase but I believe that is due to a couple of reasons. 1) I am an unknown author still trying to get word out and 2) my target audience, high middle grade (HMG) 10-14 year olds, tend to not have purchasing ability such as an Amazon account or a credit card. I hope I am wrong.

    I plan to ride out the $0.99 until the middle of August and then go back to $2.99 and release book two this fall. Though my overall goal is to spread the word and gain a readership before books two and three of the Gladius Adventure series comes out, it just feel weird to be at $0.99. I’m not sure why but as an author I am not comfortable at that price either.

  15. LJ,
    I also experimented with pricing and I found that $4.99 was too high and .99 was too low. While I did get a bump in sales on Fixer Upper at .99, it wasn’t enough to make up for the royalty loss. My e-book novella, Life’s a Beach, has been selling well at $2.99, I suspect just as much because it’s a summer book (timing). I’ve since increased Fixer Upper to $2.99 and we’ll see how sales go, but I do think it’s a good price for launch, building up reviews and attention and hoping get people to read me and then buy one of my higher priced books (set by the publisher, not me.) Thanks for the post. -Malena

  16. Overall, I agree. I’ve done the math also. I try to point out to people that John Locke’s million copies at .99 equal another author’s 166,000 copies at $2.99. I think what he did was brilliant marketing, especially since it made him the first to reach one million sold. But for others to follow a path that’s already been beaten doesn’t make much sense financially.

    I have no doubt there are many readers trolling for .99 books based on the numbers I have. But I have to make a living also. I have 2 of my 29 titles at .99 and I consider them loss leaders to get readers involved in my two main genres: science fiction and thriller. Everything else is $2.99 and I even have a couple of $3.99 and one epic novel at $4.99. I very much doubt I will ever ask more than $5 for an eBook. We even dropped the price on our nonfiction eBooks from $7.99 to $4.99.

    I do believe I will release all new titles at $2.99, as you are doing.

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