Ebook pricing: a discussion

For the past four to five years, I’ve read nothing but Ebooks.  Some 500+ ebooks have graced my Kindle Paperwhite in that time. Many of these digital books I receive from the publishers via NetGalley or Edelweiss, but I also buy a LOT of books.

February is my birthday month. I’m hoping that at least one of my gifts is an Amazon gift card. As I perused my Amazon ‘Wishlist’ this morning (as you do), I wondered once again, what makes some of these Ebooks SO expensive, while others are dirt cheap?

Ebook pricing has always been an enigma to me. I want the author to reap the benefits of their work. No one appreciates authors more than avid readers like myself. However, how can something that is essentially just a digital file cost almost as much as a hardback book in some instances?  Do the authors receive the same amount from the sale of a hardback book, a paperback book, and an Ebook?

Some examples culled from Amazon.ca only this morning:I read this book and it was a top quality read. My review is here.  Why SO inexpensive? Who decides to cut the price of a book? The author? The publisher? Amazon?Some Ebooks are FREE!  Are they loss leaders?  How do the author’s feel about it when their hard work is given away?

Some Ebooks are very expensive – given that they are only a digital file (no production costs, no delivery fees, etc.)

How much do you think is a fair price for an Ebook?

Do you only buy Ebooks when they are reduced in price?

What is the MOST you would pay for an Ebook?

Let’s CHAT!

About Fictionophile

Fiction reviewer ; Goodreads librarian. Retired library cataloger - more time to read! Loves books, gardening, and red wine. I have been a reviewer member of NetGalley since October 2013. I review titles offered by Edelweiss, and participate in blog tours with TLC Book Tours.
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49 Responses to Ebook pricing: a discussion

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  3. Couple thoughts here, Lynne, as I sit both sides (having publishing my gpa’s books through digital and POD) and of course, VERY seldom purchase since I get most of my books through NG or publishers. For most authors–it is recommended that pricing not be more than 3.99 for an ebook. Of that–depending on how they set it up–they might get 70% of the price. The author has an option periodically of setting up sales for promotions–not all pricing is dictated by Amazon. But MUCH has changed since I released those books.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. As somebody whose FB page shares details of 99p books I feel guilty joining this conversation. In my defence when I started back in 2014/15 these were the exception and getting a bargain read was a bigger deal. Now there are so many it’s virtually made my page redundant. 99p is no longer an exception and because of that has almost created an expectation that low prices should be the norm. Personally I think if you strip away the cost of printing and distribution then that might give a more valid differential starting point between physical and digital copies. I think a new norm of £2.99/£3.99 would be acceptable to most readers (given the fact you’re only paying for the licence to read the book and not the book itself – hence restrictions on copying, lending etc). This would mean that the 99p book offer was then a real treat again and not the norm. We all appreciate authors and recognise that they deserve a decent living. However it also seems to me for traditionally published authors, whether it be physical or digital copies, they seem to be at the bottom of the pyramid for income distribution despite the fact that they are the creators.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks Jill. It is true that with so many exceptional novels being offered at bargain prices, it makes the very high priced ones stand out more. Most of the people who have commented on this post agree that they are willing to spend up to around $12 or £7 for an ebook. I wonder at some of the extremely high prices like the ones that have prices nearer the £18 – $30 …

      Liked by 1 person

      • I suspect that with the higher priced ones it’s because the publishers don’t see digital as their main market and focus on print copies. The debate about cheap digital pricing can be seen alongside the availability of cheap paperbacks which also debase the paperback pricing. Most supermarkets over here sell paperbacks at £3.50/£4 and I’ve even seen one regularly selling a feature mainstream hardback’s on offer at £5 virtually on release. We also have a chain of shops called The Works that sell paperbacks for £2 or 3 for £5. These are not new releases but the time lapse before the titles are released and are seen in these shops is getting smaller. Consequently many people will wait. They don’t sell all the mainstream titles but for readers wanting to pick up a good read, that isn’t a definite ‘I want’ when it’s published’ it’s becoming a go too option. Consequently why would they take a punt on a full price paperback or ebook that they weren’t sure about when they can pick something up here in bulk. Have a look at the link here and you’ll see some very popular books https://www.theworks.co.uk/c/offers/multibuys/3-for-5-fiction-books

        Liked by 1 person

  5. High eBook prices make no sense. It isn’t like they have a limited number of them to sell, and they don’t have much overhead after the file is finalized.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. calypte says:

    I feel bad (for the authors) that I rarely buy books that aren’t on sale, but I have such a backlog that any book I want will probably be on sale before I get to it anyway! I do think ebooks should be cheaper than hardbacks, not least because you often don’t even own them – Amazon can revoke your access any time they like!! So no, not paying over the odds for that.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kerry Swan says:

    Perhaps I could give you an insight from the author’s point of view. I’m not a top-selling author but have my fourth novel, Blood Loss, coming out on 23rd March. Fictionophile has been kind enough to read two of my novels and even rated one in her top ten (I think it was ten?) list for 2019. I was thrilled,
    With regards to pricing I think some of the more well-known writers have such a huge following that they can charge a high price in the knowledge that as soon as they release a book it will be snapped up by their fans.
    I’m with two small Indie publishers and have self-published one book. My first publisher puts ebooks out for 99p (I’m in the UK) for a few weeks then it goes up to £1.99. Sometimes it goes on offer at 99p again. When it sells at that price Amazon takes 70% – yes. 70%! The remaining 30% goes to the publisher who pays the author anything from 20-50% of what’s left or in other words between 6p and 15p per book. If the author has an agent they take a cut of that too. You have to sell A LOT of copies to make anything. When a book is priced at £1.99 Amazon only take 30% (they’re trying to deter books being sold so cheaply) so the author gets between 26p and 65p -. A lot of readers wait for the 99p books so authors often get very little. When I self-published Who’s There? I used the same pricing structure, then when the book was flagging I did a weekend give-away. Over 1000 books were downloaded then. I spent far more paying for advertising etc. than I received back in royalties which is why I turned to another publisher for book four. This time the book starts at £2.99 which I think is a fair price. Paperbacks are £8.99 or £9.99. My new publisher asked me to write a 20,000 word novella as a free giveaway to introduce my detective and his son. It was released this weekend and many people have already downloaded it.
    I can understand readers liking something for nothing but I feel sorry for authors who put months of work into writing a novel for a very small return. For me, it isn’t about the money. I love writing, and knowing people are reading and enjoying my work is what’s important. Reviews are worth more than royalties to me.
    If anyone wants a freebie you can get it by subscribing to http://www.Hobeck.net . It’s called Here She Lies – Buried truth is hard to find…

    Liked by 3 people

  8. Kelly says:

    I often wonder the same thing. I regularly take advantage of 99p deals, I seldomly buy eBooks over £5. Kindle deals are often Amazon’s decision, in which case the author gets paid in full, but sometimes it’s the publisher’s decision and then the author gets paid very little. I talked about this with Will Carver, who assured me Orenda Books never cut their Kindle prices, when an Orenda book is on offer it’s Amazon’s doing. Incidentally, Will thinks that books should never be only 99p out of respect for the author if nothing else, and 99p deals have been forbidden in Germany I think it was, and he thinks other countries should to the same. I appreciate where he’s coming from but I do like 99p deals, and I’ll often buy books I wouldn’t buy otherwise or take a chance on a new-to-me author because I figure I have nothing to lose.


  9. I researched this issue many years ago when eBooks where first introduced. If you’ll recall, the big US publishers were charged with price fixing based on a claim brought about by Amazon. Following that settlement, those publishers were slow to adjust their pricing models to better reflect a reasonable cost for a digital version versus print. They still haven’t and justify their pricing to cover overhead expenses (editors, proofreaders, marketing, distribution). You’ll notice lower prices for self published authors and small publishing houses that have a nimbler business structure. I think print pricing is still pretty reasonable but I refuse to pay $10 for an ebook. I’m a former accountant and can’t find any reasonable justification for that kind of price point. I’m patient and can wait until an eBook price drops to a more realistic level ($7 or less).

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for sharing Jonetta. I believe the big publishing houses should be more transparent in their pricing models. I understand their costs, yet cannot understand why one Ebook can be $29.99 and another one $9.99 (same author, same publisher) Like you, most of the time I can be patient and wait until the price drops. I have so many ARCs that waiting is not an issue. LOL

      Liked by 1 person

  10. ohsrslybooks says:

    I rarely buy ebooks if they’re over €5. It feels weird to me to pay almost as much money for an ebook as for a physical book.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Carlissa says:

    I, too, have read ebooks exclusively for many years, and I have noticed that prices seem to be all over the place. The very expensive ebooks seem to be the more popular authors and publishers. My library has a very good selection of ebooks, so I get the more expensive ones there or I just don’t buy them! I’ve been spoiled by the many free and low-cost books to spend more than $8.00 for an ebook. I also share my kindle account with my daughters so we can read each other’s books.


    • You are the second person to mention sharing your Kindle account. That is such an excellent idea if you have someone in your life who shares your taste in books. I have an Amazon wishlist which I monitor most days. I’ve seen prices on a single title bounce from .99¢ to $14.99 within a day or two. I’d really like to understand the reasons behind the fluctuations.


  12. I tend to agree that they are often too expensive compared to the publisher’s cost, and I hope the authors are getting compensated when they are super inexpensive or free. I did go to a panel discussion once about e-books, and there were some comments that justified some of it by pointing out that publishers do provide marketing efforts and it does cost them to maintain the computer systems necessary for maintaining the books. That said, I still think publishers haven’t adjusted the cost to a realistic amount always, and I often wonder if they are using the new format to increase profits without being transparent that that is what is going on. Along these lines (and I’m digressing here into the world of libraries), a lot of the arguments publishers have made to justify their actions and pricing, just aren’t portrayed accurately. I’ve read the arguments publishers have made with their availability of books to libraries. They have cited that there are no longer replacement copies being purchased that libraries would normally have with print copies over time. The number of replacement copies is minimal. Usually after an initial rush, libraries have way more copies of books than they need. They also charge about 3 times the cost of a print copy for the digital content libraries purchase and often make libraries repurchase rights after a specified number of uses. A lot of patrons don’t realize that and wonder why more e-books aren’t available. E-content really cuts into a libraries budget in a big way that print copies don’t. Libraries do help publishers by providing an opportunity for patrons to discover new authors they might not want to pay money for until they’ve had a chance to read one of their books, and libraries promote reading and literacy. Publishers also never point out that they are benefiting with digital content because the secondary market is now being taken away. Lots of people share print copies of books they purchase with friends and family so publishers typically lose those print book sales. With digital content, that can’t be done as much, so people are having to buy more of the digital content. I understand that they want to make a profit and need to so we have the books available, but I also feel the publishing industry could do better with some of these things and their pricing. I love my publishers and appreciate the ability to get ARCS, but I do wish there was more transparency and more fairness in the pricing.

    On another note, publishers could do a better job of embracing e-books to their benefit. At author events, there are always print copies of books to buy. I don’t buy print copies anymore. Our house is overrun with print copies, and I’m at the stage of life where I’m trying to clear out. I would buy an author’s book at the event if there was an opportunity to purchase the e-book. Because I’m not given that chance, I don’t buy the book at the event which I would like to be able to do because it not only helps the publisher and author, but also whatever organization is sponsoring the event. I know this can be done, because I’ve received a card with a purchase code on it to get an e-book. If they would just give those out for purchase I would buy that and download the book when I got home.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Wow Mary, so many salient and thought-provoking comments. I too worked in a public library for many years so can appreciate what you’ve said from a library’s perspective. As with most things, transparency from the publishers would be ideal.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. CJR The Brit says:

    I think that for trad published books they are more expensive so I look at the price of the paperback and normally get that as its not much more (sometimes less if there is a deal going on!)

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Carla says:

    I agree that the author deserves to be paid for their work, but I also agree that a file should not be priced at the same price as a physical copy of a book. I want to read a MG book to see if my grandson would like it. The kindle copy is 50 cents cheaper than the paperback, which is $14.95. I may as well get the paperback so if it is a good one, then I can just give it to him. I may not get it at all, I am still thinking about it. I don’t understand why there are such discrepancies either.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. I feel the same way about this issue Lynne! I always buy ebooks when they’re 99p but rarely if ever if they’re over £5. I once spent over £10 and ended up dnfing it and wishing I hadn’t spent so much. :/

    Liked by 1 person

    • Exactly Nicki. Just imagine paying $29.99 for an Ebook (over £17) only to discover you don’t care for it. Unlike a paper book, you don’t have the option to give it away to someone else who might like it. I too keep an eye out for Kindle bargains, yet I’ve often wondered if these bargains are benefiting the authors any…

      Liked by 2 people

  16. I tend to mostly go for the free ebooks because I can’t justify paying a lot for a book that I don’t physically have. For me I think my limit in an ebook would be $5 but honestly that’s still too much in my opinion.

    Liked by 3 people

  17. I wonder the same. Granted, some of their paperback counterparts may have over 300 pages but I’m always wondering what are other reasons they are so expensive. I’ve seen some over 11 dollars but those that you have included take the cake.

    Liked by 3 people

  18. Carol says:

    I’ve often wondered the same things! I like to find my ebooks on sale! I like to pay under $10 for an ebook. The thing that bothers me the most is that you can’t pass them around, share them, or donate them like physical copies! My mom and I share a kindle account so we can read each other’s books!

    Liked by 3 people

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