Where’s the sweet spot?

By PD Martin

Looks like we might be having an ebook week here at Murderati (well, two out of five posts)! I’d planned to look at ebook pricing for today’s post and while at first I thought I might scrap it, given the amazing blog of Brett’s on Tuesday, in the end I decided the two blogs would go hand in hand 🙂

I’m also coming at this from a different perspective to Brett—I’m a newbie. While his strategy started last year and, by the sounds of it, in earnest about 12 months ago, mine started this year. So I’m probably about 12 months behind Brett in terms of the learning curve (and sales). Fingers crossed my sales will look more like his in 12 months! I’d also like to say that Brett has been generously giving me some tips via email. Thanks, Brett! He’s a nice guy…you should go buy his books.

Anyway, ebook pricing. One of Brett’s tips was to experiment with pricing and that’s what I’m doing at the moment. There seems to be a few common price points for self-published ebooks, namely:

  • Free (ahhh!!!)
  • $0.99
  • $2.99
  • $3.99
  • $5.99

A friend recently forwarded me a great graph that was presented by Smashwords founder Mark Coker. I know we’ve talked about the fact that sales from Smashwords make up an incredibly small percentage compared to Amazon sales, but it’s still interesting to look at this data. 

So it seems the sweet spots are hitting at $0.99, $2.99 and another small spike at $5.99. Interesting, huh?

I noticed from Brett’s post that my pricing points seem to be in sync with his for the most part, with shorts at $0.99, my one novella at $2.99 and my full thriller novel at $3.99. But, when I released my Pippa Dee books (YA and much shorter than my thriller novel at 50,000 words) I priced them at $2.99. I thought this seemed fair. Reasonable. Attractive but without de-valuing my work.

However, these books simply haven’t been moving. Was it the new name? Establishing a new brand? Possibly. Or the genre? While they’re books I believe most adults would read and enjoy (and they have), they have teen protagonists and so that ‘officially’ makes them targeted to the middle grade and YA market. Maybe not a good market for ebooks? So as part of my experimentation I’ve lowered the price to $0.99. I should say, this move to the $0.99 was partly because of the above graph, and partly because I have a friend who’s doing well in the ebook business and has priced ALL her books at $0.99. She felt that low price point was a key part of her strategy to build her brand and name. I only reduced the prices a few days ago so it’s too early to tell if this strategy will work or not. But it means I have been thinking of ebook pricing a lot recently and wanted to post about it here, too. Here are the two for $0.99, by the way.

 The Wanderer on Amazon


Grounded Spirits on Amazon

So, Murderati, am I making these a great deal for adults and teens alike, or undervaluing my work? What do you like to pay for your ebooks? Maybe the graph above reflects your buying patterns too.  Note: I actually asked what people like to pay for ebooks on Facebook and, incredibly, got answers around the $5-10 mark. Then again, I posted during Aussie daytime and so I think all the respondents were Aussies—who are used to paying a fortune for books! 

19 thoughts on “Where’s the sweet spot?

  1. David DeLee

    Great post, PD.
    Pricing is a tough subject to tackle these days. With traditional pub. pricing e -books at 9.99 to 12.99. I think there is room for indie authors to move their pricing up from the .99 to 2.99 pricepoint and still give readers the preception of a fair price. A report somewhere said many readers thought 9.99 to be fair novel price and even considered it a bargain (I guess compared to trade and hard back prices it is).
    I think with the growing acceptance of self pubbed work as legitimate, the need for discounting prices (novels at. 99 to 2.99) is going away and some even report that it hurts sales because readers associate to lower price with lower quality.
    I've priced my novels at 6.99, my novellas and collections at 3.99 with no negative effect on sales, but have left my short stories at. 99.
    I'll be interested to see what others have to say on the subject.

  2. Laura Pauling

    I only have one YA novel out at 2.99, and a free short story. But I keep reading that 99 cents is not that great anymore. Not only does it draw the wrong kinds of readers but it doesn't work well in the Amazon Algorithms either. Going free with the first book seems to work much better than dropping the first one to 99 cents – and this is from all my friends who have done that with tremendous results!

    And as far as the kids' market, YA can do extremely well with Middle grade a bit harder.

    Best of luck!

  3. Alexandra Sokoloff

    Maybe I'll do an e book post this week, too, and keep to the theme!

    Philippa, I suspect that your YA books aren't selling because teenagers don't have as much access to e readers as adults. Yet. But it's coming. My own YA, The Space Between, sells the least of my books, but sales are steady, and growing. Hang in there!

    Like you, I'm too new at this in fiction to be able to draw many conclusions, but as an experiment I have my four thrillers up on Amazon at different prices: Book of Shadows and The Harrowing at $3.99, and The Price and The Unseen at $2.99. And the $3.99 books are WAY outselling the $2.99 books. I'll keep the prices the same through the end of the month, then I'm raising the price on the others.

    My other experiment is having The Unseen up on Nook this month instead of exclusively on Amazon to see if the sales I get there are even close to the borrows that I get with the other books on Amazon. So far, I really don't think it's going to be worth it, which is sad.

  4. Karen in Ohio

    My Nook Color is now a year and a half old, and to date I've bought some 300 books for it (in addition to the actual books I've bought!). At that rate of consumption I prefer not to spend more than $6 for an ebook. My husband likes to read books I've read, but he refuses to use the e-reader, so that inability to share an electronic book with him is a bit of a stopper for me.

    Also, speaking of fiction here, I enjoy reading series, in order if at all possible, and to reread them later. Some series are written by authors whose works I collect, so my choice is to have actual books for them. Bits and bytes are more ephemeral–we've all lost data–and I am unwilling to pay big bucks for something that I can't stack on the shelf. It simply does not have the same value for me, aside from the pleasure of reading the work. Why is one person's work WAY more precious than another's? That makes zero sense to me, and I am an author myself.

  5. F.T. Bradley

    I'll admit that as a reader, I use the price to tell if a book is any good–terrible, I know. But unless I know the author, a 99 cent book makes me think twice. I hope we'll see some sort of organized vetting system in the future–like a seal of approval for indie authors. It's hard for readers to tell…

    YA is tough, but like Alexandra said, e-reading is really growing with teens (I keep track of MG and YA news because it's my genre 🙂 Middle-grade is still mostly print, since tweens don't e-read much (yet).

    Keep us posted on what you learn, I find it really interesting.

  6. Susannefrost@rogers.com


    I'm coming at this as a reader and I have a different spin on what I'll pay for a good e-book. When I first bought my Kobo, I was pretty giddy with my buying (and I bought lots for my new toy). As I've weeded out what's really good, my pattern now is that anything under $10.00 is iffy because I've been burned so many times with trying to read a book that has been badly edited (yes, I know traditionally published books can have the same issue, but my experience is that it's less so). I don't hesitate in buying from an author I've read before or an author who has been recommended to me by my friends, but too low a price makes me pause.

    Ebook format has actually a higher value for me because of limited storage in my home.

    And now that I know who Pippa Dee is, I've got a new and trusted author to check out. Thanks!


  7. David DeLee

    I wouldn't give up on BN and Nook too soon. I have found it slow to build, but after a year, my sales there are generally about a third of my Amazon sales, and some months have spiked to equal Amazon. Considering once I put a story up I can forget it, I'd hate to think about leaving a third of my potential income on the table.

  8. Tanya

    Reader perspective. I just will not pay full price for an ebook, it has to be less than the paper price since I can't physically put it on a shelf. I am picky due to bad editing on some books but prefer .99 and can go as high as 2.99. Would love it if in description it includes notice of use of an outside editor. Plus I read really fast so don't do shorts at all. Prefer writers who work in serials.

  9. Karen in Ohio

    Regarding editing: My seven-year old grandson is staying with us for a couple weeks, and I've been reading to him at night. He chose one of our youngest daughter's now nearly 20-year old Boxcar Children books. I'm astonished at the poor editing of this book.

    And I've been noticing really bad grammatical and spelling errors in printed books lately, a lot of them. Using the word "lead" when "led" is correct, for instance; omitting close quotes; double words; hyphenating words that should either be two separate words or one whole word, and lots more. I don't think poor editing is the sole domain of e-books. In fact, I stopped reading one author's series more than 20 years ago because the editing was so sloppy as to be nearly nonexistent.

    So I don't get the criticism of e-books for this. It's nothing new.

  10. Ed Marrow

    The sweet spot does appear to be .99 or 2.99. I wonder how much of that is skewed by John Locke and Amanda Hocking. Both are million sellers at that price.

    I have my book at .99 after having it at 2.99 for a year. I had some success originally, and at price change using Twitter as my primary vector of notification. The problem I have now is I haven't written anything in a while, so I have no platform or list. Something I'm working on correcting now. 🙂

  11. Sarah W

    Unless I know and love the author or desperately need a book and can only get it in eFormat, I don't like to pay more than $4.99 or less than $2.99.

    I can't quite figure out the stigma, but it's there . . .

  12. PD Martin

    Hi all. Sorry I'm late to my own party. Normally I come on to check comments first thing in the morning Aussie time, but completely forgot I was on duty up at my daughter's school this morning. Anyway, thanks for all the comments to date.

    David, thanks for chiming in! And I'm very interested to hear that you novels are doing well at the higher price points of $6.99. Maybe I should be going up, rather than down in terms of pricing! And perhaps you're right, people think cheaper books are lower in quality. And in terms of the price of ebooks compared to trade paperbacks and hard backs, in Australia the RRP for a trade paperback is $32.95 and $44.95 for a hardback. So that's why most Aussies who commented on the Facebook post I mentioned thought $9.99 was a great deal 🙂


  13. PD Martin

    Laura, intriguing point about going free + $2.99 rather than both at $0.99. Another angle I can try, thanks! Although you're not the first person who's said middle grade isn't the best market for ebooks. Speaking of…

    Hi Alex! Yes, Brett also mentioned that his middle grade/YA book was his lowest seller. And I hope you're right that the younger market will pick up soon. And thanks for your info on $2.99 versus $3.99 — that's a very compelling argument for the $3.99 price point! When I put up my first ebook on Kindle, I looked into B&N but you had to be a US citizen – so I haven't really re-visited that. Although someone told me recently it's changed. I did have Coming Home on Smashwords (not many sales) and I've put Hell's Fury up there too – again, not many sales. We'll wait and see, but I suspect you're right.

    David, it's interesting that you HAVEN'T found B&N sales to be very a low % of your overall ebook sales. Mmm…


  14. PD Martin

    Hi Karen. Yes, I think there are lots of readers who still like to have physical collections — especially from their favourite authors. And you're right, I think there is a perception we should spend less on an electronic file than on a physical book. I feel that when I'm buying books for my Kindle too. It's 'just' a file. By the way, it certainly sounds like your Nook gets a good workout 🙂

    Thanks for your comment, FT. There does seem to be a stigma attached to the $0.99 model. And perhaps things are changing as more and more traditionally published authors abandon that route and go for ebooks. I'm new to the YA/middle grade thing so still figuring out that it's a smaller e-reader market than adults, and it's been interesting to get people's thoughts and experiences on that too. Did you see Brett's Tuesday post on ebooks??

  15. PD Martin

    Hi Susanne. Under $10…wow. So maybe I should go in and increase the price of Grounded Spirits and The Wanderer to $9.99 before you download them 🙂 No, I'll probably leave them at $0.99 for another week or two, just to give them a reasonable stint at $0.99 as part of my pricing experiment. Hope you enjoy them when you get to them! I know on Amazon they're only in .mobi format, but someone tells me it's easy to change that. Hopefully I'm not cutting out too much of my market — people who are on e-readers other than Kindle. And I know what you mean about storage space. We have that problem too.

    Tanya, thanks for your perspective too. While it sounds like many people will (and do) pay more for an ebook, there's also another large chunk of readers who are like you and prefer $0.99-$2.99. Do you normally get the sample excerpt first? That probably helps with weeding out the poorly edited novels!

    Karen – yes, I think there are often editorial mistakes in books. Sometimes it's just a style issue (make-up versus makeup, co-ordinate versus coordinate, etc.), but I also think grammar isn't taught in school like it used to be and that causes problems for writers and editors, alike. However, traditional books are always edited, whereas some authors who self-publish and haven't been published traditionally don't realise the value of editing and they put their books up without ANY third-party editing at all! I think that's why people talk about it so much with ebooks.

  16. Karen in Ohio

    As you might be able to tell from my book consumption, I read a lot. And I've written several books and had them edited, and I've edited books myself, as well as countless articles. So I understand the cultural and style differences.

    But I have to say that only one recent e-book was so poorly edited that I wanted to hurl the darn thing against the wall. But I couldn't, not without damaging my dear little Nook. Even though traditionally published books are edited, many are edited darned poorly.

  17. PD Martin

    Hi Ed. It will be interesting to see how you go with your price change! Yes, volume of work is key for ebooks. That's the one consistent thing that everyone says in terms of drawing an income from ebooks — you need to have lots up there! I've been focusing on that this year, too.

    And thanks, Sarah. That's a good range (less than $2.99 and you assume the quality isn't there and above $4.99 it's not 'worth it' for an ebook.

  18. PD Martin

    Yes, that's certainly a lot of reading, Karen! And the quality of the edit depends on the editor and that varies enormously even in traditional publishing. And no doubt with your writing and editing background, you pick up all the mistakes others don't see. One of the problems of having good grammar!

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