Pricing ebooks: dollars and sense

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m about to put my novel online in various ebook formats, and part of the process is working out how much to charge. It’s a controversial topic, so it was nice to see this post by John Rickards (which came to me via the superb Loud blog). As Rickards points out, joining the “buy my book for 70p!” movement isn’t necessarily a great idea:

You’re pandering to a dangerous kind of hysteria that sees the stuff that we produce as a commodity with almost no inherent value. Any kind of industry that drives its prices down as close to zero as it can get, and which has no other revenue stream at all, dies on its arse. How long do you think superstores would stay in business if all they had were their loss leaders on the shelves?

If you’re interested in electronic publishing, the whole post is well worth your time. I particularly liked this bit:

I’ll reiterate: this is the same as the cost of a cup of coffee. And of so many of those cheap smartphone apps you and I purchase like candy.

That’s pretty much my thinking too.

If I can ever persuade Amazon to charge the right price (I’m having a few issues with Amazon just now, so if you spot Coffin Dodgers in the Kindle Store before I tell everybody that it’s on sale you may end up with a not-quite-perfect version) I’m going to be charging $2.99US/£1.99GBP for the ebook of Coffin Dodgers.

For what it’s worth, my cut of that is around a pound per book (and that’s taxable, of course). The likelihood that I’ll even recoup the cost of the beers I drank while writing it, let alone the cost of time spent editing and formatting it, is pretty slim.

At 70p, your cut is even smaller: after VAT, Amazon’s delivery charges and Amazon’s 65% cut, you’re left with pennies. In the unlikely event that you sell even 10,000 copies, you’ll be lucky to make two thousand quid. Do a much more likely 1,000 copies and you’ll make around £200. That’s £200, before tax, for two years’ work.

I don’t think £1.99 for a book is excessive, particularly as (unless I’ve made a complete arse of things) I’m letting readers on every ebook platform sample the first fifth of the book for free. If you’re that far into the book you can be pretty sure of what you’re getting for your two quid. I’ve also gone for the DRM-free, go-ahead-and-lend-it options on Amazon, so I’m hardly trying to persuade people to hand over cash for something they can’t sample.

I could charge less, but I don’t want to. As Rickards puts it, if you’re selling too cheap you’re saying:

“Buy this, it’s cheap!” rather than “Buy this, it’s good!”

I completely understand the rationale behind charging less – I’ve spoken to authors for whom that’s worked – but it’s a game I don’t want to play.

More to the point, it’s a game I can’t afford to play. Writing Coffin Dodgers was fun, but it was fun that took every second of spare time I had for five months – and if you’re a parent, you’ll know how precious spare time can be. And writing was the easy bit. Writing the first draft took a few months, but the next seven drafts took a year and a half of RSI-inducing extra-curricular work. Believe me, that wasn’t fun – and neither is buggering about with ebook publishing platforms, checking formatting and wondering why Amazon’s system is so bloody frustrating.

I’m not doing this for the money – I’ve junked another, much more commercial novel because Coffin Dodgers’ world is the one I want to spend time in – but I’m not an idiot either: time spent writing (or editing, or formatting) a book is time I could be spending on paid journalism, or on pitching for paid work, or recording stuff in Logic, or on killing space monsters on Xbox.

This turned out a bit longer than I intended, so I’ll wrap up: I’ll be plugging my book in a day or two. If you’d like to buy it, that’d be great. If you don’t, I hope the plugging isn’t too annoying.