images.jpegI received an email recently from an indie author whose work I reviewed on Smashwords, questioning a comment I made in the review about the ebook being priced fairly high ($7.99) for the sort of book it was. She had some reasons for setting the price at this level: she was basing it on what she thought a ‘real’ paper book would sell for, and she felt that the availability of a free sample meant that the reader could decide—and if they decided to commit to the novel, why not command a retail price?

I wrote her back with my analysis, and here were some questions I used to guide it:

1) What would this book sell for in paper?

She thought the book would see for $14.99, making her $7.99 price a bargain. But is this true? Her book is a genre suspense novel by a newbie. It would not command a hardcover release, and trade paper is typically reserved for literary fiction. So, let’s say mass market paperback. We’re looking at about $6-8 for a new release IN PAPER. Let’s be generous and round up to $7 then.

2) What ‘paper’ costs are not an issue?

The comment I hear most often from those in the publishing industry is that paper costs account for less than we think they do—about $2 per book. Fine. Let’s accept this number and knock $2 off her ebook price since she is not dealing with printing, warehousing, shipping and other related costs. We’re down to $5 now.

3) What other costs would a ‘real’ book have that a self-published book does not?

Well, there is the fee to the agent. And then there is the publisher’s cut, which pays for the editor, art department, marketing department etc. The typical percentage breakdown is 10% to the author which would only make the book worth about 60 cents. Let’s flip it and knock off the 10% instead as the publisher’s cut. This will take off just under $2. We’re down to $3 now.

4) What are similar books selling for?

And sure enough, a little market research reveals that most indie-published books are selling in the range of $0.99-2.99 making her book, indeed, over-priced. By nature of being an ebook and not a paper one, and not having the same overhead as a traditionally published one, the book is automatically worth about $4 less—and that’s without even considering the qualitative aspects of how good a book it is.

This may be a tough truth for some people. But you simply can’t expect readers to pay a paper book price when they aren’t getting paper, or a publisher-level price when the book has not benefited from the value a publisher adds to the finished product. I am not saying that an indie ebook is by its nature inferior as a reading experience—I am calculating the price strictly on numbers here, before the quality is even considered. It’s simply not worth as much because it isn’t bearing the same production costs.