Since this week I made some waves about ebook pricing, I wanted to blog while it was fresh another example of exactly what I was talking about, how money I was willing to toss a publisher’s way stayed in my pocket.

This morning I listened to Edward Champion’s Bat Segundo Show #367, on which he interviewed Susan Straight. Her new book is Take One Candle Light a Room. From hearing this very interesting interview, I learned the novel is set in and around New Orleans before and after Katrina, and deals with troubled people trying not to screw up their lives. If you know my life history, my interests and taste in reading, you know this is basically a made sale. I spent a few years in Lafayette LA going to graduate school, visited New Orleans frequently and have a great affection for the region. Also, as a barely functioning **** up myself I love stories about **** ups. OK, let’s light this candle.

I went to Amazon, searched on her name and pulled up the novel. The price for the hardcover is $17.13, the (not yet published) paperback is $15.00 and the Kindle edition is $14.27. Oh boy. I was so willing to buy this book and now I won’t. The odds of me ever remembering to check back later when the price is more reasonable (if ever) are so small you can assume it is zero. Pantheon Books could have gotten some money out of me but the $14.27 is just too ridiculous.

At the time of this writing, the sales rank for the hardcover edition is #184,115 and the Kindle edition is #38,665. I don’t know what expectations were for this book and how it has performed for them in the 3 months it has been published but I think you can safely assume this is under the blockbuster level. For promotion that was to them effectively free – a podcast interview – they could have made a sale to me on a book that is not burning up the Amazon charts. Because of the pricing policy, they didn’t. There’s money that fails to go to Pantheon Books and Ms. Straight. Sorry, y’all.

“Would you like to buy a box of Thin Mints from the Girl Scouts?”

“OK, that will be $8.25.”
“Ummm …”

I can afford $14.27 for the Kindle novel and I could afford $8.25 for a box of cookies. Will I pay that? Barring some freakish external circumstances, no, not either. If I were desperate for either, maybe my perceived value would rise. As the 200th novel bought on a whim on a Kindle chocked full of stuff to read – no thank you.

After the thought that went into this weeks previous pricing blog post, as well as the comment thread on Teleread’s republishing of it, I realized there is an important flip side to my data argument. If I don’t like the pricing policies of electronic books, it’s really incumbent on me not to pay them. Otherwise, I become one of those data points on the higher end and I become part of the reason justifying the higher prices. I spent a lot of time and words telling publishers they should analyze that data. If I want to like the conclusion they reach, I have to make my tiny portion of the data match that conclusion. So, rather than loosening up I’m clamping down on the perceived value argument.

Ms. Straight, your books sounds wonderful. I wish your publisher did better by you. Good luck out there.

PS – Want to read a really great book that is reasonably priced? Try by Solitaire by Kelley Eskridge. You’ll be glad you did.

Via Dave Slusher’s Evil Genius Chronicles


  1. Use the Price Drop service at They will automatically send you an email when the price at Amazon drops the specified amount.

    It’s a great way to track your Amazon Wishlist as well. Since Amazon doesn’t display Kindle prices on your Wishlist (weird, I know), you can import your list which will display all of the prices. You can then sort in various ways, including by price.

    I have hundreds of items on my Wishlist and these tools make it MUCH easier to track them.

  2. I have only purchased two books from Amazon for my Kindle since overall ebook prices went up last year. Both of them cost $2.99 and were low profile books that I found on a “Kindle Daily Deals” page. The page of daily deals only lasted a couple of days and then disappeared.

    The world is swimming in digital media and I simply won’t pay more than a couple of bucks for any ebook.

  3. I’ve mentioned it before, but the *only* book publisher i’ve been consistently purchasing ebooks from is Baen. Occasionally a pre-publication new release (ARC) at $15 of something I absolutely want to read as soon as possible, but usually either individual backlist titles at around $5, or bundles of 6 books that are a combination of backlist/newer releases for $15.

    Can I afford a higher price? Yes. Would I pay it? No. About the only way they could get more money from me then they are at their current pricing levels (and it wouldn’t be all that much) is if they were to offer a bundled package of all their currently available ebooks at a bundled price ~.50-.99/each.

  4. Unfortunately, I am feeding the pricing frenzy. For example, I bought the hardcover of Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years when it was released at about $30. I’ve been meaning to get to it to read but it continues to sit in my TBR pile. The reason is that I so enjoy reading on my Sony 950 that I am reluctant to put it down and pick up any of the pbooks I have purchased. Consequently, I decided to move the process along and I bought Christianity as an ebook at $29.99. I started reading it on my Sony last night.

    In the case of fiction, I am not willing to spend more than about $8, especially as I consider fiction ebooks to be read-once-throw-away ebooks. But in the case of nonfiction it is a different story. Previously, I would only buy nonfiction in hardcover. Now I am buying it in both hardcover and ebook, and I don’t find the ebook price to be a significant deterrent. If I do find that the ebook is more than I want to spend, I won’t buy it; I’ll just buy the hardcover. But recognizing my growing reluctance to read pbooks and my increasing tendency to buy both the hardcover and ebook version, I have cut down on the number of hardcovers I buy.

    Bottom line is that I haven’t set a pricing brightline and I would spend more money (in terms of quantity and willingness to spend at a higher price level) on ebooks if the industry would simply do away with DRM and settle on a single format standard so that I would feel confident in my ownership of the ebook and in my ability to read it 50 years from now.

  5. Why do I see some relevance to the used book market here? Hardbacks are priced to sell to the people who just can’t wait. Those who can wait settle in until the paperback edition comes out, or maybe even until affordable used copies hit the market. Ebook publishers are counting on impatience to sustain their prices, but with no used books coming down the pike, and no possibility of swapping, many people will simply pass on by.

  6. Nice Article Dave – Your point about becoming part of the higher end data points reminds us that one of the biggest mistakes some web marketing people make is to focus solely on sales data distribution and ignore those who have not purchased. Those who visit the site and leave without purchasing.

  7. I use to alert me to price changes. When I see a book reviewed or commented about and think I might like it, I check the amazon page. If it is 9.99 or less, I download a sample and make my decision within a day or two. If the price is above 9.99, I use my shoppingnotes button to add it to my watch list. When I get an email telling me the price is 9.99 or less, I decide whether I am still interested. (For example, the book about Obama’s first year dropped recently as he starts his third — no longer relevant or interesting!) About 75% of the time I no longer care about the book and that’s the end of it. In about 25% of the cases I download a sample and make a decision — only about 10% of the books I have waited for actually make it to my kindle. And many of those I purchase simply because I am going on a trip or need an inventory available on my kindle and don’t have time to do a bunch of research into a new reading list.

    I also have a private amazon wishlist called “to be purchased”, and another “to check out later” to organize possible future purchases.

    I am particularly annoyed by books whose prices are reduced to 9.99 or less, then bounce back up about a few days later (“Cleopatra” comes to mind). I usually just drop them from my list altogether.

    With respect to book prices, I must add this: although I have discovered a few authors through free or cheap books, I have also been very disappointed with the formatting, spelling and grammar errors in them. Such errors just ruin the entire reading experience for me. If I could give such authors any advice, it would be to spring for the modest cost of a copy editor, and read it again yourself to make sure that the content is publishable.

  8. Good to know I’m not the only person refusing to pay high prices for ebooks. My solution is the library. I’m fortunate that my library has a “purchase request” feature that is quite responsive to patrons. And if the library can’t get the book, well, there are plenty of other things out there to read.

  9. Kathleen is your library online ? My city has about 15 libraries all around the city and if I go online I can search for a book in the whole system. It will tell me how many are on shelves in which library and if mine has none I can order one transferred to mine for me to pick up.

  10. Just to point out that there are multiple faces to this issue, several indie publishers, myself included, have discovered that there is also a value-perception issue affecting eBook sales. (See posts like ) As a reader, you say, quite loudly in post after post like this, “I won’t pay more than $n,” (Usually $5 or $10) but as publishers we’re finding that … either you’re lying, or most eBook buyers are not in the very vocal minority you’re shouting from: When we experimentally drop prices, sales go DOWN. When we raise prices, sales go UP. Over and over again I’ve seen it, other indie publishers I know have seen it, if we listen to readers who insist eBooks must be less than $5, or $2.99 for indie publishers they’ve never heard of, or else, sales drop to a trickle. At $0.99, sales stop almost altogether. We raise the prices to $6.99, $8.99, $9.99, and sales go back up, as readers (apparently) see they’re buying something of value. (Admittedly, I don’t know any indie publishers who have tried prices over $9.99, but I haven’t heard any of the “CHEAP EBOOKS NOW!!!” people suggesting they’d pay more than $5 for an author they’d never read.)

    Last year I had my eBooks in the $4-$7 range and sales were gradually picking up. I dropped all my eBook prices to $2.99 – $4.99 at the New Year, experimentally, and my eBook sales have flat-out stopped. Not gone flat, but literally stopped. I’ll give it a few months, probably 6, but then I’m going to go the other way and price all my eBooks $8-$10 and … yeah. I’ve tried this before, a couple years ago, and had the results I mentioned above. I fully expect to see the same thing this year: When I raise prices to higher than they’ve ever been, sales volume will exceed all prior sales. As I said, it’s an experiment; that’s my theory, and we’ll see what the evidence shows at the end of the experiment.

    Also, re: the book in question, Amazon is paying for both the Hardback and the eBook based on a $26 list price. Probably, when the paperback comes out, the digital list price will drop to $15 (ie: the “current” price of the book) and Amazon will discount it to $9.99. If you know you never pay hardback prices, don’t get mad because you can’t buy a book for 2/3 of the paperback price (which seems to be what you’re asking for) while it’s still a front-list title. You aren’t new to books! You have to have an expectation of waiting, if you’re so price-sensitive! So wait!

  11. Teel this value-perception is an important factor I absolutely agree, and it has been discussed here before. Most of the contributors who are selling eBooks online has tended to claim that the best price point is much lower than you have found. I wonder if there are different value-perceptions in different market categories … just a thought.

  12. Teel,

    The previous blog post I had on here was all about pricing at the point that makes the most money. So, good for you. Price where your revenue maximizes.

    If your point is that interested buyers who find the current price too high should wait for the price to drop, I’m saying that the publisher could get my money while I’m right there or probably never. We are awash in content so getting my attention while I’m in a buying mood is tough enough. Good luck to any publisher on doing that twice for the same book.

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