The Fussy Librarian

What readers say about ebook prices

Thanks to everyone who helped spread the word about the reader survey. More than 1,200 people responded, which exceeded my hopes. Lots of great data that I'll discuss over the next few weeks. 

Let's look at the one area that every author agonizes over -- pricing. Also known as: Are ebook readers cheap moochers who don't care if I eat ramen noodles for the rest of my life or are they willing to pay a reasonable price for this book that consumed two years and caused my children to resent me?

Question: What do you think is a fair price for a full novel in ebook format, that pays an author well, but remains affordable?

All ebooks should be free: 6 percent
99 cents: 8.7 percent
$1.99: 11.8 percent
$2.99: 16.5 percent
$3.99:  20.6 percent
$4.99: 18 percent
$5.99: 11.6 percent
More than $5.99: 6.4 percent

Now, I think it's a mistake to look at this data and conclude, "Great, there are people willing to pay $4.99 and $5.99 for my book." You've written off 64% of readers if you do that. And that's not counting people who are turned off by the book synopsis or the cover ... or maybe they see one of the "also-boughts" on your book's page and buy that book instead. (It happens. I see it every day.)

You must maximize the potential pool of buyers for your book and that means 99 cents - $1.99 - $2.99. You also need to create urgency by discounting the book, preferably 50% or more. If you sell at regular price, many readers will think, "I can buy this anytime at this price." And they defer the purchase and, then, forget about it altogether.

I also asked the question, "What's the most you ever paid for an ebook for an author new to you?" More than 36% answered $5.99 or more. But don't get seduced by the Sirens! Again, there's two-thirds of the market you've kissed goodbye. Also, "an author new to you" likely means that New York Times bestseller that was adapted for a movie that starred Reese Witherspoon. Once you've sold a million copies, go ahead and sell at $5.99. Until then, be smart and sell at price points that appeal to the vast majority of readers.

Question: What's the most you ever paid for an ebook for an author new to you?

I only download free books: 9.4 percent
99 cents: 8.7 percent
$1.99: 9.8 percent
$2.99: 14 percent
$3.99: 12.7 percent
$4.99: 10.5 percent
$5.99: 7.2 percent
$5.99+ : 27.2 percent

There's much more to come from the survey, including what you should price books 125 pages or fewer. (Spoiler alert: Free or 99 cents.)


Posted By Sadye S, The Fussy Librarian on January 25, 2015


Read the comment by Ronnie and am wondering where he's finding books that are only 250 or 100 words long. I think it's fantastic that he's willing to pay anything for them.

Posted By Anne David on 02/28/2016

I can't believe all the people who think publishing an ebook comes with little investment, so won't pay more than couple dollars for that reason.  It's one thing if you can't afford it, that's your circumstances, but to be philosophically opposed is unreasonable.  A top copy editor goes for 5k$.  Promoting can go for thousands more.  Unless your book is a work of genius, you get proportional returns on your investment, just like anything else.  I've heard of some indies that spent 20-30k to get their book noticed and in the charts.  If your book bombs after spending so much, you may never have the money to take a second stab at it at that level, again.  That may have been everything you had.

Posted By Arin Kambitsis on 12/10/2015

I disagree quite strongly with anyone who believes there are no costs associated with ebooks. Please allow me to set the record straight. We will not take into consideration the amount of time it took for a writer just to write the book which can be anything from 3 months to years (took me 3 yrs for my children's book but I was working fulltime too). First, there is professional editing and proof reading, just like any other print book. Then there is formatting for an ebook. Depending on the different providers, each has their own requirements and formatting. Then there is cover art, again it must be modified several ways for online retailers. So even though it is already purchased there are still costs to that.  That doesn't include costs for marketing. Or the percentage that the retailer takes from every book sold on that platform. Or taxes for the author, including sales tax, self-employment tax and the general costs of doing business as an author. I would tell you that the higher the price of the book, the more of an experienced professional that author is, one who understands the costs of doing business and what it takes to actually make a profit. So don't ignore books who aren't free or $0.99, as you may be ignoring a truly great talent, a fantastic literary adventure and an opportunity to support an author, over a few dollars.

Posted By Charity Kountz on 03/26/2015

I find the results of this survey encouraging.  It reinforces the $2.99 "sweet spot" for e-book pricing, even among new authors.  The most I've paid for an e-book is $3.99.   When it comes to sales of my books, I sell more at a $0.99 than I do at $2.99.  But that's okay. After all, I'm not Nora Roberts--not by a long shot!

Posted By Linda Lee Williams on 03/20/2015

Interesting and reassuring, as I have my books all within the range 99c, 1.99 and 2.99. Thanks.

Posted By Rosie Dean on 03/20/2015

Great survey, Jeff!  Thanks for sharing!  In my experience, books sell extremely well at $0.99...of course.  So if an author wants to sell a lot of books, an occasional discount to $0.99 is a great way to go.  However, I also see sales of books priced at $5.99 or higher.  There just aren't as many...but they do sell.  I personally have paid more than 40 bucks for a non-fiction ebook before.

Posted By Jay Lee (Choosy) on 03/20/2015

It's great to see readers realize higher prices are also quite fair, although I'd like to see not what they think is fair, but what price they actually go for most often when buying. The second question only tells me that for new authors they've never tried before, but still, it's all quite informative and thought-provoking. I am a writer and price my 400 page books at $3.99 so I should be okay :) As a reader, I would never spend more than $4.99 for a kindle and even then, only for celebrated authors or indie authors I trust. I think anything above that is daylight robbery as kindles carry virtually no costs like paperbacks do.

Posted By Effrosyni Moschoudi on 03/20/2015

I love these surveys. This one is especially good for authors, at least me, because I'm always wondering what the right price should be. I'm glad my priced my full length novels are 2.99, that seems to be a readers preferred price at the moment. For shorter works, I would price lower though to be fair to the reader. 

Posted By Dale Furse on 03/19/2015

Finding that sweet spot is sometimes hard for an Indie author. As an indie author with 6 books on Amazon/Kindle,  I pay all of my own expenses to put up a book: cover art, formatting, editing, and monthly advertising. That's hundreds of dollars out of pocket before the book ever gets to the readers.  I also pay to promote one book once a month at FREE. Sounds counterintuitive, doesn't it? But this is the price I pay to get the word out that my books are worth reading. And it seems to work, because every month I get new readers, new favorable reviews too!  the 1st in my Dead Red Mystery series, A DEAD RED CADILLAC,  is now $2.99, and the subsequent books in the series are $3.99. My romantic sailing mystery trilogy are all $2.99. I'm pretty happy with this price point. Then too, if readers like, they can always join Kindle Unlimited and get my books for FREE.

Posted By RP Dahlke on 03/19/2015

Great survey! It's heartening to see that not all readers are in the free or 99 cent category. As an author, I try to give a variety of books, prices and sales. Who doesn't love one of those?

Posted By Traci Hall on 03/19/2015

Great survey. I'm sticking with 2.99, which gives me room to do limited time discounts that still seem significant.  Could you provide the names and addresses of the 6% who said all our work should be free? I'm hoping one of them is a car dealer, because I'd like a free new car...

Posted By Amy Vansant on 03/19/2015

I rarely pay more than 4.99, However, I am an author, and my books are 3.99, but I also offer a boxed set of 4 at 9.99 (2.50 each). I also often offer free books, so those who cannot afford to pay can read them. And if a person takes the time to read my books, free or paid, (and maybe post a review?) I am grateful. With all the choices out there, they chose MY book! That just makes my day.  

Posted By Jinx Schwartz on 03/19/2015

I'm an indie author now. I once was traditionally published so know both sides of that coin. I have paid up to $15 for an ebook - once. I would not pay that again. I download free and up to $2.99 priced books. I never miss a download when my colleagues have a book on promotion. Like many in the comment stream, I read for entertainment. However, concerning ebook prices, I would like to address the comment, ..."more and more books are being published by indies... no cost for agents or publishing houses." Indie authors must invest in cover artists, editorial services and formatting techs. Our upfront cost can easily run to a thousand dollars per book. Not to mention our time in creating an intellectual property that we hope will entertain a reader. Once published, we must advertise and promote the book and that is costly, too. Romance authors often pay above $680 to a single site to advertise a 99 cent book. Mystery authors pay more. Of that 99 cents, we often only earn thirty-five cents. I am not complaining. That is just the way it is, and I'm good with it. I often promote my titles FREE and have given away above 400,000 copies. I am happy to learn readers on a budget can enjoy them. Best to all of you, from Jackie Weger. P.S. Jeffrey: Great idea to do this survey. It is nice to hear from readers. 

Posted By Jackie Weger on 03/19/2015

I'd like to see these questions answered by some sort of genre breakdown.  I've found my genre (SF/F) is much more tolerant of higher prices, and even expects higher prices.  I have more traction from $2.99 novellas than I do from the same books priced $.99.

Posted By Gene Doucette on 03/19/2015

My husband and I are both retired now, but I've been on permanent disability since I was 48 years old. I'll only get books on the free Kindle app, because we can't afford to get them otherwise. Unfortunately, I've ordered books for free, only to find out that Amazon has changed the price without displaying the change.

Posted By Ruth Lyons Mazur on 03/11/2015

I am disabled and living well below the poverty line. The only reason I have a Kindle is some old friends got together and bought me one Christmas before last. I'm lucky if I can occasionally buy a 99¢ book once in a while. It's not that I don't think they are worth 4 or 5 dollars, but that is simply impossible for me to pay. If I had plenty of money I would pay that for a decent book. I wouldn't pay more for an eBook, no matter how good or how much money I had. I think some of the prices are outrageous, considering there are no printing cists, paper costs, etc.

Posted By Carmen on 03/09/2015

Even as a writer, I rarely pay more than $2.99 for an ebook. Yes, the author deserves a fair payment, but more and more books are being published as cost for agents or publishing houses. And these and traditionally published have no cost for printing, paper, delivery, warehousing, store expenses....the list goes on. And, yes, since I can't lend these books to friends, they are generally "throw-always", never to be read again.   

Posted By Lou Hamilton on 02/17/2015

Being disabled and on a very small income, I tend to make purchases of mostly ebooks and mostly free or up to $1.99, although if the book has less than 250 words I won't pay over $1.99 and I get frustrated to find books for $3.99 with only 100 words or less. I have bought softcover books for years, I have hundreds of them, and bought them all through QPB or at bookstores during sales. Rarely will I pay more than seven dollars for any book because I can get it from a library to read for free. It's not that I discount the effort of the author, but reading is my recreation, and I wouldn't pay that much for a drink in a bar if I was a recreational drinker either.

Posted By Ronnie Darling on 02/04/2015

As an author myself, I admit that I rarely pay more than $6-$7 for an ebook, and I'm also much more likely to take a chance on an author I'm unfamiliar with if the price is only a few bucks. But this has to do with my preference for physical books. I personally view ebooks as throwaways, in a sense (I'm certainly not saying they are, or that they have no value). I know I'm not the only one, and I would love to see other opinions on this and how it does or doesn't affect opinions on ebook pricing.

Posted By AP on 02/03/2015

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