9/09 Update: If you're interested in the ebook pricing debate you'll want to register for the online TOC conference we're hosting here at O'Reilly on October 8, 2009.
Does anyone know how to price an ebook? That's a great question Tom Masters asked yesterday on his Future Perfect Publishing blog.
I gave my opinion during a Kindle webinar last week and then was asked a follow-up question about it at the end of the session. I stated that I think Amazon is onto something with the $9.99 price point they charge for most Kindle editions and that I've clicked away from two potential purchases when I saw their prices were more than $9.99. (Clayton Christensen's latest book is the one I'm particularly disappointed in since I'd love to read it but it's currently a $19.58 Kindle edition.)
The webinar attendee's follow-up question was, "do you feel that $9.99 price ceiling applies to all types of books?" To be honest, I was only thinking about the kind of books I tend to read, which are mostly trade titles with print prices in the $15-$30 range. The attendee was particularly curious about more specialized books, for example, highly targeted titles aimed at engineers, lawyers and other professionals, not the ones with more broad appeal like I tend to read. Great point...I hadn't considered these other areas and it's clear that highly specialized content like this currently comes with a premium price tag. So yes, I can see the logic for Kindle editions priced at more than $9.99, but I probably won't be buying any of them.
As I thought more about this and read through Tom's post I realized there's a problem with the logic we're all currently using for this debate: We're just talking about quickie ports of print books to e-formats. If nothing else is added to the equation it's hard enough to justify the same price as the print book, let alone something higher. But that's the key. I'm still a big believer that as the e-content world continues to evolve we'll find ways to add more value to our products, so that an e-book offers a much richer user experience than the equivalent print book (if we can even say there's an "equivalent" print book at that point!). When we reach that stage there should be no problem charging more than $9.99 for these products, but we're nowhere near that point yet. (See my note about social networking capabilities in Tom's post for an idea of what I'm looking forward to.)
Joe - In doing research for our authors' Kindle books' pricing, I came across an interesting Amazon customer discussion thread relating to this (http://tinyurl.com/5q3hj8). It almost seems that since Amazon has introduced $9.99 as the "normal" pricing for a book, the $9.99 price point seems to be as high as most buyers are willing to go for a book right now.
The issue of formatting more complex layouts and including more functionality is key though. I noticed a few illustrated medical Kindle books that are "forthcoming" and are priced rather highly, but so are the related print versions. No doubt, the audience for these books will be happy to pay that price for a Kindle version.
Slightly trickier, I believe, will be conveying the value of a slightly higher than "normal" priced Kindle book that lies somewhere in between - written for the lay person, but complex to format due to images, tables, indexes, etc.
Posted by: Kat Meyer | August 27, 2008 at 01:23 PM
Hi Joe -
We could flip things around and instead of putting a book into a computer, we could put a computer into a book.
There is some interesting research going on right now with using conductive ink on regular paper stock - essentially creating "e-paper." This makes the content of every page possible to control with an embedded computer chip (say in the spine or cover of the book.) The technology could eventually lead to books whose every page becomes a computer screen capable of displaying multiple layered windows.
It could take the reading experience to a whole new level. Some of the things you might do with a book made of e-paper include:
- Search the book
- Consult built in dictionary
- View embedded photos, graphs or bonus reference material
- Make & share digital notes
- Have the book read itself to you with embedded audio
- Link to related websites
- Link to others reading the book
And you could still just read it like you read a printed book today. Perhaps this would be a path to an enhanced reading experience that would require less of jolt for readers of traditional print books.
Posted by: Tom Masters | August 27, 2008 at 10:31 PM
I have done some analysis with CD vs. online music a few years ago. I think I will post that material, if I can find it. I think the conclusion was that the price of a digital music file delivered online could be about 50% of a CD. I think the same can apply to the books.
But this is strictly based on the cost breakdown, assuming no change in consumer behavior or style of marketing. That is, you have much experimentation to do.
Posted by: hyokon | August 28, 2008 at 05:36 AM
While I understand why the question is being asked, I don't understand why the question is asked as if there is no history to study. There are already ebook publishers who have been in profitable business long enough to believe they're here to stay for a bit. Is it really possible no one is visiting those publishers to see what they have, how they provide it and what they're charging, not to mention what royalty rate they're paying?
I think the real question here isn't what to charge for ebooks, clearly others have already successfully figured that out. The real question is what should be charged for Kindle content. And that's a sightly different question.
Posted by: Carolyn Jewel | August 28, 2008 at 10:34 AM
$9.99 is definitely the ceiling for me. The inconsistent and seemingly haphazard pricing of Kindle editions is the only negative I've found in owning the device.
Kindle editions by their very nature should be cheaper than physical books because a) they have no material, production, or shipping costs, and b) they have no material value (You can't sell, loan, or donate them after you've read them).
As I pointed out in a Kindle discussion post the other day, I was flabbergasted when I saw that Obama's book THE AUDACITY OF HOPE is now available in paperback at Amazon for around $7, but the Kindle edition is still $9.99. That just doesn't make sense.
Posted by: Paul | August 28, 2008 at 10:49 AM
When ever I see an eBook with a price close to or more than the print version, I sour on the purchase. My thinking is "What I am I getting for the price?" With an eBook the Kindle aside, I cannot read it anywhere - I need a computer and I have to wait for it to boot up. Then I have at most an hour an half of time before the battery goes dead. If I have to plug in, I am now anchored a few feet from the wall outlet. So there is no advantage to an eBook unless it is priced considerably lower than the print version.
The price point of the Kindle at $9.99 for a best seller is a price that I am very comfortable with. However, it is too high for an unknown author. With that in mind, I have priced my own Kindle novel (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B001B2HMES) at $4.79. If you are intrigued with the synopsis, a $4.79 investment is not painful. After all, most book purchases are a leap of faith. You buy a book because of a recommendation or you are interested in the subject matter. But, you may get into the first few chapters and hate the book and have a hard time getting through it.
As for non-fiction books, the issue is black and white. People buy non-fiction for the content. They know the content and they may need the content for their profession or to do something. So, I don't think price is an issue for a non-fiction eBook.
Posted by: Anthony S. Policastro | August 28, 2008 at 11:29 PM
Once the ebook model has developed further, I would also imagine 'extended' versions of ebooks with additional rich content commanding a higher price.
Posted by: Mark | December 09, 2008 at 09:32 AM
Posted by: Dale | February 13, 2009 at 01:33 PM
Well, I have a little different spin here. Most of the eBook pricing models we have been discussing are based on creating a secondary market from a print-based product. The incremental cost of converting a print PDF to ePub is neglible and the extra income for eSales is always welcomed. What does the cost of the eBook become when you are not creating a printed version? No printing, warehousing and physical fulfillment through channels (should be lower). However, the "file" cost in the Digital-First (or Digital-Only) publishing model would have to carry the burden of author royalties, editing, production costs, marketing, etc.. What becomes the "right" price then? Likely to be variable. How does one move pricing up when the bar is set at $9.99? This issue will gain in importance as % of eBooks increases as percentage of all books. For now, I am happy that Amazon is again creating a market for us using their marketing dollars.
Posted by: Bill Manfull | July 10, 2009 at 12:51 PM
Hi Bill. The $9.99 price ceiling that exists in many people's minds today is likely to go away in the not too distant future. Or at least it will if we publishers start focusing on building e-products to leverage the platform rather than just converting print editions to e-books. I talked a bit about that in this earlier post: http://jwikert.typepad.com/the_average_joe/2009/05/why-999-wont-always-be-an-ebook-pricing-ceiling.html
Posted by: Joe Wikert | July 12, 2009 at 10:00 AM