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What’s an eBook Worth?

It seems that the price of eBooks is coming under some consumer scrutiny…

GalleyCat reports that Amazon customers are boycotting eBooks over $9.99.

Meanwhile, new genre publisher Angry Robot Books will be producing eBook versions of every title they publish. They are trying to determine a fair price. To that end, they have posted a survey.

What’s an eBook Worth? Head on over and tell a publisher what you think. (Your responses will be anonymous.)

About John DeNardo (13012 Articles)
John DeNardo is the Managing Editor at SF Signal and a columnist at Kirkus Reviews. He also likes bagels. So there.

21 Comments on What’s an eBook Worth?

  1. Angry Robot’s Lee Harris wrote a blog about this for SFX magazine’s website over at – shortcut to his eBook post here

  2. Around $6.00. I would have said “the price of a paperback”, but paperbacks are creeping up and up, especially with the new “innovations” of having them different sizes. From my buying habits, I buy mostly Baen eBooks, which run (older ones) from $4.00 to $6.00. Note that this price of $6.00 includes hardcovers that have just been released. At Fictionwise, the prices are a bit higher, but you get a “club discount” if you are a member, so the average is probably working out to be $6.00 a book as well.


    I will not pay hardcover prices for an eBook. It isn’t the same. I buy books for the shelves, and will pay more for collectibles. I buy eBooks to read; they are not the same.


    And no stinking DRM, either, please!

  3. I’ll pay $4 to $6 for a large novel length eBook.


  4. Jeff Kroll // April 4, 2009 at 8:46 am //

    Its not so much what I would pay for one, its what are they actually worth?  It cost the publisher nothing to store an ebook.  It costs them pennied if anything to distribute them.  Take the cost of a paperback, subtract out the cost for printing and distribution and you are left with royalties for the author and some markup for the publisher.   If all that comes to more than $5 I would be surprised.  If it does come to more than that weve been getting ripped off all these years.

  5. Thanks for the link, Dave.! 🙂

  6. Jeff – your first sentence answered itself. In a free market, the value of something is determined by the buyers’ willingness to purchase it.

    As far as the cost of printing and distribution is concerned, the cost of printing a book is by far the lowest cost of production. Distribution through a retailer (whether online or in a bookshop) is usually around the 50% mark. Sometimes lower, more often higher.

    Removing printing and distribution costs doesn’t leave the publisher’s markup and author royalties. The main costs are in the back-end stuff that the reader doesn’t see – the author will want an advance, of course, and there must be an editor, a copy-editor, several proof-readers, a typesetter, etc.

    However, although eBooks have been around for quite a few years now, they’re only just being taken seriously. This is why we don’t want to piggy-back off prices set by publishers before us, and instead ask the reader what value the eBooks hold to them.

    After all, it’s the words inside that the reader is buying, much more so than the packaging…

  7. Author should get a buck a book, at least. The rest — for someone, who knows who

  8. Vivienne // April 4, 2009 at 12:36 pm //

    Even though I’m a writer, I still don’t think ebooks should be so expensive. I agree with the $4-$6 per book price. I don’t want to pay $9.99 or more for an ebook unless maybe it’s for one of those packages where you get 2 or 3 books by the same author or a themed anthology. There are ebooks which are made from print books with lots of color photographs in it. Like how-to books, for example. Depending on the book, I might be willing to pay a bit more for that.

  9. I’m a published author who knows how slow the trickle of royalties can be.  (I suggest the author’s royalties for an e-book should be a fixed unit price in our contracts with the publishers, not a percentage of cover price.)

    Having said that, I’m also a huge consumer of product.  Printed books are collectible, consumable and tangible.  I’m willing to pay cover price for most printed books I’ll keep.  Like e-books, audio book prices are all over the map.  I subscribe to Audible and have gone through two 24-book memberships in a year.  At that rate, I don’t pay more than $9.95 per unit; refuse to pay more than that.  In addition to the membership, I will also buy audio books upfront on special offer, if the sale price is less than my $9.99 credits.

    I’ve been shopping around for e-books, now that I’ve found Stanza for my iPod Touch.  So far, I’ve loaded up only free books in the public domain, but have been exploring purchase options.  Again, as with audio books, I will not pay more than $10 per unit.

    For both audio and e-books, I agree with others who suggest publishers’ distribution and warehousing is minimal for intangible products.  If printed books were to disappear outright, well, then some other method of covering the hidden costs of acquisition from authors, editing, promotion, etc. must be covered and unit prices for audio and e-books would naturally rise as a result.



  10. Registered User // April 4, 2009 at 1:07 pm //

    When you buy paper book you can:

    – sell it after you read it

    – read it repeatedly next 100 years regerdless of what computer you use at the moment, or what DRM server just went out of service

    – share it with friends and family after you finish it.

    You are not alowed to do any ot those with e-books.

    In adition e-books are NOT sold to you, they are leased to you until your DRM registered device dies.

    Hence, the value of e-book is much lower.

    The price should reflect that.

    The price should reflect the fact that there is no warehousing cost, no cost of physicall printing, paper, …

    You also have to take into account that nowdays e-books are often of MUCH lower quality than dead tree books. The vast majority of books that are sold have stupid and glaring OCR errors, formating gaffes …

    Have a look at Baen.

    – DRM-free books

    – good quality text (no OCR errors, because their books do not go through scan -> OCR -> crappy formatting)

    – good prices

    – excellent goodwil among readers of SciFi e-books

  11. I frequently trade books with friends. The fact that an Ebook equals no ability to trade or sell, lowers the price that I’m willing to pay.

    I’m willing to pay $10 for a ebook otherwise only available as a hardcover.  Once there’s a paperback, the ebook better not cost more than $7.


  12. Loads of interesting comments, guys – thanks!

    If you’ve not already done so, coul dyou fill in the survey linked at the top of the page? It should take no more than 2 minutes to complete, and it really will help us decide our pricing structure…



  13. Anonymous // April 4, 2009 at 4:01 pm //

    If Amazon really wanted to get people onto the Kindle, they would offer backwards compatibility/customer incentive. By that I mean that the registered buyer of a book on would also get a Kindle copy that they could read on their Kindle device, iPhone, or desktop app. Books aren’t like CDs where you can put all of your existing music on your iPod.

    They could also go as far as to offer previously purchased books for free (or low prices).

    This would a) help sell Kindle’s b) help get people into reading eBook’s and c) get even more people to buy through

    Right now the biggest issue I have with eBooks is the price point and my unfamiliarity with the medium. I don’t want to invest $400+ in a device I might not like reading from. If you told me I could get the $400 device preloaded with the last 100 books I bought on Amazon (I like most SFF fans, buy more books then they read), then I would be much more likely to get one.

  14. For fiction ebooks I agree with the prevailing opinion of $4 to $6. I produce my own novels and sell them for $4.95 each, which as far as I can tell my readers find to be fair. When I first considered pricing, I figured a price a little lower than mass market paperback would be right because there were no paper manufacturing costs. I’ve read that publishers have to pay a big chunk to retail distribution channels which drive up prices for ebooks, but I don’t have that concern because I sell directly to readers from my website or at that takes a reasonable 15 percent for distribution. (For comparison, Amazon takes 65 percent on an ebook sale, so I have zero interest in participating in that deal). Of course, since I’m self produced I don’t have royalties to pay like a larger business that has a stable of writers to compensate. My sales are my compensation. I can see where larger operations would need to charge a little higher for fiction because they have a payroll. Still, an ebook should not cost more than a paperback and for it to be the price of a hardcover is insulting.

    As for nonfiction works, some of them could justifiably be a higher price depending on the value of the information.

  15. I’ve never purchased an ebook and the price is a big reason why.  I’ll admit that I enjoy collecting books and, as others have said, ebooks just aren’t the same.  As with mp3s, I refuse to pay the same price for an intangible product as for a neatly packaged product that is able to be shared.

    I wonder, too, how much of the satisfaction in reading a book comes from the turn of the page.  Am I the only one who enjoys the progress in reading a book?  ebooks just don’t feed that addiction.  That goes for the smell and feel and overall physical interaction involved with a book as well.  (How do foot and endnotes work in an ebook?  I wouldn’t be reading “Infinite Jest” via ebook if they didn’t make it damn convenient.)

    If ebooks really take off and places like Amazon keep taking such a high percentage, they’re nailing their own coffin.  There’s going to be a whole lot of Radioheading going on.

  16. I am predominantly an e-book author. My stuff goes anywhere from $1.29 to $5.99. It depends on length. A short story (up to 8000 words) is at the low end. A Quickie/Single Shot is $2.50. Novels go between 4.99 and 5.99 depending on length.

    I get a 37.5% cut of the cover price.  Shorts make me about 50c. A novel gets about $2.25.  And e-publishers almost never pay advances. The rest goes to pay my editor, the cover artist, and all the company overhead. Affliate sites, Amazon, Fictionwise, etc. make me less per sale, but really raise the sales.

    The .pdf files from my publishers are not DRMd and can be read as long as Adobe supports the software. They can be burned to CD and protected from computer crashes like any other file.

    Of the larger presses, Baen and Tor are adopting the new tech the best.

    I use a Sony reader and I love it. I find it easier to manipulate than a paper book. If I fumble, I don’t have to hunt for my place. The e-ink technology is easier on my eyes as well. I’m not getting rid of my paper book by any stretch, but the reader is very convenient for travel and medical appointments.

  17. I have paid up to $17 for ebooks.  However, I refuse to buy any book with DRM.  I have a Sony Reader and the two reasons I don’t buy ebooks from Libri or Thalia (their two official ebook distributors in Germany) is because they have DRM and due to the should-be-obsolete German price-fixing laws, they mostly price their ebooks at the same price as the hardcover edition.  In any case, I think if you price your ebooks at least 20% less than the paperback price and without DRM, people would buy them.

  18. Kitty Jungkind // April 6, 2009 at 11:05 am //

    I will buy Ebooks that are priced 20-30% less than face. I have bought a bunch of books from Baen at 5-6$ each, reading the first in a series from the free library and paying for the rest. I have bought a few at $9-$10 but harder to sell me any books over that $ in e-format.

  19. I’m a devotee of Baen’s webscription ebooks. So much so that I now rarely buy anywhere else. Books cost approx $5 each and you can often buy bundles of them to cut the cost to more like $3 each.

    I am willing to pay more than that sort of price only when the e-version offers some added value. For example Baen sell electronic ARCs before the publication of the HC for $15 and I frequently buy them.

    I have a couple of fairly popular post on my blog about Harper Collins which details my poor opinion of their ebook strategy (see )

  20. First, I don’t care about publishers’ costs.  I don’t care about the costs for hardcovers or paperbacks or ebooks.  I care about what the book is worth to me.  And I care about maximizing the number of books I can buy.

    That said, I’m willing to pay up to 10.00 for a new book that I really want, less willing to take a chance on something unknown–though Amazon’s free sample does help with taking chances.  I’m willing to pay 6-7 for something that’s been around awhile and is out in paperback. 

    If the ebook is priced higher than the paperback, well, then I might as well buy the paperback–it’s more permanent, I can lend it, etc.  I don’t *want* the paperback, but I’m not paying more for the more ephemeral, non-lendable, non-resellable ebook.

  21. I think the price should be approximately 60% of the current best price for the real paper book eg at Amazon. Yes there are advantages of ebooks particularly the portability, and accesibility (eg download from your armchair over the air etc.) But all of the rest are disadvantages: they don’t look as nice, you need an expensive reader, DRM, inability to re-sell, give to friends etc., don’t look as nice on shelf  and so on.

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