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The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 041): Panel Discussion-The $0.99 eBook

In episode 41 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester asks the panel about: The $0.99 eBook.

The Interwebz are abuzz with talk of the $0.99 eBook. Indie Author Amanda Hocking is making a splash selling her books for $0.99.

Author/Editor Cat Valente has weighed in. Kevin Kelly did some math on it.

Zoe Winters talked to about it. Neil Clarke asked people to weigh in on what they’re willing to pay. and our friend Tobias Buckell did an experiment about it.

So the questions to the panel were:

  • Is the $0.99 price point for eBooks too low?
  • Should there be tiered pricing for short stories, novellas and full length novels?
  • Is the prediction that the $0.99 eBook will become the norm in less than 5 years way off the mark?
  • What’s the sweet spot price for eBooks?


About Patrick Hester (527 Articles)
Patrick Hester is a writer, blogger, podcasting dude, Denver transplant and all around Functional Nerd. Don't hate him cuz he has a cool hat.

13 Comments on The SF Signal Podcast (Episode 041): Panel Discussion-The $0.99 eBook

  1. As a buyer of books I think $.99 is too low.  It might be good for an author to start with $.99 to get sales, but I highly doubt $.99 will be the norm for authors who have a decent following.  We will probably see a fairly broad range of prices.

    For example, I would easily pay more than $.99 for a Barry Eislery ebook.  I use him as an example due to the recent discussion of him turning down $500k from a traditional publisher and self-publishing instead.  While, I might be tempted by an unknown author who only charges $.99.

  2. 99 cents? I’ll gladly pay double that for book.

  3. Ninety nine cents is a great “sale” pricepoint.  See Steam and video game sales, but I realize that 2.99-4.99 are much better price points for normal pricing.   

    As for Borders, etc, the best thing they offer was,  usually, instant gratification.  With my library card, I can pick up all sorts of stuff, for “free” (discounting taxes I pay), but I might have to wait awhile.  However, if I decide I really like the book and want to buy it, then I have to trudge up to the brick & mortar, or most likely, Amazon it.  

    I’m with the anti-DRM crowd.  DRM is useless for “bought” items.  Personally, I’m okay with DRM on subscription model items, like Napster Music (or Rhapsody, etc).  I’d be glad to pay $5-$10/month for an e-library that lets me check out books (say, no more than 5 or 10 at a time, just like the real library, I’d say that’s a reasonable number), read, and if I like them, give me a link to purchase the book, free from DRM.  Make the books cheap enough (2.99-4.99 price point.. like the panelists, if I have to pay *more* for an ebook than a physical copy, no thanks) to where they’re impulse buys, and you’ve got me.  

    I know some folks have forgotten about the public library, but in the past couple years, things I’ve picked up in the library have turned into sales when I went and bought a copy to have of my own.  Ian McDonald, Iain M. Banks, and Charles Stross come to mind regarding things I’m glad I checked out.   Similarly, I subscribe to Napster, and when I like a song/album enough, I’ll purchase it (although I’d prefer if they have a bandcamp site).  

    I guess, tl;dr I like reading.  I’ll buy ebooks if it’s convenient (no DRM) and cost-effective, I still use the library to discover authors I’ve not read before, and eagerly await a full digital “library” that I can subscribe to.  

  4. Personally I think that 99 cent ebooks is either too much, or not enough, depending on the reason for the pricing.

    If the 99 cent thing is supposed to be a sampling of the author’s work, then free would be better…Baen’s “free” library has cost me more money, and made them more money, that I would care to add up…if those “samples” had been 99 cents (or even a penny) I wouldnt have bothered with them…heck I tend to not bother with “free” ebooks from places that require a credit card (WTF do you need a credit card for something that is freaking “free”?)…or places that have something really onerous to get, like fill out 4 pages of forms and create an account to get…

    If it is to make a living as an author…then unless you are one of the lucky few it will not come near working.  I think 3-5 bucks would be a better price point.

    As to the “sweet spot” price of Ebooks…paperbackish seems like a good spot.  But I personally dont have much of a problem with the “Agency model” (starts higher and drops over time) in regards to best selling hardback books…making the early adopters pay for the later on bottom feeders is fine by me.  Much like the hardback/paperback thing works in those cases now.  The problem I have seen with that model is that the publishers arent on the ball and let the discounted hardcovers (for bestsellers, and or with other discounts) go cheaper than, or near the same price as, the ebooks.  That is a problem that the publishers need to get on top of, that should be easily fixed if the dinosaurs in publishing were bothering to pay attention…(oh wait, dinosaurs in publishing…that is being redunant…)

    I would like to think that length of the story would have some bearing on the finale price, but I bet that the popularity of the author will be more of the deciding factor…ie a Tier 1 author will be able to charge $10 an ebook, even if it is novella length, and a mid-lister will be charging $5 (give or take a dollar or two) for a quarter million word epic, while an unknown will be charging $3ish.

    I agree that DRM on “purchased” books needs to die, die, die (and then die some more)…but I think I could live with it on something like a “netflix for ebook” subscription service.


    ps- One more fairly odd thing, I could probably actually live with ads in “free” ebooks, if they were like most ad-supported apps (ie a small banner on the top or bottom of each page, or one that comes up on start then disappears, not something that distracts from the product)….but that is just me, I could be an idiot.

  5. Joerg Grau // April 12, 2011 at 8:26 am //

    I do like getting a deal and I do take advantage of most of the deals reported at SF Signal (for example I bought “Consider Phlebas” a week ago because it was only 1.99 (or maybe 2.99?), eventhough I already own it as a paperback).  I like getting a series in a single e-book at a good price as well.  That would be a great way to publish an authors catalog.  Sell the entire RIverworld series as an e-Omnibus!  I’d buy that, even though I own the books already as paperbacks.


    So geting me hooked at 99 cents is something that can definitely happen.  And once I am hooked I might even be willing to pay 13 bucks for a book that has been in the making for 5 years and is finally coming out in July (yes, Mr. Martin, I am talking about you!).


    Still, I do get very annoyed when an e-book costs as much or more than a paperback.  And I blame Apple for that.  Amazon had a rule of no e-book costing more than $9.99 until Apple’s iBooks came along and negotiated new contracts with the publishers.  And now, Amazon has no option but to match that pricing model.  Only Apple manages to make competition more expensive.  But I digress…


    While there clearly was and is a market for pirated music, I have never had anyone offer me a pirated e-book.  I just hope all newly published books will also be available as e-books, which they currently are not always.


    The last thing I am hoping for (and I know it will never happen) is that I get a heavily discounted e-book for each book I own.  This just feels like the CD revolution, where I ended up buying all Tom Waits records again as CDs…




  6. Check out that link I posted.  It only costs publishers $1.50 to mass print a hardcover.  They actually make less money with a $10 ebook.


  7. Definitely too low if it’s a quality read. Yes, it’s a bargain and I’ll gladly pay a buck for a Kindle title if it’s from someone I’m either aware of or have had recommended to me, but I can’t help but feel all these authors selling their wares for such a cheap price will be stigmatized as bargain bin authors.

    I remember thinking last year about e-book pricing and thought the sweet spot would win up being about a penny a page. $2.99 for a standard 300 page novel, for example. Now, self-published authors seem to be diving even deeper for the bottom just to get noticed.

    If it works, it works, but I still think there is a certain diminishing factor to be considered.

  8. I don’t think there is one price for ebooks, nor should there be.

    I expect, as I tried to explain on the voice line, that a dynamic model for the price of an ebook is the way to give authors and publishers the most bang for the buck, and for readers as well.


    If I want to read an ebook upon release, I expect it to cost more than if I buy it in 6 months, or in a year. A price point a little below a traditional discounted corresponding print release feels fair to me– $14 for a hardcover, $10 for a TPB, $7 for an ebook.  

    So, the $14 book today will cost $7 in a year, and then further down, and in a couple of years, may finally go down to that $0.99 price point so that I can be introduced to a writer I missed at the beginning of their cycle.


  9. Jeff VanderMeer // April 12, 2011 at 4:25 pm //

    This all pretty much misses the point. But thanks for playing!

  10. Joerg Grau // April 13, 2011 at 7:42 am //

    Would you mind enlightening us Mr. VanderMeer? (and this is meant seriously!)

  11. One Technical note: You guys should try to embed the mp3 file in the post. It makes it easier for people like me who listen in an RSS aggregator.

  12. I’d be interested in illumination from Mr. VanderMeer as well. Not sure if it is directed towards what we had said during the podcast or the followup comments or what…

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