What Is a Fair Price for an E-Book?

5 years ago

There is much debate on what is a good price for ebooks. 

Many people think they are getting ripped off if they pay more than $1.99 for an ebook and really prefer to pay $0.99 or less.  The argument is generally, “It takes no money to produce an ebook so I should get it cheap, or free.”

I wanted to reply to that statement with a small demonstration of what actually does go into the production of a short ebook.  Because I am an Independent Author myself, I’ve chosen to use an Indie Author as the example.  When publishers get into the mix, royalty percentages get much smaller because there are more people to pay.  Also, because of how much short stories and novella’s have flooded the ebook market, my demonstration is based on the production of one short novella (About 20K words).

Let’s say it’s a short story and the author worked only 20 hours on it.  And let’s only pay them minimum wage.  That works out to about $145

Now, the cover, let’s say they hired 42 West Creative at $50 for an ebook cover. (A very fair price if I may say so myself.)

Then, an editor.  I’m going to low-ball it and say about $50 for the editor, since we are talking about a short novella.

We are going to just assume the Indie Author can figure out how to format and typeset the ebook on their own (it’s harder than it may seem and many have to pay for the service).

So now we have $245 in production of this very short ebook.

Now, let’s say the writer puts it up on Smashwords.com (this is an ebook store/distributor.   They all charge different fees, but Smashwords is pretty popular, so we will go with theirs.)  So, the author charges $0.99 for the book.  The author will receive around $0.59 per book sold (less for those sold by affiliates or through their catalog on other sites…but lets assume all of their sales are on smashwords at the higher royalty).

This means, JUST TO BREAK EVEN the ebook must sell a minimum of 416 copies!  That is before any kind of profit can be made.  This is also reflective of costs for an Indie Author.  If there is a small-press publisher involved, the number goes up much higher because of more people involved in the production of the book.

These figures don’t even count the amount of hours put into promoting the book or the money spent on advertising spots and other tools to get you to know about their book.

e-book photo credit: Matt Hammond via photopin cc

These figures are also for a very “short” novella.  Writers can spend 480 hours or MORE on a full length novel that readers till expect to get for $0.99.

So I have these things to say:

Indie Writers:

  • Don’t sell yourself short.  Charge a fair price for YOU and the reader.
  • Make darned sure that the quality of your story and writing can match up to the price you charge. Don't give Indie Authors a bad name by putting unedited crap up for sale.


I understand not having much of a budget for books and wanting to get them as cheap as possible.  But please …the next time you turn your nose up at an ebook that costs between $1.99-$5.99 and think, “that is way too much for an ebook” think about the time, effort, and often blood, sweat and tears the author has put into giving YOU a good story to read.  Do you really think they deserve minimum wage or less for giving you hours of reading pleasure?  Do you think that because they derive pleasure from writing their job is menial and deserves less compensation than yours?

For a little more insight on the price debate, please take a look at my friend Sherry Ficklin’s post: Price Pointers.

DJ Westerfield blogs about life, books, writing, empowerment, and other randomness at The CurvyWriter Blog

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