Important as it is that your final product is professional, it’s equally vital to make certain your work is also affordable. I’ve touched on this topic before, the fact I believe an e-book should be priced no higher than five dollars. Unless it’s heavy with graphics — comics or textbooks, for instance — there’s no reason to charge as much as a mass-market paperback. The average novel should be from three to five bucks (which, not coincidentally, is what I sell mine for).
Neither should writers sell themselves short, by giving away their book for free or nearly so. This strategy makes sense in some rare cases, I understand. If you’re selling a series of connected novels, it’s smart to price the first book more cheaply to hook readers. I can even see putting one of your novels on sale (or free) if you have a healthy backlist. Too many new writers give away their one and only book, expecting readers to check back months from now when their next one goes on sale. Sorry, that ain’t gonna happen. However, if you have several other titles available now, readers are more inclined to make that additional purchase.
Never gouge the consumer, but also make sure you don’t undervalue your hard work. You spent months of time and effort to write a book, so you owe it to yourself to see a return on investment. The only way to justify writing is to make money at it, and that’s impossible when you don’t charge a living wage.
Ads will subsidize digital prices in the future. It’s inevitable. At the moment neither Amazon nor Barnes & Noble allows e-books to include advertisements. At some point that will probably change, and that doesn’t bother me so long as the ads are tasteful and non-obtrusive. WOWIO is a perfect example. By allowing sponsorship ads at the beginning and end of an e-book, readers are able to download some titles for free. The publisher makes money; the reader pays nothing: everybody wins. Small-press outfits like Apex and ChiZine have already joined, and I expect more to follow suit in the near future.
Personally, I’m not tied to a specific price range so much as the notion that an e-book should be more affordable than print, ideally half the price of its next cheapest version. Currently that role is filled by mass-market paperbacks, which go for about eight dollars. As MMPBs are phased out in favor of trade paperbacks, I see e-book prices rising to match that void. When the TPB sells for fourteen to sixteen dollars, I don’t see why the e-book couldn’t be sold for seven or eight.
As long as MMPBs are still on sale, the fairest price is three to five dollars for both reader and writer. In part three I’ll discuss the final component that’s key to succeed in the new publishing model.