On the pricing of ebooks

I just had this experience. Someone recommended a book. Sounded interesting, might get, wondering about print or ebook format. Grabbed the Kindle sample to test it out, liked what I read. Kindle book price is £11.15. Process stops for further internal debate.

By the way, the book in question is Winning the Story Wars by Jonah Sachs. It looks good and relevant enough to my interests that I will end up getting it, and if I do I’ll post a review. That price is about the same as I can get the hardback for if I look at Amazon’s marketplace sellers. Regardless of comparisons, it’s too high as an absolute number.

You must price ebooks lower than the print version, by a margin that’s notable in the mind of the customer. Yes, they offer some benefits that print books don’t, but most consumers won’t be thinking about those.

  • Customers know they’re not getting a physical thing, and they know that the physical thing has production costs. So in their heads there’s a sort of natural justice that says the ebook costs you less so it should cost them less too.
  • You own a print book, and can lend, give or re-sell it. A lot of people also think it’s  a preferable reading experience, though that’s eroding. Folks are gradually waking up to the fact that you only rent ebooks. You can’t share them freely, and if Amazon or whoever wants to take them away from you it can. (This is going to be an interesting field to watch in the next couple of years.) With print you’re paying for an object; with ebooks you’re paying for an experience.
  • Marketing of ebooks is all about speed and convenience. It’s about being able to find something that interests you, check out a bit more about it, click, payment happens behind the scenes, content appears instantly in your hand. Maybe there are people who are wealthy enough that the £10.00 barrier doesn’t trigger extra caution, but I think for most people it will. Don’t put barriers in the way of people saying yes.

Finally, of course this is all context-related. I personally sell PDF books priced at $10+ in the roleplaying game market. So maybe I’m just talking about where the expectations are set at Amazon and similar stores, and you need to think about the psychology of each sales channel’s users.


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