Left Coast Voices

"I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight." Richard Wright, American Hunger

The $0.99 Dilemma

I have a YA epic fantasy novel (I know, not exactly social justice -themed, but I have tried to drop a few values among the swords and magic) that will hopefully be published before the end of the year.

Give that is my first foray into the world of fantasy, it has been recommended that I offer the ebook for $0.99. I would receive only a 35% royalty rather than the standard 70%. The idea is that the first book is so cheap – Less than that cup of coffee you’re holding. And it doesn’t cool off as you read your way through – that genre readers will take a risk on an unknown fantasy author. The quality of the book will hopefully hook a sold readership that will buy subsequent novels in the series (there are already two more written and a fourth on the way).

It makes economic sense. I have invested my own money in a professional editor and an artist who is designing the cover. Otherwise, it is my time and the sweat of my loyal friends at the Berkeley Writers Group. There are hardly any costs involved after the initial set up – website overheads, promotion etc. – but no trees are being felled, replaced, distributed, returned and pulped.

As a consumer, I have found myself dismissing any fiction ebook over $10 on principle, and used to be skeptical about a book under $5, assuming the author might not be ‘good enough’ to sell his/her book at a respectable price. The latter assumption has been somewhat modified since reading a number of excellent books for less than a fiver.

Jeff Rivera wrote an interesting article: Writers: Making a Living Off of Kindle?. He intervieweJ. A. Konrath, the author of the Jack Daniels detective series. Mr. Konrath is making a living primarily from his ebooks and is justifiably proud of it. He points out that he is making more from his digital books than his tree books.

Mr. Konrath sells his latest novels electronically for $2.99. With Amazon’s royalty system, he will make $2.04 off each book. He sells his older novels for $1.99. The idea behind this is that people will probably hear of his latest and read that first. After enjoying the book, they can go in and order 5 for $10. They are now packed for their vacation! Even if they order them one at a time, his books are at the price level of an impulse purchase for most people.

But I am having a hard time offering up my baby for $0.99. It seems almost disrespectful to the characters after all I put them through. The book is 95,000 words long, has been critiqued, edited, have its cover professionally designed and undergone a manicure and pedi.

But this is where the businessman/woman comes in, where the agent steps back and sees the big picture. If this is the first in a series of exciting books that a large following will invest in and root for the characters, then there should be no barriers to the reader taking a chance with the first book.

So here are three questions that, if you are so inclined, I would appreciate you answering in the comments:

1) What is your first thought when you see that a book that caught your eye is priced at $0.99?

2) What is the highest price you would pay for an ebook from an author you have never read?

3) What is the highest price you would pay for any work of fiction in ebook format?

I appreciate your guidance. Happy to hear any feedback on the topic. For more on my foray into the world of fantasy, I blog weekly at elfwriter.com and tweet with the same handle.

Have a great weekend.


Alon Shalev is the author of The Accidental Activist and A Gardener’s Tale. He is the Executive Director of the San Francisco Hillel Foundation, a non-profit that provides spiritual and social justice opportunities to Jewish students in the Bay Area. More on Alon Shalev at http://www.alonshalev.com/ and on Twitter (@alonshalevsf).

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6 thoughts on “The $0.99 Dilemma

  1. Price doesn’t normally sway my opinion either way on a book. If it has decent reviews and the sample chapter(s) can hook me, I’ll bite. The obvious caveat being that my interest in the book would have to be extremely high to compensate for an extremely high price of $10 or more.

    1) I will always assume that a $.99 book is on sale and wouldn’t let the price affect my opinion of it.

    2) This depends on the book. If the reviews are high enough, and more importantly, the sample chapters are good enough, I would likely pay whatever they are asking. That said, prices over $9.99 for ebooks really seem outrageous for any book available for less in paperback and might piss me off.

    3) Off the top of my head I would say that I’ve probably paid up to $14.99 in the past, but for the latest novel by one of my favorite authors I might go higher than that even.

  2. I have no trouble with the notion of a $.99 book. Many first time authors are offfering there e-books for free for a while in the hope of building a following. I am not yet so into e-books because I have tons of unread tree books and more are given to me all the time.

    I’d pay $3.99 for an e-book by an auth0r I liked or one that had been recommended by a respected source

    I dont recall buying any tree books for a long time. However if I am at an author event and like the presentation, I sometimes buy the book and pay the $20-25, but I justify that at patronized the arts even if I never read the book.

  3. I have read a few .99 cent books in my time. I don’t know if you’ve heard of the book, “Mill River Recluse” by Darcie Chan? I bought her book for 99 cents and look how well she’s doing. http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204770404577082303350815824.html. I think it wise to offer up your novel (I mean baby) for a low price. That is not a small sacrifice in my opinion. But, what you can gain is far more beneficial to your work: a following.

    I’d probably read more of Darcie Chan. Her book was good. Not great, but I now know her name. And if I see her book on the shelf, I wouldn’t hesitate to pay 5, 6 or even 20 dollars. It was a small sacrifice.

    Because her book was so cheap, she had tons of reviews that I don’t think she would otherwise have. I clicked “deliver wirelessly to kindle” after I read the reviews. But I doubt she would have had that many reviews if the book wasn’t offered at such a low price.

    As for your other question: I’ve paid 2.99 for an author I’ve never read. I didn’t finish it, but it was a small price and I didn’t loose much. I’d much rather spend 5.00 on an okay novel by an unknown than 25.00 on an established author who’s work bombed.

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