Saturday, September 17, 2011

99 Cent E-Books -- Boon or Bane?

I've read on many sites and blogs reams of thought regarding the 99 cent e-book. As with any controversy worth the rage it stirs up, opinions for and against the 99 cent e-book have merit. Having just released for the first time such an e-book myself, I've been following the discussion with interest. Doing so, I came across a thoughtful piece a few days ago that merits sharing and attention. The piece's author is Donna Brown, who is a freelancer editor and also handles promotion and marketing for her husband, author David M. Brown. She is the main contributor on their shared blog Book Blogs and Cat Naps and occasionally guest posts on The World According to Dave. Her piece below is titled, "The Real Cost of the 99-Cent eBook."

As told by a passionate book loving author promoter
I have nothing against 99-cent eBooks. I’ve bought them, I’ve read them and I appreciate that now it is easier than ever for authors to put their work out there and pricing is at an all time low. Whether books are priced $0.99, $2.99 or $4.99, it’s hardly a financial risk to try something different. When you can get 100 titles on your Kindle or Nook for a couple of hundred dollars instead of a thousand dollars, that has to be something to smile about.
However is the true cost of 99-cent eBooks all about the sales? Do they take away from higher priced authors? Or is it actually something much more insidious and sinister: do they diminish the quality perception of eBooks altogether?
I recently posted a customer review of a story I loved on Amazon. The writing was excellent, the story flowed beautifully and it was wonderful to read. It cost me five times less than a glossy magazine and was perfect alongside my morning coffee. I gave it a well deserved five stars. Unfortunately not everyone was so generous. The reviews ranged from cynical to scathing then to downright nasty.
But why? Simply put: it was not a 200-page novel but a short story. They felt like they were ripped off because they paid 99 cents for a short story; about 0.0005 cent per word! Hmm… when you look at it like that…
Amazon allows authors to upload short fiction in the form of short stories, novellas etc. The lowest price available is 99 cents regardless of length. Some works are listed for free, but only at Amazon's discretion. The author receives just 35 cents from each eBook sold for 99 cents. Once you factor in tax, marketing, writing time, formatting time, preparing or paying for a cover image, hiring an editor/proofreader and so on, an author has to sell an awful lot of copies to even make their money back. So who’s selling who short?
When authors are kind enough to share quality fiction with us, how do we respond? Not by considering that we got a great piece of writing for less than the cost of candy bar but by insulting them and making them feel that they’re ripping us off?
Drinking instant coffee at home can be just as fulfilling as the three dollar cup of coffee at the local cafe bar. We appreciate the quality, we appreciate the treat, and we appreciate the value in something we enjoy. Is it so difficult to apply the same principles to eBooks?
So, authors, I implore you: the next time you see a 99-cent short story listed for the same price as a 200 page eBook, don’t feel that you have sold yourself short. Feel lucky that there are still passionate book lovers, like me, out there that take pleasure in quality pieces of fiction. At least you've given someone the chance to try something distinctively satisfying for less than a dollar.


  1. Thank you for providing these insights. I'm such a reader and loving the 99 cent book price. But I'm also within days of publishing and 99 cents for my novella would not cover the costs of editing and a cover. An inexpensive price looks different when you're the one who has written the book. Like everything else in life, things look different depending on which side of the fence you're occupying.

  2. Excellent post! I've put out most of my own releases at the $2.99 price-point, hoping to make something off of the sales while still being able to have a decent cover and do promotion for the work...

    Armand Rosamilia
    author of "Dying Days" extreme zombie novella