Are eBooks really overpriced?

There has been a lot of discussion in recent months about the pricing of eBooks, most of it stating that eBooks are too expensive and that prices need to come down. Seth Godin made a post on his blog recently pointing out that eBooks don’t really compete with traditional books but with mobile games, music and downloadable movies.

While there is probably a tiny bit of truth in it, I do not like the intimation that as a result of it, eBooks should come down in price. Why? Because for the most part, eBooks are actually sensibly priced.

Making a general, sweeping statement like that of Grodin creates the illusion that all eBooks are too expensive, when in fact it truly relates only to a portion of the market that is getting smaller by the day – that of major publishing houses. What it overlooks entirely is the flood of self-published eBooks that is swamping the market to the point that it actually chokes outlets. Most of these books are very low in price – too low, as a matter of fact – as they are not priced to create a sustainable business.

Instead most of these indie authors price their book based on a fear factor, hoping they could grab readership that way that would then miraculously turn into profits some time in the future. Nothing could be further from the truth, but if these authors want to get into this race the bottom, let them, I say. I’d rather see them help build a solid industry that is cohesive in its approach and makes use of the lessons that can be learned from comparable industries, such as the music and games industry, but the fear of failure seems to be too deeply rooted in most first-time writers.

The problem with general statements like Grodin’s is that people will look at it and echo the sentiment, never realizing that his criticism was actually pointed towards the NY publishing houses who still charge up to $15 for an eBook – the same as they do for a mass market paperback. These prices are not sustainable, there can be no doubt in my mind, but when people begin to complain that $2.99 for an eBook is too much we are beginning to have problems.

On many of the message boards I frequent I see posts where readers ask “Why are eBooks so expensive?,” citing $4.99 books as examples and shortly after you will see people pointing out that all eBooks should be 99 cents. It worries me to see this kind of sentiment in consumers, to be honest. It is bordering on an insult, really, as if the time, effort and intellectual work that went into the creation of a book was entirely worthless.

Being a price-conscious consumer who expects quality is one thing, but being the guy who demands everything for free is something different entirely.

It is important that we remember the value books have, not in terms of dollars and cents, but in enjoyment, emotion, pleasure, fright, drama and overall entertainment. Can you still, with a clean conscience, demand that eBooks should be only 99 cents?

When you read blog posts and articles about people calling for lower eBook prices, remember that this is not a call to a universal 99 cents price point, but a wake-up call for the fat cats in the NY publishing houses, who still believe that having an illiterate like Snooki “write” a book is a better idea than giving an actual writer a chance. Those guys have completely lost touch with their readership a long time ago. The only thing they are concerned about is to cater to their stock holders and board of directors so they won’t get fired. But guess what? If they keep up making those ridiculous decisions regarding their content and price tags, they will find themselves looking for life preservers before this year is out.


7 Replies to “Are eBooks really overpriced?”

  1. Helen Hanson

    Seth charges 7.99 for the Kindle edition of his newest book, Poke the Box. In the link you cite, he states about ebooks, “… our job is to price them in a way that makes them an irresistible habit.” I guess he feels that just under 8 bucks makes it irresistible.

    The hardcover is 96 pages and sells for 9.99, but he also has $75 collectible edition. In case anyone is feeling compelled …

  2. Guido

    My post was a whole lot harsher on him when I first wrote it, but I decided to tone it down a little because I just didn’t want the post to into a mudslinging. But you’re right, of course, Seth Godin is pretty clueless in my opinion.

  3. A.R. Williams

    Great post.

    I disagree with your view of Godin, but that’s neither here or there.

    Your other points I’m solidly behind, though. I think in this case indie writers are their own worst enemy. Often it is they, and not the reader, clamoring for the lower price limits. Oh well, to each his own.

  4. Robert Christopher

    I agree with your point about the race to the bottom.

    Anywhere betwen $3 and $5 dollars is a fair price.

    Let’s not forget the initial draw to the first gen $399 Kindle was best sellers for $9.99.

    And those people only complained when the e-book price was almost the same price as the hardcover.

  5. Joanna Aislinn

    Amazing how undervalued the time, effort and workmanship of so many crafts seems to be. As a consumer, I too, love the next-to-nothing cost of ebooks, considering the actual labor that goes into ‘production’ once the story itself is completed.

    Having said that, $3-5/ebook is nothing compared to the work that goes in behind the scenes. Brings me back to that whole labor of love deal.

  6. Ken Hartley

    I was fine with prices where they were when Amazon was in control of pricing. $10 for a new release and $6-$8 for back catalog issues seemed fine, and over the 1st year with my iPad I bought nearly 80 books. Now, I either stick to the 99 cent eBooks or I buy used hardcovers at $4-5 with shipping because I’m just not willing to buy 80 books a year at an average price of $12. I’m especially annoyed with the back catalog pricing. I was just perusing Swan Song by R. McCammon, but Pocket Books has this 25 year old release priced at $14 for the eBook. That’s lunacy. On this subject, J.A. Konrath has a very interesting interview with Barry Eisler about why he walked away from a $500K contract to self-publish. It can be found at .

  7. The self published worship 99 cents.

    @ Ken Hartley,

    We already read it. I’m talking about the Konrath/Eisler blog post. We know the story. And anyway, what in the heck does that have to do with the cost of ebooks (or beans in Peru for that matter)?

    @Guido (article poster),

    I really enjoyed the article and I agree with you fully. Idk much about Godin’s views & I don’t read his blog, but the rest of the article I agree with. I hate to say it but self published writers are like zombies in their undying belief in this messiah-like 99 cent false God they worship. They write articles about 99 cents and how right it is. They argue with writers who want more than 99 cents out of their work and out of life. If there was a stained glass window in a cathedral of self publishing, in the center would be a large image of 99 cents, surrounded by an image of Amanda Hocking with a halo, and Joe Konrath and John Locke on each of the 99 cents, also with halos and wings.

    Point is, Self published writers are under some kind of spell by this low price point! And you’re right, it’s fear!

    But the thing that gets me though is that Amazon itself makes millions from these suckers by using their cheap content to make buying a Kindle seem more enticing. Then they turn around and take 70% of these fools’ 99 cent money, leaving them with 35 cents per book. Now Amazon is about to make even more money by slipping ads in the Kindles. And believe me, these 99 cent fools (yes, I called them that) won’t see a penny of it.

    They have no idea how much money Amazon has made off of them, and the sad thing about it is that they don’t care. They’re terrible business people who feel satisfied at the thought that anybody is reading their work. They just terrible.

    Let’s see if one of them pipes up with a complaint when Amazon starts in with the ads in Kindles. What do you think?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.