…because this is an interesting discussion. To me, anyway. :)
Okay. First off, where I’m coming from: Amazon, B&N and possibly Smashwords don’t kick in their 70% royalty rate until $2.99, so from where I’m sitting except for an occasional Special Offer, anything below that price seems like wasting my time (because I can’t really imagine selling SO MANY copies of something at $.99 or $1.99 to make up for the loss, though who knows, maybe I’m totally wrong about that).
To my mind, at $2.99 a reader deserves at least a SFWA-standard “novelette”‘s worth of words–around 17.5K. That’s 5 or so 3-5K short stories, or one longer-but-not-novella-length story. We’re talking about, say, 30-50 pages of story.
Novellas, which range from 17.5-40K by SFWA standards–well, we priced “Easy Pickings” at $2.99, but in retrospect I think maybe something in that range ought to be $3.99, perhaps. That would be somewhere in the 50-150 pages of story length.
Novels, by SFWA standards, are 40K+ (150+ pages, more or less). This is where it starts to get hairy for me, because does one price a short novel, say, NO DOMINION, which is 60K, at the same rate one prices a 150K novel? My inclination is no. And this is difficult to determine because in the print world, 60K novels are scarce on the ground except in category romance, where they in fact cost around $5.
So okay. Say I price NO DOMINION at $4.99, which I think is a pretty fair price. Then let’s say I write THE REGENT’S FOOL, which would have been book 3 of the Inheritors’ Cycle. If it stayed in line with the other two Inheritors’ books, it would be 150-170K, which is more than twice the length of NO DOMINION. If you were to get a mass market paperback of that, it would cost either $7.99 or $8.99. So would I (theoretically) price that at $7.99, and a middle-length novel like a Walker Papers, which ranges from 100-115K, at $6.99?
Well, no, actually, I probably wouldn’t. I’d probably set them at $5.99 and $6.99, although in my opinion we’re getting into a hazy grey area here, because while I can hear you protesting that e-books cost less to produce, and that’s true because there’s no physical book to print, the flip side is that the book still requires the same *work* that the printed edition costs. And those are things like this:
– me to write the book
– someone to edit the book
– cover art
– book design
With the exception of marketing (which I haven’t properly figured out yet), those same costs are much inherent in any e-book I’d put out, except it’s my own money paying for cover art, editing and possibly book design, rather than my publisher’s money. This is probably in itself reason enough to argue for a further markup of the price to match publishing house prices, but OTOH, the publishing house is also printing books, which costs (as far as I can tell from the invoices I’ve gotten on my own author copies of books over the years) about 20% of the cover price. So okay, for a 100K+ novel I set the price a dollar below what a mass market would cost, and that more or less covers the “bargain rate because there’s no print edition” percentage of the cost.
(Begin digression: books like mine, published by a New York publisher as e-books, do not cost $9.99 or indeed $14.99 to try to screw the reader out of their money: they cost that because they’re paying for all of the above. Furthermore, bookstores pays the publisher $7.50 for that $14.99 book, which means all of the above is coming out of the $7.50 a publishing house is getting paid for that book. Subtract 20% of that $7.50 for printing costs, and appreciate that publishing is *not* a get-rich industry.
And Amazon is buying those books at at least $7.50 and selling them at a loss in order to draw people in and encourage them to buy Kindles. This is not sustainable for Amazon in the long run and it’s sure as shit not sustainable for the publishing industry, which is why Tor’s decision to release books DRM-free (and Baen’s having always done that) is a big deal.
I suppose the point of all this is that figuring out the e-pricing is tricky, and that I’m actively interested in how writers are approaching it and what readers think is fair. So talk to me! :)