Ebook pricing madness?

What on earth is going on with ebook pricing?

The cost of a hard copy book depends on the print run, the materials and the book’s physical size. A paperback best seller with a print run of a hundred thousand costs a lot less to produce than an eighteen inch square ’coffee table’ art book packed with full colour images.

All the same, you rarely find a ‘real’ book costing more than a hundred quid unless it’s something really special, limited edition or antiquarian. Ebook prices, however, vary wildly. A quick surf reveals:

  • a 100 page ebook for $47
  • a 1000 page ebook for £99
  • various ebooks of different lengths costing anything between £9.99 and $699

A standard paperback book has 200 – 300 pages and costs about £6.99. So how can someone justify selling a 100 page ebook for £9.99, let alone sell any ebook for $699? Some ebooks contain extra materials, links to buyer-only resources, training aids etcetera. But many are simple collections of blog posts and articles. Or ’how to’ guides.

Would you spend $47, £99 or $699 on a paperback or hardback book? Probably not. Unless it was bound in gold leaf!

There’s a lot of chat online about the issue so it’s obviously a hot topic. My take on it is:

  • A crazy handful of people might buy an ebook for £99. But thousands more might buy it for a fiver, which is around two quid cheaper than the cost of a paperback. Selling more ebooks for a lower unit cost will probably deliver a much better return on investment
  • When you consider ebooks in a real world context, choosing a price becomes easy. Compare your ebook with a real book, like for like, and pitch your price slightly lower
  • Only charge more than a regular book if you’re offering more. For example a professional course, access to unique online content, business collateral etc (although if this is the case, you’re probably devaluing your product by calling it an ebook!)

Update for 2015 – Things have calmed right down these days and ebook prices are structured much more sensibly.