Ebook pricing – Where’s your line?

Image by Ian Stevenson

Last night I read a Tweet from Melissa Marr about a book that her husband and i09 both loved. I clicked over to the i09 article and thought the book looked pretty cool! Libriomancer has just about one of the coolest plots ever.

Isaac Vainio is a Libriomancer, a member of the secret organization founded five centuries ago by Johannes Gutenberg. Libriomancers are gifted with the ability to magically reach into books and draw forth objects. When Isaac is attacked by vampires that leaked from the pages of books into our world, he barely manages to escape. To his horror he discovers that vampires have been attacking other magic-users as well, and Gutenberg has been kidnapped.

With the help of a motorcycle-riding dryad who packs a pair of oak cudgels, Isaac finds himself hunting the unknown dark power that has been manipulating humans and vampires alike. And his search will uncover dangerous secrets about Libriomancy, Gutenberg, and the history of magic. . .

But I didn’t buy the book on my Kindle last night, even when I was totally psyched and ready to make an impulse buy. Which has had me thinking about ebook pricing all night and today, and discussing it with friends via Twitter this morning.

You see, intellectually I understand that the paper is the cheapest part of production for a book. Intellectuality doesn’t really fit with the word impulse most of the time. I wanted what I wanted and I wanted it at a price I thought was fair.

What strikes me as strange about my behavior though, is that I know for a fact if that book had been $9.99 instead of $11.99 I would have bought it out right. Something in the language of that $2 difference gave me pause, and time to reconsider my purchase.

But $9.99 is what I will pay for big six hardcover in digital format. I found myself yesterday not buying a romance book because it was $7.99 on ebook. It is $7.99 in paperback as well. That gave me pause. I would have paid $5.99. Maybe I just have issues with things that end in .99.

I think it is more about knowing I own something I paid for. I don’t feel ownership with my ebooks in the same way I feel it with physical copies that I’ve bought and brought home. At anytime my Kindle/Nook/iPad can break and even thought intellectually I know that the files are saved and I can get them on my next device, not being able to access them takes my feeling of ownership away.

Also I know that Nook had a policy at some point that you could only put your file on five different devices. So after five devices of mine die, I no longer own that ebook that I paid $11.99 for. I can’t access it, I can’t reread it, and if I wanted to I would have to buy it again, and probably pay the same $11.99 for it.
EDIT: (Below Melissa tells me that my overly dramatic B&N guy was wrong. Whether this analogy is right or not I think that digital ownership is still a problem.)

I’m sure that the other devices also have a limit on how many devices you can add your book too. It keeps you from buying a book and giving it to everyone in your family. Which I can do with my hard copy.

So where do you draw the line on pricing? Do you have different rules for hardcover, paperback, mass market, and trade?

16 Responses so far

  1. Gravatar

    For me it’s a cross between what my bookstore employee discount can knock the paperback down to (if ppbk less than ebook, not buying ebook – unless mass market paperback, then I buy the ebook bc of the eyeballs) and how badly I want to read the book.

    I don’t have a magic number threshold except I do think it’s ridiculous that a 14.95 trade paperback still has an ebook around 11-12 dollars. Those should probably slide down to 9.99

    (Re the nook thing: it’s five devices at one time, so if you have a device that dies/app you no longer use – to the point that you can’t access the settings to deregister it – just go to your BN account page and deregister it from there. It’s similar to what Apple does with iTunes)

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    Then your Nook peeps in store are explaining that system all wrong. They told me I could download it to a new device a total of five times ever in my entire lifetime and he was very dramatic about it ;).

    Glad to know that isn’t the case.

  3. Gravatar

    *eyebrows up very high* Hmmmm….that is very odd. (esp since I have three nooks, an old EVO, an iPhone, and an iPad all hooked into one account – never had any trouble. I will investigate!)

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    Oh, and the PC. :)

    I have too many devices!!

  5. Gravatar

    Not sure about B&N but at Amazon the rule is 5 at a time on one account…but if your devices break…again..you just deregister them…you own your books for life…and I feel the same way that you do…anything over $9.99 is excessive!

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    You know, I’m pretty sure my own hold-up with price points has to do with the denominations of the dollar. $1, $5, $10…all of those are very important numbers. If I have a $10 bill, I can buy a $9.99 book. The smallest single bill I can fork over for a $12.99 book is a $20.

    None of that makes the slightest bit of sense on a logical level, especially in an ebook transaction and most especially when I haven’t even carried cash in about five years…but I swear that’s what my subconscious is doing.

  7. Gravatar

    I’m like super cheap or something, because I only buy the ebooks when they are on sale. Like, I only ever buy them discounted during promotions and I stalk the discount threads on the Amazon boards like crazy.

    Typically I spend between $4.99 at most to $0.99 on ebooks. I hardly ever buy anything at $9.99 and if it costs the same as the print price, then usually I just put a hold on the book at my library.

    Unfortunately I do not have a limited amount of money yet, so I’m going to buy things on sale rather than pay the full price, if that makes any sense?

  8. Gravatar

    Well, if April’s super cheap, I’m a miser of Scrooge-like proportions.

    My line is 0.01. If I have to pay for the ebook, odds are I will not be buying it. I’ve bought 2 in the three years I’ve had a Kindle, and I only bought them because the ebook format was my only option.

    Partly, this is due to the fact that, like you, I don’t feel any ownership of an ebook. It’s just a file. It’s not something tangible I can look at on my shelf and stroke from time to time,because I really love my books.

    If I want to read something, it’s either at the library, I find it via happenstance at Goodwill or I’ll never get to it. Were there an ebook lending system, I would probably check them out and, if I loved it, cough up the extra money for a physical copy, but I’m not going to pay for something I might not like and will not even be able to resell or giveaway at the end.

  9. Gravatar

    I pretty much agree with you! Although I love my Kindle, I do find it difficult to buy “expensive” e-books. I only tend to buy e-books in sales or if they are inexpensive to begin with (and this has meant I’ve bought books I wouldn’t usually have purchased, which can be a good thing!).

    I also don’t feel like I ‘own’ the e-books (and technically, with a Kindle, you don’t – you buy the license to read them, I believe, but you don’t own them). I worry that I’ll have to always have a Kindle otherwise I basically lose my books. If it breaks, I have to buy another device just to access them (of course, I could read them on my phone and/or laptop, but I really wouldn’t want to do that). I do not get the added benefit of having them on my shelves, and I’m not going to lie, or the pretty covers! I love e-reading as an experience – the e-ink, the ease of carrying it, NetGalley, being able to finish and book and start another straight away, but I don’t want to invest too much money in it.

  10. Gravatar

    I work at B&N and it is having 5 devices registered to one account at a time. Once you buy an ebook, it is yours forever unless you delete it either on your nook or on your bn.com account. They don’t take books away from you!

    And I tend to buy more paperback books than ebooks because of my employee discount. There is always always someone to give books to after I’ve read them. Or I keep them. I only buy ebooks if it’s really cheap or a book I don’t want to keep on a shelf.

  11. Gravatar

    I have the same feelings. I’ve paid 11.99 for one eBook because it wasn’t readily available in Canada and it was a very small press, so that was the cheapest and easiest way to do it. I also paid 9.99 once because I was DYING to read a book on release day and my pre-order hadn’t come in and wasn’t expected for a week. As you can see, these are exceptions.

    In general I would say I don’t pay more than 4.99 for eBooks. I generally only buy them when they’re on sale for 2.99 or less. I especially like it when I buy smaller press books off Kobo because you can use coupon codes on non-agency books.

    I agree with what you said about ownership. You don’t own files in the same way you do print books. I *love* e-reading, but I don’t feel like eBooks are worth the money most of the time. As you mentioned, you generally can’t loan out eBooks. And what if the author comes nearby for a signing? If I had already spent 9.99 on an eBook then I have to go out and buy a physical copy for them to sign? In a dream world where I have tons of money that’s not a problem, but in reality? That’s not going to happen. Therefore I tend to buy the cheaper indie press or self-published eBooks, as well as using my eReader for review copies of books. I love eReading, but for the reasons above I still buy most of my books in physical form.

  12. Gravatar

    LOL. You are better than me. I find it hard to pay even $9.99 for an ebook. It definitely has to be under $5 and preferably under $3. Like you mention it’s that sense of ownership. I will pay more for paperback/hardback books because I can hold them in my hands and look at them on my bookshelf. Call me old fashioned but I love looking at my bookshelves and the book covers. I just don’t get that same happy feeling looking at my book list on my Nook or Kindle. I also feel like ebooks can disappear so easily. What if (heaven forbid) Amazon goes out of business? Do my books disappear? Do I get to keep them? Once my Kindle breaks then they are gone?

  13. Gravatar

    I’m with you. I refuse to pay over $9.99 for an ebook. And I find it hard to pay more or the same for the ebook than the print version. I like that Amazon now shows all formats right under the prices so we can easily see the price for the other formats.

    Also, novellas or promotional ebooks must be priced accordingly. I pay attention to file size or converted page length. I can’t say that I have a set length for price but I do look to see what the stats are before purchasing.

    Right now I know that I refused to buy book two of Lili St. Crow’s series, The Bandit King, because they want $4.99 for 252 pages when I paid $2.99 for The Hedgewitch Queen at 360 pages. It doesn’t help that the reviews for the second book are atrocious!

    Owner ship isn’t the factor for me really. It’s the quite obvious difference of paying for something that couldn’t possibly cost as much to produce as printing it did. Am I right? I’ve read articles that try to explain that it’s not true but I can’t wrap my head around it. You produce ONE or how ever many different formats you need for the eBook and then distribute it out. There’s no need to reprint or redistribute in paperback. It’s good for life for as long as the file format is acceptable.

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    The overall threshold for ebooks is pretty much the same as dead tree books for me. Have just reached the point where unless I think that the book will be a keeper, like a reference book, I prefer ebooks.

    The one thing that makes me sad about them is that I can’t donate them to the library like I can paper books.

    Right now we have at least 9 devices owned by 4 people registered to my Amazon account. It’s a fabulous way for us to cut costs and really bond over what we are reading.

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    I’m sure that the other devices also have a limit on how many devices you can add your book too. It keeps you from buying a book and giving it to everyone in your family. Which I can do with my hard copy.

    Actually, you can’t give your hard copy to everyone in your family.
    Unless you buy a hard copy for everyone in your family, and you should if you really like the book!!

  16. Gravatar

    Actually I can give my hardcopy to everyone in my family if we pass it around.

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