The Book Price Conundrum

What is a book worth? Does that change if the book is an e-book? Or a novella? Does it depend on genre?

I recently read a very informative and thoughtful post by Aleksander Voinov (if you don’t follow his blog already, you should. He always has interesting stuff to say) and in it he was talking about pricing, and why he keeps his prices where he does. It gave me a lot to think about.

I’ve posted before about pricing. It’s something that as a self-publisher I have to deal with, and I’m never really comfortable with my decisions. My logic (flawed and shallow as it may be) was that I’d price my books at the prices I would be willing to pay, as a reader. So most of my books are either $2.99 or $3.99. This also makes sense because most of my books are fairly short. The $2.99 ones are novella length, like under 40,000 words. And the $3.99 ones are over that, but not by much (my longest is 68,000 words.) I also was sort of using m/f Romance as a model for pricing.

But Aleks’s post made me think about things again, in a different way. He mentioned that one of the reasons m/m romances in general are priced higher than m/f romances is that it is a niche market, and that we simply don’t have the depth to support authors when the prices are low.

This really challenged one of my assumptions about pricing in m/m. See, I had always assumed that the main reason m/m is priced high is that it is still very closely associated with erotica. As if “gay” is a kink, and so can be priced higher. But maybe that was wrong? Or maybe it was only part of the reason m/m is priced the way it is…

So I did a little research.

Here is a screenshot of the current bestsellers in “Gay Romance” (congratulations if you’re on it!!)


The top 2 titles, according to the (a tool that is unaffiliated with Amazon so we can only use it as an estimate, but still it’s useful) are selling between 100 and 300 copies per day. At $3.99, a self published author selling 200 books each day is making a decent income (say around $550 per day), as long as the title maintains rank. At .99, it would be a different story (closer to $70 per day).

The #3 book is ranked much lower, and this might just have to do with the other books selling on Amazon right now, not a genre thing, I don’t know, but that title, and all the others until about #15 or so, are selling closer to 55-100 books per day. (So around $25 per day at .99, and $200 at $3.99) And of course, this is all assuming that the authors are self-published and so making the highest possible royalties.

After #15, the sales per day fall to under 55 units, estimated. And that is for the top 20. When we move to the 21-40 bestsellers, the sales drop significantly.

What this tells me is that the majority of authors in m/m can realistically hope to sell around 30 or so copies of their book per day, unless they hit the top 15, as long as they are ranked on the bestseller list. (as a comparison, the #100 book – lowest on the bestseller list – for “contemporary romance” sells about the same as the #1 “gay romance” title. Actually, it ranks a few spots higher.)

So from all this math, I have to conclude that Aleks was right! Not that I truly doubted. But yes, as an author in the m/m genre, it is very likely impossible to make the kind of sales numbers that would lead to even a moderate short-term income when pricing books at .99

Decision made! No .99 books (well, unless they were shorts or something, maybe)

I did notice something else: 15 out of the top 20 books, and all the top 5, are priced at $2.99 or over. So clearly, readers don’t mind paying a decent price.

I still wonder what impact Kindle Unlimited will have/is having on all this, and if book piracy will become a bigger problem, potentially impacting mainstream book purchasing habits. But for now, I’ve definitely curbed my desire to lower my prices in the hopes of increasing sales.

What do you think? What price do you think is fair for an e-book? Do you consider what the author makes in your decision? Would you be willing to pay more to support your favorite authors?

2 thoughts on “The Book Price Conundrum

  1. I have a book listed permanently at $.99 as part of my marketing strategy, but otherwise all of mine are $3.99. With the NYT best sellers getting $8.99 – $13.99 for their ebooks, I think $3.99 is very reasonable. As a reader, I don’t mind paying that much for a full-length book.

    • Yeah there are definitely times when .99 (or even free) makes sense, like for the first book in a series or something.
      I also have been using the kdp price tool. Not sure if it is accurate? But at least it is a second opinion, and as clearly demonstrated by this post, I have trouble with decisions!
      Thanks for the comment, DP 🙂

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