99 centsI have probably written about $0.99 cent ebooks ten times on my blog. So why not an eleventh time?

When I see extremely talented and many well known authors having to reduce the price of their books to under a dollar, I just want to cry. There is no way that this price has any justification at all for a quality 100,000 word book. Perhaps in a second hand book store, and even then I think the price for a beaten up paper back copy of Treasure Island would be priced higher.

The self publishing bonanza has only been a bonanza for Amazon as they have meticulously gone about creating content for their Kindle devices. The model is an old one. We saw it with MP3 players that were 99% full of free music until exploited so brilliantly by Apple. Amazon has encouraged ‘kitchen table’ writers to wham out 20,000 words, publish it on KDP, call it a book and price it a $0.99. So obvious was this tactic that ‘book spammers’ soon caught on and started whacking out 1,000’s of titles as well.

Yes, it has been wonderful for those who have had their life story sitting in a bottom drawer for twenty years. A chance finally to have it published.

However, for those who wrote and still try to write for a living it has been nothing short of a disaster. Before the ‘rush’ that was created by Kindle and the ebook, I was happily writing away and selling books as an Indie writer and satisfied with my lot even though I never had eyes on being a star. My books sold regularly each month, and I even had quite a few readers who requested signed copies. So regular in fact that I got to know the staff at the Post Office quite well. I wasn’t getting rich, but I felt rewarded for my work.

But this was ‘way back’, like a whole year ago when books were still books. Selling between $14.95 and $17.95. OMG! Don’t those prices look so high now?

In the last two months I have sold three copies in book form. In the same two months I have given away over 5,000 ebook copies of one of my titles as Amazon made it a victim of their ‘Price Matching’ rip off some time ago, and I gave up fighting a monster. For the rest of my titles, it seems that $0.99 is the new Apple-cum-Amazon decided price for digital downloaded content.

The $0.99 pricing model forced upon the market my Amazon is killing the book industry and will result in Amazon ‘owning’ literature as Apple own music. But hey, that was the idea all along wasn’t it?

But I want to put up at least some token resistance. So I’ve created my own online book store, which I know will not take over the world. However, it does give me a sense of satisfaction in giving readers a choice. If a reader buys one of my books through one of the big online retailers at 99c, my cut is around 20% after all costs. But at 88c per book from my own store it is around 90%. I am hoping there will be some readers who would prefer the latter option.

The 99 Cent Coffin
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24 thoughts on “The 99 Cent Coffin

  • 21/11/2011 at 5:34 pm
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    Thanks so much for this post, Derek!

    I’m starting out selling a Christmas short story, but even so the .99 price makes me cringe. I tell myself it’s a short and that’s the going price, but still–

    I really hate to think of writers who have slaved over a novel getting this kind of pittance. Isn’t that what the indie revolution was supposed to prevent?

    Love your idea of owning your own ebookstore! I’m such a dinosaur I haven’t gotten an e-reader yet, but I will check out your store when I do.

    Meanwhile, thanks for the blogs.

    • 21/11/2011 at 8:26 pm
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      Thanks for your comment Nancy. Yes, it is a bit depressing to be selling my books that once sold for around $16.00 for 99c in ebook version. I can certainly say I’ll never invest the effort into 100,000 words ever again for 99c. No way.

      • 18/01/2012 at 6:30 am
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        I agree with you with the 99c coffin 99%, oops 100%
        Can you please tell me how “that guy” was able to sell 1million ebooks?
        Out of curiosity I read his first title “Saving… somebody” to me it’s an atrocity. I wanted to cry. The present tense, the plot?? What’s happening out there. A million people reading what? He even said that most of the books he was required to read in high school were total rubbish. I wanted to write a review like this one on his title, but I’m afraid I’m going to insult his 5-stars reviewers and they will probably eat me alive and write nasty things on my books. Pssst. What’s your angle?

        • 18/01/2012 at 10:18 am
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          Alfonso, there’s nothing wrong with John Locke’s book titles. And a million people didn’t read his books. He sold a million books (lots of titles) to about 300,000 readers who like his stuff. You should read one and see what you think.

          JJ

  • 21/11/2011 at 5:58 pm
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    There are just too many questions here.

    “Selling between $14.95 and $17.95. OMG! Don’t those prices look so high now?” I doubt that I ever paid that much for a book more than once a year, so those prices always looked high. Which leads me to wonder what your books were selling for. You mention signed copies and the post office, so you’re talking about print books.

    I looked at your little store and I’m afraid my reaction is that you’ve given in to the beast rather than decided to fight it. If Amazon is giving your books (ebooks?) away, then you must already have moved into the $.99 ghetto. What’s the point of setting up a store and then selling books for $.88 an $.44 cents? Just to make a few more cents than Amazon will give you when the books are at .99? Aren’t such prices simply a confirmation of Amazon’s belief that’s what customers want and all they’ll pay for, and a further confirmation of its power?

    • 21/11/2011 at 8:24 pm
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      As for the 88c store Catana, it’s not a matter of giving in to the beast as much as making a point about how undervalued books have become. 99c? Why not 88c? Why not 18c? It doesn’t matter what price. Books and the work of authors are being devalued by the likes of Amazon in an attempt to monopolise the book market.

      When they succeed (and that’s not if), it won’t be worth the time and effort to write anymore.

      And authors are not stupid. So we will start to see ‘shorts’ and silly ‘How To’s? being written. Hardly literature, but well, what do buyers expect for peanuts? We will regress to the 1920’s and the world of ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ yet again.

      Yes Catana. Those prices were for paperbacks. So long ago now. (A whole year!)

  • 22/11/2011 at 1:14 am
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    I don’t know if this has come up before, but have you thought about using Smashwords? I’ve been selling my first novel for 2.99 and the sequel for 1.99 because it’s shorter, more of a novella. The only way I’ll ever sell my books for .99 is as a temporary introduction, or as a coupon reward for readers who’ve given me input on an early draft.

    I’m not even using Amazon. Still waiting to see if the deal between SW and Amazon goes through. If it doesn’t, I may try it next year.

    • 22/11/2011 at 12:46 pm
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      I use Smashwords Catana. Very happy with them, but they don’t have a big market share as yet. But they do supply B&N, Sony and Apple, so this is good. I very much doubt that they will ever supply Amazon though. But one can hope :)

  • 22/11/2011 at 1:41 am
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    You’re right about how high past prices look nowadays. I have two of my previously published YA novels still on Amazon (published by Indie publishers) and the prices on them make me frightened I will never sell a single one of them. The new book is priced at $2.99. Still cheaper than a cup of coffee, but more likely to sell than a $7.95 YA novella. Also, I’ll get more of a royalty cut at $2.99 as an ebook than I will when it comes out as a paperback for $11.95. So while I understand what you’re saying about 99 cent books devaluing writing, at the moment, so does the traditional publishing process…

  • 22/11/2011 at 2:54 am
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    Back when the Kindle was new, I was buying 5 or so Kindle books a month at $9.99; then came the agency model and new books by the same authors soared to $14.99.

    I decided to abandon Kindle books at that price point.

    If I want to read a best seller, I wait until Amazon sells it used usually for between $5 and $10 bucks.

    Of course, when I buy a used book, the author receives no royalties, and I get a book I can turn around and sell on Amazon for something, or I give the book to my friends and the author receives no royalty on that sale. And they can give it to their friends, or to Goodwill, and the author ….

    The agency model has turned me on to new writers, and to back list works.

    Amazon didn’t kill the e-book. The agency model did.

    And you authors know what it would take to kill the agency model…

    But authors believe themselves to be solitary trees in the storm, instead of seeing the potential for a massive revolt against the agency model.

    Derek, go ahead and throw a little pity party for your fellow authors, but don’t blame Amazon….

    • 22/11/2011 at 1:17 pm
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      I agree Peter that the agency model of the Big Six never really wanted the Kindle ebook to succeed and they have fought tooth and nail with Amazon every step of the way to retain a profitable price structure. They are still fighting in fact with the advent of Amazon’s Library Lending scheme, which Amazon decided to implement even though the Big Six clearly said they would not be involved.

      Amazon are so clearly out to monopolise all facets of the book industry that they are now even riding rough shod over the Big Six. Not just in ebooks either, but now with their own imprints based in New York.

      Under either the old or new monopoly, authors with the exception of a very few well known ones, will always be at the bottom of the food chain and with ebook prices diminishing by the day, there will be less and less left for authors.

      I am not throwing a ‘pity party’ as you suggest. Perhaps a ‘reality party’ may be a better term. Because once Amazon move from being the biggest distributor of books in the world to being also the biggest publisher of books as well, it won’t be only authors who will be looking at reduced incomes. I wouldn’t like to be a Literary Agent with a champagne taste.

  • 22/11/2011 at 3:47 am
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    So one of you is blaming Amazon for the death of the ebook, and the other is blaming the agency model. But the ebook is alive and well, despite all the moaning. Peter, you say you want authors to revolt against the agency model, but you don’t even mention indie publishing. If there’s a revolt, that’s where it will come from. Practically speaking, getting writers together in that way would be like herding cats, but many of us are writing the very best novels we can and holding out against the descent into the .99 ghetto.

    I believe that indie ebooks may settle into two major categories–the free or cheap books for people who will read damn near anything, just to keep boredom at bay, and reasonably priced, well-written novels and other fiction for the more selective. Of course, there will always be higher priced books from the trad publishers, but they’ll gradually be forced to bring their prices down to something more realistic for this day and age.

    • 22/11/2011 at 1:27 pm
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      The problem is Catana that trad publishers can’t survive in their current form at what you call realistic ebook prices for this day an age. Their cost structures are far too high. For the Big Six, the printing cost of a book has always been negligible. Less than $1.00 for a paperback and less than $2.50 for a hardcover. Their costs are in the structure of finding, preparing and promoting their titles.

      The trad publishers never wanted the ebook to succeed, so you could say they tried to kill it. But Amazon are intent on monopolising the whole market, and that will drive prices down, and hence kill the value of a book. So, perhaps both are guilty.

    • 22/11/2011 at 10:37 pm
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      I have bought 435 e-books since the agency model went into effect.

      What I haveNOT bought is a single agency model e-book.

      Price your books as you wish on Amazon.

      Let the market decide.

      If buyers want your book, they will buy it. ‘

      If they want to pay $14, they will buy it.

      However, a survey by KND indicated that many are, like me, who are buying lots of books at much less than $14.

      Maybe it is because, when the Kindle was new, people thought $9.99 was a great price.

      Maybe it is that when the agency model came in, AND as Kindle buyers ventured out of their comfort zone, readers voted with their purchases.

      If authors wish to retain their e-book rights and thus say to the print publishers that the agency pricing is too high, then they gain a degree of control they do not have now.

      AND YES OF COURSE, indie publishing IS DOING something about it. I read lots of indie books. I just didn’t feel that the learned readers of Derek’s blog needed to reminded that indie publishing is a viable option.

      J A Konrath, admittedly an author who has worked very hard on hos own promotion, seems to be doing quite well at $2.99.

      Very few new authors will ever become rich on their royalties. Even in the hey day of print, very few authors did.

      But right now, with the e-book, writers whose work would never see the light of day under the old system are able to get their e-books under the noses of readers.

      The question is whether new authors will see that having a well-received book is perhaps 30% writing and 70% promotion, and whether they will see that controlling their own promotion will make them a lot more money in this world of the e-book.

  • 22/11/2011 at 12:23 pm
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    I’m not sure what you all mean by “the agency model”. I’m and indie author. My first book is priced at $2.99 and will remain there until hell freezes. It’s an anthology of shorts and I have extracted a couple of the stories and published them on Amazon at 99c. My thriller was priced at $2.99 also, but sales were non-existent, so now it’s priced at 99c. I don’t mind selling at that price if it helps me reach an audience who may then buy more if/when I write more.

    I think Catana is right. The market will split as she suggests. 99c will become the penny-dreadful source and the forest for new writers to showcase their work, while better writing and established authors will roam the higher price plains. Seems obvious, now.

    Derek: I have nothing but admiration for your latest technological coup. I have no idea how you managed to set up the 88cent Store, but it’s a wonderful idea. Are you open to selling other authors’ work in there?

    • 22/11/2011 at 12:50 pm
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      I did think about the possibility of adding other author’s books JJ, but my accounting skills are hopeless, so I think it would be a recipe for disaster :)

  • 22/11/2011 at 12:29 pm
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    PS: I just checked out the 88c Store again, and there is something wrong with the banner at the top. It’s all squished into a tiny space in the centre of the screen.

    JJ

      • 18/01/2012 at 10:31 am
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        I use Internet Explorer version 8.

        I’ll check out your banner again (if I can find the site).

        • 18/01/2012 at 10:35 am
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          No change, I’m afraid. The banner is squashed into a tiny space in the middle. There’s definitely something wrong with it, Derek.

  • 18/01/2012 at 3:23 pm
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    Interesting debate, couldn’t help thinking that after professional editing expenses and book cover expenses, I’d have to sell 2,000 books at $0.99 to cover my expenditure before I started to make any money for myself, so I’ll retain the $3.99 price for my novels.

    • 08/02/2012 at 11:03 am
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      Yea looks like too much hasels for a little profit or you have to write a best seller :)

  • 09/02/2012 at 11:00 pm
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    Why are you pricing your work at 99 cents if you are uncomfortable with it? $2.99 seems another popular price. As for business changes, there’s opportunity. If you’re intrepid enough to build your own store you are probably capable of handling a ceaseless stream of promotions.

    Fwiw I rarely ever bought printed books. But I buy ebooks all the time. Impetuously. So get your buy it now button in front of my finger and there’s a fair chance of making a sale.

  • 09/02/2012 at 11:49 pm
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    As a guy who also writes to feel rewarded (and not get rich) I hold the line.

    My books are a VERY fair 1.99. Heck, I also think 2.99 is fair for a book, but I can see how Johnny Tightwad may balk at that.

    Because .99 price point is riddled with so many bad works, I feel that I have to put myself in a separate category. This translates to fewer impulse buys, but it’s not like the difference is in millions of dollars.

    Heck, 32 page COMIC BOOKS can sell for up to 4.99, why not our stuff?

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