The New World of Publishing: Pricing 2013

Yup, I am going back into the pricing wars one more time. Why would I do that? Simply put, I’m nuts. And again, things have changed all over the map, so indie pricing of ebooks needs to be talked about.


All over the news sources right now are articles about the settlements going on with the government and major publishers on the agency pricing issues. Some of it is very complex, most of it will not make much difference at all to most indie publishers.

However, some changes will happen in pricing of ebooks.

Since this is not a legal blog and I will do my best here to not get too deep into the silliness of the boring details. In fact, let me say this. If you are interested in the details of all the legal aspects of the pricing lawsuits, follow He does wonderful takes with great opinions on the different aspects of the battles.

My opinion is pretty much with other people who have followed these lawsuits. Pricing for customers of electronic books will go up as this settles out over the next few years. Even with stores discounting some titles, ebook prices really can’t do anything else but go up.

There are a number of good sides of this for writers.

First, it means authors who are publishing through traditional publishers will get more money per sale because publishers will make more money from increased prices. And they do pass on, sometimes, a tiny fraction of that amount.

Second, if indie publishers are smart, they will bring their prices up slightly, but stay under the traditional discounting ranges. I will talk about this before, but it will make us all more money.

Some Basics

Before the publishers got together and invented agency pricing for ebooks, ebooks were sold under the old wholesale model. That means that the publisher sold the book to the bookstore for a set price with a “Suggested Retail Price” on it. The bookstore, who then owned the copy of the book (and had paid that set price), could actually sell the book at any price they wanted.

Agency pricing (which is a stupid name) was started with agreements between some of the big publishers that they would only license the books, not sell copies, and would control the price to the customer and would limit the amount of discounting allowed by any store. One consequence of this was taxes and responsibility of the taxes. There were also many other convoluted details that took time to figure out. Unraveling this could be just as interesting.

And again, I am being scary simple and general here for the sake of keeping this short and understandable to those who don’t much care.

So now the government has come in and said to the big publishers, “No, no, no. You can’t all agree to do this at the same time.” So now the publishers are being forced to back up and allow retailers to discount what they want, as it always should have been.

In response to that, publishers are raising their “suggested retail prices” expecting retail stores to discount. Some retailers will, some will not.

Some books will be discounted, some won’t. And the amount of discounts by the retailers will vary from moment to moment and book to book and agreement to agreement.

All this is going to cause all kinds of very strange price benchmarks for books. Prices like $10.14 or $12.64 for electronic books. It’s going to have readers who are used to set and standard prices shaking their heads, that’s for sure.

And it’s going to make for some interesting shopping for book buyers, who now can shop around for the best deals. Again, as it always should have been in this capitalistic country.

The Important Fact

If you read all the news sources and such, the price $9.99 as a discount price is getting tossed around a great deal. And all the articles are talking about how CHEAP $9.99 is.

Sadly, for traditional publishers, it is cheap on front list hardback and trade paper books.

Let that sink in a moment and then indie publishers, look at your own pricing of your books.

$9.99 for a electronic novel is considered CHEAP! That’s what readers are hearing.

$9.99 is cheap and almost too low.

Now we get to the point of this article. With all the big-world stuff going on, and readers being pushed to pay more, and constantly reading how $9.99 is cheap for an ebook, what should indie publishers be pricing their electronic books at?

Just slightly under that, of course. But not way under.

So here are my suggestions for fiction

pricing adjustments going into 2013

— Novels

Front list, meaning brand new. Over 50,000 words. $7.99

Shorter front list novels, meaning 30,000 to 50,000 words. $6.99

Backlist novels, meaning already published by a traditional publisher. $6.99

— Short Books

Short books, meaning stories from 8,000 words to 30,000 words. $3.99

— Short Stories

Short stories … 4,000 to 8,000 words. $2.99

Short stories under 4,000 double with another bonus story… $2.99

— Collections

5 stories $4.99

10 stories $7.99

That’s it. Getting simple these days.

My Reasons and Suggestions

First off, with everything possible, do a trade paper edition.

Why? Because it makes your electronic book price even more reasonable. I did an entire article about this here. But simply put, if you have a $16.99 trade paper and a $7.99 electronic novel, it looks right to buyers.

Second, stop worrying so much about tracking sales and reviews and all that silliness.

Just keep focusing on the writing and getting new books up and let the sales take care of themselves. (Yeah, that’s going to make me even more hated over on the Kindle Boards. (grin))

Third, remember that buyer perception of your book is everything.

If you have a cover that looks amateur, a passive and dull sales blurb, and a cheap price, no one is going to pick it up or buy it. You are screaming over and over that your book is bad, no matter how good it is. You have told the reader subconsciously to stay away. So learn how to do professional-looking covers where the only quibble with it is taste. Learn how to do active sales copy. And then get your price up to match your quality cover and blurb, to tell the buyer subconsciously that they are looking at a quality product. It really does work that way.


Even though I hate the pricing topic, I figured that my old prices were out-of-date enough and with all the talk on pricing coming from the lawsuits on agency pricing, it was time to redo this.

Every press is different. Every writer is different. If you believe your work is crap, then price it like crap. Not my issue. This article is for writers who believe in their own art.

Traditional publishers now are shouting over and over to the world at large that $9.99 is cheap for an electronic book and they are losing money at that level.

It is time indie publishers undercut that $9.99 price just enough to still look professional and not look like a cheap, discount book.

$5.99 to $7.99 is a great range, a professional range.

And that’s just my opinion.

Have fun.

Copyright © 2012 Dean Wesley Smith

Cover art copyright Philcold/Dreamstime

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138 Responses to The New World of Publishing: Pricing 2013

  1. Charles Gray says:

    So I have a question about shorter stories– 1,000-2,000 words in length. Should they be free, or should they be priced at around .99 cents? On the one hand, you’re obviously not making much money at that level of pricing, but equally, pricing them at free eliminates any potential for a return, even if it is a small one.

    I’m honestly not certain about pricing for shorter works so I was wondering if you have any suggestions.

    Thank you!
    Charles Gray

    • dwsmith says:

      Price them at $2.99 just like any other story. Unless something is a special sale, never go below that value amount. Never devalue your own work. On short term sales, you can discount or give something away for free for a very short time. But otherwise just leave them at $2.99.

  2. Michael Owen says:

    Hey Mr. Smith,

    I just wanted to say thank you for all of the advice that you have freely given out. It has been a giant confidence builder for me, and I’m sure many others as well. I was wondering if you still recommend pricing a novella that is slightly over 8,000 words at $3.99 I have ten of them that I am fixing to release and they all hover right around 12,000 words. Sorry for the late response, and thank you for your time!


  3. Simone says:

    Hey Dean,

    Great blog! Love all your info! Thank you for being so honest. :-)

    Quick Question: You said “First off, with everything possible, do a trade paper edition.”

    So, my question is, at what size does a print version look silly realistically? I would normally only publish in print over 20,000 words. but since short stories have been brought up here i am wondering about books in the 10-20,000 word range? Say if you had an episodic series and every episode was around 15,000words would that be too short a book to print on its own in which case you would be better or printing a few of the episodes together?

    Thank you in advance, excited to hear your response. :-)


    • dwsmith says:

      Well, Simone, there is my response. And there is reality. I do paperbacks for short stories. CreateSpace allows me to do them for free, since I use their free ISBN and don’t put them into extended distribution (priced wrong). So I have done stand-alone short stories into paper at 2,500 words. 5 x 8.

      Now that’s me. I price them at $4.99 and they help the $2.99 electronic edition sell more. They seldom sell. I have about 80 short stories like that in paper.

      Now in reality, I think you are fine from 10,000 words and up. If you get quick in putting them into paper. We have discovered that we need in the range of 25,000 words to get something that is over a hundred pages so we can put a spine on it. But I think you are fine at 10,000 words and up if you can do them easily and don’t expect them to sell much and can keep the price reasonable.

      • Simone says:

        Hey Dean

        Thank you for your speedy reply. :-)

        What you have just written has just opened up my whole world that little bit more!!! How exciting! Thank you! It is interesting and great that print size doesn’t matter so much, because it will help the kindle version if you have both. This also got me thinking if i can print smaller books, i could potentially do audio versions as well, meaning, the sky is the limit! lol!

        Thank you :-)


  4. J. D. Brink says:

    Mr. Smith,
    Someone on a writing forum clued me in to this article and… Well, let’s just say it’s a good thing I’m typing this, because my jaw has dropped too far to speak. I’m embarrassed at how much back and forth I’ve done with pricing that has all been nothing but minutely varied degrees of devaluation on my hard work. I have been shaming myself for thinking I could ever ask as much as $4.99 for my 150,000 word novel, despite having a great cover and being confident in the writing. I guess I just haven’t been confident in myself.
    Going to make some big changes real soon. THANK YOU for the enlightenment.

    • J. D. Brink says:

      I’m going to reply to my own post here because I just saw something that blows my mind with excitement while simultaneously making me very ashamed of myself. Within 48 hours of my raising the price of my novel from the “I’m obviously self-published and not good at it” level to the “I’m a serious and professional writer” level — IN LESS THAN TWO DAYS — someone bought it at the new price. I’ve gone weeks without a sale lying at the bottom of the bargain bin. And as soon as I dare have confidence, a random reader accepts the premise that my book is worth as much as any other.

      Makes me want to slap myself, ya know?

  5. Melanie says:

    I knew about your methods for some time. Years, actually. I kept following kboards though, and never got anywhere. I tried your methods, and I was surprised. It was on a new series and since I have a kboard brainwashed mind, I took the price down thinking I would gain even more sales and readers. It was not so.

    Soon after that, I hurt my hand and couldn’t write for a time. That hurt me. I became very dependent on free days and advertising and low prices. Nothing worked though. No new work=nothing.

    I am now healing but I am sticking to the shorter work series that was selling. I am pulling my prices back up, and be damned or not, I will not touch them again. I will re-examine them in no less than six months. In the meantime, I will write. I will write freely on fiction boards to get the ‘I want to be read’ out of my system to keep me from sabotaging myself again.

    You really are a brilliant man. I just wish I could have seen the truth years ago, when my hands had been at their peak of health. (I have become very skilled with Dragon, and I limit my time with my fingers directly to keyboard now.)

    • dwsmith says:

      Wow, Melanie, thanks. And glad you are getting back at it with the health. Pricing is always a tricky thing. I talked about it in the new Killing the Top Ten Sacred Cows of Indie Publishing. It’s free up under the tab Killing the Sacred Cows of Publishing. I think it’s chapter nine in the second book there. Take a look at that one as well about pricing. It’s updated to 2014.

      And keep writing and having fun. I admire what you are doing.

  6. Dean,

    When I published a novelette back in April, I just threw a $.99 price on it because it was a piece of short fiction and I was a nobody. Who would want to read it? Surprisingly, it sold. Sold pretty well for a piece of short fiction, actually. Each sale got me that whopping 35 percent, but I was pretty content. Before long, I was clearing $100 per month.

    After the novelette did well, I decided to write a full length sequel to it. Being ADHD, I have to bounce among things as I work, so I looked at book pricing strategies. I’d heard that you had a technique and checked it out. I’ll be honest, it seemed counter-intuitive to me. Raising prices would do better?

    Still, I started messing around with a calculator. I realized that while I’d sell fewer, I really would make more actual money per sale. I was worried that I’d kill sales below the point where I’d make more money, but figured I’d give it a shot.

    This past Friday, my book hit the world. The trade paper version was priced at $14.99, so I went with a $5.99 ebook.

    As I expected, sales have been much slower. After the way the novelette sold, I was pretty disappointed…until I looked at the actual money I made.

    The novelette made me about $30 or so it’s first pay period, despite coming out 2/3 of the way through the month. Not too shabby, if I do say so myself. However, the novel has already skunked that dollar amount in just four days. Yes, the numbers are lower, but the actual revenue is significantly higher.

    So, thank you. I’m currently unemployed and the only income I have is from my writing. Now, I’m working on the next book and am hopeful that in a few books, I won’t need to worry about a real job. :)

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