What would you pay for an ebook?

02/06/2017 Discussions, Reading 43

What would you pay for an ebook?

Ebooks and ereaders are pretty incredible things. It may have taken me a long time to get on board with them (and I do still prefer a good old-fashioned paperback!), but I’ve always been able to see how they’ve made reading more convenient, and books much easier to access. Being able to easily buy and immediately start reading any book you like from in your own home is literally the dream for us bookworms!

However, one thing I have noticed is that whilst there are some amazing bargains out there in the world of ebooks, there’s also a lot of publishers who massively overprice their ebooks in my personal opinion, and I wanted to know if anyone else agrees with me.

Personally I’m of the belief that with an ebook you are getting less: you may be getting the important bit, the story, but you aren’t buying anything tangible which you can hold and keep on a shelf. You aren’t buying anything that it will cost the publisher money to manufacture, just the same digital copy that everyone who buys that ebook will get. So in theory, ebooks should be the cheaper alternative, right?

In some instances, yes, that’s the case. I’ve managed to get quite a few books that were on my TBR list for much cheaper than the price of the paperback: Three Dark Crowns by Kendare Blake for example was £3.80, and Heartless by Marissa Mayer was the same (not that I’ve read it yet!). But with many other books, the ebook price is virtually equal to the price of the physical copy, and in some circumstances I’ve even seen it be higher, which is ludicrous! For example, I’ve seen Kindle books that cost £9.99, when the physical copy is £7.99, and personally I’d balk at paying £7.99 for the ebook! My limit tends to be £4.99, because any more than that and I can probably buy the physical book cheaper on Ebay, or second hand on Amazon.

I find this particularly annoying too in regards to series. Often I’ve bought the first book in a series which has been reasonably priced, only to find when I come to the second that it’s several pounds more expensive, and in most cases, this then means I won’t buy it. For example, I recently bought The Summer Queen by Elizabeth Chadwick on my Kindle, and I’m pretty excited to read it – it looks right up my street! But it was only after buying the first book that I realised that the second book jumps up in price from £2.99 to £5.99, and then the third is £8.99, which is the same price as the paperback! To an extent I understand newer books being priced higher, but at the same time you would expect a level of consistency across a series unless the later books are significantly longer.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for writers being compensated for their work – I hope to be a published author after all – but I think the decision of publishers to price some ebooks so highly is a big mistake. You may be paying for the convenience of having the book immediately, but is that worth more than owning a physical copy you can hold in your hand and display on your shelf?

Maybe to some people it is – the story is the important part of a book after all, and maybe I’m just a bit precious about physical books. I know it isn’t all about the pretty cover and being able to display it on a shelf, but it still stands to reason that something that costs the publisher nothing to repeatedly manufacture should probably be priced lower than something they do. I know that the online store (Amazon, Kobo etc.) must take a cut of the sales, but surely it would make more sense to have a lower price point and sell more books?

I’d love to know what other people think anyway. Am I just being tight, resenting paying more than £5 for an ebook (and sorry, international readers for focusing on British currency in this post!)?  Do you think that some ebooks are priced too high, or do you not mind paying similar prices to that of the physical copy? 

43 Responses to “What would you pay for an ebook?”

  1. Rachel

    I totally agree that ebooks should be considerably cheaper (not that I read them often, or buy them). I used to be against them, then I came round to them, and while I totally get their appeal now, no matter how hard I try, I gravitate to physical books. When it comes to pricing though, apart from marketing strategy (pricing the first book cheaper to get you hooked, or even giving the first book in a series away for free), when I was researching my posts on eBooks v Paper Books – The Facts (https://confessionsofabookgeek.com/2016/08/05/ebooks-vs-paper-books-the-facts/), and Why I’m Breaking Up With eBooks (https://confessionsofabookgeek.com/2016/08/04/im-breaking-up-with-ebooks/), I discovered that lots of publishers price them so highly to stop a massive decline in paperback/physical book sales. Physical books still account for around 70% of all books sold, and if eBooks were priced at £1.50 or whatever each, then even die-hard paper lovers like me might find it hard to justify reading physical books. So by keeping prices up, it keeps both markets open.

    • Laura

      That’s so interesting, and that does make so much sense! I guess we would all convert entirely to ebooks if the price was so dramatically different, so it really is quite clever. Annoying, as a consumer, but a clever piece of marketing! I’ll definitely check out your posts on ebooks, because I want to know more about this now! 🙂

  2. Aj @ Read All The Things!

    Almost all of the ebooks on my Kindle were free. Actually, I think there’s currently only one on there that I paid for. I can usually find used paperbacks for a lot less than an ebook, so I’d rather have the paperback. I guess I’m just not an ebook person. I’m always baffled when a brand new paperback is cheaper than an ebook. That makes no sense to me.

    • Laura

      It makes no sense to me either! And I can usually find paperbacks quite cheaply too by shopping around online or going to the discount bookstore, so I definitely wouldn’t pay more for the ebook.

  3. Nordie @ Writing about books

    I object to paying the same amount as a paperbook, and expect it to be (significantly) less. I understand there are certain factors included in the price of a paperbook: printing, binding, storage, shipping etc. Apart from digital storage and delivery costs, ebooks simply dont have the same *type* of charges.

    Ebooks will have the same people costs however: the author(s), editors, cover designers, layout, etc. However, I’m not reassured that the ratios paid to the people are any larger than they are for paperbooks.

    Therefore I can only conclude that an ebook sold at the same price as a paperbook is only done to line the pockets of the publishers and noone else

    • Laura

      That would be my conclusion too. I know there still has to be people doing the layout and editors etc., and some of the profits will go to the distributer (so Amazon, Ibooks, Kobo etc.), but it’s still just one copy of the book being made and distributed to everyone, as opposed to a separate copy being physically manufactured and distributed to each buyer.

  4. Emily Bates

    I totally agree! I’ve never paid more than a couple dollars for all ebook, because, like you said–there’s no substance to it! Nothing you can hold or look at or smell. And it shouldn’t be as expensive, because there’s virtually no production cost. I was kind of embarrassed when my publisher priced the ebook of my first book so high, and when I decided to self-publish my second book, I tried to price the ebook more reasonably.

    I don’t comment on your blog very often because I mostly read it through email notifications, but I just have to tell you that yours is one of the few blogs that I consistently enjoy reading. I love your posts!

    • Laura

      Aww, thank you so much! I’m glad you like reading my posts and thanks for visiting my blog 🙂
      And congrats on publishing your books! 🙂
      Being able to price your own books is definitely a huge advantage to self-publishing, and I’ve definitely noticed that so many more self-published books are reasonably priced compared to those that are from publishing houses. From what I’ve heard self-published authors dominate the ebooks market these days, and I can see why when publishers insist on pricing their books so high! As you say, there’s virtually no production costs after it’s been edited and formatted, so there isn’t much justification for such high prices.

  5. Lauren (My Expanding Bookshelf)

    Great post! The majority of books on my Kindle are free or ARCs. The most I have ever paid (and will most likely ever pay) for an ebook is 99p. Definitely on the cheap side. But I’m the same with my music/movies too. If I don’t get a physical copy of something, I won’t pay over the odds for it, especially if I can get a new release book in a supermarket for £3.85.

    Lauren @ My Expanding Bookshelf

    • Laura

      I get loads of new release books really cheap from the supermarkets too, and when brand new paperbacks are so inexpensive, there’s no way I’d pay over the odds for an ebook either!

  6. Kel

    On the rare occasion I buy an ebook, I don’t like to spend over $2 or $3. $5 tops, and only if it’s something I’m dying to read that’s only available in digital (or super expensive in print). If I’m regularly getting physical copies for around $4, it seems ridiculous to spend double that on an ebook. I get the convenience factor, and all the other costs of publishing are still there, plus whatever cut the e-tailer takes, and you don’t want to kill your physical copy sales by pricing it too low, but… Yeah, I’m not spending $10 on an ebook. 🙂

    • Laura

      Yeah, there are definitely reasons why publishers price ebooks the way they do (like e-tailer cuts and formatting etc.), but if buyers aren’t willing to pay those kind of prices then it would probably make more sense to price them just a little bit lower and sell more of them. I get a lot of physical copies quite cheaply too, so there’s no way I would pay more for the ebook than I can pay to get the actual book! 🙂

  7. Greg

    I do agree, I’ve noticed lately that ebooks for new releases have shot up (and in some cases are not much cheaper than a hardcover). And yes w/ series too- you get the first book maybe at a reasonable price, and then the rest are pricier. It is annoying. And I generally do prefer paerbacks but lately I’ve been getting a lot more ebooks just for convenience sake… but I always want the physical book. 🙂 Especially if it’s one I really want (or want to show off on the shelf lol).

    • Laura

      I’m exactly the same! I’ve been getting more into ebooks lately for the convenience, but I’d much prefer to have the physical book (even if I am running out of room for them all!) 🙂

  8. Mimi @ Poésie de la Lune

    Hey Laura,

    that’s a pretty interesting question. I personally agree that an e-book should cost less than a printed book. But in Germany it’s “normal” that publishers sell their e-books only one or two euros cheaper than the paperback. So many e-books still cost about €7.00 to €8.00, which is about 6.00 – 7.00 British pounds. Only selfpublishers sell their e-books to a lower price, so most of the e-books I’m reading are selfpublished e-books.
    From time to time I also see e-books that are sold for the same price as the paperback. I find that’s extortionate.

    So, yeah, I think a price of about 5 British pounds are a good price for an e-book.

    Kind regards,

    • Laura

      I have been curious about how prices differ in other countries, so it’s really interesting to find out what a regular price is in Germany! I guess if you get used to a certain price range then you probably don’t mind so much. In the UK it seems to be more up and down, where some books are super cheap, and then some are wildly expensive, so it can get a little frustrating!
      Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  9. Sarah Louise

    I definitely agree. I remember seeing, I think it was The Raven King, for $21.99. WHAT? I couldn’t believe it. Typically, I won’t buy an eBook unless it’s on sale. $5.00 is the most I’ll spend. I don’t know, once I finish an eBook, it feels like I own nothing, you know? That’s why I refuse to spend full price. I do love the convenience, though. It’s so nice to buy a book and have it automatically downloaded to my eReader. 🙂

    • Laura

      I definitely feel the same – once I’ve finished reading an ebook it seems like kind of a waste of money. I don’t often reread these days, so if I can’t have the book nicely displayed on a shelf, then it doesn’t feel like I’ve got great value for money unless it was cheap enough.
      And that is a crazy price for The Raven King! I wouldn’t pay that either, especially when you can get a nice physical copy for way less!

  10. Krysta @ Pages Unbound

    When you buy a book, you’re not really paying for the price of the paper, which is probably fairly cheap if the publishers are buying a lot of it. A paperback definitely can’t be $10 worth of paper–I could buy a stack of printer paper for less. Rather, you are paying for the work that went into the production of the book. You are paying not only the author but also the editors, the copy editors, the illustrator or cover designer, the marketing department, etc. You’re probably also making sure the publishers are generating enough revenue to keep the lights and AC on in their offices.

    Providing the story in a digital format doesn’t change the fact that everyone who worked on the book has to be paid. (And keep in mind that people who work in publishing are often notoriously underpaid. Living in NYC on $30,000 is not exactly making bank.) In addition, you have to pay other people to code and format the book, etc. so even if you’re not using paper you’re accruing other costs to make the book available this way.

    You can think of it as comparable to buying food in a restaurant. Spaghetti doesn’t cost over $10. I could buy ten boxes of spaghetti for under $10. But you need to pay the wait staff, the hostesses, the chefs, etc. so we generally accept that the price reflects the work that has gone into the food and that you’re not paying literally for $10 worth of noodles.

    If publishers were to make all their ebooks $5 or under because people believe that the cost is all for paper, they’d most likely lose money rather than make any. I for one would like to ensure that publishing houses remain open to keep providing us with books, so I’m perfectly willing to pay the full price for the story in any format.

    • Laura

      I definitely get what you mean, but I always see physical books as requiring all those same things (paying staff, editors, formatters, keeping the publishers up and running etc.), plus the extra things like materials, the cost of manufacturing them, paying the people who manufacture them, distributing them etc.. With ebooks everyone just gets the same premade copy, whereas with physical books they have to keep making them over and over, and you’re paying for your own copy, which kind of feels like it’s worth more to me? But maybe that’s just me!
      I guess it’s up to each individual person and how much they’re willing to pay, but I suppose there must be enough people out there willing to pay those prices for ebooks if publishers continue to price them equivalent to the physical copies (although Rachel commented above and said that publishers actually price so high to make sure physical sales don’t decline too much, which definitely makes a lot of sense!).

      • Krysta @ Pages Unbound

        There are different people costs for ebooks, though. If there’s not someone manning a printing press, there is someone coding the book. If there are paper costs, there are probably costs associated with digital storage, etc. I don’t think that the people physically shuttling the paper books around are enough to warrant charging five times more for a book. I think that the books are probably priced to ensure that the funds of a bestselling book are enough to distribute across the company and make up for any losses sustained from titles that don’t sell. The books need to be priced to ensure the continuation of the company as a whole. Pricing them based on the amount of paper each individual copy takes probably wouldn’t sustain a business.

        That being said, I imagine that it’s true publishers would not want physical book sales to decline if the reason would be that people are paying $0.99 to $5.00 for a book that would otherwise sell for $15. Publishers would be losing money if they were selling all their books so cheaply.

        I know that it’s unfashionable to recognize that publishers are businesses. I think that in general we like to act like art and writing are above such mercenary things as the need to make money. However, artists and publishers need to live, too. And most of them really aren’t making that much money. My guess is that you’d need at least $50,000 to live in NYC. (Perhaps someone can correct me if I’m wrong.) To live in NYC on what many publishing employees make (I’ve seen jobs listed for $30,000-$40,000) is difficult, to say the least.

        And I don’t think authors are getting paid very much, either, unless they’re extremely popular. Plus they’re probably giving a cut of the profits to their agents (I think it’s 15%? Maybe someone else knows.). There’s a reason that authors tend to come from higher socioeconomic classes. They need to have some sort of financial stability to do work that probably won’t support them by itself. They need to have a second job or someone else supporting them.

        I see authors sort of like I see independent artists. I might go to the local art fair and feel slightly shocked and dismayed that someone is selling a trivet for $20. But they probably have to in order to buy food and pay the rent. I might not like the price and I might not want to pay it, but the price is probably fair.

        • Laura

          On the whole I do agree that the price is probably fair, and there is probably legitimate reasons for pricing ebooks that way, but at the end of the day, it’s all about what people are willing to pay for a product. To use the art fair analogy, if the trivet is $20 and no one is willing to pay that for it, then it won’t sell and the artist just won’t get any monetary compensation at all for making it, even if that’s a fair price considering the cost of materials and labour.
          Now there must be people willing to pay that if publishers keep pricing so high – and I imagine a lot of it is to discourage people from moving entirely from physical books to digital – but I wouldn’t personally pay that much, which I guess is what I was getting at with this post. The royalties authors get from publishers are a tiny percentage anyway, and as you say, agents need their cut too, so really all the money in ebooks is probably in self-publishing, where authors can afford to price their books more reasonably because their cut is much larger.
          It’s definitely an interesting debate anyway, and it was interesting to get a different perspective on this, so thanks for commenting! 🙂

  11. Victoria

    I don’t have a Kindle myself, but Connor has one and he recently bought an e-book for $14. The paperback actually turned out to be cheaper! Considering I love physical books more than life itself, there’s no way I would consider paying paperback prices for e-books. In fact I think that the only situation in which I would consider an e-book at all is if the physical version would be too large and heavy for me to carry around.

    • Laura

      Yeah, I was the same for ages, and really wasn’t into ebooks at all, because I just love physical books too much. That’s why it’s got to be so much cheaper for me to be willing to sacrifice having the actual book in favour go having a physical copy. They definitely are so much more convenient to carry round though on a Kindle…
      And that sucks that the paperback turned out to be cheaper when he had already paid $14 for the ebook! I really wish in that way that they sold book bundles where if you buy the paperback you get the ebook with it, so then you could have a copy for on your Kindle to carry round easily with you, and one for on your shelf. That way you might not feel as ripped off by the high ebook prices!

  12. Shannon @ It Starts at Midnight

    Totally agree with you! I used to buy ebooks more frequently, but then so often the price of a hardcover is actually less than an ebook, which boggles my mind. I mean, it’s just a better investment. Someone else can read your hardcover, or you can sell it secondhand, or whatever. With an ebook… you get none of that. And also, none of the pretty. And frankly, I need the pretty 😀 Love this post!

    • Laura

      Haha, I’m definitely the same! I like having the pretty, along with the story! Physical books definitely seem like a better investment, considering they seem to be priced around the same as the ebook these days 🙂

  13. Kelly

    I’ve always thought that eBooks should be cheaper because they’re not “mine” the way physical books are. I can’t share them with friends, I can’t access them if my device isn’t charged, and if I were to all of a sudden lose all of my electronic devices? I wouldn’t have it anymore.

    • Laura

      I feel exactly the same! Buying an ebook feels more like renting it, whereas with a physical copy it feels more like you actually own it. And as you say, your ownership of the physical book isn’t dependent upon electronic devices as it is with ebooks.

  14. Rasya

    I agree that ebooks should sell a bit cheaper compared to the physical ones because if the price is almost the same and only differs in a few cents, I would rather buy the physical ones in the first place.

    • Laura

      I feel exactly the same. If there isn’t much difference in price, I’ll pick having the physical book over the ebook any day!

  15. Becky @ A Fool's Ingenuity

    I totally agree. I jumped on the ebook bandwagon quite easily but it does upset me that some books are priced so highly when you could easily get a physical at a similar price, if not cheaper. I hate how the first book in a series is always priced lower and then the rest of the series are more expensive so you’re stuck shelling out a load of cash to read a series and you end up wishing you bought the physical books instead.

    I know there’s a whole lot more going on with ebook pricing than I know about but it’s frustrating. Especially as I read a lot of romance the cringey covers mean that sometimes an ebook is the only option to avoid blushing about some of my books on the bus (I’m not embarassed but I’d really rather avoid the judgey looks when all I’m doing is trying to make my commute go a bit faster).

    It’s one of those things I have to put up with and I just have to track the prices of all the books I can so I can jump on a good deal when it comes along.

    • Laura

      The series thing really does irk me! Because once I get to the next book in the series and find it’s priced higher than I want to pay for an ebook, I’d then have to buy the physical copy, which would in turn mean I’d have to buy the physical copy of the first book as well to have the whole set. And that’s just annoying!
      And I definitely know what you mean about ebooks being good for avoiding judgey looks! That’s yet another reason why it sucks that you have to pay so much for ebooks, because they really are more convenient than paperbacks in lots of ways, but not worth more money in my eyes.
      I’m trying to keep my eyes open for all the deals and bargains too, and I’m definitely going to keep buying ebooks, just as long as they’re priced reasonably 🙂

  16. Carrie @ Cat on the Bookshelf

    I agree too that ebooks should be much cheaper because of their intangibility. Price-wise, I rarely buy ebooks that are more than five dollars. Admittedly, I read far fewer ebooks now than I did two to three years ago.

    • Laura

      I’ve actually started reading far more ebooks recently – since I finally updated my dinosaur of a Kindle! – but I won’t pay more than five pounds for an ebook, so I’ve literally just been buying all the absolute bargains! I’ll probably start to run out of all the reasonably priced ones on my TBR list soon though, and I’ll probably end up reading more physical books than ebooks again in the future.

  17. Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

    Most of the time, I won’t buy ebooks unless they’re MUCH cheaper than the paperback because I agree that it just doesn’t feel like you’re getting anything tangible with an ebook (even if the story is the same). Plus, a paper book I can sell or give away—or keep on my shelf to admire forever. I do understand that publishers need to keep ebook prices up enough so that they don’t lose a lot of money that they would have made on physical books, though. After all, it’s not the materials that cost a lot when it comes to publishing—there are authors and editors and marketers, etc. to pay regardless of the way the book is published.

    • Laura

      Yeah, I can definitely see a few reasons why publishers price ebooks so highly, but personally I won’t buy them unless they’re much cheaper either. It doesn’t feel like I own them in quite the same way with an ebook, and I like being able to see all my books on a shelf! 🙂

  18. Lory @ Emerald City Book Review

    To me, ebooks are ephemeral things. They are great for instant gratification and reading on the go, but not for building up a lasting library – I have no assurance that the same technology will be around in the future, among other drawbacks. So for me, getting them from the library is ideal, and the price I am willing to pay (other than taxes supporting the library) is zero.

    I have bought a few ebooks that I wanted to keep or that weren’t available from the library, or that were really good deals. Less than $5 would be my benchmark there. It is hard to see the point of paying more for something that has no manufacturing costs, and no actual physical presence. It would be interesting to see a breakdown of where the price of an ebook goes – what does the author get, the publisher, the middleman/seller…

    There is the consideration of trying to keep print books in business, but I think those need to stand on their own merits. Honestly, there are many totally ephemeral books that could rightly just be electronic and save the paper. Have you seen those pictures of heaps of “Fifty Shades of Grey” that are piling up in used book stores because no one wants them? Those did not all need to be printed.

    • Laura

      The library is definitely ideal, and I’ve really gotten back into them the last couple of years, after not going for so long. I do find it can be frustrating though when you’re trying to read a series and then someone doesn’t bring back one of the books for ages…I’ve seriously been waiting so long for whoever has the copy of the last First Law book by Joe Abercrombie to finally return it!
      I really would be interested to see the full manufacturing costs of an ebook too. I personally don’t feel like an ebook justifies some of the prices publishers put on them, so I’d be interested to see if there is some kind of hidden cost to producing them that bumps up the price, or if they do literally just come up with a number out of thin air! Because that’s what it seems like sometimes.
      And I definitely agree with you in the case of books like Fifty Shades of Grey…that probably should have been ebook only seen as it’s the kind of thing people just read to see what the fuss is about and then discard. I’ve definitely heard about charity shops and places like that asking for people to not donate copies of it because they have so many!

  19. Molly @ Molly's Book Nook

    I refuse to pay more than 2.99 USD for an ebook. I find any more to be a bit much. I totally want authors to be compensated for their work, but when no printing is involved and I can’t use an ebook for pretty bookstagram photos, I can’t justify paying almost the same price as a paperback copy. Like you said, I’ve seen a few that are the same price as a physical copy! That’s just ridiculous.

    • Laura

      I’m glad you agree! I never feel like I can justify paying the same price for an ebook either, and not getting to use it for blog photos and bookstagram is another downside to them.

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