99¢ Ebooks—Good or Bad?

That’s a loaded question. I don’t think there is a simple answer, but let me give you my take. When I first heard of the 99¢ ebook, I thought it was a good idea from the reader’s standpoint, but I’m beginning to change my opinion. Not completely though! Let me explain.

One of my favorite bookstores is Half Priced Books. A brand new book is just that—half priced, so a $25 hardbound book usually sells for around $12. But I don’t buy those. I stick to the clearance, used books that haven’t sold, which are going for a few bucks. I’ve bought several hardbound books for $3, paperbacks usually for $1.

That explains why I thought 99¢ ebooks were a good thing. They matched my spending habits in regard to printed books. These situations don’t match one another, though. When you buy an ebook, you aren’t buying secondhand.

99¢ Ebooks Are Not Evil

What I’ve read about the issue: a lot of it I agree with (or can at least acknowledge), but much of it I don’t agree with. For instance, I’m not convinced that 99¢ ebooks are going to hurt the industry. Readers are smart; they aren’t going to expect that price all the time. The backlash has already started. Some people stay away because of the known quality issue with cheaper books, especially with the self-published.

There will always be a way for people to get ahold of cheap or free books without resorting to pirating. Before the digital age, there was the library and lending from friends. Those that refuse to buy ebooks priced higher than 99¢ need an outlet, and free Kindle books provide yet another option. They are not your targeted, paying audience. I wouldn’t worry about them.

How To Use 99¢ Ebooks

I believe 99¢ ebooks possibly have a place in a marketing strategy. They can provide a needed fan base, encouraging people to buy your other, higher priced books. However, if you are going to go with Kindle Select, there’s no need to go with a 99¢ price tag. The promotional backing of a 99¢ ebook is accomplished with Free Kindle Days. There’s no need to double dip.

There’s one other situation where I would possibly use a 99¢ ebook—short stories. Publish a 5,000 word short story and price it at 99¢. With enough of a fan base, I can see where it would be possible to come out ahead if you wrote enough short stories. You could write 50 a year, although with that much effort, you might do just as well writing longer novels.

Why I Wouldn’t Price My Books At 99¢

You may have noticed that I used the word “possible” (or its equivalents) several times in the preceding section. That’s because I would NOT use the 99¢ price tag.

If you use Kindle Select, the 99¢ promotion strategy doesn’t make sense to me (as described above). If you aren’t using Kindle Select, I would use coupons via Smashwords. Or a combination of the two: run a 90 day Kindle Select promotion period, using your 5 Free days to build traffic, a fan base; after that, put your book everywhere, using Smashword coupons to continue building traffic.

Pricing a few short stories at 99¢ is a good idea in my mind, but don’t think of it as a money maker. It’s simply a promotional tool. Although I don’t like the idea of overpricing any story, I also see the need to NOT under value yourself. Because the percentage of return is so much higher once you get to the $2.99 level (on Amazon), that’s where I would start my actual pricing.

$2.99 is too much for a 5,000 word short story in my opinion, but it’s a workable price—perhaps even a great price—for a collection of short stories (depending on the collective length).

Here’s the bottom line: if your goal is to make money, every pricing/promotion decision should support that, especially the 99¢ price tag. If you’re making enough money, great. If not, change your strategy. If you aren’t out to make money (writing is more of a hobby), 99¢ is great for the casual reader.

I’d love to hear from both sides. Just remain civil!