Tweet J.C Hutchins even goes so far as to write off the 99c bracket as being the "bargain basement". Now, given I've got two e-books of my own available, not to mention several in the pipeline, I thought I'd chip in my 99c on the subject.
My first e-book was The First Tale, which collected all thirty episodes of my steampunk serial, as well as containing a link to a downloadable PDF of bonus graphic material. As the word count was below 15,000, I priced it at 99c on both Smashwords and Amazon. I'd given the work away for free on a weekly basis on my Vertigo City blog, and although I'd polished it up and added the graphic extras, I felt charging any more would be unfair. I admit, given the amount of time and effort that went into formatting, not to mention producing the graphic extras, I probably should have charged more.
When I released Checkmate & Other Stories, it was initially free on Smashwords. The fifteen stories had all been published online, although I admit to polishing them up before releasing the collection. As I'd already received payment for some of them, it didn't feel right to charge again. However, when I added it to Amazon, I couldn't figure out how to add a free e-book, so I opted to charge just 99c for it (a price I have since instituted on Smashwords too).
These are standalone cases, and I freely admit I don't intend to charge 99c for everything I do. I put a lot of work into writing and editing my books, and I do the formatting and cover design myself - before you throw up your hands in horror, I've got experience of desktop publishing from my day job, and I've also done courses in graphic design. This all takes time, and it doesn't seem unreasonable to expect some form of monetary compensation. After all, I am charged out to clients at an hourly rate in my day job, so why should I work for free when I'm writing? However, there is clearly a difference between print publishing and electronic publishing, and given the means of distribution is cheaper, I can't charge the same for an e-book as I would for a paperback.
A while ago, I thought that charging $2.99 for an e-book was extortion. Then I had a discussion with the scarily talented Carrie Clevenger and when I converted the cost into UK money, I discovered that a $2.99 e-book costs just £1.84 in GBP. That's less than the cost of a small coffee in any of the major coffee chains. If you're a reader, that poses incredible value. If you're a writer, Amazon let you take 70% of that in royalties at $2.99 or more. So you earn $2.09 on a transaction (£1.29 in the UK), and a reader gets a book at a remarkably low price. Realistically, I would be prepared to pay anything up to $11 (around £6.99) for a decent e-book novel.
JA Konrath might harp on that writers should charge 99c in order to sell more books but at that price, I'm only earning 35c per sale, which is a pathetic 21p. Pardon me for being old-fashioned, but that's ridiculous. I need to sell six copies of a 99c e-book to make the same as I would selling it at $2.99. Sure, there is a rationale that the lower price would encourage more people to buy, but Heavens to Betsy, isn't $2.99 a low enough price? It's all very well if you're Konrath, selling hundreds of books a day - but what if you're just getting started?
When I started with the 99c model, I believed people would be more likely to take a punt on a book if it cost less than a dollar, and the minimal price would also encourage them to think that at least it had some value, unlike a free book. Funny thing is, I've actually had a couple of people donate money through my blog because they thought the price was too low - and one reviewer even said it was worth much more than I was charging!
I think the problem is that people don't attach much value to something if it's too cheap, and they become unwilling to pay if it's too expensive. To me, the $2.99-$4.99 bracket is just right - the e-books are still cheaper than paperbacks, and they're also cheaper than everyday luxury consumables. As a result, I now ALWAYS browse a sample before I buy, ensuring that I'm not just clicking 'buy' with merry abandon on 99c books I'll never get around to reading. Now, there are some 99c books that are so amazing it almost feels like you're ripping them off by paying so little (Danny Hogan's Jailbait Justice being a prime example) but I can't escape the nagging feeling that authors who charge $2.99 or more put in more effort.
I've also begun to see a lot of tweets and blog posts from people saying they buy 99c books but then never get around to reading them (which is fine if you just want the money, but not if you want people to enjoy the story), while others say they won't buy them as they assume quality will be low. So, if there is a section of the book-buying public that would be willing to pay more than 99c, why are we not attaching a realistic value to our work? After all, there is a principle in business that in order to stand out in a crowded marketplace, you should do whatever the competition is not doing in order to differentiate yourself. So if everyone is selling services in a bundle, you sell yours individually, or vice versa. The same applies to e-books - if the world and his wife are selling at 99c, you sell at $2.99. Sure, you might lose sales from the "random clickers" but you might also appeal to others in the same way that they'd rather spend more for a well-made pair of shoes that will last for several years, rather than buying cheap and having them fall apart after two miles.
Now, I'll clarify that this is just what I think. You might agree, you might think I'm crazy. But how do you feel about e-book pricing?