Low Ebook Prices May Mean Shorter Books

Kindle FireI’ve watched with interest the introduction of eReaders since my former job as a library director some thirteen years ago.  They’ve changed quite a bit over the last decade and they have become useful, portable devices.  As the eReader has evolved, so has the ebook publishing business, though it seems very chaotic at the moment.  Some aspects of it, like pricing, doesn’t favor the author.

One popular ebook distributor is Amazon.  Amazon has extremely low-priced ebooks in order to drive sales of their ebook readers. Paperbacks are still at virtually the same prices they were five years ago (i.e. fiction paperbacks).  The price per download is also very low, usually less than 10 cents, yet distributors are asking for a huge slice of the royalty pie.  Currently Amazon grabs 65 percent of a book’s royalty if it is priced $2.99 or lower, and 30 percent on books priced higher than $2.99.

What does this mean for authors offering their books for these low prices?  Their take home after the distributor’s slice of the pie is about 35 to 55 cents.  Multiply this by 500 (the average number of books sold by lesser known authors) and an author’s final take is about $175 dollars before taxes.  Divide that by twelve months and the author makes about $15 per month – not enough to finance most author’s monthly coffee budget.

The problem:  Authors and publishers are urged to price a book in the $2.99 or less category as that is where the majority of eook readers tends to shop.  They are bargain hunters.

The solution:  Authors should write shorter books to account for the lower royalties.  Instead of the 50K to 75K word book, perhaps 30K word books would be a fair solution.

There are three reasons for writing shorter books:

  1. The low royalty amount for the work produced.
  2. The reader’s desire for subsequent books written by their favorite authors.  The demand is high for sequels and trilogies; if an author only publishes one book per year, they may lose their audience, not to mention starving on their royalty pittance.  If an author writes shorter books, they may be able to write more of them.
  3. Readers are looking for cheap ebooks and don’t want to pay a higher price for them.  They’ve been conditioned by ebook retailers to expect very low prices.  Price your books higher and your book may sink into oblivion on distributor sites like Amazon.

Of course all of this is my idea of fairness in the new ebook world.  No one is standing up for the authors, even though there is a writer’s union (in the US – NWU). There is no clamoring for fair wages for a book produced for public consumption. In fact, I’ve heard that writer’s should give away their efforts for the good of the their community.  However, I don’t hear those same people calling to financially support those writers who are supposed to give it away for free either.

If anyone out there has begun writing shorter novels because of the royalty/low price issue, I would appreciate hearing from you in the comments below.  How long are your shorter books?



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