ASK EM — Are we worth more than .99?

Keyboard with Tips and Tricks Button.


Today’s question: Everyone’s book is .99 or FREE. Is mine worth more than that?


Short Answer: Most Likely

Confusing Answer: But readers might not pay it.

Extended Answer:


In this world of digital books, music and movies, more people are able to use one-click buying. That means impulse buying. Authors are capitalizing on this mentality.


We’re offering readers .99 books that are worth much, much more. When you went to a bookstore ages ago, you never walked out without spending $7 on a mass market paperback. Why the hell do you think you should have the same in a digital format for .99? Sure, no trees were murdered so your book can sit on your bookshelf and collect dust forever. But seriously, a book is a book.


Sorry if I sound a little disgruntled, but I’m tired of authors cutting their profits. I’m sick of hearing about readers who want something for nothing. One reader actually posted a review on a book I have for 2.99 but she got in a free promotion. It said, “Any books under 50k words should be free.”


Um, really? 50k words? For nothing! Do you go to McDonald’s and say that since you’re getting a 16 oz soda and not the 54 oz that it should be free? It’s EXACTLY THE SAME THING.


Authors have value. And many are de-valuing their work. They labored over a book for countless hours and are offering it for a bargain-basement price of  $0.99. That means they’re making $0.35 a copy. I’m not even going to bring up feeding kids on that income. I’m talking about how it looks to the reading world.


It says…my books isn’t worth more than this.


Yes, discount your book for a freebie day or even a freebie week. Put it on sale for .99 or 1.99 for a while. But until we stop saying our digital books–which has the SAME DAMN CONTENT as those $12 trade paperbacks–isn’t worth spending money on, our work will always be de-valued.


Just my 2 cents. I’d love to hear yours!

Thanks for reading,


21 comments on “ASK EM — Are we worth more than .99?

  1. A lot of us are asking the same questions, Em. But the pundits, the how-to folks seem to have convinced new authors it’s the only way to get your name out there so we see the market flooded. So many are free that readers don’t really care about looking further. And yes, there’s a whole generation believing if it’s on the internet then it should be free.

  2. We started this price war ourselves. Self-pubbers flooding the market didn’t care about how much they made,they only wanted sales. And that’s when book prices started to drop. Now there are so many books at 99 cents, readers wonder why they should pay more for an author they haven’t read. I find it hard to disagree with that. I have a couple of 99 cent books and some free books as well. My free books are ways of getting my work out there and of bringing readers to my series, where they are paying more to read the rest. I don’t have a problem with that because it’s like a free sample at the candy store.
    The quality of self-pubbed books varies widely. So readers will read a new author for free because they’re not risking anything. If the book is terrible because the writer can’t write or didn’t get an editor, then they are out nothing.
    So until the world of self-pubbers calms down and gets culled down to only those who can write, then maybe ebook prices will rise again. But I’m not holding my breath. Great post, Em. I agree with you.

  3. I think it comes down to whether writers are willing to take the chance on potential missed sales. There are a lot of people who have the mentality that they won’t pay past a certain amount for ebooks, and that’s fine. And then there are the people who download freebies and super cheap books in bulk just because it looks cheap. A lot don’t bother reading the blurb. A fair number of them don’t even bother reading that box set of 10 books they got for a dollar. And quite a number of those freebies or cheap stories don’t translate to future sales. Yes, a few of them do. But the majority don’t.

    I fully agree with offering some stories so that people can get a sense of the writer’s style (more than a free sample on a website), but writers have to draw the line somewhere. A lot of us simply can’t afford to make everything cheap or free. Readers don’t always understand that – an issue that seems to only apply to artistic jobs. As far as I’m concerned, if I write something beyond a certain word count, I’m going to price is accordingly. People who collect cheap books like stamps may not like it, but the general reading public will never look at my novella or novel length stories and think I don’t have enough confidence in my writing to think it isn’t worth more than the price of an off-brand chocolate bar.

  4. As much as I’d like to put a book out for free I can’t afford to. Right now I’ve got a $0.99 regency out by a publisher which has continued to sell and one I self-published which isn’t doing bad either. Over the next several months I’ll be releasing several more both for $0.99. Not counting what it costs me in time to write the book I have to spend upwards of $75.00+ for professional editing and a professional cover for the books. Like hell I’m giving one of them away as one publisher suggested I do for one of the books.
    Being an author is my job, my only job and I expect to get paid maybe not $7.99 or even $3.99 but something for my time, effort, creativity not to mention, as I mentioned above, initial out of pocket expenses.
    I’d also like to point out my $0.99 books outsell the more expensive regencies by a lot. I only wish I knew the exact number.
    Now, will I ever put my books out there for free? Yes, maybe but only for a promotional weekend when another releases but that’s all.

  5. I agree that not all books should be free or 99 cents, unless it is for a promotional period (day, weekend, week). All the writers I follow let the readers know when it will be at a promotional price. I might try a new to me author based on a lower price, but for the ones I truly enjoy, I am willing to pay the “regular” price. I still prefer “paper” books to “e-books”. Especially since you don’t truly “own” the “e-books” you “buy” from places like amazon.

  6. One publishing company regularly sends me emails for their free books. I downloaded several during a time when I couldn’t afford to buy and out of the dozen or so, only found maybe one or two worth reading. So I’ve started deleting those emails.

    I refuse to pay over $5 for an ebook, unless it is an anthology, but even then, my limit is $10-12. I WILL take advantage of the free or .99 books IF I know the author or IF it’s a particular book I’ve had on my ‘radar’, just not gotten around to buying that new author’s work yet. And that’s only if I’ve fallen in love with the blurb, read an excerpt, or even had a conversation with that author. I don’t want a lot of unread books on my Kindle.

  7. I agree with everything you say. I have no issue with short stories for 99c but not books that are 40-50k. We are underselling ourselves and claiming our work is worth less than a mars bar. I also appreciate that for a paperback I have to pay more for the paper and ink. But when authors are selling 12 books for 99c, we are seriously screwing ourselves. Amazon allows you to read the first little bit of a book. it’s easy to tell from that if you can get on with a writers style. Everything else (plot holes, rubbish characters) is a chance you take with any book. I’ve read books by authors I love and on in every ten of their books is a stinker. It’s the way it is. We need to stop underselling ourselves and demand the payment for the work we deserve.

  8. I agree, Em. This is crazy. I saw a boxed set of 12 books for 99c. That is less than 9c per book! How many hours does it take to write a book in the first place? People protest sweatshops where someone is forced to work hours a day for pennies. 9c a book isn’t even pennies per day. It might be pennies per week in some cases. Yet you don’t hear anyone protesting that.

  9. I’ve been meaning to write a blog post about this myself.

    All the freebies and the cheapies are redefining and resetting the value of a book in readers’ minds, and ultimately authors and readers will pay the price. Readers will refuse to pay a book’s true value, so many authors will be unable to earn a living writing and will stop writing, and the only left thing for readers to read will be dreck.

    I also suspect that many freebies go unread anyway. Just because you click on on a book doesn’t mean you read it.

  10. I agree completely. I just published my first digital book with a major publisher. In it’s current configuration, I’ll make 19 cents a copy. In it’s reissue, I’ll make 60 cents. I’m already wondering if it’s worth it from the writing side of things. From a reader’s POV, I like a good deal as much as the next person but authors and publishers are digging their graves with this super low and free pricing. It devalues the entire industry. Our new works are instantly being relegated to the bargain book bin.

  11. Before Amazon switched to the KDP platform, they had a site called Mobi where you could publish your book on Amazon. That’s where I started. Their royalty rate was 35%. No matter your price. And I was making $10K a month at that royalty rate. So whining that you can’t make money at 35% is ridiculous. You can. Granted the landscape has changed – there are more Ebooks, more authors and visibility is harder to come by. But those 12 author book bundles aren’t just good for readers. We’ve had $0.99 bundles hit both the NYT and USA Today lists and make anywhere from 25-50K using that $0.99 price point, raising it to $2.99 and then price pulsing back down to $0.99 if ranks slip too far down. That cash is not a bad haul for authors even split 12 ways. And if readers find your book in a bundle and like it/you, they’ll go find your backlist. The $0.99 price point wasn’t ever meant to be permanent – unless it’s your loss leader – but it’s a very useful tool. Don’t discount it. It gets you in front if the reader. After that, it’s up to you – and your writing – to keep them.

  12. I just want to say that while it may not be a great idea in the long run to sell all your stories at .99 . I think everyone should view it from a marketing perceptive/mentality.
    If you are a new author with zero followers then yes .99 or free story is a good idea because you want to develop a following .Saying that Include in the back of your book the reviews are important and please leave a review on the purchased site and goodreads. Include website links, facebook/social media page so they can begin to follow you ask questions for up coming books. update them on where you are blogging , promoting your books and blog stops ect.
    Now once you have that audience you can start building excitement for your new release. Use excerpts, pics and facts about main characters family history fun facts . Advertise to your readers for one week or weekend the book will be 1.99 or .99 .as the release date near remind your followers about this.
    Lets be totally honest people will follow when you have a Quality product. Quality means that every time they open a book from your Name ( Your NAME is BRAND) They know that in exchange for their money and time they are getting Quality product.

  13. Reblogged this on Save The Last Dance and commented:
    A thought provoking post and something seriously worth considering by all Indie authors.

  14. I don’t download free books anymore and mostly won’t buy 99cent books – unless it’s a promo by an author I know or have wanted to read but haven’t gotten to. That said, you’d have to have a pretty special e-book to price it over $6,7 max.

    The piece about any book under 50K words being free is crazy and just isn’t thought through or looked at from what it costs the author. Amazon allows you to sample a book and if after you buy it, you want to return it, you have 7 days to do so. If a book falls apart quality wise, then return it, but this is our work and I like the candy bar comparison: we have got to be worth more than a factory mass produced Mars bar.

    I do think as readers read more and more books, they will begin to see this. Just like in other things, you get what you pay for. I think the idea of a free/99cent book to showcase your work is a good one but I can’t think of a scenario where I would price books like this otherwise.

  15. The only free books I will click to receive are those that are normally priced at $3.99 or higher and are a promotional special. If an author actually believes their books is worth nothing, I will take their word for it. I don’t want worthless books in my kindle.
    Reducing the number of books in my kindle is a major effort, so I’m not adding devalued books to the pile.
    If the blurb is good and an excerpt intrigues me, I will buy a 99 cent book. However, I would have bought the book for up to $3.99. Rarely do I buy over that price because I am currently poor. This used to lock me out of best sellers, but no more. They are all doing promotional price drops as well now. The hard truth is there may be more authors than readers now. Since no one is inclined to give up on a this wonderful yet difficult occupation, lower prices are guaranteed. It’s demand vs. supply.

    The pittance paid now is more of a mental barrier than an economical one. I sell more books at $3.99 than I do at lower prices. When I drop my prices, I actually sell less books. The only book I will give away free is the first book of a series and only after there are other books in the series to be bought.. Until then, it’s full price.

  16. Em,

    A great discussion! I feel your pain but respectfully disagree.

    My local grocer drops the prices on the new crop of delicious oranges below where he/she can make a profit on them, to get me to come into the store. I then purchase other groceries at full price–never fails! I don’t consider him foolish for selling cheap oranges, nor do the other grocers denigrate him, so I’m wondering why we as authors are angry at others who use this technique?

    I have a sci fi romance novella free on all outlets. New readers try my novella and then many of them buy the rest of my sfr books. Having it permafree also keeps my name near the top of the sfr genre lists. This works well in a niche market like sfr, whose readers are prolific, bless them! My other books are priced at 3.99 and above, which I consider fair. They sell just fine.

    As a reader myself, I download many free and .99 books, and anthologies. Many, I’ll admit, I dump almost immediately, but the stories I enjoy spur me to buy more and even all of that author’s work. And I spend a lot of money on ebooks!

    i know there are many readers who only download cheap and free, but frankly, they are either tremendously uncritical of what they read, or were probably the folks who, before ebooks came along, only got books from the library as I did when I was a stay-at-home mom with no money.When we got a little more money, I still used the library, but also began to buy my paperbacks at the used bookstore. I would have loved to buy only new books, but my choices were free, cheap or not read at all.

    Then ebooks came along–hallelujah! I have over 1,000 on my Kindle in sorted genre lists.

    We all have so many choices as self-published authors, and choices are a wonderful thing, including enticing new readers with loss leaders. Readers vote with their credit cards, and if they love our writing, they’ll buy what we offer.

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