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E-Books and Pricing -- is $99.99 Okay?

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After writing up a small e-book for my wife (shameless plug: Best Hamburger Casserole Recipes rocks!) I decided this past week that I think I'm ready to actually become an e-book author.

Getting started, I found some things were easy to figure out and some things I don't have a clue about. I'll share them with you in case you decide to go down this road too. When I got to pricing, I was really surprised at my conclusion.

Distributor - After looking around a bit, I decided to go with LuLu.com. They offer an ISBN, a distribution channel that I think includes both Amazon and Apple, and lots of helpful forums and such. They can help you with the technical format of your book, you can pay a specialist to help you, or you can slog through putting together the EPUB file yourself.

Guess which one I chose.

EPUB format - This took me, sadly, a couple of days to grok. (I am ashamed to even admit it, because it is so simple). The problem is that the EPUB format is a mix of xml, xhtml, text, zip, and various cross-referencing files. Then there's weird stuff that I have no idea how they allowed in the spec, like the first file must be a mimetype descriptor, and it must start at byte 38. Really, guys, Zip, endian selection, UTF-8, and directory structures aren't new concepts. We can do better than getting in the weeds that far.

But once I finally understood it, it all clicked. Now I keep gedit open with a session with all my files, and I have a nice, short bash script to zip them all up. I'm still manually checking xhtml format and epub goodness, but I'm sure in another week I'll automate that as well.

What to write on - I am lucky in my life in that I've seen and helped a boatload of teams learn and become agile, in all kinds of industries. Companies pay me to help them do this. And I have a very unique approach to both training and knowledge acquisition. So I figured this topic was a natural for a first ebook. Working title? "Agile/Kanban Without the Bullshit"

Length - I guess if I were writing a "real" book, I'd worry about the length. Aren't technical/programmer books supposed to look like phonebooks? But quite frankly, to me that's part of the bullshit I see in both agile and programming books -- either a lack of ideas fluffed out with crap, or a plethora of ideas to the point where the reader is drowning in details. Nope, I'm just going to write what I know, cut all I can, get good reviews, and forget the length.

Reviews/Editing - I'm still working on this part, but I'm beginning to think this is the most important part of any ebook. You have to have a good editor and some good, knowledgeable friends who are willing to severely criticize your work. After all, your reader is probably not going to be too kind. That's fine with me because if I don't have something useful to offer I'd rather not publish, but I can see where it would be scary for somebody who isn't as dialed in to a subject. Trust me, fight your fear and find a good editor. Or several. Your readers will thank you for this (Knowing my luck, after saying that, my ebook will end up on some list of the worst-edited books of the year. )

Price - Beats the shit out of me. Really, I have no idea. Should I charge $1.99? $1999.99? How much is knowledge worth to you? If I decreased your development effort by 10% each week, is that worth $400? Have you seen some of the crazy ebook prices out there? Seems like I saw some ebooks in the thousands of dollars.

I can hear all of my hacker/startup buddies out there yelling, "Go cheap, Daniel! If you price at $1.99 there will be no friction between the user noticing the book and buying it!"

But really? Agile adoption? Just how many readers do you think there are out there who care about this? Maybe 40-100K at most? And -- forgive my Chinese math -- but even if I could convince 1% of those to read the book (incredible success) that amounts to 1K readers at $1.00 profit. Maybe 1000 bucks.


After considering those numbers, I've decided to go high. Retail price will be $99.99. I feel like I can justify this for a few reasons: 1) If it really helps you it's worth that money, 2) If you pay that much you're more likely to pay attention to what I say, 3) Each sale is more of a significant event for both the author and the reader, ie, if you don't like it you're more likely to complain, which is a good thing, and 4) I'd rather sell 20 books to folks who are really going to get something out of it than a thousand books to folks who are putting it in the same mental category as "sub hunt" on their iPhone.

So far I've noticed that this ebook thing is a freaking lot of work. Even when I have a vast amount of source material I have created that I can use, it's still a bear wrapping it all up, rewriting parts, adding, creating, and modifying structure, and graphically laying out the text. I can't imagine how tough it would be for somebody who didn't have the background or material ready and just decided to make an ebook for fun. I've thought about a few ebooks I might like writing next, but starting from scratch and making something worthwhile could easily run a year or more. But because it is getting so easy to publish, I have a feeling that the ebook market is going to fill up quickly with trash, which means that differentiating good ebooks from bad ones will be a problem. That means that once I finish writing and publishing the ebook, I'll have to work long and hard to make sure people know that I'm not trying to cheat them in any way. This could easily end up being more work than the ebook itself.

Lots to learn here. Do you think my pricing strategy makes sense?


I don't think your value pricing strategy of a first book makes sense. You might end up selling to only clients already engaging your services.

As far as I can tell most the business strategy of most technical books are to build brand of the author. Monetization is through more or higher priced consulting and speaking engagements.

The price is even more problematic as an e-book due to the difficulties in sharing (I didn't check if your outlet is DRM free).

No, I don't think your pricing makes sense. To me, $10 is that absolute max I would ever pay for an ebook. Ever. We are talking about something that has the potential to be lost or revoked through no fault of my own. Losing $10 in an ebook may sting a bit, but it sure as heck isn't anywhere near losing a $100 one through no fault of my own.

Now, I might consider $100 for a physical book. At least then the only way I can lose access to it is my own fault.

I, personally prefer my books right around the $40 mark, slightly lower for ebooks because there is no pronting cost.... And I find something very satisfying about writing text in the margins of a paper book that I can't have with am ebook.

Too low and I wonder if there is any quality there at all (see the 1.99.romance fiction books with 3 month or less turn around). At 99, well you would really have a lot of work to do convincing me it was worthwhile.

Even if the content is wonderful what happens if I don't like the writing style, ect.

side note: sorter computer books are often better, in my experience too.

Honestly, I would not ever pay $100 on an ebook.

If a hardcover book costs $100, it is most likely some high-quality scientific book that was never printed in great volume. I would pay that price because there was no alternative and MANY people recommended it to me.

For ebooks however, there is no such thing as low-volume hardcover prints. Unless you write the very best book on this whole planet, I would not be able to justify shelling out $100 for an ebook.

$100 is the price you pay for Microsoft Office or Microsoft Windows, because there is no alternative and it took hundreds of people several years to build it. $100 is the price you pay for two brand-new blockbuster video games that both took hundreds of people dozens of months to make.
$100 is not the price to pay for what one writer has done in a year or so. At least not to me, I'm sorry.


I found this post through HN.

If you ever write another ebook, please consider using eBookBurn.com, which is run by my startup.

Very interesting rationale, and as a potential author I was convinced by it. But when I put myself back in the buyers shoes, I'm more skeptical. Especially for technical content I could easily justify that $100 expense, but I think it would need some particularly compelling marketing copy to convince me that the content was indeed worth it and that it would serve me better than an hour of googling.

It's probably worth it, but I'd need to be convinced because it's well beyond the price where I'd just buy it without a second thought.


On pricing... take the risk with the buyer and go with $49.99. This way you both lose 50%.

I got great feedback from my customers when I explained my pricing policy this way. It helps people drop their guards and follow through with your offer.

And still, 50% of something is better then 100% of nothing.

Do you think my pricing strategy makes sense?

Thanks for the chuckle. You look really cute with your tongue stuck that far in your cheek. ;)

The mimetype constraint is used in other file formats and is not unique to EPUB. For example, Open Office.

Awesome, Liza. Thanks for the assistance. I didn't know that.

Also thanks for the cool site! I've been using your validation page http://threepress.org/document/epub-validate/

I'd say try it. If it doesn't sell at $99, so what? Even then you'll probably get more sales by dropping the price to $49 than if you had charged $49 from the beginning-and it's much easier to drop your price than to raise it.


1) how do I get notified when your ebook is out?

2) i cannot find a about page on you. would you mind supplying it?

3) how do i get informed when you reply to my comment?

Thank you.

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This page contains a single entry by DanielBMarkham published on April 4, 2011 8:14 AM.

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Recent Comments

  • kimsia: Hi 1) how do I get notified when your ebook read more
  • Satvik: I'd say try it. If it doesn't sell at $99, read more
  • DanielBMarkham: Awesome, Liza. Thanks for the assistance. I didn't know that. read more
  • Liza Daly: The mimetype constraint is used in other file formats and read more
  • Moriah Jovan: Do you think my pricing strategy makes sense? Thanks for read more
  • Damir: On pricing... take the risk with the buyer and go read more
  • Glenn Gillen: Very interesting rationale, and as a potential author I was read more
  • Denis: Hi, I found this post through HN. If you ever read more
  • Basti: Honestly, I would not ever pay $100 on an ebook. read more
  • John Battista: I, personally prefer my books right around the $40 mark, read more

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Recently I created a list of books that hackers recommend to each other -- what are the books super hackers use to help guide them form their own startups and make millions? hn-books might be a site you'd like to check out.
On the low-end of the spectrum, I realized that a lot of people have problems logging into Facebook, of all things. So I created a micro-site to help folks learn how to log-in correctly, and to share various funny pictures and such that folks might like to share with their friends. It's called (appropriately enough) facebook login help