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Understanding Book Prices

Does price still matter? I'm betting that it does.
Nov | 30 | 2010

Nov | 30 | 2010

bookAbout this time last year, I was more than a bit disheartened to learn that my publisher (John Wiley & Sons) had decided to charge $60 for my second book. There wasn’t a great deal that I could do about it, since Wiley was essentially paying me to write a book for them. In short, it wasn’t really “my” book; it was theirs. They could have charged $600 for it and I couldn’t do anything about it.

Now that I have started Motion Publishing, I can charge whatever I want for my next book (although, for a variety of reasons, there are limitations to my freedom). Being a bit of a control freak, I’ll admit that it’s kind of cool to be able to set the price for The New Small. The world is my oyster. I can give the book away, electronically or otherwise. I could also err on the high side.

In this post, I’ll cover some of the reasons that I have priced the book at $19.95.

The Price Isn’t the Price

First up, the price isn’t the price. By this, I mean that sites such as sell books anywhere from 20 to 40 percent lower than their jacket price. Even brick and mortar stores like B&N typically offer a discount, especially if you’re a frequent buyer. Don’t ask me how, but I have even seen at times my second book at $29.95–50 percent lower than the jacket price.

Price Still Matters

Many old-school publishers think that, if there’s sufficient demand, the book will sell regardless of price. This isn’t entirely true. Sure, there are those who’ll buy a book irrespective of cost. Students come to mind, as they are compelled to buy books if the professor lists it on course syllabi. Also, CXOs tend not to concern themselves with price; it’s often not worth their time to truly find the lowest price of a book anyway.

But these are the exceptions. There’s absolutely no doubt in my mind that price still matters for several reasons. First, in case you didn’t notice, the economy isn’t great. More than that, however, there’s just so much content online that an excessive price gives people yet another reason not to buy a book. I can’t tell you “the right” price for a particular book, but I sure know when something just doesn’t feel right. I am reminded here of a famous line by Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart. I know it when I see it.

Page Count Matters

Call me a snob, but I have always had a hard time forking down $24.95 for a hardcover book of a mere 150 pages. Sure, the material may be useful, but I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve been satisfied with such a purchase. Beyond that, the costs of properly designing, editing, and proofreading a 300-page book make pricing it at, say, $9.95, pretty impractical.

The Appearance of Value

Going back to my university days, I remember very vividly the concept of demand elasticity. In short, demand is a function of price. With just about every good, if you lower the price, you raise the demand for it. By the same token, however, there’s something to be said for the appearance of value. If a non-fiction book is really valuable and a great deal of time, effort, and money went into it, then why would it only cost $7?

Simon Says

Pricing a book is more art than science. I doubt that there’s a scientifically correct number for each book. At some point, you have to stop looking at the data, pricing models, and comparable books; you have to go with your gut. Go too high, and you won’t sell too many copies. Going too low means that you may not make much money–and many people might question its value.


What do you think? What goes into your decision to buy a book? Is price important?


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  1. vinnie mirchandani

    as we have seen around our books, ebook pricing is even less rational. Since the ipad came out amazon’s previous attempts to rationalize pricing around $ 9.99 have dropped off and readers are shopping around for the best e price and bitching to authors (as they should when the eprice is almost equal to hard copy or in some cases more than the hard copy price) – not that authors have much say in the price

  2. philsimon

    Vinnie –

    Thanks for the comment. I don’t know about you, but I constantly tell Amazon, Apple, and Wiley how much to charge. 🙂



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