By David Kudler
I was asked recently what factors affect the price that I give a book. Here are the considerations I take into account when pricing a book:
Is the edition print or digital (e- or audiobook)? If it’s print, there are going to be fixed costs that you have to account for before you can even begin to set a price:
If you’re using a print-on-demand solution (like IngramSpark! or KDP Print), the provider will handle the items marked with asterisks (*); they’ll tell you what the lowest possible price for your book is. However, that price won’t actually turn you a profit, nor will it cover necessary costs like:
- other costs I mention below
So make sure you include at least a 10–25% cushion to cover those costs — and probably more.
Remember that the standard wholesale discount is 55% — with the ability to return within 90 days. So your cushion needs to be included in that remaining 45%.
One-time and variable costs
Ebooks and audiobooks actually don’t have any fixed costs of production. Whoopee! However, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t cost you time and/or money to create them and sell them. Print editions have these costs as well. Those can include:
- Design/production costs (interior, cover, ads)
- Editorial costs
- Marketing costs (emails, ads, appearances, etc.)
- Licensing fees (for trademarks, images and/or text)
I’m sure there are more I’m not thinking of, but those basically cover the main ones.
Now, when a publisher is going through a traditional printing/distribution process — printing a certain number of books and distributing them — they have no guarantee they’re going to sell out the first printing. So they will typically plan for the first printing to cover ALL of those costs.
This is why large traditional publishers generally price their new books relatively high, even though economies of scale generally make their fixed costs per unit relatively low.
I, on the other hand, generally publish using print-on-demand and digital formats. That means my fixed per-unit costs for print are higher, but I have zero up-front costs and no on-going costs to:
- ship the books
So my books aren’t going to ever go out of print — they don’t need to pay off immediately. I’m in it for the long run.
That doesn’t mean I don’t take my one-time and variable costs into account. If I’ve spent $1000 on editing, $500 on a cover, and $2500 on pre-launch marketing, say (and those are real numbers), I’m going to be very careful about discounting that title without a very good reason — such as a BookBub promotion or the launch of another book in a series.
Genre and Length
For each medium, each genre and subgenre has a price range for a particular length of book. Generally (though not always) longer books cost more than shorter books.
For print books, that makes sense — after all, longer books are more expensive to print.
For digital media, that’s partially to offset variable and one-time costs, but mostly a matter of convention.
Go to a number of stores — and not just in your country — and check out the price ranges in your specific title’s subgenre and length, then price your book accordingly — taking all of the other considerations into account.
Some books aren’t published to make money. Perhaps they’re meant to:
- support a cause
- establish the author as an authority in a field
- serve as an extended “infomercial” for a product or service
- serve as a “loss leader” to generate sales for other books in the series or by a particular author
If you’re not looking for profit from the title, figure out what your lowest possible price is, add a bit to cover incidental costs, and start with that.
If the title is a short digital-only book by a new author, I might price the book as low as I can. If the author has any kind of track record, I’ll price more in line with the considerations above, trying to maximize both of our profits.
And of course, especially with digital formats, I can change the price as often as I want. I often start with a price at the high end of my projected range, see how sales are, and then adjust from there. Rinse, repeat.