A Tale of Two E-Books

by | Sep 11, 2010

It depends on the context.

What’s your frame of reference?

Perception is reality.

However you want to say it, every day we we walk through worlds that are right next to each other yet seem to never touch.

Kindle—The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking

This is the best selling, non-free, non fiction book in the Kindle store, probably the biggest retailer of ebooks from mainstream publishers. And also lots of indie authors. And self-publishers, too. Everybody has a seat at this table. As Amazon is fond of telling us, they have over 670,000 titles to choose from.

ebooks for self-publishersThis book is the Kindle version of a hardcover original. More data:

  • 208 pages, or 12992 KB
  • Published by Bantam
  • Kindle’s MOBI format for use on Kindle or in the Kindle reader app for iPhone, iPad and others
  • It has an average rating of 3.5 stars from 42 customer reviews (The pub date for this edition was Tuesday, 9/7)
  • 47 people “tagged” the book as too expensive for Kindle
  • The book retails for $28.00 (same price as the hardcover, by the way) and Amazon has discounted it today to $13.61, a 51% savings
  • Example of sales copy:

    “In The Grand Design we explain why, according to quantum theory, the cosmos does not have just a single existence, or history, but rather that every possible history of the universe exists simultaneously. We question the conventional concept of reality, posing instead a “model-dependent” theory of reality.”

Obviously even at $13.61 there is a portion of the Kindle audience that loved it when every bestseller was $9.95, and they are not going quietly.

Except for the higher than normal price for a book that Random House, the hardcover publisher, calls “marvelously concise” which might lead you to believe it’s a bit of a “marshmallow.”

However, it’s a book from an author who is world-famous and who hasn’t published recently, so there’s a lot of interest in the book and that’s probably why it went to number one on Kindle so quickly.

Internet Marketers—How to Launch the **** Out of Your EBook by Dave Navarro and Naomi Dunford

Okay, here’s book number two for your inspection. I have no sales figures for this book. The authors are bloggers and internet marketers of the “third tribe” variety.

internet marketing for self-publishersHere’s some info:

  • 113 pages
  • Format is PDF, for use on computers, the iPad and, awkwardly, the iPhone
  • No stated publisher
  • Does not appear to have an ISBN
  • This book is not on Amazon, or anywhere else for that matter. It’s available only from a “landing page” belonging to the authors
  • The price of this book is $97.00
  • Example of sales copy:

    “It’s a fact: strong sales result from four proven factors that transform “hopeful” ebook writers into savvy authors who rake in five figures, six figures or more every year from the sales of their ebook – because these factors let you “sell without selling” and convince people to buy before even a single word of sales copy is read.”

Parallel Universes

Somehow, books like How to Launch the **** Out of Your EBook simply don’t exist in what we think of as the book business, the publishing universe.

But this ebook is just as real as Hawking’s book, isn’t it? Notice that its graphical representation is designed to look more like a book. The Kindle graphic is simply an adaptation of the front cover of the hardcover edition. So maybe it’s more of a book.

Bantam, I’m sure, would like to sell Hawking’s book in as many venues as possible, in any format in which you would like to buy it. It’s on Amazon, BN.com and probably every other ebook retailer in the known universe.

Dave Navaro and Naomi Dunford sell their book in one place only, their sales page.

No matter how many copies they sell, this book will never show up on a bestseller list, will never win a book award, will never even appear on the radar of the book business.

And their book is almost 8 times the price of Hawking’s. I wonder what the reaction would be over at the Kindle store if someone tried to sell an ebook for $97?

And yet I’m sure that this book sells, and sells well. Both authors are accomplished marketers. Dunford advertises “over 25,000 Monthly Visitors” to her website, and Navarro says he has over 4,000 people on his email list. They are both pros who teach other people how to make money online. And after all, how many ebooks do you have to sell at $97?

The Moral of the Story

Perhaps you’re a self-publisher. Maybe you’re thinking of selling your book as an ebook. Why will you choose one model over the other? It’s just as easy to send traffic to your own sales page as to the Kindle store’s page for your book.

Since it’s a digital product, there’s no fulfillment cost or overhead involved. You can sign up for an e-commerce account for almost nothing and sell the download off your website. It’s fully automated. If what you are selling is information, a how-to book, a training manual of any kind, this is a fair question.

But then there’s the big question, the one that ought to interest every self-publisher before they run off to become a best seller in the Kindle store: What’s your ebook worth?

I guess it depends on the context.

Image licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License, original work copyright by Mike Licht, https://www.flickr.com/photos/notionscapital/

tbd advanced publishing starter kit


  1. John Pansini

    Just started out trying to sell my ebook — website went up on 4/9/11 — only sold 13. To friends and relatives! Considered dropping price from $9.95 to $2.99, but after reading this, decided not to. I believe in my product. Most $0.99 and $2.99 ebooks aren’t even worth those prices.

    BTW: Put book up on Kindle Store for $9.95 on 5/5. No sales so far — which is just as well. Prefer selling from my website.

    John Pansini

    • Joel Friedlander

      John, congratulations on getting your book out. Since the book is so new, try to leave the price unchanged for 90 days to give it a fair trial. Good luck with your book marketing, too.

      • Michael LIpsey

        How do you know if many, a few, or none of the $97.00 books have sold? Anyone can put anything online for any price. And if it’s not on Amazon or a major retailer there is no way of even knowing if their sales figures are true. So this kind of book is not a useful example.

  2. chris

    “I’ve studied some of the techniques of the internet marketers…”

    Maybe we were both trying to get rich quick that month?! :)

    How about a fiction title based on a self-published author who finally overcomes all obstacles to find success… price point: $0.99 … any market?


    What about: “Self-made self-pubbed… How I made $223,689 in one month with ebooks.”

    Includes, “Working 9 to Dive… Make millions from your pool side with nothing but a laptop.” Valued at $89

    Plus: “Book Designer … 1 million authors equals $100 million dollars. A guide to doing very little for an awful lot.” Valued at $39.95

    All this – was $239.95 … now $87 … today only. $67 if you BUY NOW!!!

    Testimonial: “Hi, I’m Chris. 12 months ago I was dyslexic, drunk and hoarse from screaming at my mongrel bloody kids. Now my life has turned around. I’ve got a Corvette, a new wife and more money than a Bay Area book designer pimping snake oil. How? I bought “Self-Made, Self-Pubbed”. It turned my life around. I never thought I could string two words together… but it turns out rich people don’t even read. They count: MONEY. Trust me; buy the book. And send me a thank you card when you make your first million. I stick it on the wall… right next to my first $5 million affiliate check.”

  3. chris

    Another add-on. I probably should have mentioned a cross-over marketer.

    Dan Hollings.

    Anyone remember that little book called ‘The Secret’ a couple of years back?

    I’m pretty sure he was the man who promoted it.

    • Joel Friedlander


      Thanks for your input. Yes, I’ve studied some of the techniques of the internet marketers but I just think it’s interesting how these worlds rarely come in contact with each other. When the $97 ebook “works” sometimes it’s due to the seriousness with which it’s taken by the buyer. If you pay that much money, you’re going to treat it as pretty special life-changing information.

      And a lot of ebook authors are well below the $2.99 price, at $1.99 or $0.99. Strange world.

  4. chris

    ^^^Sorry for the rambling mess of words up above^^^

    I really should proofread my comments at least once before sending them!

  5. chris

    Joel, you’re venturing into a different world here. Making money out of ebooks is old news for a lot of Internet Marketers. They’ve been at this stuff for years. These folks make big bucks out of ebooks… not thousands or ten of thousands, we’re talking five and six zeros!

    Anyone interested in cashing in on ebooks should go google some internet marketers.

    You’re right though, Joel. It is the perception of value. These guys create a product then create a desire in their audience to buy the product.

    They use squeeze pages, 3D ecover (warning: blatant self promo: which I provide btw!!), they give away free ebooks and information (usually the best stuff) they then build their mailing list.

    Anyone interested in this stuff should head over to the warriorforum and lurk. These people live and breathe this stuff. A lot of it is kinda over-the-top for my liking but it finds an audience.

    Will their methods work for fiction? Probably not. But there are some great lessons to be taken from some of their sales tools.

    What could work for mainstream authors?
    – get covers that ‘pop’ (I’m not trying to sell you on this, honest!)
    – create a single smart sales page
    – give away content to sell high-priced, high-value content later
    – build an email list
    – build it some more

    Currently mainstream authors are trying to devalue their work. The $2.99 price point is fantastic as a reader but I doubt you would find any internet marketer adopting anytime soon.

    I wrote on Mike Shatzkin’s blog cometime back about some friends I knew year ago who did programming for an adult company here in Oz. The owner used to make $4mill a month. They sold membership for $39.95/month. They tried $49.95, $29.95, $19,95 … but $39.95 is what people wanted to pay for porn. So they kept right on charging it!

    Perception of value.

    One last thing: The problem with self-publishers is they think their work is only worth a few bucks. Internet marketers, however, make you believe their work is life-changing… thus it is priceless. 97 bucks… an absolute bargain. That book about blogging will make you millions… or maybe it won’t!

  6. Mayowa

    What a great post, Joel.

    I think this is a perfect example of a free market in ebooks. Every author or publisher gets to decide how much they think their book is worth and readers decide how much it really is worth.

    Now, i’m not so sure if that is a good thing or not across the board. Franzen’s Freedom would probably be too expensive for a lot of folks if we applied this rule consistently. I do know that Kindle owners wanting all bestsellers to be 9.99 rubs me the wrong way (I am a writer after all).

    • Joel Friedlander

      Well, the Kindle owners were “lead to believe” that all bestsellers were always going to be $9.99, simply by inference. I was surprised at how many people were tagging this book after it had been out only a couple of days. Old habits, it seems, die hard.

      It just seemed ironic that the Kindle people were fuming about $4 when other people are hitting the “buy now” button and paying $97 for a book of instructions.

  7. Mary Tod

    Hi Joel – I think it’s also instructive to combine thoughts you laid out in Follow the Money post with these two examples of ebooks. My suspicion about the $97.00 book by Navaro and Dunford is that their book represents the value they believe purchasers will derive from not just reading the book but acting on its intellectual content. Almost like using the book as a substitute for taking a course or a workshop with the authors.

    Of course Hawking’s book also has reams of intellectual content, just not the kind the average reader can act on :)

    • Joel Friedlander

      Mary, I’m not sure the difference is simply the way the books are marketed and sold. There are many “how-to” books similar to theirs on Amazon, and none of them are $97 for 113 pages. My suspicion is that it’s the sales mechanism that makes the difference, and if Hawking wanted to hire some internet marketers, you can almost imagine what the sales page would look like!



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