Will $5.99 be the new FREE?

Free Reading

Book Pricing Strategies

Amazon recently launched Kindle Unlimited, which allows customers to download multiple books all for just $9.99 per month. The selection includes all 500,000 KDP Select books plus an additional 100,000 books, including Harry Potter. (Read more about Kindle Unlimited by clicking here.)

If Kindle Unlimited really catches on—it looks quite promising for readers—it could be a game-changer for pricing Kindle e-books.

Many customers are indeed trying Kindle Unlimited out, and as more customers do this, it will surely impact sales ranks of Amazon e-books.

Let’s look at a little history:

  • 99-cents has often been a popular price-point. It’s cheap enough that customers can buy on impulse and not worry too much if it doesn’t work out. But many also believe that you get what you pay for, and believe this more strongly after a few books don’t work out.
  • When KDP Select first launched, FREE was a popular promotional strategy that worked for many authors. But then FREE lost its luster.
  • $2.99 has been a popular price point. You have to sell 6 times as many books at 99 cents to make the same royalty at $2.99, plus the higher price suggests higher quality than 99 cents.
  • Recent studies have shown that $3.99 to $5.99 is a profitable price-point. Indeed, many customers shop this slightly higher price range, expecting to find better quality here. (The study also showed that $9.99 was highly profitable, but nonfiction and big-name authors have lent popularity to that range.)

In the past, many books have sold in the free to $2.99 price range because many customers have been thinking about saving money—and about the risk of a higher-priced book not turning out well.

Kindle Unlimited customers are likely to have a different mindset:

  • Kindle Unlimited customers aren’t asking, “What’s affordable?” Once you spend $9.99 for the month, every book you want to read is essentially free.
  • So they are instead asking, “What’s the best book I can read?” They are looking for the best book, not the best price. If they do look at price, it’s as a guide to value.

The value of e-books may be changing. It is, at least, for Kindle Unlimited subscribers:

  • Cheap price-points have no value to Kindle Unlimited readers. Free isn’t a good deal to them. Instead, low prices may suggest low quality.
  • Higher-priced books may have more value to Kindle Unlimited readers. You have to read ten 99-cent books to get your $9.99’s worth for the month, but if you read ten $5.99 books, that’s a $60 value.

Since Kindle Unlimited has just launched, it still remains to be seen how much Kindle Unlimited customers will impact book pricing strategies and Amazon sales ranks.

Here are some things to look for:

  • Will 99-cent thru $2.99 books slip in the Amazon rankings?
  • Will $3.99 thru $9.99 Kindle Select books rise in the Amazon rankings?
  • If higher-priced Kindle Select books do rise in rankings, will that improve their sales, too?
  • Will KDP Select freebies and Countdown Deals become less effective?
  • Will BookBub and other promotions become less effective?

Even if $2.99 and lower books are enrolled in KDP Select and receive downloads, if other books—such as $5.99 books—are receiving even more downloads than they are, then those $2.99 and lower books will still fall in the rankings despite the downloads. There may be a lot of books that used to have sales ranks in the 100,000’s moving up to the top and pushing other books down in the ranks.

The effect may not be immediate. Customers also look at reviews. Covers, blurbs, and great beginnings will always matter. Books at the top probably have good packaging and many reviews, and books at the bottom may still need to build reviews. But as more readers try out higher-priced books, their popularity may grow and they may gain more reviews. Many Kindle Unlimited readers will approach the book-buying process differently, and it will eventually have some discernible effects. If the cover, blurb, or Look Inside have problems, this will deter sales regardless of the price-point.

Either way, the book must command the price it has. If you simply take a 99-cent short story and reprice it at $5.99, it’s probably not going to be perceived as a better value suddenly. Plus, if customers think the book is worth much less than the list price, it’s likely to show up in a review.

Rather, if a book really is worth $5.99, but has been priced lower based on how the market had been prior to Kindle Unlimited, if that book is enrolled in KDP Select, it might be a good time to reconsider its list price.

It depends on two things. First, will Kindle Unlimited customers favor higher-priced books? Second, how popular will Kindle Unlimited be? Time will tell.

If sales ranks of lower-priced books slip over the next two weeks, this will become food for thought.

The other side of the coin is that KDP Select borrows pay the same regardless of the list price. Books priced $3.99 and up would earn higher royalties for sales than the KDP Select borrows have historically paid (about $2 per borrow). But if their inclusion in KDP Select generates additional sales because of the perceived value, it may well be worth enrolling those books in KDP Select.

It remains to be seen how popular Kindle Unlimited will become and how much (and what kind of) impact it will have. But authors need to decide which side of the fence to stand on, and how to best plan their marketing strategies around the introduction of Kindle Unlimited, and so authors must make many decisions, such as whether or not to enroll in KDP Select and whether or not to change the list price. These decisions won’t be easy, but they may have a significant impact on a book’s sales in the coming months.

Chris McMullen

Copyright © 2014 Chris McMullen, Author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon and Other Online Booksellers

  • Volume 1 on formatting and publishing
  • Volume 2 on marketability and marketing

Follow me at WordPress, find my author page on Facebook, or connect with me through Twitter.


Click here to jump to the comments section:


14 comments on “Will $5.99 be the new FREE?

  1. $5.99 to $6.99 seems eminently fair when the book is over 150K words. Possibly even $7.99. It’s interesting to have a new reason to justify the higher price point.

    Carefully edited and written work is worth higher prices. The point becomes: is the readers entertained and amused enough hours to justify paying the price – or not? Will that continue in the future from this author – or not?

    There are a lot of popcorn reads – $2.99 to $3.99 seems sufficient for something the reader will blow through quickly and never reread. If the author has more of those, the reader who finds them at the lower prices points will go acquire the rest of them – and the author comes out ahead. It makes sense for these authors. Massive popcorn overdose – and happy reader and author.

    As a reader, I’m willing to try something I might like – a quick comedy novel – if it isn’t too expensive. As a writer who is extremely slow (part of that being due to building in depth), I have to cheer for the higher price points – but think the whole thing has to come down to VALUE for the reader, not just desire by the author.

    My plan is to start low – and ramp up a bit as things sell (assuming they do). This rewards early adopters and gives a novel some upward mobility, while still pricing what the market will value and pay for. We’ll see.

    It’s nice to have the ability to 1) set prices, and 2) change those prices.

    Great post title, Chris.

  2. Excellent point! As an avid reader and a Prime Member, I was excited for the very reasons you pointed out. I now have access to any book at any price. It is a very affordable program which will save me money as I will go for the higher priced books now. “Free” always made me nervous because quite often the book did not live up to it’s cover, blurb or synopsis. Great article.

    • Once again Amazon clearly demonstrates who’s side it is on, and its not its contributing authors!
      If, and I do say if, any author decides to hold a 1-5 day giveaway, they are prepared to lose out in terms of royalties in order to promote their work. But, this dubious decision by Amazon, while it sounds good for the average reader, definitely isn’t for the hard working writers Chris, no matter how you may like to colour it…

      • It is possible that Kindle Unlimited will hurt many authors, both those who are and aren’t in KDP Select. If so, that will be a shame indeed.

        The choices are to enroll in KDP Select and make the most of Kindle Unlimited, or not participate in Kindle Unlimited and make the most of that.

        Publishing is dynamic. When the environment changes, successful authors adapt to it. So my thought is to analyze Kindle Unlimited and find marketing strategies that will make the most of it (alternatively, analyze it and find strategies that will make the most of not being in the program).

        I don’t believe that Kindle Unlimited will be bad for ALL authors. Some will find ways to use it effectively. Everyone has this opportunity. I hope that many authors do find ways to use it successfully.

  3. My best advertising has always been by word of mouth. Kindle Unlimited is going to be a great deal for heavy readers, who are also the ones who tend to be the best word of mouth advertisers. Because it allows unlimited borrowing during a subscription month it will encourage heavy readers to try out genres and authors that are new to them.

    Consequently, I think this is going to be a very helpful program for indie authors.

  4. Interesting thoughts! I’m not in Select (I’m really uncomfortable with the idea of exclusivity, but I’d never say never), but I am interested in book pricing issues. I launched at $2.99 a month ago and it’s worked out very well, but was planning an increase to $4.99 at the end of August after the introductory sale. If I ever did go Select, I wonder whether it would make a difference if I increased it more.

    Thanks for keeping an eye on things for all of us. 🙂

    • You could probably use $5.99 with Select, maybe even without it. Thought if Select authors up their prices on average and customers not in Select are looking for lower prices, then $3.99 or $2.99 could have a slight advantage.

      Price is funny though. Every once in a while, you can raise your price by $1 and actually sell more books, or lower the price and actually sell fewer. The true test is trial and error. Good luck. 🙂

      • That’s what I’ve heard! According to Amazon’s new fun tool thingy, the ideal price for sales/profit balance for books similar to mine is actually $6.99. The book is worth that, but I’m not sure I want to go that high.

        Fun to be able to experiment, though!

Leave a Reply to Robynn Gabel Cancel reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s