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:


Educating Kindle Customers



Most Kindle owners don’t fully understand what their Kindle devices can or can’t do.

Some customers leave negative reviews, where if they had simply known how to best utilize their devices, this negative experience might have been avoided. (There are also Kindle e-books that could be formatted better. In this post, I’m focusing on the former, not the latter.)

Some customers have implausible expectations for what a book might do. If they had reasonable expectations, they might be more easily satisfied with their purchases.

Authors have three choices:

  • Blame Amazon. Customer buying and reading experiences with Kindle will remain unchanged.
  • Ignore it. Nothing improves this way, either.
  • Help educate Kindle owners. In your marketing and even in your books, you have the opportunity to improve prospects for customer satisfaction.

You don’t need to setup a class to help educate Kindle owners:

  • Mention relevant notes in your Kindle e-books or even in the description. For example, if you have pictures that may look better zoomed in, you could explain that many e-readers (don’t assume the customer is using a Kindle) have a zoom option, then as an example you might mention how to zoom in on the Kindle Fire.
  • Include a short Kindle tutorial on your website. It needn’t be comprehensive; it could simply highlight a few important points that many Kindle customers aren’t familiar with. Focus on points that relate specifically to your books.
  • If a point may be particularly important for Kindle customers who buy your book, when you mention your book, you could include a short tip that may help Kindle owners get the most out of your book. Then you’re not just advertising your book, you’re also providing free help.
  • Have you read a book or tutorial that shows you how to make the most of your Kindle Fire? Review the book on your blog. Post a link to the book or tutorial on your sidebar.


Here are a few examples of things that some Kindle customers don’t know:

  • You can download a free app, Kindle for PC, to read any Kindle e-book, even if you don’t own a Kindle device. Suppose you publish a book full of colorful images. You might mention in the description that it’s best read on a device that supports color, then suggest Kindle for PC (with brief instructions, or where to find them, for how to download this free app and read a book with it) for those with b&w devices.
  • Did you know that you can double-tap on an image in the Kindle Fire to enlarge it? Then you need to click on the X to resume reading.
  • It’s possible to enable automatic book updates. From Amazon’s homepage, when logged in, place your cursor over Hello, Your Name, Your Account near the top right. Click Manage Your Content and Devices. Find Automatic Book Update on the left. Note: This doesn’t provide an update whenever the publisher (who may be the author) uploads a revised file. The publisher must first contact KDP, then KDP must verify that improvements were made, and KDP must decide it’s worth notifying customers. If you update your book and succeed in persuading KDP to notify customers of the update, you might want to let your fans know about this and how to get the update.
  • Want to clear the furthest page read? Visit your Kindle Library (similar to setting automatic book updates, explained in the previous step—simply pick this option from the list instead). Use the Actions button at the right.
  • Try not to laugh, but some customers actually don’t know that you can return a Kindle e-book in 7 days if you’re unhappy with the experience. Authors see returns (sometimes, too many) in their KDP sales reports, and therefore assume that all customers know how to return e-books. Yet many don’t realize that this is possible. Is this something you wish to advertise? Good question! On the one hand, if you already have too many returns, you may feel reluctant to encourage more of them. On the other hand, think of those customers who review books based on the first few pages. A percentage of those reviews are from customers who didn’t realize that they could have returned the book (while many also are from customers who already did return the book, or, worse, didn’t even buy it). Note that there appears to be some threshold, where if you return “too many” e-books you may lose this returnability option.
  • I was reading a Kindle e-book once where all of a sudden every other page was blank. At first I wondered how anyone could publish a novel with intermittent blank pages. Then I deduced that it wasn’t actually formatted that way. I powered my Kindle off, then when it restarted, the book didn’t have blank pages anymore. It surely wasn’t the publisher’s fault, and the problem turned out to be easy to fix at my end.

Authors, Too

It’s not just readers who may benefit from some Kindle education. Many authors can use this, too.

Keep in mind that some authors don’t react well to unsolicited advice given specifically to them. But most don’t mind learning something that was posted on social media (so long as they don’t suspect that their book was the motivation for the post). Yet there are some authors who openly ask for advice.

Try to learn what your options are before you publish. For example, did you know about the Kindle Comic Creator (which might be relevant for picture books other than just comics)?

About Me

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.