I continue to be amazed by the development of the e-book. Quite honestly, I’d be happy if we were still in the cuneiform days, but we’re not. So I giggle stupidly, wave my arms and cannonball into the e-book pool.

Publishers Weekly has posted a fascinating article online, which discusses the pricing models for e-books. Keep in mind, most traditional publishes are still in the cuneiform days, in terms of real marketing and promotion to a vast and increasingly varied audience.

It’s a toss-up whether it’s more comical or infuriating that some publishers continue to try and slip past traditional retail prices for an e-book. In other words, Publisher X releases a “hardcover” book as an e-book and with a straight face retails it for $22.99.

The public isn’t that stupid; not even close. The numbers I present below are ballpark, but at least in the park:

  • Editing services for a project: $1,000
  • Cover design: $1,000 (in a world of hungry designers)
  • Uploading as an Amazon e-book: $300.

It is possible for a publisher to invest $2,500 in production for an electronic book. So here is a question from Captain Obvious: “If you’ve eliminated paper costs in printing, why are you charging full retail?”

The correct publishing answer from Captain Obfuscate is, “Mumble, mumble, harumpf (can I get a harumpf?)…we’re looking into that.”

The buying public gets it that such a product should retail for roughly half the cost of a printed book. I am now downloading more books onto my Droid X, and I’m quite happy to pay less than half the traditional retail. I’m embracing it like Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara.

As the PW article begins: “E-book pricing continues to be a tricky issue for publishers, with both publishers and e-tailers experimenting with different price points for different kinds of works. To help provide some answers, Vook has written a white paper on the key factors creators and sellers need to consider when pricing digital content. Based on an analysis developed during creation of the Vook pricing engine, the multimedia publisher has come up with 10 rules for maximizing digital sales of e-books, enhanced e-books and apps.”

It goes on to say that a critical factor is categorization. For example, a book on Microsoft Office (remember to plug-in here your own work and then select a proper category), it could be listed under “reference,” but will sell better if listed under “business.” This is the type of thing you need to research for yourself if you go the adventurous route of self-publishing.

Interestingly, the Vook pricing scheme advocates a publisher keeping an introductory low retail price for a book, and keeping it there for a period of three days to two weeks. This seems to follow the recent advice of publishing guru Seth Godin.

You can read the entire PW article here.

It was the comments below that I found particularly interesting, since many were posted by savvy publishing veterans. By the way, the thrust of this article, and the entire debate over pricing e-books, centers around the fact that much of it is arbitrary.

One person who left a comment said that she has priced her books as low as 99 cents. I think that’s smart; one can always increase that as readership develops, and it seems that topping-out at no more than, say, $9.99 is optimum.

As you can probably tell, I am advocating more and more for authors/writers to go solo. You are your best advocate. Take advantage of the tools and strategies that Amazon has developed in partnering with writers and small publishers.

We all know that the titles with the best chance of financial success will float to the top. I am going to a Dave Ramsey seminar in a few weeks, and a quick glance at his website proves that Ramsey is quite the marketing machine. He has a ton of resources available – not exactly free, but he does provide deep discounts on several items.

I cite Ramsey as an example of what one can do if one has knowledge in particular area, the ability to communicate, and the willingness to develop a platform. Ramsey publishes with traditional publishers, but he also markets himself. Someone else will encroach on his territory one day, for the simple reason that he will one day age and retire, etc.

Last month I attended a conference, and among the financial experts available plying their wares was one fellow who retails his paperback book at almost $40. That’s shockingly high, especially in this market. My guess is that he’ll eventually make his investment back, but until he first slashes that retail price in half and then embraces the e-book revolution, he will stay a financial flea in comparison to Ramsey’s King Kong.

As I’ve said before, the potential is there because of technology to make yourself the guru in your particular niche area. Learning pricing structures, particularly in the area of e-books, is another aspect you’d do well to learn.

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