Pricing your ebook: Is free the new paid?

Saluting Major Upheaval

Saluting Major Upheaval (image by

As we all know, the publishing world is in major upheaval. With ebook prices dropping even for big authors, and so many ebooks available for free, are we witnessing the end of the paid model? And what might replace it?

I can see four distinct models emerging from all the chaos.

Business as usual

I call this the ostrich model. Pretend nothing has changed, and keep selling the books for $20 each. Sadly, I doubt many will buy them, unless they’re pretty unique – eg in academia – or by a hugely popular author.

Go big

I don’t mean to print your books on A3 paper, but to have a hundred ebooks, each sold at $0.99. This is a great strategy, and one we’ll see more in the future, but it may come at a high price. As authors strive to churn out ebook after ebook, how can a high standard be maintained?

Give it away

As I explain on my A-Z guide: How both my books reached #1 on Amazon, this strategy can be used to build a fan base. Many authors give away the first book in their series, to entice readers to buy the rest. It’s best used once enough books in the series have been written, or by new authors keen to build their brand. This can be done in innovative ways, like Matt Mason did with “Pirate’s Dilemma”, which he distributed via BitTorrent. In his words, getting your book in front of 160 million users is usually a good thing. He even predicts that in the next five years, we’ll see all kinds of publishers using P2P networks to distribute their publications.

It has also been used in extremely creative ways by authors like Ksenia Anske, author of the Siren Suicides. Readers are encouraged to pay through a virtual tip jar, if they enjoyed the book. In a fascinating recent blog post titled I give my books away for free: here are my sales numbers, she announced that she has made $4,000 in little over six months that way. Her books were downloaded 1,600 times within the last 6 weeks. She also used her newly found fame as an author to raise money through Kickstarter, raising an extra $3,000.


Ksenia also flirts with a subscription model, one that I suspect will gain more prominence. In her words, this would work “like, for $9 a month if you subscribe, you get all of my books as I produce them“.

Along with authors, new services offering subscription models have now appeared. Recently launched Inkbot offers a subscription model along its free one. Free members gain unlimited reading of Royalty-Free works and Unlimited Access members pay $4.95 per month and gain unlimited reading of all works. I wonder whether Wattpad or Writersky will follow suit at some point.