eBook pricing -- what do you think?

Dear Readers,

We've been having some internal discussion about how to price our ebooks.

Let's face it. We're already in the bittorrent library but membership in that not-so-exclusive club isn't really the way to fuel a business.

Most technical book publishers are offering ebooks at anywhere from 60-80 percent of a book's list price. We've toyed with (and we're currently offering) ebooks at 50 percent of a book's list price (or free with purchase from us), which seems fair to me as long as we and our authors are actually getting that 50 percent. The problem, if it is a problem, is that when our ebooks are sold through retailers those retailers take a significant cut off the top because they need to make money too. As a result, we get something closer to 35 or 40 percent of a book's list price, if not less.

It takes time and real work to create the sort of quality, handcrafted books that No Starch Press is known for. Our readers expect a lot from us and we aim to deliver with each publication. It's important to me that No Starch Press continue to succeed.

So my question to you is, what do you think is a fair price for an ebook? Figure that the print cost is perhaps 10 percent of the book's list price and that when we sell books to resellers we get about 50 percent of the book's list price. (That's why 50 percent off list for ebooks purchased directly from us could make sense.)

So I'm turning to you, our readers, to tell me what you think and to offer creative suggestions. We could, for example, price ebooks according to a timed reduction scheme. For example, they might start out at 75 percent of list price and drop in price every six months, as a particular book ages. Or we could stick with 50 percent off for those No Starch Press VIPs. You know, the ones carrying those special gold cards. Or what?

What do you think?

Please share your comments on this post. I'd love to hear your thoughts.

Thanks for your support.



50% sounds very fair to me.

Have you looked at Valve's digital distribution pricing for games?

They typically charge 80-100% of the retail price for new game releases on Steam, but going by their own top sellers chart this does not seem to be too much. Roughly every six months they have a sale that includes their entire catalogue, with new releases in 80%/90%-off-deals for just 24 hours.

Although Valve don't release sales figures, developers have reported massive sales in these 24 hour deals:



I'm sure you'd have some authors saying it 'devalues' their work, but if you can find some willing to try this model it would be worth experimenting.

50% does seem like a fair option for those people who like eBooks... owning a number of your books, I can say that I prefer the hardcopy versions, but mostly because I annotate and copiously write in a book when I study it. I have a collection of eBook versions of some of my books on disk in case the hardcopy is lost/destroyed/stolen, or if I am at the computer and want a quick reference. A downward sliding scale over time is an interesting option, but not one I would prefer. I want my books new and now.

The problem is that older e-books are only available in the PDF format (which isn't very attractive for small e-book reader). I think the O'Reilly method (lifelong updates) may be an interesting method.

Or at least give buyers a discount if they own the first edition and are upgrading to the second (giving the long time customers a discount for honoring an e-book (author)).

As I'm living in Europe your upgrade option from paperback to e-book isn't really an option (the taxes and delivery costs are too high).

Despite that I'm a great e-book fan and I bought a lot of e-books. I prefer e-books and I'll only buy paperback books if it is needed.

Back to the main topic: I think 50% off from the paperback books are fair for new e-books but not for older (PDF) e-books.

Personally I see no real advantage (especially because I can't read it on my Kindle 3). In that segment the e-books are too expensive (compare the prices with the second hand paperback e-book market).

As someone who only buys ebooks, I've been looking at The Linux Programming Interface for a while now to purchase as an ebook. The price of the ebook is now $80 instead of $50. That's a pretty big increase. Since I can find the same book for print at Amazon.com for $62, I feel no starch press is ripping me off with the ebook.

I'm in favor of the Apple App Store model. Keep prices low so people spend money impulsively, buying many items instead of having to justify spending a lot of money on one item. Also, I think I buy digital media impulsively because I can get it immediately after purchase.

O'Reilly (with daily deal or buy 2 get 1 free), Manning (with daily deal), and Pragmatic Programmers have good pricing models.
Apress has a bad pricing model.


I obviously know little about the business, but why not skip the middleman here? Could you offer the ebook version for download directly?

I was shopping tonight and ran on to this post because I read a review about The Linux Programming Interface, then saw a large number of outstanding reviews at Amazon. I own a Kindle DX and will have an iPad 2 at the end of this week. I bought the Kindle DX in pre-release, and chose the DX so I could read PDF files in addition to mobi and Amazon books. I have only bought a couple of print books in the last two years and about two hundred e-books. I believe it is important to point out "bought."

Look at The Linux Programming Interface, the MSRP is 99.95 for the print version. However I can get it from Amazon for $60.35. Even more importantly, the eBook from Amazon is 39.96. However, the eBook from No Starch and the O'Reilly site are $79.95. Really? Double? And No Starch gets to keep the whole pie.

What I will do is wait for one of those 40-50% off coupons.

I like the prices on the ebooks. I LOVE getting the free ebook with the hard copy. Thats the coolest deal of all. I still like having a hard copy, but when I'm on the go, I take my digital.

I personally feel that the eBook should be as close to the information value as possible excluding any costs associated with the physical world. No matter what percentage of the physical copy you end up selling the eBooks for I only ask that the eBook price not change if the physical copy changes in some manner. I know this isn't as common for technical books as other genre but if a book is initially released in hardcover and is subsequently released in paperback for a reduced price, please release the eBook for x% of the final paperback price. It annoys me to no end that the price of an eBook should somehow change as a function of whatever physical copy is currently available. If the information in the book is the same, it shouldn't suddenly be worth more or less due to the hard copy. Thanks for reading my (possibly idealistic) rant. :)

First, let me applaud you for such a bold move and openly sharing with your customers these numbers.

Looking at the numbers, it seems that selling the ebooks at 50% still gives the 10% that would otherwise into killing trees, so I assume that could be used for upkeep of the ebook distribution channel. If that turns out to be enough, cutting out the expensive middelmen would save the customers wads of money, and likely encourage purchasing more of these less expensive ebooks.
Another thing to try might be to go with 55% for a single ebook, and use 5% to give small discounts for bundles. So that you shed 1% per book down to 50% for a bundle of any 5 ebooks. (Just an example, but I bet there is some research about these things, and a link to psychology of buying).

On top of that, it would be great to have a mechanism for updating the ebooks (applying an errata fix). I guess it could be through e-mail notifications.

If that's too complicated the plain 50% would be just awesome!

A timed sliding scale after publication seems like the best option although i would like to get a further reduction in price if I am a person with a No Starch Gold card. This seems the best way for both Authors/No Starch and readers to benefit from E-Books.

I have no idea how much you see a particular book to a wholesaler in dead tree but that would be the guide price for what I would expect to pay for the book IF BOUGHT DIRECTLY FROM YOU. If I buy it via another reseller then I would expect them to be pricing it in line with the typical discount they might give on e-book vs a dead tree.

So if you sell the dead tree format to Borders for $50 and they list it at $100 but discounted to $80, be it dead tree or ebook, then I would be expecting you to be selling the ebook to borders at $50 and because i am buying the book direct from you in ebook format and i would expect the ebook to be $50.

If it helps you could a separate ebook selling company called say 'spray-on' which no starch sell ebooks too and they then sell onto consumers such as me, if that makes it easier with your distributors


are you coming to chaos computing camp 2011? If so are you planning to herald again, i ask because it would be good to see you again. I'm just writing to our herald leader and thought of your sage advice to me 4 years ago

best wishes

As a fellow Bay-Area book publisher (and a fellow Lord Jeff, as it happens), I sympathize. I got a Kindle as a Christmas present six months after our first (paper) book came out. At the time, Amazon was the only serious game in town for ereaders, and the royalty structure they offered for ebooks was, at that time, downright onerous.

Our paperback book listed for $10 (we received $4.50, Amazon kept $5.50)
Our ebook would have listed for $8 (we'd have received $2.80, Amazon would have kept $5.20)

We passed. We had to. I had a few awkward conversations with peers and authors about how I loved the Kindle as a consumer yet eschewed it as a publisher.

Amazon has changed their royalty structure for small presses on Kindle, and we'll be getting our titles onto it in the next few months. So pricing is a pressing issue for me, no pun intended. I'm thinking prices for our ebooks will be 80% of prices for our paper versions. We'll keep roughly 65% of that 80%.

Two of our books list for $10 (We'll sell the ebook for $8, we'll get $5.20, Amazon will keep 30% + fees, no shipping)
One of our books lists for $12, but I'm hoping to convince the author to let us list her at $8, same as the others.

Problem is, my "80% of paperback list" figure is a classic microeconomic blunder: I'm setting the price at what I think it should be, instead of setting the price at what the market will bear. Trouble is, I have no clue what the market will bear. I'm thinking 50% is more like it, but I'm afraid of that answer.

Partly to get some pricing info, partly to get our feet wet in the ebook stream, and partly on a lark, I created a series of "mini ebooks" which we sell directly from our Website. We offer one or two freebies per month, and one or two $1 downloads. These ebooks, however, are PDF files. They require special fonts and colors, which is no problem for Acrobat, but a dealbreaker for Kindle. These mini ebooks actually "sell" quite well, although the freebies are, duh, way more popular. I wouldn't dream of selling these silly things for $8, anyway, so the price reconnaissance is of limited utility.

Thing is, at least with Amazon, we don't have the option of different price points for ebooks from our own store. We're contractually prohibited from undercutting them. So if I wanted to sell ebooks directly from our Website at 50% of the paperback's list price, I'd also have to list the ebook on Amazon at 50%. Amazon is our second-biggest sales channel, so I don't see us moving entirely to PDF or epub format anytime soon.

I recently bought a new paper copy of Land of Lisp. I didn't really consider
going the e-book way as I still just don't think of them as tangible objects.
Getting one free with the paper copy would of course be welcome. Ended up buying
the book through an amazon merchant for less than what it's listed for on the No Starch Preess site so no free e-book. I'd gladly pay a modest amount for the e-book but probably
no more than $10. That seems too low on the surface but I suspect there are
quite a few more people willing to spend $10 than $39.00. How many is the big
unknown. There have been a few publicized examples of content producers offering up their stuff for just a few bucks and selling record amounts so maybe there's
something to it. The OP mentioned already being in the "Bit Torrent Library" and
probably some people will no doubt still go that route, but I feel most would rather
"Do the Right Thing" and cough up the $10. Even the die-hard "info wants to be
free" folks can grasp the fairness of creators wanting some compensation for
their hard work.

Thanks for putting this query out there!


I already love that No Starch offers free eBooks with any hard copy sold, every publisher should do that since you've already paid for the information in the book anyway. As long as the eBook price is giving the publisher and author the same income that a hard copy would after it's extra costs are factored in that sounds like the most fair way to do it. The content is the same either way (which is the real value) but you don't have to pay for printing and binding it so neither should the customer.

Just another reason to love No Starch and their books.

Ok Bill, You tell the resellers that your 50% price is what they are going to pay you. And that there is ample room for the resellers to up the price for their profit. No offense, But I'm not going to be one of your gold card vip's. After going through the Target Breach, I don't want to be part of anyone's "club". But as you can see I'm visiting your site and purchasing books from you, And I thank you for using pay pal. Ebooks are great, and cut down on paper waste problems, However over time, batteries give out. And Electronics can develop problems. So when all else fails, A light source and a printed book, And your back in business.
Hope this helps, Sam J.

I recently purchased paper copy of "Linux Command Line" from Amazon for $26 (vs $40 here). I fail to understand that publishers crib about retailer cuts, yet they price higher on their own websites! They should provide the minimum-price-guarantee on their own website, to attract customers.

I'm only comfortable paying about $10 for an ebook (a virtual product). Anything more, and I'll pick the paper copy to convince my mind that I spent the money on something REAL!

Also publishers need to align their expectations with the changing world. Lower book prices are the future, esp. in the e-world!