Saturday, March 3, 2012 and the 99 cents movement

My previous post was an open letter to authors and publishers to fight piracy by lowering the prices of their ebooks to $1. What I didn't know when I was writing it was that many authors were already familiar with a similar concept, although for very different reasons: the 99 cents movement. This is nothing more that simply have your books selling at $0.99.

Although some writers tend to argue against such a pricing model, others have already encompassed it. Even if for them is mainly a tool for promotional purposes, at least it is a step in the right direction. As a particular example, Joe Konrath tried an experiment in selling some of his books at $0.99 inspired by the success of Victorine Lieske. The results were good and now he plans to always have some of his books selling below $1. So why doesn't everybody do it?

The main reason is that the ebook revolution is just beginning. It's true that ebooks have been around for long but it is only in the last couple of years that ebook readers (like kindle and nook) and tablet PC's (like ipad) have been introduced and made the reading of an ebook extremely easy and convenient. Therefore, we have no evidence whatsoever for how pricing models for ebooks will work in the long run. We only have separate cases of success and failure but we cannot really see a trendline because we are practically living the experiment!

Ideally, all an author has to do is wait and see which pricing model will prove to be the most profitable over the next few years and then just apply it to her books. However the situation is simplified (and not complicated!) by piracy. Comparing pricing models ignoring piracy is like measuring the drops of water that come out of a closed tap while forgetting that there is a broken tube that leaks water in the basement.

Piracy cannot be fought no matter how many websites like close. It can only be fought by a pricing model: the 99 cents model! In my opinion, even though other models might be better for the authors, over the next few years we will be seeing a turn to the 99 cents price. As ebooks gain a bigger share of the market people will soon realize that the $1 price works reasonably well for everyone: the work is extremely accessible to any reader in the world, the author makes a good profit out of it and piracy is thwarted because there is no reason for it!

As we have seen already, many literature writers are encompassing the idea but there are definitely many things to be done. To begin with, there is a lot of convincing to do when it comes to academic texts. With most textbooks in the range of $50-$150 convincing authors and publishers to give the electronic version for less than $10 will be a big victory! But it does make sense. In most countries
higher education is funded one way or another through the taxes of the citizens. When an academic writes a textbook he is already paid for this (at least in part) by the citizens. A physical book has of course much cost associated with it and the author should be free to set his own price but it would only be fair to offer the e-version (that costs nothing to reproduce) almost for free back to the people.

Amazon should also change its policy to help people publish at 99 cents. Right now the author gets only 35% of the royalties at this price while at higher prices the author gets 70%. This needs to be changed to motivate people to drop their prices.

Finally, all of us should play our role. We vote by our wallet every day. There are already many excellent books available at $0.99. Do not hesitate to buy them! I will also try to promote this price-range in this blog by actively advertising some of these books. Also, if you find an ebook at higher prices consider not buying it. There are always other alternatives. I am not saying go and pirate the ebook but maybe find another ebook at a lower price or buy the physical book instead. Even better, email the author and the publisher and let them know of your choice!

I know these changes take time and I am not expecting immediate results, but if in a few years we live in a world with no piracy where authors make a living and books are still accessible to everyone wouldn't that be worth every effort?


  1. Hi,

    Did you see this: Harvard has joined the boycott (

    What do you think about composing a petition addressed to all publishing houses to change their business model and to turn to the 99 cents model? I could start composing the draft of the petition on google docs. Or maybe you can do it even better, just using you text which already exists? We could post it on then.

    What do you think?

    1. The petition is a great idea! We want as much exposure of this as possible! Even though in me opinion it will be easier to convince the authors than the publishers, it is definitely worth a try. I will compose one and post it here and on within a week or two (once I find some free time).

      If you would like to do it sooner than that, by all means feel free to use any text you find in this blog and you think it's useful and also let me know, so that I can advertize the petition here. My email can be found in the ABOUT ME section on the right.

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  3. Hi, Bilingsley,

    So, what about petition?

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.


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