Self-Pub 101: E-book Pricing for Libraries

Dear Self-Published Authors, do yourself a favor. Stop charging libraries so much for your e-books.

Robin Bradford is someone I follow on Twitter, and she frequently Tweets her collection development work as a librarian in Washington state. Since I have Librarian IV certification in Indiana (I actually have 3/4 of a Masters of Library Science), I love seeing her commentary on books as she decides whether or not to buy them for her library. She’s always got great commentary on book covers, titles, etc.

Well, today, Robin Tweeted about e-book pricing for libraries, and it set off a great conversation on book pricing, particularly for self-published authors.

There are plenty of articles out there about the ideal price to consumers, but not a lot has been written on how to price books for libraries. Articles about how difficult it is for libraries to stock e-books, however, are pretty easy to find. There’s even a coalition of Canadian libraries fighting for fair e-book pricing.

Apparently a lot of self-pubbed authors have the notion that, since the library is going to loan the book to several different readers, the author should charge way more. But here’s the thing: If you’re not a big-name author, there are really good odds no one will ever check out your e-book.

Sure, there are exceptions. If you do a fantastic marketing job, or if you’re local, or if you do an event at that library. Or if you’re a whiz kid self-pubber like Andy Weir or Hugh Howey.

At this point, I’m going to share (with permission) some of Robin’s Tweets with you all.

Check out the library price on this book! Why would you charge $75 for a library? I mean, hey, I don’t know that author, and this isn’t necessarily to shame one particular author, but I don’t think that guy has ever been so broke he could only afford to read read if he used library books.

It’s ridiculous! I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, our biggest challenge as indie authors is discoverability. Why make it harder than it has to be?

I know it’s not just self-published authors. The Big Five-and-a-Half (Six? Four? Whatever.) haven’t figured out e-book pricing, either. They come at it from the angle that a print book only costs about $3 more to produce than an e-book (when you factor in editing, marketing, etc. costs). So they want to use the e-book price to recoup their expenditures.

But before you decide they have a good idea, check out this exchange:

I have said before that every author, and especially every indie author, needs to have a librarian on their side.

Even better if you can get ALL the librarians on your side. A good way to start is to have your ebooks available cheaply to libraries, because their collection development budgets aren’t endless, and they’re going to spend most of it on books that they know people will want–the NYT Bestsellers, the non-fiction books on important topics, the big names in each genre. It’s only if they have some cash left over that they’ll be able to buy your book. Why not make it easy?

For that matter, make it free.

Why not? Smashwords has library-only pricing options. I set my library price for every title to free, and some library aggregators will honor that. Unfortunately OverDrive (which a LOT of libraries, including mine, use) requires a minimum price of $1.99, but that’s still better than $75 or even $9.99. You still make money, the library doesn’t get overcharged, and librarians with limited budgets are that much more likely to buy your book. Smashwords also distributes to libraries through Baker & Taylor’s Axis360 and plans to add other library aggregators.

There are other options out there. Indie superstar Joe Konrath has an e-book distribution platform (Ebooks Are Forever) for libraries. He writes about it here. But even his service prices e-books higher than I would choose to price them.

What do you think? If you’re an indie publisher, how do you price your books for libraries? If you’re a librarian, what are your preferences?

And by the way, if you’re not following Robin (@Tuphlos), you should be. :)


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