It's no secret that authors, especially the self-published and e-published, are making less and less money for their writing efforts. E-publishers are feeling the pinch, too, and several have gone out of business recently. The amount of effort that goes into writing, perfecting, and publishing a book is vast, and after a while, no longer seems worth the effort. The day of putting a book out there for ninety-nine cents and expecting to make a fortune by selling millions is past, though I do know people who only buy books prices under a dollar and simply delete them one after another when they are found unsatisfactory. Every once in a while, they get a good one and, I guess, are satisfied with that. They also scoop up freebies, the idea being to give away the first book in the series and they will buy others. I can tell you from personal experience, that rarely works either.
So, what is a fair price for an e-book that is well-written and edited and provides a good story? One of the presses I write for started off selling all their books for $4.99, the best price they thought they could get. The authors' royalty came to a dollar a copy. Then, the publisher decided lowering the price of all their books, whether 100,000 or 70,000 words or 40,000 words to $3.99 would bump sales. Nope, but now the author got eight-five centers for sale. Surrendering finally to Amazon which now pays by the pages read or gives the books away to their top members, I found my royalty for a 90,000 word book is now forty-seven cents per copy, scant reward for all that work and in my case hours spent on research.
Fortunately, my primary e-press is still holding the line with shorter books priced at $4.99 and longer ones at $5.99. Their brief foray into turning all their new titles over to KDP for a short time resulted in lots and lots of unhappy authors, and eventually they backed out of that deal. I think these prices are fair for good reads well-edited and of some length. Of course, my royalties are not what they once were in the heyday of e-publishing. So many cheap books have glutted the market, it is hard to meet even the $25 required for them to cut a check in the case of the publisher mentioned in the above paragraph. I still get a quarterly check from my primary publisher whom I once asked what happened to my sales? She replied, "You are doing better than most just to get a check each time." They, too, don't pay out if you earn less than $25 a quarter. At the end of the year, even the smallest pittance is paid out to balance the books. I know some of my fellow authors asked where their final check had gone. The answer, they hadn't sold any books in a year's time. Some are getting out of the business altogether as there is no profit in it.
Let's not forget about pirated books and sales of used copies. The author gets zilch from these sales, many of which seem to be set up for money laundering. For a few days, one of my used books was listed for sale at over $1,000, and it quickly vanished, deal complete, I guess. At the moment two used copies of Queen of the Mardi Gras Ball and Son of a Sinner are offered for $36.33 and $69.72 for a supposed mass market edition--which doesn't exist. All my books are Print on Demand rather than mass market which puts thousands of copies out at one time. Wouldn't that be nice, I've often thought. All of my books are still available in print and e-copies. I'll send anyone in the U.S. an autographed copy for $20, and that includes the postage. Sadly, they are hardly collectibles. Wish they were. Somewhere money changes hands for my books. I just don't get any of it.
As for me, I keep writing because I enjoy it, have tales to tell, and time to put into a project that takes a year to complete from writing the first word to getting it out in print for such small rewards. The irony is that I know my current books are better than those that sold so well when I started out as experience counts. I do hope a few people out there enjoy them.