The Right Price for a Free Book


I’ve got an interest in the answer to the following question:

What is the right price for a 300-page book that is freely available online?

If you have an opinion, please vote in this poll: http://twtpoll.com/8sgvef.

Some Price Points

Before you vote, here are some data points assuming that you are using a service like Lulu or a Short-run printer:

  • The cost to print and bind a 300 pager at Kinkos will approach $35.
  • The cost to print 100-copies of a 300 pager at Lulu in a lot of 100 will cost around $10.00 per unit for the content creator.
  • The cost to print 100-copies of a 300 pager at a local printer with a turn-around time of 3-5 days is $8.75 per unit.
  • The cost to print 100-copies of a 300 pager at a short-run printer with a turn-around time of 4 weeks is about $6.60 per unit.
  • The cost to print 1000-copies of a 300 pager at a short-run print will approach something like $4.70 per unit.

Depending on how you do it, distribution costs are probably around $3.00 per unit, and I’m also assuming that the customer pays for shipping.

Some Initial Thoughts

$39.99 is not the right price for a free book, but neither is the correct price the per unit cost. I think the answer is in between, but I’m wondering what people think about this question. There are certain books that people will pay a premium for even though they are available online: The Subversion Book, Maven: The Definitive Guide. Books like these are on foundational tools that people need to use, and I also think that a portion of the audience purchasing the print book might not be aware that the book is available online for free.

As free books become more popular as an option for technical authors, I’m looking for some way to price them. My initial guess is that a good price for a printed 300-page book that is available online is about $14.99. Anyone have any thoughts? Your answers will influence some decisions I’m trying to make on the subject.

3 thoughts on “The Right Price for a Free Book

  1. For a Lulu-quality 300 page book, $20 is very reasonable, and perhaps even a little more.I'm considering doing a book through Lulu, and it'll be a little shorter than yours. I'm probably also going to distribute it online. So I'm interested to see what you conclude, and whether you have any success at it.

  2. Rich, a 300-page Lulu book likely has a manufacturing cost at Lulu of $13. If you sold it for $20. I'm not exactly sure of the math, but that's probably a creator revenue of about $5. Lulu adds in a fee when you have a non-zero revenue.For the stuff I'm doing these days, I'm printing lots of 100. Now a lot of 100 on Lulu is not price competitive with a short-run book publisher. I use Lulu as a 100-unit publisher when I don't have any other option (a unit cost of $10 vs. a unit cost of $6.50). Anything over 250 copies, and I think it makes much more sense to go direct to the printer. I'll let you know what I find out.

  3. I'd pay up to £8 for book with delivery from UK delivery included. I'd definitely printout myself/get a book reader otherwise (yes a book reader is much more expensive but I'm not rational about these things)

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