So what’s an e-book cost, anyway?

I’ve been asked numerous times what it costs to publish an e-book. My answer is:

It depends.

Do you want to do it right, or do you want to do it fast?

Let’s assme [yah, yah, I know all about the ass-u-me, har har] that you want to do it right.


The big ticket item in the e-book endeavor is editing. Let’s just assume that you don’t have all the self-editing tools – because most of you don’t. Heckfire and Twinkie cream, I don’t trust myself with self-editing. This means that you need to hire yourself a good indie editor to edit you to within an inch of your life. Talent doesn’t come cheaply, so be prepared to stare down the gunbarrel of between $700-$1,000 – depending on the size of your manuscript and what all you want them to do.

Interior design and layout

So let’s say you want some cool graphics to head up each new chapter or other artistic additions. This comes under the heading of an interior designer, who can do that and properly format your manuscript. It’s a bit easier because the interior designer doesn’t have to worry about widowing/orphaning issues – which is a royal PITB – so this wouldn’t cost as much. I’m a bit out of practice on what people charge for this service because we do this in-house, but let’s say at least a$300, just to be safe.

Cover design

Just because your book isn’t going to be in print doesn’t mean you still don’t need cover art. When you upload to any e-book site, they ask for your cover design. Pricing is all over the map, but in order to get something good from a talented, experienced cover designer, be prepared to spend anywhere between $700 – $2500.

E-book conversion

Now that you have your file put together and put into a pdf format, you need someone to convert the file. You need to decide what files you’re going to convert: Kindle? eReader? Nook? iPhone?

All of those files requires a different conversion, so you’re paying for several different files. There are hundreds of companies who perform this service. We use a wonderful little company in India who gives us quality works for a very good price. They can do this because we’re giving them a lot of files. The onesie author needs to be prepared to pay a lot more.

Pricing can be anywhere between .35/page – $1.50/page – and on up.

Amazon used to have a freebie deal where they would convert your files for free. You know what they say about “you get what you pay for”? Yay, well there’s a reason they say that. Their file conversions are akin to the spin and rinse cycles of my son’s dirty laundry.

Authors also need to be mindful to request a sample of their files first. They should give you about three chapters. Go through them carefully so you can be certain they’ve done a quality job. Many Kindle files I’ve seen – from the big hooha publishers – have been abysmal. Extra carriage returns in between dialog passages, funky margin spacing. One of my David Baldacci Kindle books looked like it had been converted by grasshoppers hopped up on cough syrup.


If you’re going to sell your book, you need to buy an ISBN from Bowker. This is the pricing I pulled off the Bowker website:

10 ISBNs:  $275.00
100 ISBNs:  $995.00
1000 ISBNs:  $1,750.00

Le Grand Total

So let’s add it up:

Editing = $1,000
Interior layout and formatting – $300
Editing = $1,000
Interior layout and formatting – $300
Cover design = $700
ISBN = $275
File conversion = 250 pg. Manuscript @ $1.00 = $250

Le grand total ~ 3 grand

Agreed, some of these figures are high or low. Obviously, you can save some bananas if you know how to properly format your manuscript, and if you spend less on your cover design. But if you think you can skip corners by doing your own editing – think again. Publishing a book without proper editing is like buying a car without doors.

So that’s it. The lowdown on e-book costs. Not as cheap as you thought, is it?

Edited to add:

In the light of day – and sobriety [kidding, kidding] – I vastly under estimated editing costs. I needed to say that your mileage may vary. Editing – a proper job – can easily start at $2500 on up.

12 Responses to So what’s an e-book cost, anyway?

  1. NinjaFingers says:

    And that’s $250 *per format* right?

  2. Brian Clegg says:

    True enough, Lynn.

    But perhaps it was the wrong question. What’s interesting is how does the cost of getting an ebook into the shops compare with the cost of physical book, including production, shipping and dealing with returns, on top of all the same costs as the ebook? And how does the net revenue then compare? So ultimately, taking all this into account, how does the ratio of earning per ebook to earning per physical book compare with the ratio of royalties on the two?

  3. MCM says:

    That’s an excellent breakdown… probably the clearest one I’ve seen anywhere. One minor point, though: this is the cost of a “from scratch” ebook, as opposed to an ebook edition of a print book. The title implies a straight conversion cost, as opposed to a total one. Still, assuming a fresh ISBN for each edition, it’s still $525 for each e-edition, so it’s nothing to sneeze at.

    The odd thing about the current state of the industry is that, for what you get for your $250 conversion cost (and especially considering it essentially negates the $300 you spent on layout and design), you’re drastically over-paying to create these files. It’s not the conversion shops themselves, it’s that the formats don’t support really nice design in the first place. Some day soon, Word or Google Docs will support “export for Kindle” or “Export for ePub” and utterly destroy that industry, because there’s really nothing to it, except a little bit of patience.

    We’re in this funny transitional period where a lot of people are making a lot of money from a step in the process that has no business costing anything. I imagine the actual “make an ebook from a print book” cost will drop to near $0 within the year, only to shoot up far beyond the $300 mark when one of these formats implements actual layout capabilities, and the designers get to do their jobs again.

  4. Yes, Ninjie, that’s per conversion.

    Brian: Yours is such a good question, that I’m going to do a separate post on it.

    MCM: Yes, the pricing I gave was for the author who has written “The End” and is going to take their book directly to e-publishing on their own.

    We’re in this funny transitional period where a lot of people are making a lot of money from a step in the process that has no business costing anything.

    Eh, who’s to say what deserves to be free? If you offer a product that people are willing to pay for, then I’d say that person is fulfilling demand – and should be compensated for it.

    You say that we’re currently “overpaying” for conversions. Right now there are a lot of tweaks and bings that can easily screw up during file conversion – as witnessed by Amazon’s freebie file conversion – so why shouldn’t we be willing to pay for those talented souls who can spit out a bug-free conversion file? I have a number of books that have tables, and those can be tricky beasts to convert. I’m more than happy to pay for some bright soul to make those tables stand up in the Kindle format.

    If it gets to the point where the file conversion business evolves to a point where demand decreases because someone has created a bug-free conversion program, then, sure, those businesses will either evolve or close down. So what? That’s how the free market works.

    There are a lot of elements that go into the e-book conundrum. Did the author retain his e-book rights? If so, the author has to get his own ISBN, create a whole new file because he doesn’t have the rights to the final file the publisher sent him, create whole new cover art because the author can’t use the one for his published book…

  5. MCM says:

    Oh, I totally agree that the human converters need to exist and should be paid for their work. But what they’re doing isn’t rocket science, it’s that there are no good alternatives at the moment. There’s really no reason Word couldn’t export to a perfect Kindle source file (even with tables)… Microsoft just hasn’t bothered to add it yet. And until they do, those that can fill the gap, should.

    (honestly, though, this may take a lot longer to happen than it should: Word can’t even export valid HTML most of the time, and their format is such a mess it’s a wonder Amazon ever bothered to suggest auto-conversion was possible)

    You’re only overpaying in the sense that it SHOULD be easier to do what you’re doing. Since it’s not, what you’re paying is actually a really good deal. I just hope the various parties involved (Amazon, Microsoft, Apple etc) can get their acts together and make your converters obsolete. The ebook world needs to move beyond “oh my god, it worked!” and get on to the next step of format evolution.

  6. The ebook world needs to move beyond “oh my god, it worked!” and get on to the next step of format evolution.

    LOLOL. Yes, you must have a bug in my office. I must talk to the beagle again about allowing anyone to bug my office in exchange for a margarita.

  7. KarenG says:

    What’s your take on Smashwords?

  8. NinjaFingers says:

    Totally off topic, but is Tackle Box available through Amazon? I just won a $25 Amazon gift certificate and am trying to decide what to spend it on.

  9. tbrosz says:

    If you’re going to make more than one e-book, it might not hurt to buy some software and learn how to do some of this stuff. Adobe Creative Suite 5 goes for about $1,300. About $450 if you’re a student or teacher.

    Bonus: You might learn enough to charge other people for these skills!

  10. Ninja, yes, Tackle Box is available through Amazon. It’s money well spent, if I do say so myself!

    Karen: I’ve not worked with Smashwords, but I’ve heard quite a few people remark at their horrendous conversions. Seems the quality is on par with Amazon. Again, you get what you pay for.

    Tom: good point about buying the software. Publishers would have to pay someone to do it in house, and it’s cheaper to sub it out. If someone becomes proficient enough, they could earn a few bucks.

  11. NinjaFingers says:

    Woot. Will get my copy…eventually (Amazon free shipping is pretty slow, but I managed to sneak a novel onto the order as well ;)).

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