What makes you buy an ebook?

I’m an author (self-published), and I’m trying a few different tactics for marketing my novel. I expect most of the sales to be ebooks, so I’m wondering how ebook readers typically make decisions to buy or not to buy a given book. So I have a few questions:

How much attention and credence to you give to reader reviews?

How important is the price of the ebook, and how much more likely are you to buy an ebook if it’s cheaper (say, $1 vs $3)?

How to you browse/search for ebooks? How does an ebook catch your eye?

How often and how likely are you to buy an ebook that you know nothing about except what you read online (blurb, customer reviews, etc)?

I buy a ton of ebooks, through Amazon.com.

How much attention and credence to you give to reader reviews?
- I do pay attention them, but they have to be valid. A review that says, “This is great! Okay, I didn’t read the book, but I like the cover!” is useless to me. Similarly, “This book sucks because I hate science fiction” won’t sway me. But if the reviewers all agree that there are problems with proofreading or something, that will definitely make me not want to buy the book. Negative reviews based on subjective matters like how good the story are taken into consideration, but I don’t weigh them too heavily.

How important is the price of the ebook, and how much more likely are you to buy an ebook if it’s cheaper (say, $1 vs $3)?
- It is very important to me. I’m not saying authors don’t deserve more for their books, but there are a lot of great books on Amazon for very cheap or free. So unfortunately, I’m unlikely to pay $3+ unless I really want that particular book for some reason. If the book is $1 then I’m very likely to at least give it a try.

How to you browse/search for ebooks? How does an ebook catch your eye?
- As I say, I use Amazon.com. I typically just search for particular authors I like or books that have been recommended. Otherwise, I check out what is popular on Amazon. I also like to see what books are on sale.

How often and how likely are you to buy an ebook that you know nothing about except what you read online (blurb, customer reviews, etc)?
- Very likely. I’d say the web is the only source for information about 95%+ of the books I buy.
I hope that helped.

I don’t buy ebooks unless I’m already very aware of the title. 90 % of everything is crap, and ebooks have particularly low barriers so its more like 99% of self published ebooks are crap.

I generally will not download an ebook, not even for free, that doesn’t have a good number of positive reviews. I have hundreds of excellent books on my to-read pile. Life’s too short to read books that are mediocre.

Essentially I’ve only ever bought one self published ebook, WOOL, after 5 or so friends whose judgement I trust recommended it. I wouldn’t buy an ebook unless it was recommended by friends with good judgement, a trusted editorial source, or I’m familiar with the authors work already.

Things that make me want to read a book:

  1. A friend whose taste I like has recommended it.
  2. It has been recommended by a Doper who seems to know what he’s talking about in a thread on fiction
  3. A blogger I read has recommended it.
  4. My book club chooses it for our monthly book.
  5. I’ve read something else by the author and liked it.

My reading list grows many times faster than I am able to read it, so I never actively look for the next book to read. I just write down books that seem interesting as I hear about them.

Things that make me buy an eBook

  1. It’s not available at the library.
  2. The eBook costs less than or equal to the paper version.

I pay a lot of attention to reader reviews, but they have to be good, thoughtful reviews. A gushy, poorly written and unreasoned five-star review does nothing for me. I like the reviews on Goodreads more than Amazon.

Cheap ebooks are good, but not too cheap. I’m actually more inclined to buy something that’s $3 then something that’s always $1 or free. That extra $2… that’s where the quality comes from! :slight_smile:

I always check out the Daily Deals on Amazon and I’ll browse their cheap offerings regularly. Otherwise, I don’t look specifically for ebooks, I find books I’m interested in and may get them for my Kindle if the price is right or I’m feeling impulsive. I buy a ton of books I know nothing about, other than a striking cover or a catchy write up.

I write lots of reviews on Goodreads and Amazon and occasionally get approached by authors that offer me free ebooks in exchange for a review. Maybe browse those sites for reviewers you like who like your genre and approach them with a similar offer?

I pay almost no attention to kids’ reviews, or reviews that might as well have been written by a child. I do try to figure out whether a reviewer has an agenda, or is a shill. I pay a lot of attention to well written reviews if it seems that the reviewer actually has read the book, knows the genre, and goes into at least a little detail about what s/he likes or dislikes about the book (or game or whatever).

The price for an ebook should be lower than for a hardback version. I’m willing to pay a bit more than paperback prices for most current ebooks, but I’ll grumble about it. On the other hand, if the price for a current ebook is too low, I’m likely to think that this is a reflection of the book’s quality.

I usually buy fiction books because I’m familiar with the author. I almost never buy an ebook if I don’t know the author. I’ve never bought a self-published ebook. I’ve browsed through a few, and they were all pretty bad. Some were remarkably bad.

I usually search for ebooks by author. I buy a lot of used paperbacks, and I’m willing to take a chance on new authors in paperback, because I can sell the book back if I don’t like it. I will also take a chance on a new (to me) author if I get a lot of Amazon Recommendations for that author.

Reader reviews do tend to sway my opinion, as long as they are pertinent. As another poster said, I’m not going to pay attention to joke reviews, reviews that bad mouth a book just because they don’t like the genre, subject matter, etc. I do pay attention to what they say about the story itself, any glaring things proof reading should have caught, things like that.

Price matters a great deal to me. I’m not going to pay the same thing for an ebook that I would for a hard back. Also, I’m not going to spend $8+ for an ebook that is more than a couple of years old. Needless to say, the cheaper it is, the more likely I am to buy it.

I browse through books using the store feature of the kindle app. Depending on my mood, I’ll browse via price (low to high), category, or recommended. (Side rant: Stop recommending books to me that I’ve already bought Amazon!) As for a book catching my eye, a decent cover, or description of the book will make me look closer at it. A catchy title is good too. If you’re going to have a cover, make sure it relates to the story or genre in some fashion.

I’ve got over 200 ebooks from Amazon, and aside from two by John Ringo, 70% were purchased due to blurbs or customer reviews. The rest are books I already owned, were continuations of series I had started in hardback/paperback, or free classics.

I do care about the reviews, but am very aware, when looking at them, that authors do game the review system (by posting glowing notices for their own book and, more unpleasantly, by posting negative reviews of competing books. Ick.)

I really, really like to see some of the book itself before buying (“Look Inside” at Amazon; if there is none, I’ll check Googlebooks.)

I don’t look at reader reviews as a way of judging the quality of the writing or story. I read them for much more objective details: to find out if the book is well formatted and indexed, if it has long or short chapters, footnotes, illustrations, connections to other stories, if there’s something notable about its structure or writing or plot. Sometimes I can find that out from the sample but not always.

I don’t pay much attention to ratings and whether or not people love or hate the book. I might look at a couple of each to find out why they loved it or hated it - if they all praise or complain about the writing style then that tells me something.

I almost never browse books online. I go looking for a specific author or title that I’ve heard about elsewhere. I’ve occasionally bought e-books by an author I haven’t read before after reading their blog or twitter feed.

My opinions on price are inflated because I live in a country where books (including many e-books) are expensive. I think around $5 is a great price for a recent release of an e-book by an author I like, or when I liked the sample. I’ll happily pay that for something I know I want to read. I’ve paid $10 or so for fiction e-books, but only for must haves and only when I’m sure I want the e-book edition.

For an author I don’t know, well, it’s more about time than price. At $0.99 for a full length book, I have to wonder why it’s so cheap. There are any number of books I can choose from; a few dollars won’t make much difference to me, but a week or two of reading time sure will.

That said, I’m plenty susceptible to marketing ploys. A $0.99 novel looks dubious to me. But a $3 book on special this week for $0.99? How can I say no?

I pay attention to the bad reviews more than good ones and dismiss the very, very positive ones unless they are well-written and thorough. 5 star reviews that contain little data are likely shills. Also, I dismiss the bad reviews that give no details or nitpick about bullshit that no one in their right mind should care about.

VERY important. I will take a chance on about anything that is under a dollar. If it looks promising at all, I will buy something for up to $3. Anything over that and I have to have more information like friends’ recommendations.

I search new books in a certain genre and browse the plot summaries.

Depends on the price.

Thanks for all the feedback. A few more questions:

How important is the book cover art to your potential purchase?

For those that browse or search for ebooks, what website do you use? Do you ever click on book ads on that or any other website?

I’m a small publisher, and I would not price too low. That shows there’s no faith in the product. But not too high, because that shows disrespect for the customer.

Read every piece of marketing advice you can find on Smashwords. Start here:

They have a lot of hard data about pricing and sales.

Reviews are paramount. Bad reviews do hurt. Quantity over quality.

>>How to you browse/search for ebooks? How does an ebook catch your eye?<<

As a reader, I rely 100% on friends recommendations.

I do not mind if a book is self-published. If it says Amazon Digital Services, I might roll my eyes, but still buy it with no problem.

If you have free work (not just samples) elsewhere on the web, it helps. AO3 has been a big draw for us, also releasing free stories through B&N.

Oops, didn’t preview.

  1. How important is the book cover art to your potential purchase?


  1. For those that browse or search for ebooks, what website do you use? Do you ever click on book ads on that or any other website?

I look solely on Amazon. I never click on ads.

A long running book thread at another message board I’ve inhabited for a decade. There are a bunch of posters who have similar tastes to mine and they’ve led me to lots of interesting reading material.

I take them with a large grain of salt. Some reviews are simply useless, some are gushy with no substance, and some are vitriolic for no reason. Just because someone else likes a book doesn’t mean I will. A really well written and thoughtful review, though, can be extremely helpful.

I’m very open to taking a chance on an e-book under $4.

I’m more likely to hear about a book from some source or other, then go and see if it’s available in e-book form. I’m not opposed to getting tree books, but I’m trying to downsize my material possessions these days so I’m preferring e-books due to storage issues as much as anything else.

“Cover” artwork for e-books has little impact. Sure, a nicely done one is great, but for the most part I’m not going to look at it. I’m interested in the story and content more than anything else.

I’m often hearing about books from threads on message boards these days as well as recommendations of friends and family. Amazon seems to have improved it’s algorithms so I’ll browse recommendations there. I also cruise sites like Gutenberg, publisher websites, and so on. Another source of books is either articles (newspapers/magazines) or blogs. I’ve downloaded three from the websites of authors.

On my current list of books to acquire is one published by a Doper and mentioned in a thread awhile back (my book budget is limited, even for inexpensive e-books, so even if I want a book it may be awhile before I purchase it). So be sure to blow your own horn around here!

Right now, about 1/3 to 1/2 the books I’m acquiring meet that criteria. But usually I need more than just one mention. One mention might grab my attention but I usually try to find out a bit more than that before actual purchase, so I might first hear about it on a blog, but then I’ll seek out a customer review or see if I can get a sample (like a few pages on Amazon, but they’re not the only one doing that) so I can get a sense of the writer’s style and see if they’re able to capture my attention.

Please don’t take this personally as it is not directed at you personally. It is not meant as an attack on you. I am sure your book is fine.

But I very rarely buy self published books as most of them, I am sorry to say, are complete and utter crap. I dislike people who call themselves authors just because they put material on Amazon. In my opinion, Amazon really shouldn’t allow people to “publish” material on their site unless the material has been vetted by an editor with credentials and credibility. I’ve read through barely literate posts by people on writer’s boards who call themselves such when it is obvious that a real publishing house would instantly reject anything they wrote. Real books from real publishers are cheap enough second hand and from libraries. I can get many books a few years after they’ve been published for under four bucks second hand including shipping from Amazon. I usually buy two or three such books a month from them.

The only exception for me is one on a subject I like such as historical fiction. I will buy historical novels when priced under three bucks. Or when the author is an established author with a track record or has received a lot of good press. I’m sure the Wool series is very good. Most ebooks are not. It’s not even so much that they are not good as they are just awful.

I happen to be a published author with a respected largely academic publishing house. I co-authored a book with a fellow poster. Our book was vetted by one of the leading lights in the field and two editors. Yet you go on Amazon right now and look at and you will see literally pages of morons trashing it. Competing books that are far worse that ours and contain literal lies have more and better reviews than we do.

So I personally am wary of reviews knowing that anyone can put them up.


Well, I’ve gotten some excellent recommendations here on this website…

I mostly use Amazon and Project Gutenberg (yes, I know, they aren’t a publisher but I’ve gotten some great stuff there) but I’ll browse author websites and occasionally that has been the key in my decision. As I mentioned in my prior post I have on occasion obtained books directly from authors on their websites.

Wool is remarkably good for a self-publish effort, and probably could have found a traditional publisher somewhere, but compared to professionally edited/published work it’s mid-level in my opinion. I enjoyed reading the first few installments, but I didn’t finish the series. I might go back to it at some point.

There are on-line employment sites where people advertise for folks to write custom reviews. Basically, paying someone to make ads disguised as “reader reviews”. It would not surprise me if that’s what you’re seeing there.

Price matters a lot.

Nearly all the ebooks I buy are based on personal recommendations from friends, acquaintances, and people on discussion boards.

Not at all. A generic “blue stripe” cover would not deter me in the slightest. Frankly, I sometimes suspect really fancy covers as being examples of over-promotion. Why would the author spend that kind of money on cover art, which can only increase the price? I’m here to read.

I’ll do some browsing on Amazon. Their “People who bought X have also bought Y” links are of some interest and use.

But, for me, the real deal is word of mouth. If I hadn’t seen your thread here, I’d have never looked at your book. The best cover art in the world wouldn’t have changed that – and the crummiest cover art in the world wouldn’t have deterred me, once I’d decided I was interested.

(But, that said, no cover art at all is probably better than really bad or amateurish art.)

Cover art is not that important. The less obtrusive the better. I only buy through Amazon.