If you’ve been reading Light Novels (LN) for a while, you might’ve noticed they’re kind of expensive for what they are. They’re treated as pulp fiction in Japan and shouldn’t cost much, right? Just how different in price are Japanese versions of LNs compared to their Western releases?
How much do Light Novels actually cost?
On average, Japanese versions of Light Novels cost ¥747 ($5.67) for a physical copy and ¥669 ($5.08) for a digital copy. Light Novels sold outside of Japan are much more expensive. The average cost for USA versions of Light Novels cost $15.00 for a physical copy and $9.99 for a digital copy.
But why is this?
There is no apparent difference between each version besides in what language the text is. However, there are a variety of factors—both seen and unseen—that contribute to the price point of each version.
A closer look at these factors will reveal why LNs cost what they do as well as give you a better idea of how to price yours in order to maximize sales.
Why Are Light Novels in Japan So Cheap?
Japan’s unique culture and the size of the country itself have produced a totally different attitude towards the book market compared to the USA.
To an American, buying a book is the equivalent of going to see a movie. The consumer wants to be entertained, so he goes out in search of entertainment and decides to buy and spend time reading a book. A movie fulfills the same need at about the same price.
A Japanese person might treat a book no differently. However, because of the structure of Japan’s major cities (which heavily rely on public transportation), the way consumers interact with books is totally different.
In the USA, bookstores are few in number even in large cities. They are usually enormous and feature only what they know will sell. They won’t bother carrying any niche genres and half the store is usually filled with toys and novelty gifts instead of books. It’s a miracle Barnes and Noble has such an extensive Manga and LN section.
Conversely, Tokyo is completely riddled with bookstores. Nearly every train station has a bookstore and if they don’t, you’ll find a handful of stalls selling the latest bestsellers. Book-Off, a major used bookstore chain, can be found in nearly every city and if there isn’t one, you’re guaranteed to find at least ten local bookstores.
During the year I lived in Saitama (a 30 minute train ride from Tokyo proper), there was never a moment when I wasn’t near a bookstore. Well, unless I was in the middle of nowhere. And even then, I found books inside convenience stores like Lawson and Seven Eleven which are basically everywhere.
And at nearly every single bookstore, I found LNs. Potential LN readers in Japan are exposed to them at every turn.
As an American, I have to drive myself to the books. A Japanese person needs merely go about her day (which usually involves public transportation or buying breakfast from a Lawson) and she will be exposed to LNs.
All that to say: the number of people who are apt to purchase a LN (because they are exposed to it more frequently) is far greater in Japan than in the USA.
Needless to say, more buyers allows for a lower price point.
But what is that price point and why is it what it is?
I told you earlier, but that was only an average based on my findings. Findings I’ll share with you in the next section so you’ll better understand the points following it.
What is the Average Cost of a Light Novel?
There are plenty of Japanese LN publishers, but a handful rise far above the rest. Because of their clout, what they price their LNs ends up becoming the standard.
I took a sample of 10 LNs from 5 of the major publishers for a total of 50 LN prices. The price (¥747) you saw earlier is the average of all 50.
Prices for a Physical/Digital Copy:
As you can see—the prices are all over the place. Western LN publishers tend to stick to one price and slap it on every title.
Japanese publishers, conversely, seem to base the price on a variety of factors such as the genre, page count, popularity, and more that I wouldn’t be able to divine without being their employee.
As evidence, here are the averages for these major publishers:
That said, they all hover around the same price point. However, this is only for the first few months after a LN’s release. As if they weren’t cheap enough already, the retail prices of LNs tend to fall just a few months after their launch date.
I purposely only sampled LNs that were released within May 2022, so that I could get the average current price rather than have the numbers skewed by prices of old books. Doing so would completely skew my data because of how cheap LNs become with time.
Because LNs are released rather quickly (3-4 months between volumes on average), older volumes only have a short window to sell before they’re forgotten (by the marketing department) and have their ad spot replaced by the next volume.
And in order to sell even more copies of the newest volume, the older volumes are severely discounted so that readers won’t have to invest much picking up a new series. The most amount of money that can be made is off the newest volume, so only it is sold at full price.
At least digitally. Physical copies of LNs in bookstores sell at the cover price unless the bookstore runs some sort of sale. Digital sales, however, are nothing but discounts.
Just a few months after release, Amazon cuts the price of the digital version of a LN nearly in half. The physical version might see some price cuts, but nothing drastic (Printing has a big price. Bytes do too, just not nearly as much.).
That said, you can often buy a used physical copy for half the cover price at any used bookstore in Japan. I made a point to buy piles and piles of 100-yen LNs that were only 5 or 6 years old.
All that to say: LNs, digital or physical, don’t hold their value for very long.
And not only does Amazon do this, every other online bookseller treats LNs the same way. Constant bundle deals, free first volumes, deep discounts, and countless other sales move tons of LNs for a tiny fraction of the original cover price.
For the sake of easy understanding, let’s readdress my above points:
- Potential LN readers are constantly exposed to LNs and have easy access to them.
- LNs stay full price only for a short time before all attention is given to the latest volume
- Digital copies of LNs are not only cheaper at launch than the physical version, but are also made cheaper and cheaper the older they become.
All this boils down to a single idea that will inevitably form in the mind of any LN reader: “LNs as a medium are cheap and we shouldn’t have to pay that much for them.“
The frequency effect making them not as exciting, the Mach-5 marketing, and their rapidly falling price point all result in making LNs appear cheap.
And so, they are made cheap. It is for that sole reason Japanese LNs are so cheap.
There’s no reason why they couldn’t be twice the price.
In fact, many LN series in Japan really are twice the price. Overlord and the Monogatari series are considered LNs, but cost twice as much, even as far back as 2006. Why? Because they’re not treated as LNs.
From what I saw, LNs of that caliber were not sold in the same bookstore section as the LNs I used for my dataset. They have the same target audience, but totally different approach to marketing which allows them to charge more.
LNs inexpensiveness isn’t so much because of one physical factor (printing costs/paying employees/marketing costs), but rather for two primary reasons.
- The public perception of LNs is cheap.
- The amount of people who are subject to LN marketing is enormous, so there are a far greater number of consumers compared to foreign markets.
Publishers could sell LNs for the same price as standard fiction, but it’s too late to do so. LNs started out cheap and only see minor average price increases over time. For example, a physical LN released in 2010 was about 580 before tax, compared to an average of 680 today.
That’s basically nothing compared to how LN and Manga pricing has changed in the USA over the same amount of time.
Which, I’ll be covering next.
How Much Do Light Novels Cost in the USA?
As stated above, LNs sold outside of Japan are far more expensive than their Japanese counterparts. As it’s the #2 country in Otaku media sales, I’ll be using the USA as my primary example for this section.
Here are three of the major USA LN publishers and their average prices:
- Yen Press: $15.00 MSRP / Digital $7.99 or $8.99
- Seven Seas: $13.99 or $14.99 MSRP / Digital $9.99
- Jnovel Club: $14.99 MSRP / Digital $6.99 to $8.99
(Prices are before tax, taken directly from each publisher’s website)
99% of the available titles were one of these price points, so there wasn’t much value in calculating an average. Unlike Japan, USA prices are fairly uniform and close in price to one another.
So, after the conversion rate, you can see that USA LNs are nearly 3 times (!) the price of a JP LN.
But why? Let’s take a quick look through the many reasons, both literal and cultural.
The right to sell each LN intellectual property (IP) must be purchased for the publisher can profit from selling it. Usually, it’s a flat fee upfront either for the entire series or just a single volume.
Compared to JP Publisher, USA publishers need to hire Translators in addition to the same types of employees a JP publisher might have (editors, proofreaders, marketing, and so on).
Higher Printing Costs
Western LNs are similar only in content compared to their JP counterparts. Western LNs are larger (a 6×9 book compared to 4×6 one), have higher quality paper, and less copies are printed (because of a limited audience), which all contribute to a much higher cost of printing.
Lack of Audience
As alluded to earlier, Americans are not exposed to books anywhere near as much as the Japanese. Thus, there is not as much effort spent on marketing.
And the audience for anything anime-related, while large, isn’t large enough to push tons of LN sales.
Even more, Manga is still king to American Otaku. It’s only very recently that there are more than a handful of LNs available in bookstores.
And lower-demand typically results in a higher price.
Until just a few years ago, Japan hadn’t seen any inflation since the economic crash of 1992. This is why you only saw a marginal increase in LN costs over a long period of time. Conversely, the US experiences consistent inflation and LN prices reflect that.
You might not believe it, but one of Yen Press’ first publications “Book Girl” retailed for $8.99 in 2010. In 12 years, they’ve raised their prices by $6.00 compared to Japan’s $1.00.
In direct opposition towards the JP Otaku’s idea that LNs are cheap, Westerners have been conditioned to treat LNs (and all other literature, paperbacks retail for around $20 (!) nowadays) as expensive.
Many consumers look at the $15 price tag and might guffaw at first, but then consider everything it took to translate and create the book—so it seems an acceptable price.
Whether it is or not is irrelevant. In the same way that the JP could charge double, I posit that US publishers could stand to sell them a bit cheaper.
Costs can be cut in a variety of ways, but because Americans have already been conditioned to pay the 15.00—it’s the standard price.
And when it inevitably inflates, people will eventually get used to the new prince and it will become the standard.
Furthermore, because LNs are printed in limited quantities, they soon disappear from retail stores and are sold secondhand. At absurd prices. Many out-of-print LNs go for $200.00 on eBay. This results in the idea that LNs are expensive being reinforced.
So, while the reasons for LNs being so expensive in Western countries are many, they really boil down to two key points. The opposite of the two in regard to Japan.
- A lack of audience means lower-demand, which results in a higher price.
- LNs are culturally perceived to be expensive, so publishers are happy to reflect that mentality.
All that said, western LNs are not as expensive as they appear. Rarely do LNs sell for MSRP. You can hop on Rightstuf right now and preorder (as in a book that hasn’t even released yet) a book for a consistent 3 dollars under MSRP on nearly all titles.
Almost never do Americans pay MSRP for books unless they walk into a bookstore and buy it without knowing any better.
Digitally speaking, LNs sell the same way as in Japan. Amazon almost always offers digital copies for under MSRP and sites like Bookwalker have plenty of bundle deals, point programs, and drastic markdowns on their digital LNs.
So, despite all those reasons for their being expensive, they really aren’t. Humans, regardless of nationality, are always trying to find ways to spend the least amount of money and the market gives them exactly that.
LNs as a whole are worth very little both to a consumer conceptually and to the publishers physically.
The trick in making money is simply to inflate the price to near breaking point (publishers are well aware of how far they can raise the price before people collectively say ‘no’) and then offer markdowns so that the consumers feel as if they’re getting a bargain.
In reality, publishers are making as much money as they projected and the consumers feel good about saving some money.
Everybody wins even if the methodology is a bit sketchy.
But that’s enough about the ‘why’ of LN prices. Let’s step into Author territory and find out ‘how much’.
How Much Should Your Light Novel Cost?
As an LN Author, you probably want to know how much you should charge for your LN. Obviously, there is no standard price given the amount of pricing inconsistencies between publishers and online retailers offering deep discounts.
So, what should you charge for yours?
99.9% of the time, you’ll have to self-publish. So, you set your own price. But what price? You’re not in the ‘big leagues’, so it wouldn’t make sense to charge more or even the same as the major western LN publishers, right?
I’d say so. As I said, LNs themselves are perceived as cheap. And you want to know what is perceived to be even cheaper?
That’s right. Your LN that consumers will quickly discover is both self-published and not Japanese in origin. Otherwise known as an Original English Light Novel (OELN). I don’t like to use this term as it bears a negative connotation, but using it will be useful for the next question.
Anyway, your LN isn’t quite like the others on the market, so consumers will be less likely to purchase it in general and even less apt to do so if the price is too high.
Let’s take a look at OELN prices and see what we can learn.
How Much Do Original English Light Novels Cost?
Despite there being zero coordination or direction between LN Authors (or perhaps because of it (they’re all copying each other)), OELN prices are fairly consistent.
On average, an Original English Light Novel costs anywhere from 11.99 to 15.00 for a physical copy and 4.99 or less for a digital copy. The range for a physical copy is about the same compared to major publisher prices, while that for a digital copy is quite a bit less.
And that sounds about right to me. Physical copies have to cost that much for reasons I’ll list in a moment, while most are smart not to charge too much for a digital copy of a LN no one has ever heard of. That said, I don’t necessarily believe that’s the right way to go about it.
But before I tell you why, let’s discuss why you’ll find yourself pigeonholed into the 12-15 price range for a physical copy of your LN.
Why Are Physical Copies of Light Novels More Expensive than Digital Copies?
That probably sounds like a stupid question, but I’m more confused as to why they’re not the same price. Video games, for example, on launch, sell for the same price both physically and digitally. Why should a book be any different?
They may not be comparable in production costs, but they are both forms of entertainment. If the content is the same, then they should be the same price.
However, despite the physical production of game cases and discs and the cost of shipping them to stores costing more than just transferring data, they are the same price.
Either physical copies of games should cost more and digital copies should cost less or LNs should be the same price physically and digitally.
So I plead, yet no one listens.
No matter how you slice it, the idea that digital books should be cheaper than physical ones is set in stone. Yet, no matter how annoying or illogical it is, there are a few understandable reasons for this phenomenon:
It can cost a pretty penny to print your LN even with the all of the cheapest options selected. The reason for this is not that printing is expensive, but that printing in low amounts is expensive.
100 copies of a 200 page LN typically costs around $700 ($7 a book), while 10,000 copies of the same LN will cost $30,000 ($3 a book).
This issue has been somewhat circumvented thanks to Print-On-Demand services, but it still isn’t cheap and not particularly consumer or Author friendly.
Even the cheapest shipping for books (media mail) starts at $3.19 for just one pound.
You can always charge the buyer for shipping, but as a Non-JP LN Author, you’re already at a disadvantage and that free shipping option will move more copies than you think.
No matter whether you sell it yourself or post it one of the many online book retailers’ websites, everyone wants a chunk of your LN’s profits.
Amazon will not let you keep 100% percent of what’s left over after printing and shipping costs have been ripped out of the retail price. In fact, they only let you keep 60% of your List Price minus what it cost to print your LN.
But what if you don’t want to sell on Amazon and just sell it on your own website?
Well then you’ll need a way to process payments. And lo and behold, services like PayPal and Stripe also want a cut. 2.9% + 30 cents to be exact.
So, on Amazon, you list for $15, it costs $6 to print and you only keep 60% of what’s left. That leaves you with a whopping 15 x 0.6 – 6 = $3.00 per sale!
That not sound appealing? Ok, let’s sell it ourselves.
- $15.00 – 2.9% ($0.44) = $14.56
- $14.56 – $0.30 = $14.26
- $14.26 – $6.00 (to print) = $8.26
- $8.26 – $3.19 (to ship) = $5.07
So, a profit of $5.07. Not bad, a 66% increase…but you’re missing all of the million perks of being on Amazon.
Those being effective website design, brand recognition, payment security, and so much more. All things the budget website you built in a week after several YouTube videos probably doesn’t have.
Playing the physical copy game isn’t cheap and quite frankly, I don’t recommend you bother with it until you’re some kind of famous.
Anyway, let’s return to the matter at hand and figure out how much you should charge for your LN.
How to Price Your Light Novel
As you might have expected by this point, there are two key elements that will dictate the price of your LN.
A Severe Lack of Audience
There aren’t that many JPLN readers outside of Japan. And among them, only a tiny fraction know that Non-JP LNs (OELNs) exist.
And of them, even fewer would actually read one. And an even smaller amount of those would spend money on them.
Quite frankly, Non-JP LNs they are perceived to be one step above garbage. Many are given away free in the form of Web Novels.
And as noted, digital copies sell for less than 5 dollars, half the MSRP of JP LNs. LNs may be cheap, but Non-JP LNs are even cheaper.
Now you might be thinking in one of two possible ways to price your LN.
- Charge more than the (or the same as) major western LN publishers because of how little demand there is for Non-JP LNs.
- Charge as little as possible while still making a profit because of how worthless Non-JP LNs are conceptually.
Neither method is illogical. The first would net you the most amount of profits from the small audience you might garner with enough marketing.
The second might result in the same amount of profits from a larger audience, a portion of which may have run at the sight of a high price.
However, neither method is the optimal one. When it comes to picking the price for your LN, I suggest finding the middle-ground between translated JPLN prices and OELN prices.
Put simply, don’t charge too much and scare potential buyers, but don’t charge too little and reinforce the belief that Non-JP LNs are next to worthless.
If that logic doesn’t quite make sense, allow me to relay a study done in Robert B. Cialdini’s book Influence.
Price Is All About Perception
Once upon a time, a jewelry store was having trouble selling a specific pile of rings. They had been priced appropriately, but for whatever reason, weren’t selling well.
Before shelfing them, the owner decided to have a bit of fun and jack up the price of the rings by an absurd amount.
Much to her surprise, the rings soon sold out. They didn’t change their marketing approach, didn’t change the location of the rings in the store, and didn’t do anything else to upsell the rings. All she did was raise the price.
Similar tests were conducted and it was the same pattern every time. High-priced items sell far more than what common sense would suggest.
Why is this?
Because of how consumers perceive an item.
Products at Dollar Tree are perceived to be cheap not necessarily because they are cheap (half my kitchen tools are from there…), but because their price-point suggests they are cheap.
Conversely, because Apple products are priced so high, they are perceived to be of superb quality whether they are or not.
Sony makes all the same products as Apple for the same price or cheaper and they are leagues ahead in terms of quality.
And yet, because Apple has presented themselves as a provider of high-quality, luxury products, people are happy to pay the exorbitant prices. Case in point: $19.00 for an Apple-branded Microfiber Cloth.
All that said, there is an invisible price ceiling. If you price a product too high, consumers will not buy it no matter how high-quality it is.
Hence why fast-food restaurants are very careful not to raise their prices but by a few cents every year. Too much at once for what is perceived to be garbage food and people will stop buying.
And how does this all tie into the price point for your LN?
As stated, a high-price creates a perception of high-quality, but Non-JP LNs already have the stigmata of being trash, so implementing this tactic will only back-fire (much like if McDonalds were to charge $20.00 for a Big Mac).
Plus, thanks to the major publishers, the price ceiling for LNs isn’t invisible—it’s 15.00 for a physical and 9.99 for a digital. Go over those and consumers will always pick the cheaper JP LN.
However, you can still use the aforementioned tactic to your advantage on a smaller scale.
The Perfect Price for Your Light Novel
When OELN Authors price their LNs at half the price for a JP LN, they are unintentionally signaling to consumers that their product is half as good as the other.
So, don’t do that. But don’t do the opposite either. Either price yours the same as the translated LNs or a bit cheaper.
I suggest going a bit cheaper myself as you don’t want to risk suggesting to consumers that your LN is on the same level of JP LNs. It might be, but many Otaku would be happy to disagree with you.
Charge more than the going rate of OELNs to trigger the ‘higher price = higher quality’ mentality, but don’t slam your head into the price ceiling either.
Or, if you must have exact numbers:
Physical: However much it costs to get you a profit or a maximum of 15.00. I would do your best to aim for 12.99 or 13.99 if only to stick it to the major publishers asking too much.
Digital: 7.99 or 8.99 ideally, a maximum of 9.99.
But even then, your prices should mimic actual LNs in every way. This means deep discounts when you release your next volume.
You want as many people paying maximum price for the newest volume. And the only way they’ll do that is if they’re already into your series, which means they’ll have to have bought and read it. And they probably won’t take a chance on it unless it’s relatively cheap.
Don’t sell yourself short, but don’t let pride prevent you from giving away your first volume for .99 or even free if it means increasing your audience.
Your Light Novel Should Cost About This Much
The price of LNs is always changing, there is no uniformity between publishers, and the numbers don’t mean much of anything.
That said, if you want to sell as many copies of your LN as possible, you’ve got to first play by the rules and then break the ones that drag you down.
Don’t charge too much or too little and be prepared to change it to suit your unique circumstances.
The cost of a LN isn’t something set in stone. They sell for cheaper than what’s written on the back weeks before they’ve even released!
By the time you finish reading this article, the average price will likely have changed again!
Worry about it, but don’t worry too much. In many cases, you’ll just have to keep playing around with the price point to figure out what works best (no two audiences share the same buying practices).
Just use what you’ve learned here as a starting point and get to selling your Light Novel!