The Price is Right

I had an interesting Twitter discussion this weekend that involved e-book pricing. It’s on my mind a lot really what with me having a new book coming out in May. I had five dollars set as the soft price in my mind based on a few things I read in this post. I felt (and still feel) that this is a fair price point for a book in the sixty-thousand word range.

There are a number of people who disagree with me though. Brand Gamblin (an author whose work I will pimp without fail) posted recently about his experiment in advertising and his decision to drop the price on Tumbler from $4.99 to $2.99. He points to JA Konrath’s ongoing experiments in e-book pricing as well as data from Evil Genius Dave Slusher’s graphs and charts as the reason for this decision. Brand has been well pleased by the results, the increase in sales more than making up for the decrease in profit. While Brand isn’t saying that there’s anything “magical” about $2.99 (the biggest thing driving that price point is that it’s the lowest you can charge through Amazon to make 70% profit) and that not every book should be priced at that point, he is saying that that’s probably what I should charge.

Several people in my Twitter stream expressed a concern that I was letting a notion of what my book is “worth” in an artistic sense cloud my judgment in terms of the price I’m setting. They believe in me in some sense and in my work and want me to maximize my profits. I appreciate that concern and it doesn’t fall on deaf ears. I certainly want to make money on this deal and I want to both maximize the total profit and get this into the hands of the highest number of people possible. So I don’t have any high flung notions that my work is “worth” five bones. The notion of worth as Ed Talbot pointed out is philosophical and largely depends on how you’re measuring it.

So far a number of people have stepped onto the pre-sale band wagon, six to date, and gave me varying chunks of their hard earned dollars. Four have opted for the highest level of support, one at the ten dollar level and one at fifteen. To them, the idea and the reality of my work is “worth” the price that they paid. To say I am grateful is a wild understatement. I am also grateful to folks that have ponied up anywhere from $.99 to $1.99 for my offerings on Amazon and Smashwords. Their payments for my stories have meant far more to me than the coin I received. The accolades I’ve received from reviewers likewise made my day/week/month. That out of the way though, I need to look at this as a business man would. I’m not a business man at heart, but as Dan Sawyer’s often said to me (paraphrasing) authors/aritsts need to train themselves up that way.

I’ve read the threads on Kindleboards and I’ve looked on Amazon’s lists and the pricepoint that makes the most sense to me is the $2.99 one. I don’t have the researchers that publishers do, but there are a few things I know. I don’t have the following that Nathan Lowell does. People aren’t clamoring for this book. I’m a completely unknown author to 99.999% of the universe out there. So I need to make my prose as compelling as possible and price it reasonably. I won’t give it away (at least not in text form) since I think it is worth something and based on a number of things I’ve read, free e-books languish unread in their owners’ readers. I also don’t see charging less than $2.99 for it since, while it may increase sales (or it may not depending on who you listen to) I don’t think the subsequent cut in percentage will make it worth while.

The question of what to charge for the paperback version still looms large in my mind. I have the pre-sale levels set at five and ten for e-book and paperback versions respectively and I don’t see that I’ll lower those. That means if you’ve made the decision to support me already, you’ve likely paid more than you would have had you waited. And it may mean that if you were going to pre-order that you’ll wait til it’s out. I can’t fault you if you ask for a refund or if you wait until the launch. My hope is that you’ll support me anyway and that you’ll feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth at the “full price”.

As always, feel free to share your comments below and tip your servers well!

15 thoughts on “The Price is Right”

  1. As a friend and supporter, I’d drop a 5-spot no problem (and mean to, despite my probable laziness).

    I’m not familiar with the market, but doesn’t this qualify as “novella” range? Does that factor into what cost is “typical” for you?

    I know the (A) world is changing, (B) the publishing market is increasingly crowded/difficult to access and (C) I am talentless, but I hope to still push my upcoming novel (series) through traditional channels. How does eBook/online publishing affect your final product ever seeing “real” paper/print publishing?

    1. I appreciate that Dave!

      The whole novel/novella thing is a bit murky. SFWA says that 60K is a novel, albeit a short one.

      The world is changing and getting noticed by a publisher is increasingly difficult (and some would say pointless). I don’t think it affects is dramatically since there’s certainly precedent for small press/self published authors getting picked up. As it is I’d rather get this in front of readers and build an audience than to spend 2-3 years getting a publisher and then waiting another year to see it in print. As it stands if I can prove to a publisher that I can build an audience on my own then they may want me. Of course if I can build an audience on my own do I want a big publisher? I don’t know. An agent though, yes. I do want an agent.

      1. $2.99 huh? For a novella, that sounds about right. For a full novel? I think I’d want to go a little higher, just based on the idea that before reaching a certain price point, readers tend to associate quality with price.

        As an aside, do you really want an agent as a newbie author? 🙂 After weighing cost-to-benefit ratio, it might be more cost-effective to do what they do yourself. The ones who are likely to want to work for you now may not be that good of agents, being of the newer breed. Business, and all that. I can only speak about my own opinion, and so far, that’s at least the way I’m leaning. If I need any outside help I’d be more likely to hire an IP lawyer.

        1. What would you consider a “full novel”?

          Also, regarding an agent, yeah it would need to be the right person and they would be good to handle things like foreign rights.

  2. Scott, I think $2.99 is the sweet spot, especially for unknown authors in a competitive market where the Big 6 are pricing books at $7.99-$9.99. One of the even more intimidating factors is how many indie authors who already see phenomenal sales have recently lowered their price to $.99. I did the $.99 experiment for the last 2 weeks of February, so I’m anxious to see what happens when I raise it back up to $2.99.

  3. The only fault in your post is here: “That means if you’ve made the decision to support me already, you’ve likely paid more than you would have had you waited. And it may mean that if you were going to pre-order that you’ll wait til it’s out. I can’t fault you if you ask for a refund or if you wait until the launch. My hope is that you’ll support me anyway and that you’ll feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth at the “full price”.”

    The pre-order you have up now is for a signed, personalized, numbered print copy at the second level. They won’t get that when the print version is up on Amazon.

    You have priced your pre-order correctly and those that have already supported you will be getting way more than those that wait to order off Amazon.

    I do agree with Jenny, though. $2.99 will be the sweet spot. You may want to consider dropping the ebook to that price after the first month of sales. Just to see what happens.
    The main thing is that NO ONE knows how to navigate ebooks right now! NO ONE! It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been in publishing, it’s all new to the entire world. You’re in the same chaotic boat as all of us. Welcome!

    Good luck, man!


    1. Fair point Jake, they will be getting more for their money/early adoption. You think I should launch it at $4.99? Just curious.

  4. Only thing I have to add is that there is no “right” decision. A year ago, 1.99 seemed to be the right price. Amazon’s commission rate didn’t vary then, and Konrath’s experiments showed it to be the best for him.

    Then in the summer, Amazon changed the commission structure, and $2.99 became more attractive. Six months ago, I would have said $2.99 hands-down. A lot of authors started to make a lot of money at that price point.

    In the past two months, the 99 cent price has been getting big. Why? Two things. First, the market has started to get really crowded and price has been a way for people to get noticed. As Nathan Lowell says, obscurity is the biggest enemy. Second, enough good books have been released for 99 cents that the stigma that attached to them even six months ago is rapidly disappearing. Perhaps we have Lisa Gardner’s publisher to thank for this, as he traditionally published book, Alone held the top bestseller spot for a while at 99 cents (just raised to $2.99 last week, so we’ll see how that goes). The point is that literally just since the beginning of the year, 99 cent books have taken off.

    Does that mean you *should* charge 99 cents? No. You need to look at the facts and make your own decision. I just lowered my book to 99 cents, as well as released a 99 cent half-novel and lowered all my short stories to free. I believe that this will increase the chances of the book catching on, as seems to be one key in the current state of ebooks (the other being beuilding your platform). I’m doing all I can to fight that enemy, obscurity, short of releasing everything for free.

    I don’t know if it will work, so I would never presume to tell someone I know what they should do. But one big takeway from this is that it is critical to pay attention to what’s happening. It’s changing monthly these days. If Amazon allows Smashwords to send over free books when that partnership finally happens, I could see another sea change occurring to drop the price even lower. By the same token, I could see a point where even charging 99 cents doesn’t accomplish anything, so people may gravitate more towards $2.99 again.

    1. Thanks Ed. Yeah I reckon obscurity is the #1 enemy. While two months isn’t much time in people years it’s a lifetime in the market place it seems.

      I’m not all that concerned about cutting through the noise per se as I’m not sure that that’s something anyone can do on purpose. There’s a little bit of luck involved in that so far as I can tell. I just don’t want to price myself out of the market or underprice it either.

      I’m interested in the argument that says “don’t charge too little since it makes you look like a piker”. While I’m still and always will be a fan of free and will make this work available in some ways at no cost there needs to be some coin involved at some level.

  5. I think Jake nailed it.

    Many people are talking stats these days about how one eBook did at one price compared to another price. X vs. Y. A vs. B.

    I have to ask…What’s your N?
    What’s the sample size?
    What’s the time frame in question?
    Where is the long term data?

    The problem is, there isn’t any just yet. I don’t knock anyone for discussing their results. Please don’t take it that way. I’m watching my meager sales like a hawk for my (presently two) short stories. I’m not expecting anything astounding because shorts don’t usually get a lot of traffic, or so I’ve been told 🙂

    I think that it’s just too soon to tell in the long run just what is going to happen with eBooks.

    Jake is right. No one really knows how to navigate these waters, but no one should at this point. Sure there are those out there in the bow, knocking the icebergs out of the way and plotting a course the rest will follow, but for most of us, it’s just too new.

    I for one feel that the trail blazing is half of the fun of the experience. Sure, it’s unnerving at times and I feel a little lost and adrift, but that’s what happens when you’re out in front of the pack. it’s lonely out in front, but that’s part of the adventure.

    1. Yeah I take a lot of the numbers as (very good) anecdotal evidence. I appreciate what Brand, Konrath, and the others have put forward and I’m watching them. I don’t mind blazing my own trails but at the same time I don’t want to reinvent the wheel.

  6. I find this discussion extremely interesting. I’ve run in fitness e-book circles and internet marketer circles, and the going rate for a non-Amazon e-book/fitness plan is $39.99-$90 (and has been inching closer to the $90 as of the past 1.5 years). Twenty fitness “gurus” just got together and did a self-publish Amazon paperback and charged $19.99 for it, and sales were apparently through the roof.

    Most “internet marketers” tell newbies that they should easily price their e-books at $39+, and people pay it without hesitation.

    Now, just because the gurus say this, does it mean than anyone (who wasn’t already around and e-book publishing prior to 2005) actually makes a living off this book? I can’t say. I wrote an e-book/fitness plan and give it away. People complain more about following that than they would if I charged them $24.99 for it…

    There comes a strange pov that walks a fine line between “worth” and “too cheap to buy.” For instance, I’ve read some pretty amazing books/listened to podiobooks that were free. I’ve had no problem donating $5, $20, or $300 to them. At the same time, I’ve had trouble doling out $2.99 for a book that is really good. I’ve had no trouble doling out $40 for a fitness program I’ve never vetted.

    That being said, would I consider your book (in e-version) more “worthy” if it were priced at $5 vs. $2.99? No. Would I if it were priced at $19.99 vs $2.99? Yes. Am I more likely to buy it if it’s priced at $.99 than $2.99? No. Am I more likely to buy it if it’s priced at $2.99 than $4.99? Possibly. $19.99? Again, possibly. How to change that “possibly” to “yes, where’s my credit card?” Start me on a chapter or three, get me hooked, then say “here’s the link to buy the rest of the story.”

    It’s strange, I know, but it’s definitely another pov to consider.

    On a completely other (but similar) subject, when are many of the podiobooks I’ve heard going to realize that if they released a full version of their audio-style book before the full weekly version were finished and charged $19.99 for it, that they’d actually get several buyers? (Instant gratification anyone? But also, some of the podiobooks are SO GOOD that I actually want a version I can go through without having “beginning of episode, end of episode” stuff. And that I can send my podiobook-phobic hubby and father in law to, so they can “buy” the full version like they do on Audible.)

    1. Thanks for your feedback Carrie!

      This is a strange path I find myself on. You do make a sound point and I plan to have an audio version complete and without breaks ready before I release it serially so that people can purchase it as well. Free is a good way to get folks hooked so that they want the rest “NOW!”. And for those that don’t there will be the podiobook version.

      Hopefully this book will live up to some of the better PB content.

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