I had an interesting short discussion tonight, the topic of which was where the hell the world is going. Specifically, where the world of books/publishing is going.
A major concern for many authors is the free & .99 book phenomenon. One person advanced the idea that the whole pricing model will wind up being free (or almost free) for all content, essentially shutting out most authors who hope to make a livable income writing. Ultimately, if you can’t get paid to write, many will bow out, leaving only those who write for passion publishing their work. And of course, not paying for things like editing and covers, because there’s no way to recoup the investment.
Another wag chimed in that the future is likely to be ads on kindle, or some other mechanism whereby authors can get paid for creating decent work. I suspect that will be closer to the truth. Or at least, I hope it will. Looking at the glut of demo tapes parading as “free” content from every musician with a sampler and shareware editing software, and seeing how robust the music business continues to be a decade after all was supposed to be lost because of CD purchases going the way of the Constitution, I tend to think we’ll adapt. Amazon isn’t going to want to be in the book biz long term to give it away for free. Even if that has been the short term effect on the indie publishing business of their KDP program.
I think we’re all seeing, as authors, the impact of KDP making free an option for everyone with an ebook. Which has created a glut. Ditto for the marketing guidance that one should price one’s wares at .99 – it’s interesting that even the pundits espousing the wisdom of .99 are now struggling to make decent sales at the $2.99 point, having lived in a .99 purgatory for long enough, it would seem.
I’ve played with pricing. I think there’s a place on a book introduction for a short time to price at .99. How long is more art than science – and even then, I believe only until you’ve established a reputation as being worth more. I was at #165 in total paid kindle sales with The Geronimo Breach for a few giddy days in January at .99 as a cheapskate promotion. When I raised the price, sales dropped off. Now, I realize there are many factors that could have affected sales besides pricing. Other offerings hitting. Saturation of those interested in giving me a whirl that week. A belief I suck harder than a Hoover. Whatever. Next time around, maybe I’ll keep my .99 book on an intro or a special for a few weeks, rather than a few days. We live and learn. I don’t think it’s going to much affect my overall trajectory. King of Swords, I went out with at $4.99. Sales are decent and trending higher. My $3.99 roster are selling well, if not briskly.
I’ll try .99 again in a while, maybe on Geronimo, or with another book. Maybe The Voynich Cypher when I release around first week of March, although I’m inclined to price it at $4.99 right out of the gate. I’ll be asking a lot of opinions before I do. But I will state that I’m disinclined to offer all my books on a rotating basis for free, or .99.
The market, ultimately, will decide what my books, and yours, are worth. It’s a weighing machine, that pesky market is. A product is worth whatever the market will pay for it. No more, no less. You can create liquidity (sales) by lowering the price, but if you want to maintain brand integrity, price wars are a lousy way to go. It’s best to just know what the product is really worth, and not try to get more, or less, for any length of time, as that will establish what the market perceives your brand as being worth. It’s either cheap crap, or overpriced. You won’t be able to please everyone. But if you have a good sense what other similar books are selling for in the same genre at the same level of writing and production/editing/cover, you should know what yours is worth.
My caution is if you are selling it for .99 when the “real” authors are at $4 or $5 or higher, you need to rethink what you’re doing, because you might be digging a hole you can never get out of, and tarnishing our work out of the gate.
One thing I do believe is that there’s value for mainstream readers in having a filtering mechanism to sort through all the dross and find quality books. It’s no secret that many free or cheap books are lousy, or marginal. People are generally surprised when they aren’t. I believe there will ultimately be a value proposition someone will pay for to find the decent, so they don’t have to sort through 100 duds to find a winner. What that mechanism is, I’m not sure. It’s not going to be Big 6 traditional publishing houses trying to get $12.99 for something that is presumably reasonably edited, and may also suck. There’s value in the filter, but for many, not THAT much value. Somewhere, my hunch says in the $5 range, there may be a middle ground. I don’t pretend to know. Or maybe the business will go to the ad driven model, where advertisers pay to be in your book based on the demand. Whatever it is, there will be a mechanism whereby authors of merit get paid. It’s just the intermediaries that will make a lot less. At least, that would be my hope.
Having said that, I do think that free is here to stay, until Amazon pulls the plug on it. At some point they’ll look at their overall book sales declining versus whatever they hoped to make off KDP, and some bright lad will figure out that it’s not a good direction. Or maybe not. I have two titles for free at the moment, purely as promotional loss leaders, and ironically, neither in KDP – the philosophy behind my free titles being that if you try my work, a substantial portion of you will not mind parting with the cost of a cup of coffee for more of it. So far that’s working, but I’m not sure how I’d feel if I only had one or two titles. I’d probably be railing against the free thing. Maybe not.
I waffle on all this quite a bit. For a while, I believed that all content would eventually get to the .99 point, as in the music model created by Apple. But that ignores that a song is 3 minutes of entertainment, whereas a novel is many hours. So maybe not. Maybe most readers won’t find it burdensome to pay $3-$5 or whatever for an author whose work they like and trust. I’m quite sure there will always exist a segment that won’t pay for anything, and believes that everything should be free – except of course, whatever it is they do for a living. They howl like spanked dogs if you propose they work for free – it’s just everyone else that should. That segment will always exist, as it has with music – but I note that Eminem isn’t quitting and getting a day gig as a result of all the free demos masquerading as finished product.
So what do you think? What’s going to happen? Are we going to be living in a world of free content, where the real talents fold up their tents and sell real estate instead of books? Or will there be an alternative mechanism to monetize the work, just as there is now an alternative delivery system to dead trees for pages? I tend to think the latter. Or maybe that’s just hope.
What do you think? What will the future look like?
Update Two: At the end of day three of my Twitter moratorium, sales are basically unchanged, as is the trend. Blog traffic, however, has dropped by 40%, signalling that Twitter is an effective way to market it. Also, I’ve gotten a number of e-mails and messages from folks who chimed in to point out that they’d have never heard of me if not for Twitter, thus it works, or did on them. Therefore, I think it’s valid to resume tweeting, but at a reduced rate. How’s that for waffling? Didn’t affect sales, did affect blog traffic, unknown on how much it affected would-be buyers – that’s the sales growth part of the curve. How many more people would have bought? I mean, I can assume none, but that assumes a static market, which it ain’t. So my approach will be akin to some people’s approach to prayer: can’t hurt. There are no atheists on Amazon.
Update: Two days into my Twitter holiday, my sales are basically flat with where they were with dozens of promotional tweets per day a week before. I’ll give it one more day, and if still flat, will be scaling back my Twitter presence to some product specific promotional tweets, a few review reprises, and mostly just me shooting the breeze with whatever comes to mind whenever I have a break. Nude ice dancing and clown warfare included. Interesting, as I would have expected a huge drop off. But reality is that Sunday, the last day of 50+ tweets per day effort, was down from Sunday a week before by 10%. Monday was off by 13%, and Tuesday was up by 4%. Which tells me what everyone else has been saying is likely correct – social media saturation is ultimately meaningless, and perhaps accounts for 10% of sales, once you’re established. After three days of it (assuming similar results manana) I think it’s safe to say that I don’t need to live on Twitter. There’s no point. That should be freeing for those of us who have been doing so. That’s all for now.