I got an e-mail from a reader the other day. It basically said that he had read many of my books, enjoyed them, but that he wasn’t going to be buying any more because at over $4 I was too expensive – that there are too many other indie authors out there, and that $2,99 was his limit. Now, never mind that I haven’t sold a book at $2.99 for six months or so – I understand the point.
I wrote him back, offering my thoughts on why I price where I do. Then I thought about it, and I realized it might not make a bad blog.
My pricing strategy, after a whopping one year in the business, is a function of my observation of the results of trial and error. I’ve tried a number of different prices and tracked the data, and watched what works and what doesn’t.
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Here are a couple of my observations. First, .99 is the new free, or rather free is the new .99. Most folks I talk to, either readers or writers, believe, fairly or unfairly, that .99 equates to a low quality book. Something marginally, if at all, edited, written in a less that competent manner by a writer that’s not at the top of his game. A crap book. Now I know there are exceptions to every rule, but frankly I’m not here to change minds and lives. I’m here to write, and to then sell what I write. The market views .99 in my genre (action/adventure thrillers) as toilet paper.
Second, $2.99 is the very bottom of the indie quality curve for real books. Now, I have read a couple that were $2.99 and been pleasantly surprised, but mostly not so much.
This has led me to conclude that most folks associate quality with price, at least to some extent. Not that a $5 book is guaranteed to be better than a $3 book, but in my mind, the odds are better if it is selling any kind of volume at that price. Now that’s not to say that I believe that a $10 book is going to necessarily be better than a $5 book, but I believe it’s likely that it will be better than a .99 or $3 book. This belief is shared by many.
Once we get closer or over $10, we are in trad pub territory, so the relative value drops – a lot of the money isn’t going to the author, but rather to the publisher, so the incremental jump in price doesn’t necessarily translate in my mind to a better written product, merely a more expensive one. And before we get into the tired debate about all the value trad pub brings in terms of quality control via gatekeeping, editing, etc. let me just say that it’s debatable how much additional value that is worth in many folks’ minds. Again, I’m not trying to change the world, merely to create a model that reflects reality. In my mind a $5 indie book should be at the same quality as a $10-$12 trad pub offering, because all of the difference in price is going to overhead that doesn’t improve the product in any way for me.
The closest parallel I can draw to my pricing take is one of burgers (I was originally going to use prostitution, but didn’t want to offend my large working girl following). You can buy burgers at virtually every price tier. $1, $3, $5, $10, $15 and higher. They are all burgers. Some satisfy themselves with $1 offerings, which aren’t my cup of tea – they taste like fried cardboard to me, but there’s a thriving market for them. At $3 you have your fast food name burger, say a Quarter Pounder or whatnot. I’m not sure what they cost in the states, but here, that’s about right. Many eat those as well. You move to $5 and you start getting a premium offering – better quality meat, bun, etc. from an indie restaurant. At $10 you are probably paying not just for a good burger, but also the place – a real restaurant with an ambiance. At $15 it’s even more about the ambiance, although the burger will probably be excellent – but you are paying for the AC, the wait staff, the vibe…in other words, overhead that doesn’t directly go into the burger’s quality – think Hard Rock or Houston’s. All of these price levels have their audiences. Burgers sell at all prices, some to different audiences, some to the same.
I’m sure there are folks who won’t pay more than $1 or $3 for a burger. “I won’t pay more than $3 for a burger. There are too many selling burgers at that price to pay more.” That’s fine. I am also sure there are those who will pay $5 for a burger, but eschew the $1 offerings, occasionally dip their toe in the $3 variety, and maybe occasionally get a $10 burger just for giggles. But they mainly stick to $5 because they prefer that quality offering over the lower price fare, and don’t see the value in the more expensive. And some go platinum level all the time, paying $10 or $15. Maybe the occasionally try a $5 burger if it is recommended to them, but that’s not their first choice. And they wouldn’t be caught dead in a fast food joint. Just not their speed.
Books are not an essential. They are entertainment. As such, value and price play a larger part in decision making, perhaps more so than food. I’ve tried my books at $3, $4 and at $5, and there is no appreciable difference in sales volume at any price within that range. It also isn’t linear. I don’t see a 25% drop in sales when I move from $3 to $4. I see virtually none. Same from $4 to $5. I also don’t see a jump in sales if I drop the price. Marketing theory says I should, but that doesn’t happen. If it did, I’d have books at each pricing level to ensure I get coverage of each audience.
I personally believe that the right price for my books is $5 or so. I’m experimenting with $6 for my new release, but mainly to see whether Amazon’s algorithms treat the higher price with any favoritism given the same sales as a $5 book – if it does, I may try $7 in the future. So far the jury is out. I will also be dropping the price on a couple of books to $3.33 for a few weeks in August just to see what happens – my bet is no change in sales but a drop in overall revenue due to the same volume, but maybe I’ll be surprised. We shall see.
My goal isn’t to lose readers or to gouge them. It’s to find the best level to sell the most books. My reasoning is that I spend a fair amount on editing, copy editing, proofreading and covers, so the finished product is a higher quality offering than many largely unedited or marginally edited book at $2.99. Sales bear that out so far. Readers don’t seem to mind paying a buck or two more for something that’s palpably better. I know I don’t. Once I know a brand is better, I willingly pay the extra, to a point, until the value I’m getting isn’t satisfactory.
A Vente no foam soy latte is about $5. I think if there are those who believe that a quality book should cost less than a 10 minute experience for a cup of coffee, then they should enjoy the lower price tier of books, and spend a fair amount of time with authors whose product might not have had the same attention or resources brought to bear. I willingly pay higher prices for authors whose work I think is good – because my time is valuable and they’ve proved themselves. I don’t have an hour here and there to test the water on a “bargain” only to discover that it falls apart on me at hour two. I just lost two hours of my life where I could have been writing, or napping, or reading something decent. So for a buck or two more, I have no problem. Some do. They know better than I what their time is worth.
What about you? What is your thinking as a reader? Let me know. I’m frankly curious now. But still not curious enough to drop a book to .99. I’d rather give it away, frankly, as I have discovered a few (very few) books for free that were good, whereas I have yet to find any at .99 that I would term good.
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