Thursday, May 26, 2011

Price Wars or Why My Book Costs 99 Cents

Damn it. I'm wading back into the Kindle argument again.

I wasn't going to talk about this, but I've seen it a lot on Twitter in the past few weeks, so I figured--since I have stake in this, I might as well make my thoughts known.

Basically it's the new price war for authors who are putting their books up on Kindle. Do you want to go 2.99 or .99?

Now the argument I've seen from people sort of in the publishing world on Twitter is: You need to value your work. Price it at 2.99, because it's worth at least that. By pricing your book at any less than 2.99, you are devaluing your work. You're showing the world you're not proud of it and you're not confident in it.

I think that's what they're saying.

Here's where I disagree. Supply and demand. And what I want to get out of having my books up on the Kindle.

There is a major influx of writers sticking their books up on Kindle. They're trying to get find readers. And, guess what? A lot of them are posting their books for .99 cents.

I want to find an audience. I want to find readers. That's my first goal. To get readers.

So, I'm going to keep my book posted at 99 cents. For a while the book was the number 1 New Release for Hard Boiled Kindle Books. I was really happy about that. More readers.

So, in my opinion, I'd rather price my book at .99 and reach AS MANY PEOPLE as possible while at the same time making some money--not a lot, but enough to buy some beer. Maybe fill my gas tank.

I'm not looking to get rich quick.

But the feedback I've gotten. That's been awesome. I'm getting readers again. I've heard from people who've said they were going to pick up my other two novels because they liked WITNESS TO DEATH so much. And those are priced at 9.99. I have 8 wonderful reviews online and more in my email box.

Think of me like a drug dealer. First one's... almost... free. Check it out.

Then see if you want to check out the others.

That's why I price my book at .99. I want readers. I want people to enjoy my work. If enough people do, I'll be very happy.

And I'll probably pull in some cash too. But my side of the story isn't as much about money. It's about finding people to read the books. If people keep finding my stuff, the money'll come.

Feel free to disagree in the comments.



On your Kindle US.

On your Nook.

Or your Kindle UK.

But if you like those... then give the rest a shot.


Dana King said...

I see your point, and I don't completely disagree with it, but I'm still starting at $2.99. I had this discussion with a friend who owns a small business recently. After i explained how the price points worked, he recommended charging $3.25, the argument being the 26 cents difference was sufficient to make people wonder why without putting them off.

Of course, you and I are in different situations. You have successful books on the market and I'm a publishing virgin. I don't expect to make any money from this--with luck I'll pay my expenses and have enough left for a round of drinks at Bouchercon--but I have nothing to entice them to yet. I may well reduce the upcoming book to .99 when the next comes out--or even release some shorts for free--to entice people who are wondering, but don;t feel like spending $2.99 on an unknown quantity.

Wow. I sure hope there aren't too many people who think three dollars is too much to pay for a book.

Chris said...

Hear, hear.

Of course, that's not why I did it with my book. I priced mine at $0.99 to piss off Chuck Wendig. (I kid, I kid. Me and Chuck will one day take our price point debate on the road; we're just hashing out the debate rules. Right now, it's narrowed down to Oxford debate rules or Lucha Libre wrestling.)

Chuck said...

OXFORD LUCHA LIBRE. With sharpened Kindles! At noon!


I've in the past let this be a debate about other writers, and now, for me, I've come again to the understanding that what's right for one writer isn't always what's right for another. I won't knock the $0.99 price: if it's what's for dinner, then it's what's for dinner.

It just won't be the price in my corner at this time. Not because I'm a better writer or deserving of more or even because I'm smarter (I'm clearly not). Possibly because I'm stubborn. Definitely because with some brief experiments re: $0.99, I saw some wobbly success and some shaky failure. Ultimately, I'm pretty happy with what I'm earning on my collection and my book on writing ($2.99 / $4.99, respectively). I appear to be earning out, which is good.

I may change my mind on this, but for now, I'm staying away from the dollar price point.

And, just so we're clear, 8 POUNDS is a collection worth ten times the price it's at. I don't say that as a "Dude, price it higher" comment, only as a compliment to the collection.

-- c.

Chuck said...

Oh, tiny comment as a reader, not a writer: $0.99 sounds awesome until I open my Kindle app and I see a sea of books sitting there that I've purchased and never read. I don't know if others experience similar, or I'm the only "collector," but I've got a bloated surplus of dollar books. It's not dissimilar from what happened when I used to go to bargain bookstores: I'd load up on stuff because I wanted it, but most of it went unread.

The stuff that never went unread are the books I paid a higher price for. I know this speaks somewhat to the irrationality of the consumer mind, and it's pure anecdote given that it may very well be unique to me. But it's worth looking at in the long-term.

-- c.

Steve Weddle said...

More sales at a lower price.
More money at a higher price.

Chris said...

I'll tell you what, though: if Chuck's sales of CONFESSIONS OF A FREELANCE PENMONKEY hold up at the $4.99 price point, it's an excellent demonstration of the free market winning out. Kind though Chuck is to compliment 8 POUNDS (and I no doubt think Dave's hearing left and right his book's worth more -- because it is), my book was, as Chuck said of his own short collection on his blog, a niche product at best. Broad appeal for such a product is tough, so I priced aggressively. Chuck's new book on writing has broader appeal, and folks are gobbling it up at $4.99. That there's the system working, and as both Dave and Chuck note, there's room aplenty for books of both price points. God knows I hope to charge more than a buck in the not-too-distant future, but for 8 POUNDS, the dollar price point's been very good to me.

Anonymous said...

Every one of the arguments I have read and I have read a million of them has always been so full of shit that I have no idea how to begin.
You want what your story is worth? It's fucking entertainment, dumb ass. It's not worth anything. You're not a plumber. This isn't a car that gets me to work. You're not creating value in any real sense. You're basically just typing up a story in your head. If you were selling me a house that you had built, then fuck yeah I could see paying money for that. But you're not. You're selling me some sort of diversion to my life. Like, oh look, someone put paint on a canvas. Big fucking deal. I'm supposed to pay you $5,000 because you painted an image of bowl of fruit? Fuck that. I'd pay you for a bowl of fruit that I could fucking eat and receive nourishment from. A picture of that fruit? Fuck that.
So whatever people want to pay for your collection, I guess, is what it is worth. Writing in itself -- or any diversion including painting or music or handjobs -- really doesn't have an useful value itself. See, I have to work for a living with sheetrock/drywall. I do something useful and people give me money for it. That makes sense. Of course, I work my ass off all day and don't have the fucking energy to just sit around and read all night. If I just sat around on my ass and typed all day, maybe I would have the energy.
But fuck it.
I don't even know what the fucking point is. Charge whatever the fuck you people want. Who gives a fuck? I've never seen anyone else blog so fucking much about whether to charge this or that. You think I sit around with the guys I work with and blog about how much to charge for installing drywall? No. You know why? Because I'm fucking working. We don't have time to jerk each other off with bullshit arguments about money.

Bill Cameron said...

Anonymous wins. Now can we talk about something else?

Thomas Pluck said...

That's why I write, to sit on the big, instant pile of money that appears.
I've worked construction. Do customers ever shy away when your price is too low, thinking they'll get crappy work? It's a similar argument. Many 99 cent e-books are the bargain of the century when it comes to quality. But do they get read? Does the reader then eyeball the $10 book and say it's worth it?

Do you do a job cheap for a big customer to gain their loyalty and make up your loss later? Would you bid low to get a job with a developer's personal home and hope he'll choose you to drywall his new 400 unit condo complex?

Same argument. Let's quit counting red bush hairs and get back to work, lunch break's over.

Brian Lindenmuth said...

I'm all for the drywall guys starting that blog.

Josh C. said...

Anonymous should think about writing. Seriously.

Chris said...

See, now I'm bummed. I went out of my way to be all inflammatory, only to get bested by an anonymous commenter. Ah, well.

Also, something something market forces yadda yadda.

Lamar said...

An old joke. Real chestnut.

A guy goes into a shoe store and sees a pair of shoes he likes. He asks the store owner how much he's charging for the pair of shoes.

"One billion dollars," the store owner says.

"A billion dollars!!!" the guy says, shocked. "I'll bet you're not going to sell a lot of pairs of shoes at that price!"

The store owner smiles and says, "I only have to sell one."

I think that an individual author should charge whatever the market will bear. If that's 99 cents, so be it. If it's $4.99, that's great. If it's $10,000, more power to you.

There are a variety of factors that are going to go into determining how much your book is worth. One significant factor, of course, is how much the market will bear for your work. This is really difficult to determine at the moment because the ebook phenomenon has yet to settle on standard prices. All we have to work with are the standard prices that have settled for print books.

Of course, standard prices -- that is, what people come to expect to pay for something -- are strange and fickle things. Back when dinosaurs roamed the earth, there was period when you could buy an album on a vinyl record or you could buy it on a cassette tape. At the time I'm thinking of, the standard price for a record was around $12, $13, while the standard price for a cassette tape was maybe $8. Something like that.

The funny thing was that it cost the company more to produce the cassette tape version of the album than the vinyl record. For whatever reason, people became used to paying certain standard prices for these things, and they weren't willing to pay more for the tape than they were willing to pay for the vinyl.

There are some of those factors involved with ebooks. The general assumption is that readers are only willing to pay less for an ebook than they are for a printed book. And that makes a lot of sense. It still doesn't help figure out what to charge for things, just what the upper limits are.

The most intangible factor, though, is reader demand. If you're selling shoes, you pretty much have to sell your shoes for roughly the same price the guy down the street is selling the same shoes at, because shoes are basically commodities. Or it's like putting up drywall. A crew of trained monkeys can put up drywall, so basically, putting up drywall is a commodity.

The ability to write a book and the book that ability creates are not commodities. They are unique items. The book I've written is different from the book you've written, even if they are basically the same topic. An individual reader, based on his preferences, may put a higher value on your book than on mine for whatever reasons. The point is that a book, a work of art or just a work of entertainment, has a unique value, and the hard part is determining how to translate that intangible value into a rating in filthy lucre.

The only way to do that -- the only way -- is to put your work out there in the market at the highest price with which you feel comfortable. If the book doesn't sell, then you can step the price down until you get to a point where it does -- or until you get to the point of having to pay people to read it, at which point you may need to rethink your career choices.

If the book sells in line with your expectations at that price point, then you know that you guessed correctly, which is always nice.

If, however, the book sells in considerable excess of your expectations at that price point, then you know you have undervalued your work. You probably won't be able to bump the price on that work, but you can certainly bump up the price you put on your next one.

Honestly, at this pioneer stage of this new industry, I can't see any other way of doing it.

Just my 99 cents.


Dave White said...

I hope Anonymous bought my book. It's only 99 cents.

Anonymous said...

I guess drywalling would encourage anonymity. Hell, anybody can put up drywall. I can put up drywall. Writers sign their work.

Diana said...

I can't find the link to it, but awhile back Neil Gamain talked about his experiment giving away one of his books for free on the internet. It resulted in an increase of sales of all his titles by 40%. Here's the youtube link where he talks about it:

Given that, I think one book priced at 0.99 to get people to read your work and build up your audience is a solid plan.

On the other hand, when I lived in LA, there was this mindset that if something cost more that it must be of better quality. Which is how hairdressers could charge $150 or more for a haircut. Then again, no one in LA reads...

Anonymous said...

It's ironic that giving a book away for free will increase sales.

But Dave, you've had two books out already, and Amazon's royalty system rewards the writer who goes with the $2.99 price.

(I bought it at $.99)

It's simple. I see 99 cents and think "amateur." And I've read enough iUniverse books (I refuse to read anything from PublishAmerica unless I actually know the writer and his or her work already) to avoid anything that whiffs of desperately wanting to be published.

"But, Jim," you may say, "You put up an ebook for 99 cents."

Yes. It's a short story.

G'wan. Ask me how that's working so far.

About what you'd expect a 99 cent book to do, and less than 30 pages at that.

I did, btw, buy the book at 99 cents. But I've read Dave before, so it's kind of like finding an obscure band I like in the bargain basement bin at the record store.

For those of you old enough to remember record stores.

Or records.