I tend to disagree with Dave White out of sheer reflex. I find it saves times if I’m not certain of my position on a given topic. So when Dave started arguing last week that 99-cent ebooks are great because they provide many new readers, my immediate response was to argue with him. Which turned out to be the right decision.
A few months ago, on Twitter, a few of us were trying to figure out what the ratio is for ebooks bought to ebooks read and how that ratio varies depending on price. (I dislike the term “price point” because I think the word “point” in that usage is unnecessary.)
I have, as of this writing, 482 file in my Kindle archive. That does not count the books that people have sent me – ARCs, drafts, etc.
From discussing this with folks, the answer seems to be that the ratio of ebooks bought to ebooks bought and then read is much higher as the price of the book increases.
If you want to make your own graphs and charts, I’ll wait.
Let’s take the example of the couch on the curb.
My friends Alice and Jake were trying to get rid of a couch. They put it on the curb for the trash folks to pick up, but it was too big. After a week or so, Jake put a sign on the couch that said “For Sale: $50.” The couch was gone by morning. Here endeth the anecdote.
You put a price on something, you create perceived value.
I’ve been in sales and I can tell you, buyers want value more than they want cheap. Do you ever wonder why the TV commercials for mail-order junk finish by telling you to order now and you’ll get an extra set of Super Sonic Ear Pokers for just a dollar more? Because they’ve already shown you the value of the Ear Pokers. They’re $19.99. Heck, maybe the second set is free. (Just pay separate shipping and handling.)
They’ve created the perceived value.
If you saw Super Sonic Ear Pokers in a box outside the grocery story with a sign that said “Free,” how inclined would you be to try out a pair?
Let’s take a look at the argument Dave was making yesterday: “If a book is priced inexpensively, more people are going to buy it.”
Say we’re able to sell books in two parallel universes. Everything is equal, except on Earth One the debut novel Building Romance by Ima Noob is $14 on Kindle, while on Earth Two the same novel is 99 cents.
Will more people purchase the book on Earth One or Earth Two? My guess is that more people would purchase the book for 99 cents than for $14. Where I disagree with Dave’s argument is here: I think the percentage of people who bought the book and read the book will be greater on Earth One.
In the past month or two, I’ve purchased a couple dozen ebooks for 99 cents or free. I’ve purchased two ebooks for $14. I’ve read both of the $14 ebooks. I have read seven of the others.
For me, a 99-cent ebook is usually a purchase of impulse or support. Hey, my pal Ima Noob has a new book out. It’s 99 cents. One-click that sucker. I’ll read it when I get around to it.
Of course, this isn’t how I purchase all the 99-centers. For example, Chris F. Holm’s 8 Pounds was a 99-cent purchase. As a new author on the Kindle, his idea was to grab new readers. And that’s exactly what happened. Soon enough, he inked a deal with Angry Robot for his next two novels.
And there are bytes and bytes of 99-centers I’ve bought and read right away—just not most of them.
The argument for the 99-cent price of an ebook is that an author is likely to attract more “casual readers” than if the book were priced at, say, $5.99.
If you want a casual reader, then maybe this is the way to go.
But go to WalMart tonight. Look at the big cardboard box of $4.99 DVDs in the middle of the aisle. People dig through there looking for a bargain, not a good movie.
Read the Amazon reviews of 99-cent books. “This one was only 99 cents, so I thought I’d try it. Totally worth it.”
As Dave said yesterday: “I know this because people who don't worry about following writers and just bought a Kindle come to me asking for suggestions for 99 cent authors.”
They’re looking for a bargain. They care about the purchase, not the read.
For many – not all, but many -- as soon as that click is done, so is their interest. What they wanted was a cheap book. They’ve gotten it.
Many of them won’t read it.
But let’s consider those who do read it – who picked up the book because it was cheap.
The addition question to ask is “What does that reader do next?”
Does that reader hunt down your $12.99 ebook and purchase it, sending you $10 in the process? Or does the reader who found your bargain book scroll through the “Customers who bought this item also bought this item” section for another “good deal”?
Let’s be clear here: I’ve read many, many fantastic authors through free or 99-cent ebooks. Edward Grainger. Chris Holm. Neil Smith. Al Guthrie. Dani Amore. Malachi Stone. Victor Gischler. Nigel Bird. Josh Stallings. Ray Banks. On and on and on. Even our own Dave White and Sandra Ruttan. John McFetridge. Far too many to name.
You want to sell your book for 99 cents or $14.99, what the hell do I care?
If you have six books in a series and want to price the first one at 99 cents to get folks interested, more power to you.
When you offer folks a bargain price for your ebook, you’ll get folks who are looking for bargains. Not all of these folks care about a good book.
But maybe some of them will find a 99-cent bargain, read it, fall in love, and buy up everything that author has.
And I understand the thought that giving away your work or charging an “impulse-buy” price for it means more people will download your book. I’m just not convinced that most of those people will then read it.
You want people to download your book, charge 99 cents.
If you want people to value your book, then write something amazing.