In the past month or so I’ve been doing some research about the pricing of ebooks. For months I priced my debut ebook at $2.99 but in August I dropped the price to 99c. Partly that was the result of a promotion I was taking part in organised by the Awesome Indies group of writers.
Now I’m going to digress for a minute, so bear with me. Awesome Indies is one of a number of groups trying to filter the vast morass of self-published work around online at the moment. The aim is to advise the reader of indie books that have been read by several people before being given approval. Another such group is Indiebrag. These sites don’t charge for listings as many sites do and they provide some kind of standard of quality that the reader can go by.
Anyway, digression over. A group of Awesome Indies writers had a promotion for several days in August where we reduced books to 99c. For me this promotion led to a spike of sales through Amazon, but my total sales for the month of August as a whole were about average. I decided I would leave my book at 99c for the next few weeks to see what would happen.
Why did I do that? Well, several reasons really. Firstly, I wanted to see if the price reduction had any influence on sales over a longer period than a few days. Secondly, the sequel to the book is due out at the end of September and I wanted as many people as possible to read the first book beforehand. The implication of course is that dropping the price would encourage more sales – but did it?
My impression so far is no, it didn’t. I’m not selling as many books at 99c as I was at $2.99! Now since I’m using a small sample – i.e. one book – I’m not making any claims for other books but I do wonder about the dynamics of all this and I can think of several possible explanations. Perhaps August is a slow month for sales anyway. Perhaps potential readers think that a book priced at 99c – albeit temporarily – is not likely to be very good. Perhaps a higher price gives more confidence of quality. Perhaps a reduction in price suggests desperation on the part of the writer? It’s also possible that the historical fiction genre has its own sales patterns which don’t match other genres. Are HF readers more or less likely to buy a book if it is low priced??
I read the results of a survey recently which suggested that the optimum price for indie books is either 99c or $2.99 and now, increasingly, $3.99. Higher prices than £3.99 do not seem to give consistently good sales. Yet in my case reducing a book which was selling OK at $2.99 to 99c seems to have had an adverse effect on sales.
Let’s forget about sales for a moment and concentrate on other measurements of value, such as reviews. Perhaps reviews have affected my sales one way or another. I have some really good reviews and I have some so-so reviews. I have a good review average which hasn’t varied much over the life of the book. My Amazon reviews are not submitted by people I know, so I guess the book is not a genuine turkey. So the reviews don’t seem to have been much of a factor in the difference in sales.
I’ve had discussions with other writers before about the value and pricing of indie books. Some are of the opinion that books should be priced reasonably because the writer has slaved over his work and deserves fair recompense. The only problem is that I can’t see how you can define either a “reasonable” price or “fair” recompense. The fact that writing can be hard work is not necessarily a reason for the reader to pay you lots of money. The issue is: what is the book worth to the reader? The reader is influenced by the market place, by what they like to read and by their own resources. As a reader, what am I prepared to pay for a book written by an unknown author who has self-published it? It seems as if anything above $3.99 is difficult to achieve.
What about the length of the book? Should I expect a reader to pay more for a longer book? Mine’s over 500 pages but, if I’m the reader, do I care? No, I don’t. I may be looking for a longer read but, if the book’s no good, length is only going to make a bad impression worse!
Looking at it from the other point of view: as a writer, why do I want my book to sell? Well, the money obviously… but at the start that’s not the main issue. To start with most writers are not going to make a fortune, even if their books are good. Why? Because self-published authors have to market their own books without the resources of a major publisher behind them. So, as every new writer knows, visibility is everything; you won’t sell books at any price if no-one knows that your book exists. So one reason why I might sell my book at a price that is less than “reasonable” is that I want people to read it. Doing that is not selling myself or my book short, it’s being realistic: selling more copies increases the visibility of the book.
Every indie writer will claim that their book is well worth reading but it is self-evident that with such an increase in the number of self-published ebooks available, there must be many books which would have been hastily rejected by agents or editors.
I’m tempted to make the book free for a while and see what happens then. But even if it is downloaded many times, will it be read much? It is quite clear that many readers download free books but don’t necessarily get around to reading them until much later, if ever. If I want to increase my genuine readership, then I would surely do better to persuade the reader to value the book more by paying for it.
So, where does that leave me on pricing? You have only to take a brief look at Amazon to see that the prices of kindle books vary wildly. My gut feeling is that there is an optimum price for my ebook, it’s just that I don’t know what it is! The experiences of other writers seem to support this confusion as different writers will tell a wide variety of stories about how they have priced their books and what results they have had.
In traditional publishing the prices are influenced to a great extent by the costs. If you go into a bookshop and pick up a few fiction paperbacks the prices will be pretty comparable. Ebooks, however, have limited costs and the reader knows it.
I think we’re in a whole new situation with the pricing of books just as happened in the music publishing business. I’m not sure the mist has cleared on this one yet.