Monday, October 31, 2011

Guest Post by Selena Kitt

Selena sez: I’ve always been a proponent of higher ebook prices.

Not the crazy $12.99 more-than-the-paperback prices that legacy publishing is so fond of so they can continue to pay Manhattan rents—but higher than $0.99, certainly. Even for a short story.

That’s right, once upon a time, my short stories were selling for $2.99. And yes, they were selling.

But things changed. The indie market got more crowded. Authors started selling their full-length novels for $0.99 and some even gave them away for free. Blogs popped up everywhere telling Kindle owners where to find free and cheap ebooks.

So I decided to experiment with my prices. I lowered the prices on all my stories to $0.99—that was everything from 3K-15K. Everything else (some of which was priced as high as $5.99) I lowered to $3.99. And I left them that way for three months. A full quarter of ebook sales.

What did I discover?

At first, I found that lowering my price to $0.99 shot me up on a few bestseller lists. That increased my e

xposure, which was great. And I also found that my sales of those $0.99 titles doubled. Stories that had previously been selling 50 a month were now selling 100.

Sounds good, right?

But, of course, at $0.99 I was getting a 35% instead of the 70% royalty I’d been making when I was selling them at $2.99. I was now making roughly $35 a month on a story that had previously been taking in about $100 a month—a loss of $65 a month in income. Multiply that by twenty-five short stories (which is about what I have out there) and that’s a $1650 a month loss.

Worth it?

At first, I thought it might be, given the exposure. The higher you are in the rankings, the more people see your name, the more sales you make, right? But over time, more and more (and more!) indie authors started selling their stuff at $0.99 too, and those lists became overrun with cheap books.

I’d pretty much decided to quit the experiment when I read a comment from Konrath on his blog confirming my suspicion—that authors don’t make money at anything less than $2.99. Which meant, and I’ll quote Joe here:

“My data also shows that novels outsell short stories, even though I've priced my shorts at 99 cents. It stands to reason that if I switch shorts to $2.99, I'll sell fewer, but I bet I make more money. So the next step is to raise novels to $3.99-$4.99 and short stories to $2.99 and see what happens. Assuming I have the guts to do so...”

I’ve now changed all my short story prices back to $2.99, and raised my novel prices to $4.99. I imagine I’ll run this experiment for another three months and see what happens. If logic prevails, I’ll sell fewer books, but make more money.

But as Joe pointed out, doing this takes guts. Moving beyond the magical $2.99 price-point for novels, pushing those higher, to make room for short stories at that price, is a risky proposition. Will the market bear it?

Honestly, I think it will. And here’s why—Kindle readers are tired of $0.99 cheapies. The shine is off the new toy, people have stopped loading their Kindles up with freebies and cheapies, and have started getting more discerning about what they download. Many Kindle readers are starting to shy away from the $0.99 price point because they’ve read some stinkers and don’t want to travel down that road again. What was once a huge draw for Kindle readers—oooh, look, cheap books for my new toy!—has now become the opposite.

Of course, I could be wrong.

Which is why it’s a scary experiment!

Apropos for Halloween, don’t you think?

So let’s kick off this frightening new price point with a $2.99 story very fitting for the season, shall we?

HUNTING SEASON – A Love Blood Story by Blake Crouch and Selena Kitt

For those of you scratching your heads, wondering how in the heck the pair of us ending up writing together, given that our genres are so vastly different, I’ll explain. Back at the beginning of the year, I’d posted some of my sales numbers on Joe’s blog, which at the time were astronomical (I was making $30,000 a month at Barnes and Noble alone!) and Joe jokingly said, “If you ever want to collaborate, let me know!”

I’d just finished reading and reviewing DRACULAS – and being the huge horror fan that I am, how could I resist? I emailed him to say, “I know you were kidding, but I’d love to collaborate with you guys.” And to my surprise, Joe Konrath and Blake Crouch actually took me up on the offer! They were planning a sequel to DRACULAS called WOLFMEN, and wanted me on board, along with a fourth writer (who has yet to be disclosed).

It made perfect marketing sense to cross-pollinate their audience and mine, which were both large, but vastly different.

Of course, no one knew if this great idea would work in practice…

So Blake Crouch agreed to take me out for a test run, and that’s how this story was born. The collaboration process was, I must say, an amazing success, and I couldn’t be prouder of the result. I really think this story is something special—but I’m probably a little biased!

If you want to know more about how HUNTING SEASON: A Love Blood Story was written, what the process was and how things developed, there’s an interview between myself and Blake included as bonus material at the end.

It’s available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble for… you guessed it.

$2.99.

Is it worth it?

You be the judge!

HUNTING SEASON – A Love Blood Story by Blake Crouch and Selena Kitt

This 8,000 (approx) word collaboration by thriller/suspense/horror writer Blake Crouch and erotic romance author Selena Kitt includes bonus interview material with the authors about the upcoming sequel to the Konrath, Crouch, Strand and Wilson bestseller DRACULAS.

-------------

He’s a butcher.

She’s the trophy wife of a trophy hunter.

They used to be high school sweethearts, but that was two decades ago, and times have changed.

Meet Ariana Plano...40 years old, miserable, stuck in a loveless marriage to the worst mistake of her life.

Meet Ray Koski...40 years old, miserable, a lonely butcher who can do nothing but immerse himself in the drudgery of his work.

Once a week during hunting season, she brings her old teenage flame game meat for processing. They do not speak. They rarely make eye contact. Some histories are just too painful.

But this week will be different.

This week—a shocking encounter twenty-two years in the making—will change everything.

Joe sez: In November, I'm going to raise some of my prices on shorts, just to see how it goes. In December, I'll do the same with novels.

No gain without risk. I'm on a lot of bestseller lists, and raising prices may make those ebooks fall off, resulting in fewer sales. But will they be so many fewer I earn less money? Only way to find out is to try it.

As for HUNTING SEASON, it was a really fun, very twisted horror story, perfect for Halloween.

And yes, it was worth the $2.99.

157 comments:

Sean McCartney said...

Great post. I was wondering if you wrote in the YA genre you would raise the prices of your short stories? I have some at .99 because I want to create an audience and I figure most parents would pay a buck for their kids to read. Thoughts?
I was also wondering if the collaboration was like two musicians getting together. I would like to do such things but does it matter if someone is an A-list vs.. a D-List author?

Sean

Caroline Gerardo said...

Best of sucess with your experiment!

Written Words said...

I am very curious to find out the results of this experiment. I am a long-time journalist who has just started publishing fiction. My experiment: first, selling a short story at $1.99 and donating all proceeds to a charity, and then trying to raise some exposurea about that; then posting a Halloween-themed short story for free download.

The results? Both got some very favourable reviews from people I've never met. Under 50 sales of the charity story, hundreds of downloads of the free one, and it hasn't even made it to iBooks yet.

So, I'd be very curious to find out how to translate good reviews into actual sales.

the-time-capsule.com said...

I've wondered if doing this would be good. My fear is that someone buys the story thinking it's a novel, only to complete in in 15 minutes. Then they return the book or never buy another one from me before. I'll be interested in knowing what the outcome is for you.

Mike Fook said...

I don't sell short ebooks for more than 99 cents.

I have some 12,000 word shorts out there. Not stories, just informational books. I cannot, in good conscience, sell them for more than 99 cents.

I noticed that when my book is out of the market price - whether short or 80,000+ words - people buy them to see what I have in store, and if it is not in line with expectations - they give me junk reviews.

I've seen this a couple times. Pricing books over $5.99 or higher if they are real gems - OK. If you're not Joe K or Selena K - or at that level - forget it, the reviews will kill you. Those that review are motivated to do so based on the price + expectionas of your ebooks. Paying $9.99 they expect something amazing. Paying $5.99 something damn-near amazing. Paying under $4.99 you have some leeway. This is for substantial books, not shorts.

If you give them a lot more than they expected, you'll get many 5 stars. If you charge a little more than expected, and don't deliver - bzzzzzzzzzzttt. 2 stars.

If you are writing shorts - let your customers know in the description - very clearly - before they buy. If you're writing shorts that aren't VERY high quality - just price them at 99 cents.

Or, don't write shorts at all.

Stephen Leather said...

Nice post, Selena. I think low prices don't work in the States, that's for sure. I raised the prices of all my books to $2.99 and more a few months ago and while sales dipped a bit overall my earnings went up more than fifty per cent. Having read your blog I'm now thinking of raising the price of my short stories, too.

The situation in the UK does seem to favor lower-priced Indie books, though. As soon as I price my books at the $2.99 equivalent they fall out of the Top 100 and usually settle at between Number 500 and 1000. The overall money works out a little less. Generally I raise my prices if I get a run of bad reviews - I found early on that a cheap book sells outside its target market and therefore tends to attract more negative reviews!

Ruth Harris said...

I just raised my prices to $2.99 and it's way too early to know what's going to happen. Feeling I *had* to compete, I had been going with 99c for full-length, high quality, very well reviewed fiction—some of the books were NYT bestsellers. All along I was very upset with myself for feeling pressured to make that decision but for a while I was too scared to go higher.

I think writers are doing themselves--and other writers--a real disservice by selling their work so cheaply.

I also wouldn't be the least bit surprised if readers have finally had it with actually paying to slog through the slush pile. Time was, publishers paid young editors—like me—to wade through that crap.

PS: I also think $2.99 is too cheap for a full length novel but I'm taking one step at a time. Call me cautious—maybe too cautious—and you'd be right.

@Ruby_Barnes said...

Food for thought. I'm at the baby steps stage and just about to launch my second novel on Amazon and Smashwords. After six months of playing with pricing and even indulging in the free giveaway approach to build readership, I'm feeling that the $2.99 €2.60 £1.49 threshold is a badge of merit. So many readers are loading up their carts with the freebies and cheapies, possibly not ever reading them.

Mike Langlois said...

I couldn't agree more.

Though it shouldn't be, price is a very real component in how the value of an item is perceived. We're conditioned to believe that the more expensive an item is, the better it must be. In blind taste tests, people who are told that a wine is expensive before tasting will assign much higher scores when they later sample it.

http://www.corbettbarr.com/cheap-vs-expensive-wine-can-you-taste-the-difference

I'm at 3.99 now, and am seriously considering a move to 4.99. I don't want to be an unread bargain on someone's Kindle that they never get around to reading. I want them to be excited about the book itself, and become fans because they actually read it.

Note that going this route is going to require a professional cover and hopefully, a top-notch, expertly proofed book underneath. If you're going to assert your quality through pricing, you have to be just as attractive as the known quality leaders in the market.

But if you have that, I think that you can get a boost in reader interest by raising your price.

Just don't disappoint after the sale.

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

I would caution any author who thinks ebooks are priced too low to think again. You're not just in competition with other authors who price their full novels at $2.99 or less. You're also in competition with free.

Right now, we're in early days as far as ebook torrents, but even now it's trivially easy for anyone who wants to to download one (or thousands) of ebooks. (I just did a quick check and found one torrent that contains 30,000+ ebooks, many of them from major publishers, but more than a few self-pubbed titles included.) This will only get worse. A year or two from now, even many obscure titles will be available via torrent.

Now, I'm in complete agreement with Joe that "piracy" is a good thing for authors, but that assumes that their titles are also available to be purchased at a reasonable price. For example, I just torrented three titles from a British author whose first book I'd just read in a UK hardback edition. If I could have purchased those three titles on Amazon for, say, $2.99 each, I would have done so. But there's no way I was willing to pay $12.99 to $15.99 each. So I turned around and emailed the author and told her what I'd done and why, and asked her if she had a PayPal address so that I could send her $9.00.

Like many people, I consider a reasonable price for an ebook novel to be half the price of a used paperback. In either case, I'm paying solely for the right to read the story. With the ebook, that's all I get. I can't sell it, give it away, or anything else. With the used paperback, I can trade it 2-for-1, give it to a friend, or donate it to the library, so it's worth twice as much to me as the ebook.

The $2.99 price point for a full novel is actually a bit more than my limit, but I'm willing to pay it mainly because I understand the economics involved. But I think you'll find an awful lot of readers aren't willing to pay much more than $2.99 for a novel-length work.

I think when Joe or others go to the $3.99 or $4.99 price point, they're going to find it hurts both sales and profitability. Of course, that may not be immediately obvious, because one has to factor in a very soft number--how much has the market itself grown?

jt Harding said...

Well analysed post, Selena. I commented here a while back that when I was looking for holiday reading I eschewed (come on, you're writers, you KNOW what that word means!) cheaper titles in favor of higher ones for exactly the reason given here and by other commenters that low price is starting to become synonymous with low quality.

I also put a poll up asking people on my website what they considered a reasonable price was and $4.99 came top - admittedly with only around a dozen respondents in total.

As my partner keeps saying when we're in an airport - "Why do you think you're stuff is expensive - how much does a magazine cost?"

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

The other thing I keep harping on is that the $0.35 self-pubbed authors earn on a $0.99 title is actually a great deal if you think about it. That's about half what you'd make on a trad-published paperback, but with the paperback that's a one-time royalty, with that paperback being sold and resold with no additional royalty. With the ebook, you earn $0.35 every time someone wants to read the book.

jt Harding said...

Oh yeah, one other thing. Reading a comment from time-capsule - it's important to put your word count up so the reader knows up front what they're buying into. Even better, a page count gives a more accurate idea of how long a story or book is.

Selena Kitt said...

I'm paying solely for the right to read the story. With the ebook, that's all I get.

But you go to movie and get two hours of entertainment for $8. (or $4 at the matinee show...)

You "rent" a movie on-demand for $3.99.

With an ebook, you can at least read the dang thing again! And in my genre, that's more bang for your buck, so to speak... ;)

But even with a story like Hunting Season, where the punch comes once... I'd pay it (even if it wasn't my own story! lol) just for the thrill. It's like paying to go through haunted house (and how much do we pay for those!? I can't believe the admissions - $12!? For ten minutes - probably less!) You're paying for the experience.

The question is - is it worth it?

As an author, I think you have to make it worth it for your readers.

Then they'll pay whatever you ask - to a reasonable point.

williamdoonan said...

Are readers really getting weary of the 99-cent reads? Seems to me that that most readers can differentiate between price and quality. I'm not going to spend $12.95 on a debut novel unless I see some really good reviews. But I'm also not going to plunk down 99 cents for a story unless it also has some great reviews.

We're all saying that this is a new world, the gatekeepers of old are gone, and the new gatekeepers are us. And I don't know how many of us are going to buy reams of bad 99-cent stories, and then get soured as a result. I think we're going to maybe take more chances at that price point, but not too many.

William Doonan
www.williamdoonan.com

Jim Thomsen said...

Great stuff, Selena. Thank you. I'm finding this discussion highly relevant to my professional circumstances.

I could use some advice here. I am planning to launch a series of short true-crime pieces on Kindle and Nook -- narrative-journalism tales from the more dramatic cases that have come before my state's Clemency and Pardons Board.

Though my first few stories are in rough, first-draft form, it appears that they'll clock in at between 6,000 and 15,000 words apiece, with photos, scanned documents, etc.

My initial thought was that I would charge 99 cents apiece for these stories. I suspect that thought comes from my background as a newspaper reporter and editor, and a mindset conditioned to a newspaper's economy of scale (to wit, how can I even charge 99 cents when a WHOLE newspaper full of hundreds of thousands of words costs just 50 or 75 cents?).

But then I think about a) my professional bona fides and skill set; b) my time and expenses (travel, document copying fees, etc.); and c) my desire and belief in my right to make a living at what I do. And then I start thinking $2.99 apiece.

So ... what do you think? What's your perception of what the market will bear for this sort of work?

Jim Thomsen
thomsen1965@gmail.com

Jim Thomsen said...

I will also add that Selena is spot-on as far as I'm concerned about the burnout factor on 99-cent e-book novels. I am a regular peruser of the Cheap Kindle Reads and Bargain E-Book sites on Facebook, and for several months, I loaded up my Kindle with 99-cent books in my favorite genre. Great in theory, so-so in practice. I'd say about 40% of what I've bought and read at that price point has been so below professional standards for story structure, narrative flow, character arc and competent writing that I've become a lot less willing to make such purchases unless they are books by authors I know I can trust or have been vouched for by others (original e-books by Brett Battles, J.A. Rhoades, Scott Phillips and John Rector come to mind). And more and more, those books are selling at $2.99 and above, apparently as authors wise up, place more value on their work ... and, I believe, as the e-book marketplace undergoes the sort of course correction that Serena's thinking embodies.

Jim Thomsen
thomsen1965@gmail.com

SBJones said...

I can see why you might think that kindle owners are getting tired of 99c books and how the top 100 lists are littered with them. Don't forget though that with each gift giving holiday there are a ton of new kindle owners who are tickled pink at the 99c and free offerings.

Just because you have been in the game a while, does not mean everyone else has. With the amount of books you have, you might want to consider courting both new eReader owners as well as more experienced. Rotate, or perhaps have a 25-50% of your works at the 99c. Keeping your name on the lists, getting new readers, and still have a library of more profitable offerings for them to move to.

Jonas Saul said...

I placed my most recent novel, "The Crypt" at $3.99 and it's my second bestseller this month. I only uploaded it on the 12th of October and sales have jumped three times what they were.

It may have something to do with this is the third book of a series, but it's still $3.99.

Loved your thoughts on how Kindle readers feel about 0.99$ books. So true.

Jonas

Robert Bruce Thompson said...

Then they'll pay whatever you ask - to a reasonable point.

Yes, but the issue is that "reasonable" is on a continuum. A certain percentage of potential buyers will consider $9.99 "reasonable" for a novel-length ebook (although I suspect that percentage is dropping every month.) A much larger percentage will consider $5 "reasonable", and a much larger percentage still will pay $3.

When you price your book at any specific level, you're simultaneously deciding what percentage of the potential market you're willing to leave on the table. Some of those you leave behind simply won't bother reading your book; others will borrow it from the library, if it's available there; still others will simply torrent it. At least the latter two groups will be exposed to your work and potentially become buyers later on. The first group is the ones you've lost completely.

I agree with Cory Doctorow and Tim O'Reilly that the primary threat to authors isn't "piracy"; it's obscurity. And raising your prices is a great way to make yourself more obscure than you need to be. Given Amazon's minimum $2.99 price for 70% royalties, I think that's what essentially all front-list full-length novels should be priced at for optimum long-term results, with backlist titles priced less to make them impulse buys. If Amazon reduced that limit to $1.99, that's what I think would be optimum. But any higher than $2.99 as things stand now, and I think you're throwing away long-term success for a possible short-term gain, and even that's not guaranteed.

Selena Kitt said...

Rotate, or perhaps have a 25-50% of your works at the 99c. Keeping your name on the lists, getting new readers, and still have a library of more profitable offerings for them to move to.

But you can do the same thing with freebies. And new Kindle owners start with freebies and move on to $0.99 books (before they start getting disillusioned with the cheapies anyway.) So freebies are the front line when it comes to brand spanking new Kindle owners.

I.J.Parker said...

Great post. I'll join the experiment with the next story I upload. At a mere 35 cents share per sale, I cannot recoup publishing costs. Or at least not for ages. $ 2.99 allows me to take 70 %, a much more reasonable profit. I also agree that novels need to be priced at least at 4.99. A new release might go up at 5.99 for a couple of months.

josephinewade said...

Selena,
The story sounds great and you and Blake would make an amazing writing team (and Joe too!).

I think the points you've made are valid and I think you will find you are not losing any real income by raising your prices. I think people value what they feel they've earned. A higher price means I am invested in the story and the writer. This may not be true across all genres like YA may be at the mercy of disposable income, but even there you need to prices that show you as the author think your book has entertainment value and creative merit of a professional.

I do think the shine has worn off the penny for those who have had ereaders for awhile, but keep in mind that there are new readers switching over all the time and a novel at the 2.99 price point and a short story at the .99 cent point might be good introduction to your works, an entry point. So may keep one or two as a way for those cruising lower price points to find you.

josephinewade said...

Sorry for all the typos. Gosh that's horrible. I'm typing on the iPad and I have the worst time with quality control on my behalf when I type on it. Hopefully you understood what I meant.

Barry said...

Selena, great post and a compelling argument. FWIW, I've twice dropped the price of my short story The Lost Coast from $2.99 to $.99, and haven't even over the course of months noticed a material difference in volume. So now I keep my shorts at $2.99, and plan on pricing future self-published novels at about the same price Amazon and I came up with for The Detachment: $5.99. Yes, different stories and different brands will lead to different pricing strategies for different authors, but the principles you've outlined here feel right for me.

Hunting Season sounds great -- all the best with it.

Stephen, that is a great observation about 99 cent stories and negative reviews. Had never considered that before.

jenniecoughlin said...

Great post, Selena! I've been thinking about this a lot because I have a novel coming out in a few months and I've been debating how to price it. Reading your analysis gives me a lot of food for thought.

My short-story collection is $2.99, though I'm going to discount it to 99 cents for a while just to try and get some traction on the lists now that it has a group of great reviews. But that's only 88 pages in print - I don't think it should be more than $2.99. Whether I drop it to 99 cents once the novel comes out so people can sample my writing at a low cost is something I'm still wrestling with, and something it sounds like a lot of the writers here are split on.

I think novels should be at least $2.99, and probably in the $3.99-$4.99 range for most. Some well-known writers can go higher, I would think, but not by more than $1 or $2. More than that and a used paperback becomes more appealing. But going lower than $2.99 doesn't make financial sense for writers, IMHO.

Dani said...

Selena, thank you for posting this. I am releasing a new novel on the 25th of November and after all the time, effort, blood, sweat and tears I have put into this book, I don't think it is worth any less than $4.99. True, I might not make a grip of sales with that price but I get people who like the genre and are looking for a good story, not just filler for their Kindle/Nook/iPad. That is fine by me. No reward without risk. Go for it. Another indie who isn't afraid to raise prices... We're small business owners, after all, corporations pass their costs to the consumers and so shall we. ;-)

Kendall Swan said...

Selena,

I'm so glad you guested here. I love reading your comments. I am a huge fan and you were the inspiration for me to write a few naughty stories myself--thank you!

I just bought Hunting Season and look forward to reading it tonight after all the trick or treaters are done.

Re: price point- There is definitely a pushback from readers not wanting 99c stories any more. Basically, readers are the gatekeepers but many readers simply don't have time in their lives to waste on bad writing/poor editing. After getting burned a few times, they simply shy away from that price point for fear of getting a self published book (Oh! The Horror!!). At least that's what I read in a Kindle thread on Amazon a few days ago.

But the points about keeping things cheap because of a)new ebook owners will like cheap stuff and b)piracy are good ones. SBJones idea of rotating titles in and out of the discount piles sounds like a good way to hedge. Kind of like keeping some land fallow to ensure fertility (new readers).

Great discussion. Thanks everyone.

Kendall Swan

Dean from Australia said...

Great discussion point Selena and one discussion that I think is long overdue. I recently talked about this on my own blog and shared my observations that readers are definitely turning against the 99cent ebook on principal. I think it can actually damage your brand over time and I believe that authors collectively need to brave the market and price their works higher.

Now, there are some instances where I think the 99cent price point can be helpful but these should be used sparingly.

Thank God I am not alone in this debate.

Mark Asher said...

No offense, but I don't think $2.99 for a short story is a price that is fair to readers. I really hope this doesn't become the norm.

Rick Schworer said...

My religious non-fiction book, Roadmap Through Revelation, is consistently in the top 100 in New Testament Commentaries and Eschatology at $2.99. I was apprehensive to raise it to $3.99, but I did a couple months ago and its held steady.

Since the change, its bounced around a little (which is normal) going from as high as #8 to slipping in and out of the top 100.

Toni Dwiggins said...

Selena, you make very good points. Hunting Season sounds like a winner.

However, the pricing that works for you and Joe and Blake and Barry* doesn't necessarily work for those of us who are still reaching for 'discoverability'--as Jim Bell called it.

I have a novel out at $2.99 and am about to release the second in the series. I'm thinking .99 and promoting that price point for 'a limited time.'

I'm also open to changing my mind.

*I bought THE LOST COAST at .99 and loved it. I think it's worth $2.99.

Barry said...

Mark, generally speaking, I don't approach pricing (or publisher royalty rates either, for that matter) in terms of fairness or unfairness. For me, it's mostly about whether prices are smart or stupid. There are some numbers at the margins where I would probably start to have feelings related to fairness, but again, generally for me it's about what the market will bear. And certainly under three bucks for an hour or two of entertainment isn't something I think would shock the average conscience. People pump far more than that into arcade video games.

Dani, for me it's not so much about the value of a single unit of my book, but rather about what unit price is likely to generate the highest revenue overall. I'd price all my books at a dime if I thought in doing so I could sell a hundred million copies. And I might price them at a hundred dollars a pop if I thought a hundred was the sweet spot (unit price X volume) price (maybe not though... at some point, my vestigial "fairness" organ seems to come into play, regardless of profit).

Toni, thanks for that. Who am I to disagree? ;)

Gary Ponzo said...

I think you need to ask yourself, "What are you wanting to accomplish?" Do you want to maximize your profits immediatley, then I believe it's a better to go with $2.99. If you sell 100 books at $2.99, you'll make more money then selling 500 books at .99 cents.

However, you lose 400 readers. How many of those readers would've gone on to buy more of your stuff? Over the course of a year, you could've given up close to 5000 readers of your work. That's why I say--What's your goal? Setting up a following of readers who'll buy future books because they already know your work, or collecting as much revenue as possible? I raised the price of my second novel which is part of a series from .99 cents to $2.99 and watched my sales drop quite a bit. How much longterm damage am I causing? I don't know. Everything I do now is for the future, so the money is nice but not exactly the main issue. For me, it's how can I acquire as many fans of my work as possible? For some authors $2.99 or $3.99 may be the best way to go and I don't blame anyone for asking those prices- it's almost always well deserved.

Annie Bellet said...

Thank you! I've always been a proponent of higher pricing for ebooks, especially full novels. I still sell my individual shorts for .99, but I might have to think about changing that.

I sell novels for 5.99-7.99 (lower price for the first in a series). I only have a couple up at the moment, but the newest one, a thriller novel, has sold 86 copies in the last three days. At 5.99. I'd have to sell over 1000 copies just to make the same money at .99 or 170 at 2.99. Clearly the 5.99 price tag isn't stopping people from buying a book they want.

I think it is good to hear other voices about pricing novels higher. Thanks again :)

Jim Thomsen said...

Gary, I like John Locke's strategy of pricing the first few entries in a series at 99 cents, to hook lookie-loos who might become true fans. By the third book, he theorizes, you've pretty well found your audience and that you're wasting your time trolling in the shallow end of the pool for people who might buy your books once but decide it's not for them. At that point, Locke thinks raising prices can work.

Skip said...

FWIW, if I bought an item on the kindle for three bucks, and it turned out to be a short story, not identified as such in the description, I'd be in general pretty darn upset, very likely to go leave a 1-star warning review, and avoid all further material from the author. If it had been identified as such and I'd just missed the warning label I'd be upset, avoid the author in the future, but not leave the warning review. Three bucks is the price of a magazine with 5+ stories in it, not a single story.

Having said that, take several stories, say 50-60k words total, group them together, and sell that for three bucks, and then we've got something that I might buy.

Blake Crouch said...

"No offense, but I don't think $2.99 for a short story is a price that is fair to readers. I really hope this doesn't become the norm."

More and more, I am not interested in being one of a thousand drive-by $.99 purchases on someone's Kindle. With some notable exceptions (John Locke who has almost made that pricepoint his identity and brand and it works for him), $.99 is not a pricepoint that creates fans. Even $2.99 may be too close to an impulse buy. If someone only loves your work enough to spend $.99, they aren't really a fan worth having. I think one introductory novel at $.99 (if you have one to spare) isn't a bad idea, but beyond that, it's a pricepoint that smacks of desperation and a lack of confidence and may already be synonymous with many buyers with questionable quality. I know those aren't popular words, but the glut of indie writers throwing their work out there for $.99 is damaging the ebook market for everyone and setting unrealistic expectations for buyers--as you are displaying right here with your comment that $2.99 isn't a fair price for a short story. This isn't an attack on you, please understand...I'm just wondering if your perception is maybe informed by how many novels are available on Kindle right now for $.99.

Jim Thomsen said...

Using bad reviews to punish authors over perceived price-point problems is a really shitty thing to do, in my opinion. Reviews should be about the quality of the work itself, period.

Jim Thomsen said...

I should add that it should be incumbent on the author to include the word count of a given work in the product description. And it should be incumbent on the buyer to look for the word count before making the purchase. Either way, there should be no nasty surprises. But bottom line is, buyer beware.

Blake Crouch said...

I won't mention this writer by name, but they sold probably 40,000 copies of their debut at $.99. Just camped in the top 100 for weeks or maybe months. Then they released their followup for $2.99. and it tanked. What does this tell you? Why did barely a fraction of the tens of thousands of people who bought their first at $.99 show up to by their followup, which was priced at an extravagant $2.99? Because at $.99, most readers, if they read your novel at all, are just having a fling with you, a 1-night-stand. Because it's cheap. Selling a shitload of books at $.99 doesn't automatically translate into readers buying you at a higher price. Because it isn't creating real fans. Fans will buy everything you've written. they'll buy you're work at $5.99.

Selena Kitt said...

@Kendall, thanks for buying Hunting Season. I'm looking forward to the feedback on it. I love this story! :)

However, you lose 400 readers. How many of those readers would've gone on to buy more of your stuff?

No, you lose 400 downloaders. They're not necessarily readers.

I'm guilty of this myself. I have a TON of $0.99 books on my Kindle that I haven't yet read. And may never. I downloaded them because they sounded good at the time and they were cheap.

But I didn't become a fan just because I downloaded a book at $0.99.

Now, if I downloaded something that was $2.99? I know I read it - because I paid more for it, I thought about my purchase a lot more. And that author might have garnered a new fan in me because of it.

Adam Pepper said...

Blake,

I hear what you're saying loud and clear. 99 cent buyers arent true fans of your work, and if they are, they'll pay more. But I think Toni also makes a point. Do we really have proof that readers are wary of the 99 cent books? I havent seen that. I think when you are talking about a reader taking a blind shot on an author they arent familiar with, the lower the price, the better chance at a sale.

The book you reference must not have delivered. If it was good, more of those 40,000 would have come along for the ride on the next book. But it sounds like the 99 cents did serve its purpose. It roped in 40,000 readers. And if the author had sold it for 2.99, how many sales would it have made?

From my own experience, I ran a 99 cent Halloween sale and had a nice spurt. Now, I'm having some mixed feelings about bringing it back up to 2.99.

Stephen T. Harper said...

Congratulations Selena and Blake, and thanks for this post.

I love the conversation in the comments because it seems like the long price point debate has really begun to evolve now that there is more data to crunch.

Or maybe it's that I like where the debate is heading...

Andy Conway said...

Great post, Selena,

I'm interested in your experiment with pricing, but something I heard you say a while back is what interests me most.

I think you made a point for higher pricing ages ago specifically for the erotica genre, saying that it was a genre where people were prepared to pay $2.99 and above for what are essentially short stories.

It's interesting that you're now applying that across the board, but, seeing as I've just published an erotica title at $2.99, the first in a new anonymous erotica imprint, is there a case for going even higher for an 8k-word story or is $2.99 the sweet spot for erotica shorts?

Just interested in what you think about the erotica genre and where it's going and what the possibilities are...

Thanks.

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 8 down, 3 to go
Go to Budapest, make a movie, have an affair...

the-time-capsule.com said...

After reading all of this, I'm tempted to try it for a month. I'll price my shorts at $2.99. Short collections at $4.99 and novels at $5.99. Let's see what happens.

wannabuy said...

E-books are the Trader Joes Candy/wine of books. The boutique books are hardcovers/coffee table books displayed to be seen just
as extra-fancy candy/wine is often presented and less so consumed.

The hardcover market requires a publisher. Amazon is breaking into that market; they could, like our local Costco/Trader Joes, sell ridiculously priced items for the holidays. So don't rule out that Amazon will get there.

Now one is pricing to compete with the rows of candies/wines at Trader Joes. People will buy on the label (cover), some tried your product and are buying again. I think we'll have debates on ebook pricing until after holograms replace ebooks. ;)

So price per your product. I wish those braving the experiment the best. I personally consider $1 per 10,000 well written words to be fair for both parties.

Neil

Selena Kitt said...

Erotica readers definitely are prepared to pay more. I think that actually applies to romance as well. Mostly because those folks were early adopters of ereaders and were paying those prices before Kindle came along. I can't imagine the market bearing more than $2.99 for a short story in any genre though.

evilphilip said...

I posted a western novel up on the Kindle a few months ago, pricing it at $.99 for the first month and $2.99 for the second month.

I didn't get a single sale either month.

I raise the price to $4.99 and then had 5 sales the first day.

I do think there is a price perception issue and if you think your work is worth the money you should price it accordingly.

A little story...

Recently I wanted to purchase a copy of Trevor Shane's Children of Paranoia and it runs $12.99 from the publisher for the eBook. As a result, I purchased a used copy for around $3.00 including shipping. Trevor doesn't get any of that money and the publisher doesn't get any of that money.

I passed this info onto the publisher who didn't bother to reply and to Trevor who said he didn't care how I got his book as long as I was reading it.

I loved that attitude and after several back-and-forth E-mails from Trevor I went back and purchased the book on iBooks for $12.99.

Perception of value.

After talking with the author I percieved that the book was worth more money to me because he was a great guy and I wanted to help support his career.

I agree with Joe, Selena and Blake... if people think you are worth the money they will pay it.

-P.D.

Jodi said...

Good points. I just published my first piece this weekend, a novelette, for 99 cents. While I feel that is good for that size and below, I'm not sure what to do for other novels. I want them cheaper than a paperback, but I don't want them too cheap. And if they are half the size of a normal book in my genre, I want to make them cheaper too. It feels fair to me. So, I'm not sure, but you my have inspired me to set my short novels (30k to 70k words) at $3.99 and my "normal" novels (70k to 120k) at $4.99. That also leaves me some room to play with small collections of shorts at $2.99.

Anyway, you gave me lots to think on. Thanks!

Jodi

Walter Knight said...

I agree that the US market has matured.

I would like to keep my US sales at $2.99, but allow the new foreign markets to be 99 cents. The UK prefers cheaper, and I don't know what India will do.

Does Amazon allow different Kindle prices for different markets? Not yet. The just convert the dollar into the Euro.

C.J. Archer said...

I love this price experimentation! It's fantastic that we can do it and come here and share. Something I want to point out is that Blake, Joe, Barry, Selena et al have fans who will buy anything they put out and be confident it's going to be a great read. Those fans will pay $4.99 no problem. But how do the rest of us get fans when we're just starting out? Unless you're able to market yourself successfully (something at which many of us suck) then pricing low for visibility is a good tool. Granted it's not the only tool, but it is one that's easily accessible to us all. But I don't think 99 cents is low enough anymore. My genre of historical romance is Flooded with cheap reads. So to get visibility, I went free with one of my books in August. Many downloaders probably never read it and never will but a few thousand must have because they bought the sequel which made August and September nice little earners for me. I got new fans who admit in their reviews they only picked it up because it was free. I would never have got such great exposure in any other way.

The example Blake quoted above of the writer whose first 99 cent book sold 40,000 copies and their second book tanked? Obviously it was a piece of crap, or perhaps it was only OK but not good enough to go searching for the next one. Not all 99 cent or free books are crap. There are gems and when readers discover those gems in amongst the OK books then they'll go on to buy your second book at $2.99, $3.99 etc. Then, once you've found your audience, you may not have to go free again or price at 99 cents unless you want to.

Just my take on this fascinating subject, but I do think it's important to keep in mind where you are in your career, how big your fan mailing list is, what your genre's bestsellers are priced at and what you feel comfortable doing. This game is changing all the time so what might work today may not work next month or next year.

DVshooter said...

Selena

Thanks for the post and the info. Most interesting. I'll watch the results of this experiment closely, have yet to decide on a price point myself.

As you said, price experimentation is warranted when the "new and shiny" wears off for e-readers and creating a perception of value becomes paramount.

That said; amazon is forecasting millions of new Kindle sales this X-mas season. That's a lot of people new to e-reading (and indies) that will be click-buying like crazy starting on the morning of Dec 25.

Are you perhaps setting yourselves up to be lost in that big $.99 ocean?

And doesn't Amazon cut prices during the holidays?

Break

Crouch and Kitt..,Jeez, should be a hot, bloody time.

Best of luck!

Selena Kitt said...

Are you perhaps setting yourselves up to be lost in that big $.99 ocean?

Don't go scaring me just because it's Halloween now... :)

No risk no gain, right? *gulp*

Shelby Cross said...

I guess I am the exception to your rule, because I do read the .99 cent stories I buy from Amazon, every last one.
I sell my stories for .99 cents each, and the collection (there will be another one out soon) for $2.99. The collection is by far the most popular, save for my one specific story that caters to, (ahem) shall we say, one specific fetish.
Like others have stated, I've written glowing reviews for books I thought were amazing and priced at a measly .99 cents. I've also written scathing reviews for stories in all price brackets.
What really gets me mad? When the author doesn't give me, the buyer, crucial information up front. Like it's an extremely short story (under 10,000 words); it's only part of a series, and to reach the end of the story, I'll have to purchase more parts; the quality is so bad, it's obvious no editing was done, not even a second read-through; etc.
Yes, I am more forgiving if I've spent less money. I expect more when I've put out more. But authors in general need to be up front with readers, and give them the best description possible what they're buying. After all, it's not like a magazine that they can pick up and flip through. They're going in somewhat blind.

DVshooter said...

Don't go scaring me just because it's Halloween now... :)

Shit. Sorry ma'am.

I should stop thinking outloud so much. Operative word in the original post was 'experiment'.

Best of luck.

Edward M. Grant said...

Does Amazon allow different Kindle prices for different markets? Not yet.

I'm almost sure that when I uploaded a novel at the weekend they asked whether I wanted to set prices based on the US price or choose prices per site?

As for prices in general, my goal is to find 10,000 fans who'll pay $3.99 for my books. Then if I write two books a year I can live comfortably, or if I write four a year I can buy a (used) Ferrari. To me that goal seems quite achievable over a few years and a few books, whereas I'd need 100,000 fans buying my books at $0.99 to do the same.

DVshooter said...

Erotica readers definitely are prepared to pay more. I think that actually applies to romance as well

Forgot to ask this: have seen some CRAZY high prices for some erotica, and not just the audio downloads. Curious as to your take.

Are these very loyal readership's? Hard to find subject matter?

Selena Kitt said...

Forgot to ask this: have seen some CRAZY high prices for some erotica, and not just the audio downloads. Curious as to your take.

How crazy high? You can email me links if you don't want to get Joe's blog all dirty. ;)

DVshooter said...

Selena

Kindle search for plain erotica, sort by highest to lowest. Have about 2-3 pages of audio, picture and, what appears to be clinical guides and then theres about a dozen pages of 16$ and up.

Some more audio, some look like classics or legacy of sorts but there are many that are clearly indie...and expensive.

Artemis Hunt said...

I write erotica under the pen name of Aphrodite Hunt, and I price all my short stories (5000 - 6000 words) at $2.99, except for the first in the series, which is priced at 99 cents. In fact, I just started 3 weeks ago, and have made almost 1000 erotica sales in less than a month.

I have seen absolutely no drop off in sales, and I also notice that my purchases seem to be in a batch i.e. all the books in the series together.

So yes, I'm a proponent of $2.99 . . . for erotica. I haven't tried pricing more than 99 cents for any of my other horror short stories.

James English said...

I can only speak to my own purchasing habits, but I gauge the amount I will pay for an ebook on what I pay for a mass market paperback from a used book store (online or off), when all taxes and shipping and such are applied.

I am never in a hurry to read one particular book - I'm more than happy to wait for it to hit the secondary market, even if that takes a few years.

So, if I can get a mass market paperback version of a book for $5 (which isn't hard, even with shipping and/or taxes), I don't want to pay that much for an ebook version. I can always resell the physical book when I'm done with it, or donate it to a library, for others to enjoy. I can also simply save it, and re-read it years later, when I have forgotten the story (not something that is likely with proprietary ebook formats and changes in technology over the years).

Since I am not getting any resale or donation value from an ebook, and can't easily lend it to many friends, I don't really want to pay more than half of what I would pay for the physical book. So, honestly, anything more than $2.50 is outside of what I am willing to pay.

There are exceptions, though. I would pay more for an ebook version with a lot of "extras" attached that you can't find in a print version of the book. They have to be useful and feature multiple extensive extras, though. That might include things like copies of pre-edit versions of the book, copies of research notes, extra photos (where appropriate), automatic and free updates if the author chooses to add extra chapters, etc. Extra features are why I made the switch from VHS to DVD, way back when.

I would also pay extra for some of the "enhanced" ebooks, like the recent version of "Pride and Prejudice with Zombies" for the iPad.

James English said...

>But you go to movie
>and get two hours of
>entertainment for $8.
>(or $4 at the matinee
>show...)
>You "rent" a movie
>on-demand for $3.99.

No I don't. I quit going to movie theaters a very long time ago. I check the movie out from the library (free interlibrary loan is a wonderful thing), get it at Redbox for $1.20, or watch it on Netflix for even less (when you compare the amount of Netflix I watch to what I pay for it). I have not found many movies that I can't get that way.

If I just wanted the reading experience of a book (with no ownership of the package), I would just check it out from the library, or check out a copy of the ebook from a library Overdrive collection.

When it comes to erotica (since that was mentioned), there is a lot of stuff on Literotica that is just as good as most contemporary ebook (or even print book) works in that genre. It can take a while to find the good stuff, but if erotica ebooks were more than 99 cents, it would be worth the hassle.

I have barely scratched the surface of the hundreds of free ebooks on my reading device. Some are duds, some are great, and most fall in-between, but that is also true for ebooks (and print books) for which I pay. Why should I bother paying more than 99 cents, given all that?

Archangel said...

always best to you Selena

and thanks for your candidness on this

me and kiana and others are still fighting the good fight to wrest our rights back after being treated very not well.

So many here who have rowed through are inspirations.

dr.cpe

Annie Bellet said...

No offense, James English, but you clearly aren't the market then for ebooks (or books in general). Buying a used paperback gives the author (the creator of the work) zero dollars. Therefore trying to adjust marketing to target people who can't be bothered to spend money on a book in a way that is meaningful for a writer (ie, we get paid something for our work) would be pointless.

The bargain hunters have their market share. But anyone who wants to make a good living doing a craft or providing a service etc, can't really target only those who seek to pay the minimum on things. So for me, at least, statements like yours are as relevant as someone telling me they would never buy a fantasy novel because they only read true crime books. Nice for them, doesn't mean it applies at all to what I'm doing. If I want to target that reader, I need to write something else. Those of us who price our ebooks over .99 (or even 2.99) aren't targeting people who wait ten years to pick up a paperback for .01 + 3.99 shipping off Amazon. Those people belong to a different market.

J. Steven York said...

A very interesting and thoughtful post. My wife (Christina F. York, who publishes not only under that name, but mystery as Christy Evans, and upcoming next year as Christy Fifield) and are still fairly new to the indie-game, but this parallels our own experiences. We've tried a variety of price points, but with novels at least, higher priced books don't seem to sell any worse than the $2.99 ones, and possibly better.

With middle length works (like my science-fiction reprint short collections "Dead Ringers" and "Walking the Virtch" I'd settled on $2.99, but to be honest, those are selling more poorly than both novels at higher price points and short-stories at 99 cents.

And yes, our short fiction is still at 99 cents, but you're giving me reason to reconsider that. It's frustrating to have decent sales numbers on those, but then have little to show for it because of the reduced royalty rate.

Until recently, almost all of our short-fiction offerings have been reprints, but when I offered up first new story, "The Unwinding of Liberty Brass," the first in my ongoing steampunk western "Clockwork Cowboy" series, I considered pricing it at $1.99, thinking that would at least give me the rought equivalent of a 70% return on a 99 cent story.

But that only got me a little more, and doubled the cost to the reader, and I just couldn't stomach it, at least on the first indie-released story (another in the series will be on the February DAW anthology "Westward Weird").
I didn't consider $2.99, but maybe I should. On the other hand, I may keep the first one low as a loss-leader for follow-ups in the series.

We do also have some short-shorts up for free, and they "sell" quite well, on the order of several thousand units per month on Amazon alone, but I haven't yet seen ANY evidence that this is feeding any significant sales of paid works. My feeling is that the "free" audience is primarily only interested in more free works, and people who actually pay for their reading tend to think that, in anything free, they're getting what they pay for.

Anonymous said...

Sean McCartney said:
I would like to do such things but does it matter if someone is an A-list vs.. a D-List author?

Sean, are you the A or the D? :)

Andy Conway said...

@Artemis Hunt

Congratulations on such high sales in your first month. My first erotica title went live last night so I'm interested to see how it will fare against my standard fiction.

(I'm not linking to it here. I want to keep it totally seperate from my other work)

I'm interested to know what promotion you carried out to get those sales. Did you just put it up on Amazon and forget about it or post to specific online erotica communities? How do you get the word out so that 1000 people buy it in the first month?

Thanks, Andy

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 8 down, 3 to go
Go to Budapest, make a movie, have an affair...

Artemis Hunt said...

>>>Congratulations on such high sales in your first month.

Thanks, Andy. This is the first time I have outed my erotica pen name :)

>>I'm interested to know what promotion you carried out to get those sales. Did you just put it up on Amazon and forget about it or post to specific online erotica communities?

I did absolutely NOTHING to promote my erotica. I uploaded it to Amazon, ARE, Smashwords, Bookstrand, and one of the books just got onto Nook thru Smashwords.

I said nothing to anyone on any forum, and all I have is a blog. The retailers place my stories together in a batch, so that people will know it's part of a series, and I think that helps. After 3 days of launch, one of the books got on the bestseller lists on ARE, and was displayed on the top. So that helps too.

I got mostly good 4 and 5 star ratings and reviews, and I don't know if that helps either.

>>How do you get the word out so that 1000 people buy it in the first month?

I just kept on writing and churning out stories in a series, and releasing them within a few days to 1 week of each other. So I'm kept high up in the New Releases, and people can see the older stories as well. Since these are short stories, it takes me 6 hours to write one, so they are fairly easy to churn out. Not to say they are of lower quality though - at least not according to my reviews.

Andy Conway said...

Thanks, Artemis

That makes more sense now. Not just one title. I'll be building up my list a bit more slowly than you.

I don't know what ARE is. Am I being stupid?

Andy Conway
Publishing 11 titles before 11.11.11 on Amazon and Smashwords : 8 down, 3 to go
Go to Budapest, make a movie, have an affair...

Sean McCartney said...

Mostly D but striving for A. :)

Rent Toronto said...

Finding things on-line has made life so easy that you can find everything on INTERNET. Toronto is a city of joy and very energetic.living here it will be a lot of fun. Apartments in Toronto are easily findable on on-line, it's a very interesting thing.

Artemis Hunt said...

Haha, Andy. ARE = AllRomance Ebooks, a division of OmniLit.

Adriana Dascalu said...

OK, guys! Keep making experiments and let me know what's your conclusion. So, the moment I'd finish writing and editing my first two projects I'll know what to do to make good money!

I hope I'll be able to finish these projects soon and see if I can handle writing prose, as I'd only been writing poetry until recently!

Now, seriously, it's really good and useful information.

Selena Kitt said...

@DV Shooter Kindle search for plain erotica, sort by highest to lowest. Have about 2-3 pages of audio, picture and, what appears to be clinical guides and then theres about a dozen pages of 16$ and up.

It looks to me like they're all foreign (mostly German) versions? I saw a Susie Bright title at $18. More of hers priced at $15. Some Zane at $15. All traditionally published. (idiot publishers!) But what I found interesting was that many of the clearly self-pubbed titles I clicked on that were really expensive were all listed "CreateSpace" as the publisher. I know that for print books, CS sets a minimum amount you have to charge (to cover the cost). I wonder if they do that for Kindle books that they've formatted? The ones that weren't listed with CS as the publisher seemed to be mostly bondage and fetish titles. Many of them published by Nazca Plains. Not sure who they are. Must be a small publisher. I noticed Kyle Michael Sullivan's Rape in Holding Cell 6 is published with them. His book was one of the ones pulled during the Amazon purge of titles. My guess is that his publisher is setting the prices high to cover their costs.


@Archangel
me and kiana and others are still fighting the good fight to wrest our rights back after being treated very not well.

I will be SO happy for you both when it finally happens. I wonder how many other authors out there are struggling to get their rights back that haven't spoken up? There should be a website/forum for you guys so you can pool your resources.

@James English When it comes to erotica (since that was mentioned), there is a lot of stuff on Literotica that is just as good as most contemporary ebook (or even print book) works in that genre. It can take a while to find the good stuff, but if erotica ebooks were more than 99 cents, it would be worth the hassle.

Want to hear something interesting? When I started publishing, I left all my work up on Literotica. Which meant that for a while, I was getting $2.99 for my short stories and $5.99 for my novels - and the stuff was still available for free on Lit. I have since pulled all but some teaser chapters. However, I know authors who publish on Kindle and leave their work up for free on Lit too at the same time. There are a lot of people willing to pay for the 1-click convenience of carrying what they want to read around on their Kindle. They're not bargain hunters, no. But there are just as many impulse/convenience buyers as there are frugal ones. Opposites attract, after all! :)

Nancy Beck said...

PS: I also think $2.99 is too cheap for a full length novel but I'm taking one step at a time.

@Ruth - Have you ever read Dean Wesley Smith's blog? His suggestion for short/novella/novel is 99 cents/$2.99/$4.99. As I only started self pubbing in July (and have very, very modest sales), it's too soon to tell if this pricing will hold up for an unknown like me.

I think pricing also depends on the genre. I don't know much about romance/erotica or the thriller genres, but maybe those readers are willing to pay more than 99 cents for a short? I write fantasy, and I think any sales of my short story would be DOA if I raised it to $2.99 (that, and the fact I'm an unknown quantity right now).

Kudos to J.A. and Selena experimenting with this! It'll be interesting to see what happens.

Nancy Beck said...

So many readers are loading up their carts with the freebies and cheapies, possibly not ever reading them.

@Ruby Barnes - That's me! I have two or three (or is it more?) freebies just waiting for me to read them...but I haven't gotten around to them as yet.

I hope to do so, one day. :-)

To me (and maybe it's only me), the only freebie that makes sense is a short story. After 10 minutes at most, you're done with it, and can move along. But with novellas and novels, how can you put off reading the ones you paid for? No brainer for me; the paid ones come first.

Night Terrors

Nancy Beck said...

Though my first few stories are in rough, first-draft form, it appears that they'll clock in at between 6,000 and 15,000 words apiece, with photos, scanned documents, etc.

FWIW (which might not be much ;-)), I think $2.99 is reasonable because it sounds like you're going to be providing more than just words - you talk about photos, etc. I'd be willing to pay more for something if it includes some extras (within reason, of course :-)).

It's true that the whole "interactive ebook" thing is a bit too much for me to swallow, but when I bought Brandon Sanderson's Way of Kings in hardback, I did so because of the extra sketches and stuff available in hardback - no ppbk at the time, and I didn't know when the ebook would be available and if it would include the same stuff as the harback. So I bit (about $25), and so far, it's been worth it.

Hopefully this will help you decide. And good luck!

Wayne McDonald said...

@Selena However, I know authors who publish on Kindle and leave their work up for free on Lit too at the same time.

I plan somewhat the same. Since my first novel will be a fetish novel, and my stories from 10 years ago still get comments, I plan to release some stuff for free to hopefully draw a small fraction into buying it. I'll likely post a story a week once my book is out.

williamdoonan said...

So here's my new short story. It's called "Damn Trick-or-Treaters Broke My Cactus, so Now What Am I Going to do for Mescaline?" Should that be a freebie, or could I charge 99 cents?

William Doonan

Marta Szemik said...

I love this topic. Thank you for the great post. I'm releasing my first YA fantasy novel (98K) Two Halves on December 1st. I don't have a platform, but the novel is polished, professionally edited and has an appealing cover (no, I did not make the cover). I've had positive unbiased reviews.(not from friends or family) I was planning to price it at $2.99, then release a follow up novella at $1.99 on Feb 1st. Now that I'm reading the comments here, is my $2.99 too low? I've spent almost three years working on this novel. Poured my heart out (as many writers do) and believe Two Halves is in the best shape it can possibly be. Since I don't have a following yet, am I selling myself short, or should I try the $2.99 and see what happens?

Again, thank you for the post!
Marta

Dawn Wilson said...

Very interested to see how this works out. One of my novels has been selling 40 to 50 copies a month at the "magical" $2.99---and while I'd like to experiment with a higher price, I'm worried about messing it up...the whole "if it ain't broke..." philosophy...

Jay Noel said...

Is there really a big market for short stories?

And at $2.99?????

Sean McCartney said...

Good point jay. 2.99 seems a lot for short stories. Novels maybe. As a YA author I want people, especially kids, to get my books and become fans. So 99 cents as an intro to some short stories sounds right. Then again I could be wrong. :)

Kiana Davenport said...

@ Ruth Harris...I agree with you. I think .99 was way too low for your books. They're classy, well-written, well-reviewed. You're a bestseller. (And I still covet that hot pink cover!)

.99 is a great way to introduce a new novel or collection which I did for two months with CANNIBAL NIGHTS via Twitter and Facebook. You get a lot of exposure, but you're not making money. After two months I increased the price to $2.99, its selling less but I'm making more money.

If its a quality novel and a bigger book, I agree with what Joe said a few days ago, its OK to go higher. If you already have an audience and have reached the nosebleed-heights of bestsellerdom I would definitely think of $3.99 or $4.99. We keep underestimating our readers. They're smarter than we are. They know quality. And they will pay for it. Barry Eisler's THE DETACHMENT is $5.99 and its selling off the charts.

We're the CEO's of our own corporations now. Our decisions are ours. And we can change them. Nothing is set in stone.
IMUA, everyone. Onward!

Kiana Davenport said...

@ Ruth Harris...I agree with you. I think .99 was way too low for your books. They're classy, well-written, well-reviewed. You're a bestseller. (And I still covet that hot pink cover!)

.99 is a great way to introduce a new novel or collection which I did for two months with CANNIBAL NIGHTS via Twitter and Facebook. You get a lot of exposure, but you're not making money. After two months I increased the price to $2.99, its selling less but I'm making more money.

If its a quality novel and a bigger book, I agree with what Joe said a few days ago, its OK to go higher. If you already have an audience and have reached the nosebleed-heights of bestsellerdom I would definitely think of $3.99 or $4.99. We keep underestimating our readers. They're smarter than we are. They know quality. And they will pay for it. Barry Eisler's THE DETACHMENT is $5.99 and its selling off the charts.

We're the CEO's of our own corporations now. Our decisions are ours. And we can change them. Nothing is set in stone.
IMUA, everyone. Onward!

Joshua Simcox said...

"If someone only loves your work enough to spend $.99, they aren't really a fan worth having."

Well, I would think any fan is a fan worth having, but I think I see your point. I wouldn't want to start drawing unflattering distinctions between readers that become fans after spending $.99 on an ebook download versus readers that become fans after paying $5.99 or more for an author's work, but I realize that isn't what your trying to do. Readers only willing to spend a dollar or less on an author are more or less engaging in a casual affair, and that doesn't benefit writers in any way beyond a few quick, easy sales. True fans are absolutely willing to pay more.

For example, I love Robert McCammon, and was thrilled when his most of his backlist became available as ebooks early last month. Sure, I would've been delighted to pay between $.99-$4.99 for those downloads, but I'm such a fan that I didn't hesitate to shell out $9.99. I think most readers feel the same about authors they're truly passionate about, and a $.99 price-point probably doesn't create many such fans.

"The glut of indie writers throwing their work out there for $.99 is damaging the ebook market for everyone and setting unrealistic expectations for buyers..."

This I 100% agree with. I'll happily buy a $.99 download from an author I know and trust (many of Ed Gorman's ebooks are available for $.99, and Scott Nicholson periodically lowers his novels to that price, as well), but from an unknown quantity? Those days are over for me. I agree with Blake that the $.99 price-point smacks of desperation.

And while I don't generally agree with much of Stephen Leather's commentary, but I think there could be something to an earlier comment he made concerning his prediction that many successful indies will fade and digital bestseller lists will become populated by the usual legacy bestsellers. Readers will only tolerate so many piss-poor cheap ebooks before going back to the legacy authors they already know and love, even at a higher price-point.

And Blake, congratulations on your success from a fan and fellow North Carolinian.

--Joshua

James English said...

>Buying a used paperback
>gives the author (the
>creator of the work)
>zero dollars.

I would prefer to cut out the middleman and give the writer money directly, which is why I have no problem paying 99 cents. Most authors are still making more money from me at that price point than they would from traditional print publishers.

If, however, the ebook is the same price as a used book, it makes no economic sense for me to go that route.

Just for the record, I own two of Selena's erotica books - in hard copy, so I can continue to enjoy them after formats and devices change - and have enjoyed them very much.

I don't see any real evidence of ebook buyers wanting to pay MORE, or "getting tired" of a 99 cent price point. That's wishful thinking. They will still have to wade through a lot of bad stuff to find the gems. Higher prices are not indicators of higher quality.

People in general are price conscious, particularly today. That's why brick-and-mortar bookstores are in trouble, and library circulation rates are up.

If authors can make more selling at $2.99 a book than they can at 99 cents a book, more power to them. As I said before, I can only speak for my own purchasing habits.

Blake Crouch said...

"Is there really a big market for short stories?
And at $2.99?????"

Yes....if you can couch them as novellas....which means they need to deliver in a big way and be at least 8,000 words. You will still get haters who leave 1-star reviews b/c they don't like the price, WHICH IS A REALLY SHITTY, PATHETIC THING TO DO. But I'll make probably around $10,000 this year on my best-selling short story. But again, it's got to fire on all cylinders. I think novels are easier.

Selena Kitt said...

Just for the record, I own two of Selena's erotica books - in hard copy, so I can continue to enjoy them after formats and devices change - and have enjoyed them very much.

So glad you enjoyed them!

I think people re-read my genre more than others. Go figure. :)

And I think there *may* be more of a market for erotic stories at $2.99 than mainstream ones.

But as Blake said - if a story delivers in a big way and runs a good 7-8K, to me, it's worth my $2.99, no matter the genre.

There are people who pay $3.50 for a cup of coffee at Starbucks, for pete's sake! To me, a story is far more entertaining and worth it. And doesn't make me jittery and have to pee! ;)

Todd Trumpet said...

Wow, this is why I read this blog.

Terrific post...

...and the proof is that I'm now seriously rethinking my own pricing structure (I'm still mostly in the process of converting my backlog of screenplays for ePub).

I'm VERY interested to hear what the results are of your (and Joe's and anybody else who tries this) pricing experiment.

On, Ye ePioneers!

Todd
"THE TELLING OF MY MARCHING BAND STORY"
www.ToddTrumpet.com

S.L. Pierce said...

I am also curious to see how this experiment turns out. I recently raised the price of my first book to 2.99, from .99 and my sales dropped by about 4x but my profit went up 6x so I think it was the right decision. I also heard a better reason for raising the price (sorry I can't recall where). A lot of people will buy a .99 cent book and never read it. But if they spend 2.99, they will read it. Giving the writer a better chance of building a fan base. I'm still not brave enough to raise the price of my short stories though.

Wink, Wink... said...

Interesting post. It really depends on your overall business strategy, pairing method and story format (ex. word limits, etc.) as to whether the .99c price point works for short stories. Also, volume is another essential factor.

Probably as I get better at my craft (publishing is a non-issue), I will raise my prices on my singles to $2.99 for a quasi-mix of a single and something else. Being a bit more boutique will have its advantages.

Anyway, my biggest worry is not pricing so much as how long before audio/visual books with text make it necessary for us to start sharing royalties with third parties (designers, musicians, etc.) 70% can only stretch so far (even if its the Smashwords 70%, which is a little kinder on shorts).

Cool post Selena and Joe. Keep 'em coming!

Kenneth Guthrie.

Stephen T. Harper said...

I agree with everything Rent Toronto said.

1) Toronto truly is a "city of joy"

2) You really CAN easily find an apartment on the Internet.

3) the ability to do so really IS a "very interesting thing."

Thoughts?

Stephen T. Harper said...

@ Todd Trumpet ("I'm still mostly in the process of converting my backlog of screenplays for ePub").

Do you mean that you are novelizing them, or putting them for sale as screenplays? Just curious.

Aric Mitchell said...

"And while I don't generally agree with much of Stephen Leather's commentary, but I think there could be something to an earlier comment he made concerning his prediction that many successful indies will fade and digital bestseller lists will become populated by the usual legacy bestsellers. Readers will only tolerate so many piss-poor cheap ebooks before going back to the legacy authors they already know and love, even at a higher price-point."

Yeah, Leather is often times full of horse-hockey, and while I don't agree with him that legacy has nothing to worry about--the closure of bookstores makes it pretty clear they've got a hell of a lot to worry about--he's right in that you're going to need a little more than the label of "indie writer" to find success.

If you believe in your own abilities and only put out quality work, then you're going to have a lot better chance competing with the big boys, and in many cases, you could find yourself more profitable than they are, than if you tried the traditional slush pile routine.

But you've got to treat this as a business, and it's got to be something you bust your ass to achieve. You're not gonna slap a crap cover on something while hearing only what you want to hear from people about your work, and get anywhere, no matter what your price point is.

But there really aren't any indies on this site that I see are guilty of this sort of thing. Most of the people I see commenting know the importance of a proofreader, editor, and quality cover.

For those that don't, well, it pains me to say it, but Leather is right. The pie is damn big, but you aren't getting a piece.

The good news, though, is that the pie is big enough to find success without ever making it into the Top 100. And that's really all the motivation I need to get out there and do my thing.

Robert Bidinotto said...

I read all the many arguments and thought long and hard about price before I published my debut novel, HUNTER: A Thriller, this past June 21.

And I priced it at $3.99 going in, for all the reasons many people here are now discussing.

Why? Because I learned from studying marketing that competing on price alone is not a particularly smart strategy, since you can always be matched or undercut. So I looked instead at what people were willing to pay for other competing ebooks and forms of entertainment.

Regarding ebooks: The fact that books by big-name authors can be priced north of $10 and still top the Amazon Kindle bestseller lists told me that there are plenty of readers willing to pay that much for what they anticipate will be a great story. The reason they won't pay that much for an unknown author's work is not price, but the fact that it's a bigger gamble for the price: They don't know if the writer has good storytelling skills.

So (I reasoned) if you could get the word out that you had written a great story, you could still compete with the Big Boys and get plenty of sales. You might be smart to charge a lot less, but NOT the bargain basement price of 99 cents.

Regarding other forms of entertainment: As has been pointed out here, people pay much more than 99 cents to go to a movie, a sporting event, a concert, or to buy a print novel. Again, it's not price that's the deal-breaker on the sale; it's the uncertainty of getting good value in return.

Finally, I knew that $2.99 and especially 99 cents shouted "SELF-PUBLISHED" to browsing ebook customers, which (face it) still constitutes a stigma for many. I felt that $3.99 did not convey this impression; instead, it proclaimed "BARGAIN" -- which is something very different.

With all this in mind, I worked to produce the best damned debut thriller I could. Then, I worked hard to create a "buzz" about it, based on the very positive early-reader feedback. And I priced it at $3.99, despite constant advice that it would be smarter to price it at $2.99, 99 cents, or even give it away "to build your fan base."

Again, I am not a "household name"; I have only one title out; and I priced it at $3.99. But in its first full month, HUNTER sold 576 copies across all platforms. In August, it sold 879. In September, 912. In October, 1,064. During that 4-month period, 346 of the sales have been of the trade paperback, priced between $15 (in person) and $20 (online, personalized).

No, not blockbuster numbers. But just four months in, HUNTER is already paying my mortgage and selling as well as iconic backlist titles by the top-name thriller authors.

I don't criticize others for reasoning or pricing differently; this is a Brave New World, and a lot of experimenting is going on. But, for me, the price experiment is already in my rear-view mirror. I'm keeping HUNTER at $3.99, and I may price the sequel at $4.99.

Archangel said...

thanks selena for the warmth and encouragement. it means alot

onward we go

dr.cpe

JAMES BRUNO said...

One thing that hasn't been addressed in this very useful post is the effect price undercutting can have on your books. I recently raised the prices of two of my books to $3.99 and $2.99. Because some vendor(s) out there sell the books for less, however, Amazon keeps my prices at $3.03 and $2.51. This is totally out of my control, as far as I know. (If anyone knows differently, please chime in.)

I just released my third thriller at $3.99. The feedback on my cover has been universally positive. I've been getting rave reviews from Top Amazon Reviewers, two NYT bestselling authors and some independent (non-paid) book review sites. Sales, however, are desultory. Not sure where the disconnect is. The first two thrillers have been steady paid genre bestsellers since the beginning of the year. So, at this point, I can't discern just how elastic the price-demand quotient is.

Adam Thomas said...

Buy online books, order online books at Gobookstore.com - Bookshop UK. Get discounts prices with free home delivery from Online Bookstore UK.

Buy Books at Low Prices

Selena Kitt said...

@James Bruno I recently raised the prices of two of my books to $3.99 and $2.99. Because some vendor(s) out there sell the books for less, however, Amazon keeps my prices at $3.03 and $2.51. This is totally out of my control, as far as I know. (If anyone knows differently, please chime in.)

That sounds like Google discounting. They're one of the few vendors who still discounts self-pubbed books. (Bastards! :P Like we weren't cheap enough?)

Just price your books with Google about a dollar higher than anywhere else. Then it will be close to your original price when the price-match hits. For example, when my novels were $3.99, I priced them at $4.99 at Google. They discounted to $3.82. Close enough!

DVshooter said...

So (I reasoned) if you could get the word out that you had written a great story, you could still compete with the Big Boys and get plenty of sales...No, not blockbuster numbers. But just four months in, HUNTER is already paying my mortgage

Robert

Congrat's! That's great out of the gate performance. May I suggest you do a piece for Joe's guest blog work?

I for one would love to hear more about your process...if you want to share any secrets that is.

Dave

J S said...

Your Experiment will likely lead you to the wrong conclusions .. and this is why:

1. You are not blocking for any seasonality factors. Christmas sales will be big regardless of the pricing. If you compare to $0.99 sales in August vs $2.99 in December you will think it was all due to the pricing.

2. Amazon just released a new Kindle model & reduced the price on the 'classic' version. This will cause more sales now and through the holidays (and is why they chose to launch it now). Again, this will create a flurry of new book buyers, different than a baseline you are comparing with.

3. Amazon has opened, and will be opening, additional markets for kindle books (such as India). This will distort your sales comparison again.

4. There are more competing offerings entering the market all the time. Consumers have substitutes and choices. I heard Harlequin just flooded the market with 500-1,000 titles at different price points (including free).

5. Amazon reader reviews. While I hear "I got a $0.99 stinker" is it any smellier to pay $0.99 or $2.99? Amazon's user ratings are a powerful feature, and it doesn't matter the price. Readers will communicate if it's odeous or well perfumed.

6. Don't assume if there were 100 sales at $0.99 that you would have had 100 sales at $2.99; not true and dangerous math. It's a non-linear problem.

7. The actual book genre/consumer market matters. A twelve year old will pick the $1 book while a business traveler grabbing something ahead of a three hour flight might be happy to get the $5 indie book.

How to fix these shortcomings? Hard to do, but more possible given the electronic nature of the new book market. There are a lot of fancy statistical tools that should be used, but the primary experimental protection is randomization.

You'll need to consider changing prices on different days of the week (people buy more books on Saturday than Tuesday), and different times of the month (some people get their paycheck and are more willing to spend then), and the start of holidays or summer vacations and so on.

If anyone wants to really try making a scientific study of pricing then send me an email or contact me through my weblog. I have a background in Engineering, statistics, and an MBA. jgordonsmith . com

I.J.Parker said...

Well, I've done it! "Akitada's First Case", the Shamus winning short story, just went up at $ 2.99. Perhaps it's not much of an experiment, but then I deal with a niche market. Now to watch the results. :)
Thanks again for the timely post, Selena.

Chip Anderson said...

Fiction is read for entertainment.

A typical full-length novel (80,000-100,00k) takes the average reader 4-6 hours to read.

If the book costs $5 thats about $1 an hour for entertainment.

But it gets better, books are not usually read by only 1 person in a household.

If the book is read by only 1 other person, thats a mere 50 cents an hour for entertainment!

Compare that to the cost of movies or theme parks!

JAMES BRUNO said...

"Just price your books with Google about a dollar higher than anywhere else. Then it will be close to your original price when the price-match hits. For example, when my novels were $3.99, I priced them at $4.99 at Google. They discounted to $3.82. Close enough!"

Selena - thanks for this suggestion. I've followed your advice. Now let's see if it works (fingers crossed).

DVshooter said...

This guy should see a huge jump in sales...but not the way he was probably hoping for.

<a href="http://news.yahoo.com/feds-online-novel-played-role-ga-militia-plot-111437565.html </a>

Edward M. Grant said...

Anyway, my biggest worry is not pricing so much as how long before audio/visual books with text make it necessary for us to start sharing royalties with third parties (designers, musicians, etc.)

I've yet to see any evidence that readers are just salivating at the thought of buying e-book novels 'enhanced' with music and video. If they wanted to watch a movie, they could watch a movie; if they're reading a book it's probably because they want to read something.

More to the point, I don't see how it can be financially viable. Five minutes of well-shot video drama can easily cost $50,000, so you're not going to be putting that into any e-book novel that isn't expected to be a best-seller. Sure, you can get your friends to act and shoot it in your basement on a consumer camcorder, but even if you manage to make it look competent the first time you can't make 'getting everyone to do stuff for free' a long-term business plan.

Non-fiction, sure, particularly instructional books where a few hours of video shot on a camcorder will be acceptable and won't cost much. But novels? Don't see it myself.

Todd Trumpet said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Todd Trumpet said...

@Stephen T. Harper:

You asked: Do you mean that you are novelizing them, or putting them for sale as screenplays? Just curious.

I novelized the first one, and included the original screenplay in the eBook as a 2-fer ("THE TELLING OF MY MARCHING BAND STORY").

I then decided to convert the rest of my backlog of screenplays directly to ePub for sale (not as easy as it sounds!), in part because of reading this blog and learning that expanding virtual shelf space with a number of different titles is probably the best thing you can do to market/promo your work.

I've converted a couple of screenplays already, and have something on the order of a dozen more that are obvious additional candidates.

After I get them all on Amazon and Smashwords (several months of work), and redesigning my website to include the bunch, THEN I'll decide whether to do additional novelizations...

...or just move on to writing new material.

In any case, it's nice to have direction again.

And doubly nice to know that maybe all those years I spent writing scripts for an indifferent Hollywood (and you guys think the BOOK biz is bad!) might not have been wasted after all.

Todd
"THE TELLING OF MY MARCHING BAND STORY"
www.ToddTrumpet.com

Karin Kaufman said...

Great post, Selena. Thank you. When I lowered the price of my novel to 99 cents, I saw an immediate jump in sales. Throughout September and October I sold, between Amazon and Barnes & Noble, 10 to 30 copies a day. Not too bad, considering I don't have any other novels out. I'm a speck on the Amazon bookshelf.

I raised the price of my book to $2.99 at midnight, Oct. 31/Nov. 1, and since then I've sold a total of 4 copies. Suddenly I'm selling far fewer books and actually making less money than I made on a good day at the 35% royalty rate. Worse, my ratings have already slipped enough that they are adversely affecting what little exposure I had. Less exposure equals even fewer sales -- and the downward spiral feeds on itself.

I know it's only been a day and a half, but the drop in sales is no doubt tied to the rise in price. So here's the dilemma for unknowns like me: Do we charge what a book is worth and (probably) watch it fade in the ratings, drop in the search results, and so on? Or do we practically give it away, make virtually no money, but retain some visibility in hopes it will one day sell?

Edward M. Grant said...

I raised the price of my book to $2.99 at midnight, Oct. 31/Nov. 1, and since then I've sold a total of 4 copies.

IMHO the $0.99 and >$0.99 markets are largely independent; many people who buy $0.99 books seem to only buy $0.99 books so if you increase the price they stop buying.

For those of us who buy more expensive books, the $0.99 price point is pretty much the modern slush pile, so we might buy a book from it if someone recommends one to us or we like the author's other books, but we're probably not going to dive in there and load up.

Josephine Wade said...

@Selena or Blake
Would you price a short story at $2.99 if you had no following yet? Or would you price it lower and if so how low?

Just making some final decisions and weighing the pros and cons.

Thanks
Josie

Jude Hardin said...

I agree with your post in principle, Selena, but I do think short stories should be $.99. If I remember correctly, the newsstand price for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is $3.99 (the subscription price is less), and you get...what? Ten stories per issue or something? And often from name authors. So why should ebook short stories cost more than print?

For a long time I've been in favor of the following structure:

Short stories--$.99
Novellas--$2.99
Novels--$3.99-$5.99

Those prices just make sense to me, and I think they're prices that the market will bear without a sense of devaluation.

Blake Crouch said...

If Amazon would only apply the 35% royalty rate to titles $.99 and below, then $1.99 would become the true price for short stories.

Jude Hardin said...

If Amazon would only apply the 35% royalty rate to titles $.99 and below, then $1.99 would become the true price for short stories.

Or maybe a range of $.99 to $1.99, depending on word count.

But 35% is still a great royalty rate. Not long ago you could sell a short story for couple of hundred dollars or so tops (unless you were a superstar being courted by Playboy or something), and that was all the money you were ever going to see from it. Now the potential is limitless. Plus, short stories are great gateways to your longer, more expensive works.

Trey said...

Trey

Hey Joe
Happy to see your blog as it is just what I’ve looking for and excited to read all the posts. I am looking forward to another great article from you.

Karin Kaufman said...

Grant, I think you're probably right that the $0.99 and >$0.99 markets are largely independent, but the 99-cent market can be very valuable to unknown authors. I just checked the top ten Kindle indie books, and all but two of them are priced at 99 cents or less. I wonder how many of those books would have reached the top ten--and gained all the visibility that ranking confers--if they'd been priced at $2.99 or above.

Karin Kaufman said...

Sorry, my comment was for Edward Grant, not Grant.

James English said...

>Five minutes of well-shot
>video drama can easily
>cost $50,000

I don't usually think of live-action video when I think of "enhanced" ebooks.

I think more in terms of the recent "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" ebook available to iPad users. It has some simple animation of the pictures, most of which is activated when you touch a bloody fingerprint on the page. It also has some background sounds, and (occasionally) light background music.

The extras aren't as intrusive as they sound. They enhance the mood, rather than drawing away from the text. The "Alice in Wonderland" ebook for the iPad is even more interesting. The focus remains on the text, but it lets you play with the page, if you choose to do so.

That sort of thing isn't for every story, though, and won't appeal to everyone. To me, it's additional content that I would pay more for when it comes to certain types of stories, but not all. Many horror, science fiction, fantasy, and erotica stories would be good candidates for that.

I can see paying print prices for "enhanced" ebooks, because I would be getting something that makes up for the lack of resale value, loanability, long-term format stability, etc.

My suspicion is that text-only stories will settle in at a particular price point (which nobody really knows yet), and "enhanced" ones will settle in at another. It's similar to movie prices and extras - some people are happy with a simple DVD of a movie, some want the two-disc set, and some want Blu-ray versions. The market supports them all.

If that's the way things end up going, it will open up some interesting job opportunities for multimedia producers. Flash and other basic forms of animation aren't that expensive to produce, if you keep it simple (and you would want to do that, with an ebook).

Merrill Heath said...

Jude said: For a long time I've been in favor of the following structure:

Short stories--$.99
Novellas--$2.99
Novels--$3.99-$5.99


Yep. That's my pricing model as well. I decided a while back to adopt this pricing structure and not waste a lot of time worrying about it or tweaking my prices too much. You can drive yourself crazy trying to find what works best. I believe that if you've written a good book and it's reasonably priced then you're going to be OK. Your audience will eventually find you. Instead of spending a lot of time analyzing prices, get busy writing that next book.

W. Dean said...

Mark Asher:

“…I don't think $2.99 for a short story is a price that is fair to readers.”

All’s fair in love, war and markets. A book is worth what someone is willing to pay for it. There’s no real moral duty involved when no one is forced to buy an e-book.

Jude Hardin:

“…but I do think short stories should be $.99. If I remember correctly, the newsstand price for Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine and Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine is $3.99.”

You and I are on the old side (well, you more than me). We assume paper has more value to the majority of readers than electronic formats. But it may be that a substantial number of people are willing to pay more for the convenience of digital. The 18-28 demographic is not going to have the same assumptions about value, so comparisons with paper might not hold water.


James English:

“…it's additional content that I would pay more for when it comes to certain types of stories”

I think you’re an anomaly on this count. I can see bundling audio, extra images and commentary with print. But I’d need some evidence that people actually want the kinds of multimedia add-ons you’re describing—they seem gimmicky to me.

Merrill Heath said...

You bring up a good point, W. Dean. There are some (myself included) who think that an ebook should cost less than a print book because the costs of production and distribution are so much less. But there are also a lot of people who are willing to pay more for digital due to the convenience, portability, immediacy, etc.

You have to give consideration to your market and determine which group they fall into. I think a lot of that depends on the genre.

Merrill Heath
Bearing False Witness

Rebecca Burke said...

After I read Selena's post, I hurried over to Amazon and Smashwords to raise the price of my latest YA novel, The Ahimsa Club, to 2.99 (from .99). But now I've read two days' worth of comments and am wondering if that was the right move. Good arguments on all sides. I did feel like I was undervaluing my efforts by practically giving it away, but then I've never expected to make much money writing socially-conscious YA novels. But 99 cents for years' of work and research into the animal rights movement not to mention dealing w/ the heartbreak of a publishing offer being rescinded... $2.99 might not sell any better, but at least it makes me feel better about my precious book. (Of COURSE if I thought I could interest thousands of readers in buying it at 99 cents that would be great...but it seems unlikely, given its theme and the fact it is for YA readers).

Love how this blog wrestles with these questions, so we writers don't have to do it alone.

Mark Asher said...

You know, I remember readers complaining about book prices before, about how expensive paperbacks were getting, etc. They claimed the publishers were being greedy.

I wonder how those people will feel about $3 short stories? This could be a good way to sour some fans. Have you guys considered that?

Neville Carson said...

When I was in business school (back when the Emperor's face was on all the coinage) they taught us that the price of the product plays an important role in consumers' perception of its quality. I think Selena is on the right track. Now that the Kindle market is maturing, the merchandise is beginning to be evaluated along the same lines as any other, so the mentality of "you get what you pay for" could have an increasing role in buyer decision.

Adam Pepper said...

Neville,

That sounds great in business school, but does it translate to the real world? If I put a book in front of you by an author you arent familiar with, same blurb, same cover art, same everything. The only difference is one is priced at 99 cents, the other 3.99, which are you more likely to purchase? What about if they arent the same exact book, but they are similar in genre and packaging and you otherwise know nothing about either author other than they are both self published? Are you really going to believe the 3.99 one is better quality?

I say this as someone who would love to move my book back up in price but I'm selling more a day at 99 cents than I was in 2 weeks at 2.99 so it's hard to convince myself that it's a good move.

Edward M. Grant said...

That sounds great in business school, but does it translate to the real world?

I worked in consumer electronics for a few years. I remember one of our marketing people saying one day that they'd increased the price of one of our products and sales went up; they figured that someone going into the store looking to buy the most popular competitor's device for around $250 wasn't even looking at ours when it was $150 but bought it when it was $200 with similar or better features.

I know I'm more likely to buy a book at $2.99 than $0.99 because I don't intentionally look at $0.99 books, though I'm always happy when I find a $0.99 book that I like.

Adam Pepper said...

Edward,

How are you intentionally looking at 2.99 books but not intentionally looking at 99 cent books? I dont get it. Unless you already know what you're looking for, rather than random browsing.

Understand, I'm not trying to make a case for 99 cent books, I'm trying to make the case against it, but I'm not seeing it in real world terms. Particularly when I'm not counting on the income to pay my bills and any money I'm leaving on the table is pennies not dollars. The added visability and exposure is awfully enticing.

James English said...

>they taught us that
>the price of the
>product plays an
>important role in
>consumers' perception
>of its quality

It will be interesting to see if that holds true when it comes to ebooks.

Many traditional newspapers and magazines have tried over the years to charge for online content. It hasn't worked out for any of them. People just aren't willing to pay to read things on a website, for the most part, particularly when there are so many free alternatives.

Since Kindles and other ereaders are portable devices, they may fare better in the long run. It will be interesting to see if the public responds to them in the same way they do physical goods, though.

Embrack said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Selena Kitt said...

How are you intentionally looking at 2.99 books but not intentionally looking at 99 cent books? I dont get it. Unless you already know what you're looking for, rather than random browsing.

Probably because when you're buying $0.99 books, your also-boughts are $0.99 books. Same with free. And when you're buying $2.99 books, your also-boughts are usually $2.99 + books.

And, too, there are people who scour Amazon for free and $0.99 books. They're advertised on all sorts of blogs, etc. Bargain hunters hunt. And stockpile. But they don't always read.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

During the three month period of April, May and June (2011) I sold 37,000 copies of six of my Kindle books at the $0.99 price. How many fans did that get me? Probably a few, but not very many. My guess is that the overwhelming majority of those books were never even read.

Sure, it's great to sell a ton of books, and those funds did contribute to the down payment on a house, but as a long-term strategy, I'm not sure the $0.99 pricing is a good one---particularly on novels or novellas. Maybe for short stories.

I think known authors like Selena and Blake can be successful selling short stories for $2.99. But it probably won't work for us lesser knowns.

I'm very happy to see authors like Joe and Selena and Blake raising novels prices above the old $2.99 standard set by Joe, since it makes me fell comfortable pricing my novellas and short novels at $2.99. Thanks, guys. ;)

Heather Wardell said...

My seven novels are each $0.99. I have no intentions of changing that any time soon. Why? Because last month I sold 8000 books and it was by far not my best month this year.

I am still very early in my "published author" career and at this point I am far more interested in having as many readers as I can than in making as much money as I can. Will I change that attitude someday? Possibly, but for now I am thrilled to have so many people picking up my books, and the steady stream of emails I get from readers means that at least some are actually reading the books they've bought.

Do some people refuse to buy $0.99 books because "if they were worth more the author would charge more"? Sure. But I'm willing to lose those folks for the sake of the large group of others who buy one of my books (or pick up my freebie) then buy all the others and sign up for my mailing list.

(And for the record, I have no publishing history before starting to self-publish and I've sold over 60,000 books this year at $0.99 and lots more of my free book, so for those who say only people who were previously published can succeed at self-publishing, not so.)

Robert Burton Robinson said...

@Heather Wardell said: My seven novels are each $0.99. I have no intentions of changing that any time soon. Why? Because last month I sold 8000 books and it was by far not my best month this year.

Congratulations, Heather, that's amazing! I hope you continue to see sales like that. Great titles and covers, by the way.

All I'm saying is that if and when your sales numbers begin to fall, you may see things differently. I thought I would never change my prices from $0.99 when I sold nearly 20,000 books in one month and received a royalty check of $6,883.

But then for whatever reason (probably because of Amazon's Sunshine Sales promo) the sales of my top-ranked book, Sweet Ginger Poison, which was #46 on the main Kindle bestseller list, began to fall.

So I think $0.99 can be a great pricing strategy, depending on your situation. But not always.

Xander Morus said...

Hello,

i am from germany and a have published a few short stories for 1,50 Euro. One became a real hit and sold 155 copies in a month. Then i got a bad review concerning the prize. It killed my sales.

i think readers are not willing to pay more than 99 for a shorty. That is a shame considering the fact that we sell novels for 2,99. One could assume that readers would appreciate that, but... you know... they don`t think that way

now assuming i would sell a shorty for 2,99 (which i had plans for), at first you make more money that is true... but in the long run... someone will point out that it is only a "Short-Story" and than you look like a greedy bastard

so... it is a difficult decision... dont know how to solve it yet...

W. Dean said...

Merrill Heath:

“You have to give consideration to your market…”

Looking at how the market operates instead of how it’s supposed to operate or how one wishes it would is the key to success. No one can rely on paper to provide any more than a rough benchmark for digital. That’s why I’m interested in the results of Konrath’s experiments: it’s the only way to figure out what works.

“…depends on the genre.”

It seems like there’s a genre-quality confluence, much like there used to be with the pulps. Someone like John Locke has been successful at 99 cents. Judging by what he writes (relatively short, sexy thrillers) and what he says about it (i.e., that he churns out short, sexy thrillers every seven weeks), I don’t think the model would work at a higher price point. That’s not a knock against him (he’s got an audience, after all). But I think it says a lot about what you can expect from the 99 cent audience.

Mark Asher:

“This could be a good way to sour some fans.”

Suppose you gave away your work to get noticed; then, once noticed, you starting selling it. Now suppose a fan comes up to you and complains: “Hey man, why’d you start charging for your stuff? It really turned me off.”

What would you say? “Sorry! Let me making it up to you by sending everything I write to you by e-mail. That way you’ll also be able to give it away to your friends.” Or would you just shrug and move on?

The same goes for changing prices. People will pay the price if it’s worth it for them or they won’t—that’s it.

Adam Pepper,

You’re looking at price points from a logical standpoint instead of at their practical and psychological role for consumers. People use price to judge quality all the time. That doesn’t mean good quality always tracks with price; it means that comparable quality generally goes with comparable price.

The point being made by Neville and Edward (and others) is that consumers may have begun to associate 99 cents with low-quality books. That doesn’t mean 99 cent books are actually bad or that some (like Locke) can’t find an audience at that price point. But the psychology of price points does entail that you may be turning off potential fans if they associate 99 cents with low-quality.

Blake Crouch said...

"My seven novels are each $0.99. I have no intentions of changing that any time soon. Why? Because last month I sold 8000 books and it was by far not my best month this year."

Why would you not even raise the price on at least one of them to see what happens? You are leaving a frightening amount of money on the table.

Annie Bellet said...

There is also zero way to tell if Locke wouldn't have found his audience at 2.99 or 3.99 either. We only have .99 data from him so far as I know. It could be that he left a ton of cash on the table by choosing .99 for all his books.

I do know what in the last 6 days I've sold 140 copies of my 5.99 thriller. I would have had to have sold about 1660 copies at .99 to make the same money. Maybe that would mean I'd have 1660 new readers (if it sold that well, which is no guarantee), but I'm guessing that someone who pays 5.99 for a book is much more likely to read the book than someone who pays less than a dollar.

Snooki Spunk said...

Thanks Selena for the great discussion about pricing shorts! I also ran into the same dilemma when pricing my novelette Hair Pie Surprise. I know, I know--with a title like that, how could I expect to sell a single copy? Just hear me out first.

For starters, Hair Pie Surprise is more of a zany comedy than erotica, though it does have its moments. The emphasis is on wild, raunchy humor, and above all else, FUN, which seems to be missing in a lot of modern works.

So how did I arrive at pricing my naughty little e-book $2.99?

First, I targeted that price point from the outset. Personally I did not feel that it would be fair to charge readers $2.99 for anything less than 10,000 words. After the editing process, the length of my initial draft doubled from 5,200 to 10,500+ words. Mission accomplished.

Next, I few in a few extras: a crazy interview involving fictitious characters with my trademark sense of humor and a piece of flash fiction (a little over 600 words) written exclusively for the book. I pulled out all the stops: added additional imagery, slipped in some wild quotes and poetry, inserted a couple chapters for my forthcoming novel The Crusty Englishman, added an author's note--I even made the copyright notice memorable. And I did not slack off in terms of editing, hammering away at it until I could not find any more errors, and the prose flowed smoothly. All of this was done for the express purpose of delivering as much value as possible, and I sincerely hope readers aren't disappointed in the least.

Do I feel bad about charging $2.99 when others are charging .99 for a novel? Heck no. The e-book delivers, and deep down inside I know I went the extra mile.

Is it for everyone? Certainly not. But my target audience will devour it, and that's who I'm doing writing it for anyways. Also, by making $2.99 on each sale I can support myself when sales improve; at .99, I'm not so sure.

But I do think that the whole thing comes back to perceived value. Does your e-book deliver on the promise of the cover? This is the most important question. If it does, charge what it's worth (though I do think it's a stretch to price short stories above $2.99). You can fiddle around with the pricing later; first, give yourself a shot.

I also agree with Selena that people who purchase erotica are willing to pay more. So what the heck? $2.99 it is! As J.A. Konrath has said a number of times, if you only have one or two titles out there, put your energy into writing more books rather than marketing. Once you finally connect with your readership, you're going to need to have something to sell them. One or two books just isn't enough. Remember, "Your writing is your best advertisement for your books." (also a Konrath quote)

So write as much high quality content as you can, and instead of aiming low (i.e, shooting for .99 bargain bin), target higher ground every time, and if your work does go on sale for slightly less, readers will know that they're getting a lot more (right back at you, Selena ;) bang for their buck.

Snooki Spunk

DVshooter said...

Snooki

I think the general consensus from this exceptional thread is that individual writers need to experiment within their own niche genre's and with their own readership.

I (and many others!) have no problem paying 5.99 for Barry's latest as his reputation and quality have been very well established. Other indies..not quite so much.

Side note; checked out your blog and your work looks absolutely revolting. I can't wait to read it.

Selena Kitt said...

Suppose you gave away your work to get noticed; then, once noticed, you starting selling it. Now suppose a fan comes up to you and complains: “Hey man, why’d you start charging for your stuff? It really turned me off.”

This actually happened to me when I started publishing and pulling my work from Lit. People wrote and whined about no longer getting it for free. Those people who really appreciated my work followed me and bought my new stuff. People who just wanted something for nothing took their bat and ball and went home. And probably later pirated my work just out of spite. *shrug*

Karma goes around... it comes around... You can't sweat the small stuff!

Toni Dwiggins said...

"You can't sweat the small stuff!"

Good motto for Indie-land. I'm putting it on a Post-it and sticking it to my forehead.

Snooki Spunk said...

If everyone targeted higher value from the outset ($2.99 vs. .99), we'd see an immediate improvement in quality across the board. It's easy to tell oneself, "Oh, it's only a 99-cent e-book," and just throw it out there.

Every e-book must challenge the author in a meaningful way. Figuring out the price point ahead of time determines the level of quality they wish to obtain.

Snooki Spunk

Kindle Reader said...

Anybody knows the result? I am curious to know the outcome of this experiment.

Kindle Fire | Kindle Store

Charlie said...

Excellent post and informative arguments. Will be anxious to see how your second experiment goes. As a reader, I admit the .99 is attractive, but I'm hesitant because I wonder if it's a quality book. I wouldn't be opposed to spend a little more (but not over $5) for an author who believes in his/her work. And if it's a series, all the better...I know the quality of writing I'm in store for and eager for more.
Thanks for sharing.
C.K. Volnek

Mark Asher said...

So Selena, Blake, are you willing to tell us how many copies you've sold to date of the story? Are you planning on doing another short story at $2.99?

Everett Peacock said...

Legacy publishers and PRICING:

If you see a book priced above $9.99 (such as the Steve Jobs biography for $16.99) you might be interested to know....the publisher is making LESS profit than they would by selling it at $9.99. Due to the way Amazon adjusts the royalties down on books above $9.99 (from 70% to 35%) a publisher would have to sell a book at $18.99 to match the same profit they would get at $9.99.

In the case of the Steve Jobs book, Simon and Schuster are forgoing profit for themselves AND the writer to inflate the perceived value of their books. Strange.

Mark Asher said...

Everett, we have no idea of the terms of the agreement between Amazon and the NY publishers. You can't assume the KDP terms are being used.

W. Dean said...

Selena,

That’s hilarious. The same person would never dare ask you to snake the fat turd plugging his toilet for free; but he has no qualms demanding that you write him stories in return for quiet appreciation and all the fresh air you can breathe. It’s funny how people feel entitle to “content providers.”

Annie Bellet,

If you want to take a hard line, there’s no way to prove Locke wouldn’t have found an audience at $9.99 or $14.99 either, so it’s all just speculation. But we do have the fact [1] that he succeeded in targeting a 99 cent market, [2] the experiences of those here selling at 99 cents and [3] what we know about the role of prices in markets more generally. Put all three together and you come to the conclusion that 99 cents may be a price point only for those selling quick, sugary treats.

S Alini said...

Writers, readers, lurkers... great discussion. But I think it illuminates one simple thing: everyone has his/her own opinion of how things should be priced.

Therefore, the solution might be freedom. You should be free to price your product any way you wish. The consumer is free to choose to not buy if it's too expensive for them.

We are all free to choose. Yet we live in a world in which governments often dictate the price of things. They do so out of genuine desire to help the consumer. But they are dictating to business owners what their product should sell for.

How about freedom?

San
alinibooks.blogspot.com

DC Gallin said...

Great post! Thank you so much Selena!

I've never understood why Amazon doesn't give authors the 70% where they obviously need it most at $0.99. 50% would be fair! The basement bargain box must a veritable goldmine for them. $0.99 is great for Amazon and the bargain hunters, but not for us authors, who sometimes take years over one piece of writing.

I do think that pricing is an indication of quality, simply because a professionally edited book costs money to produce. If someone is willing to let go at 0.99, one would assume they can afford to, as it simply didn't cost that much to get it out there.

Having sold the first 2000 copies of my novel in person, I've noticed two things: People who paid the full price (£7.99) or bought it at a 'bohemian discount (£5.00) were the most eager to give reviews! (I received over 200 reviews on Facebook alone and it was a really interesting 'market research'.)

Whenever I gave it away, not much happened. Weird but true. A gift doesn't necessarily imply involvement or appreciation by its receiver! People like to exchange 'energy' . It's the right thing to do and readers who love books don't mind supporting an author.

When pricing our work, we need to assess how much of our time went into it: I worked five years on this novel and ideally I'd like to receive a fiver for it. I'll probably make it available for free when it comes out, so my readers who supported me all the way with their amazing feedback, can collect this new edition and tell their friends. Then I'll price it at 2.99 for the 'kids' to find me, but after that, I'll hope to be supported at 4.99 for digital, knowing that it will probably take me a couple of years to write the next one...
I haven't looked into the POD pricing yet.
Would love to hear about that as well. It may not be 'digital' but it is all in the same shop, just on another shelf.

Cheers everybody for sharing! This is a wicked community of likeminded lovers of the written word :)

Mark Asher said...

"I've never understood why Amazon doesn't give authors the 70% where they obviously need it most at $0.99. 50% would be fair!"

There's a CC processing fee Amazon has to pay for each transaction. While I'm sure Amazon has negotiated the best rate they could, I've heard CC fees can be as much $0.25 or more.

So you have the cost of general overhead and the CC fee before you see any profit. If someone buys just a single $0.99 book there may not be much profit in it for Amazon at anything less than Amazon keeping $0.65 of the sale.

Judith said...

Maybe some others who post here are already aware of this, but I just saw today that the Wall Street Journal -- apparently starting this weekend -- is going to start including ebook sales in their bestseller rankings:

http://mashable.com/2011/10/28/wall-street-journal-ebook-bestseller-lists/

Frank Rust said...

Thank you
htttp://kindle2000.com

Greg Martin said...

Could you perhaps Please respond to me on how to post 99 cent stories online? iBooks, etc. I would be IMMENSELY grateful. You'd make my dream. I cannot figure out how to post them up there, google or amazon, any platform. I would love to right away. My stories are online, I'm going to pull them down once I figure out how to sell online! GregSanDiego dot com is where they are. Please please help. If you or anyone were bored and decided to check them out it would be an HONOzr to have feedback from an intelligent person such as yourself and your readers. Your advice wold be incredible! Gregmedicalsales AT gmail. GregMedicalSales at gmail dot com. THANK YOU!!! I am 30 and it's my dream to publish my true, sadly very true, short stories. Honestly thank you so very much...

Thom said...

I think it's a fascinating argument (how much should an ebook cost?), largely because I'm not an author, I'm a Kindle owner and I buy a significant amount of books for my Kindle. I for one am perfectly willing to pay $3, $4, or even $7.99 for a book that I know is well-written because I trust the author (not the amateur reviews, so much). But most important to me is the contract I'm making with the author/publisher-- if it's $4, $8, or any amount more than that, there will have been a meaningful amount of editing time spent on the book. I am so tired of just plain technically bad publishing, with typos, wrong cases, unchecked and wrong quotes, and so much sophomoric crap making its way to my Kindle screen. To my view, the money above $0.99 pays (in part) for the editing.