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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

If only ebook pricing were an intuitively obvious task...

I've been doing a little mid-month accounting. I'm on track to sell fewer books than I did last month, but I have already made more money, and there are still eight days left in March. I think I'll make significantly more money than I did in February. When it comes to keeping score, I'll go with money every time. This is a business, after all. If I wanted to give my work away, I'd post it here.

It's not a slam-dunk that I'll make this month's goal: to gross enough money through sales of my self-published e-books to pay my cell phone bill with its obscenely priced data plan, but it's very possible. So how did I accomplish this marked improvement? By very much.

That's not true. I've posted on message boards and offered some free books on sites frequented by readers. A friend is letting me run a banner ad on her site. All of these things were free. All of them might be expected to generate a few impulse buys, but not all that many.

I didn't place any ads. I offered no special prices this month. This last thing is significant, because lowering the price of my biggest seller, Wounded Earth, costs me big-time. Its regular price, $2.99, is the minimum price that qualifies me for Amazon's 70% royalty. Lowering it to $2.98 would drop me to a 35% royalty, decreasing my income per book by half. Lowering it to the price that popular wisdom says will attract attention, $0.99, decreases my income per book by a factor of six. This bargain price had better generate some serious sales, or it is very expensive for me. I tried it last month, and I can't say that the results were worthwhile.

People say that you have to drop the price and leave it there for a while to get results. I'm not saying that I won't try that at some point, but it will be part of a carefully considered plan, and it won't be soon. I want to try some other marketing strategies first, because I'm concerned that bargain-basement prices devalue my professional work. And I am a professional, with six books in print that people routinely pay more than $0.99 for the pleasure of reading. The improvement in my income this month, which occurred while maintaining my prices at a level that seems to be becoming established as a professional rate, encourages me to think that I can build a bigger following without slashing prices.

Yes, I know cutting prices can increase sales and improve that coveted Amazon ranking, driving yet more sales in that very desirable upward spiral. Therefore, I am not saying that I won't give it another try. My short-term plan, though, is centered around two things--buying ads and getting more reviews. I've been giving away review copies in selected venues. (See, I'm not against free books when there is a business-related reason for giving them away. I just don't want to devalue my work unnecessarily.)

I have also bought some ads, most of which will hit in April. I'm lucky enough to have several books already out there earning money, so that I can afford to do this. I've decided to take advantage of that opportunity. I saw marked results from ads purchased last month, but they hit while my price was at $0.99, so the income was low. I guess I'll see whether those ads will attract readers at a $2.99 price point. It's a gamble, but so is any business venture.

How will this all work out? I guess I'll find out soon enough.


  1. Coming from a commercial business background and hoping that some day I'll get my first book finished .. I think you are doing exactly the right thing, Mary.

    The whole price reduction thing needs to be read in 'relative' terms. Your titles are already priced lo, and you have an established name, albeit at a certain level. Imho 2.99 is an excellent price for someone with a track record.

    There is too much concentration on the pricing element of the many blogs/articles by people who have succeeded hugely with price drops and 99c titles. There is too little attention paid to where in the pantheon of authors they sit.

    In the medium and long term I have no doubt, and would submit, that the price range will be 99c to about 6.99 for the vast majority of titles, other than the crazy prices of some big publishers.

    The top end will be very well known big sellers. In the middle (4.99) with be authors well established in genre writing. At the lower level of 1.99 to 2.99 will be writers with small but established readerships. At the bottom will be relatively new writers establishing themselves and looking to build reputations and readerships; also specials and promotions.

    In among that range of course individual authors will chose to go lower or higher depending on their personal strategies and personal values.

    My two cents

  2. I think you're right, Howard. And when those prices settle out, they'll serve as a de facto method for readers to sort out what kind of book they want to buy. Maybe they're in the mood to take a risk on somebody getting started. Maybe they'd rather go with someone they've never heard of, but who has a track record in their field, and they're willing to pay a little extra. And maybe they're willing to pay a lot extra for a big name and a known quantity. That's not a bad business model.

    Right now, there's a pricing free-for-all, which is fine for a fast-developing market, but I think it will eventually settle out.

    I'd add to your observations that the eventual pricing structure will necessarily take into account the involvement or non-involvement of publishing companies. My Poisoned Pen Press books are priced at $6.95, which allows a reasonable profit for me and for them, without coming near to the outrageous prices that some publisher are asking. I think there are people who will be willing to pay that for Poisoned Pen's books, because they are known for their good taste and quality editing.

    As with everything in this business, the facts as I understand them, and therefore my opinions, may be different tomorrow...

  3. Mary,

    What I was looking for last night was an introductory price on the first book in your mystery(?) series, and I can now see why I didn't find it.

    I ended up buying your new $2.95 ebook, and so far, so good.

    However, it's almost certain not to be as effective a sales tool for the rest of the mystery series as the first book would have been.

    Thanks, Don

  4. Glad you're enjoying WOUNDED EARTH, Don. I'm not quite following your first sentence--were you saying that you couldn't find a price for ARTIFACTS? Or that you were hoping for a low introductory price on it? Because the publisher sets the prices on the mystery series, so I can't manage that. I wish I could, and it's not out of the question that they might offer one at some point. Rest assured, if that happens, I shall announce it here. And on FaceBook. And in my e-newsletter...