My Self-Publishing Journey: The Pricing Debate Continues

I stumbled across a guest post: Why Your Novel is a Tall, 6-Pump Vanilla, Breve Latte Grande, Extra Hot, Heavy Whipping Cream, Extra Dry Cappuccino (Or It Should Be) by Elle Lothlorien on Joe Konrath’s blog.

I’ve written a little about pricing digital books before on this blog, and mentioned Dean Wesley Smith’s take on the 99 cent price point. Based on conversations with Mike Stackpole, and comments I’ve read by Robin Sullivan, I made the decision to price my books in the $3.99 to $4.99 range. I’ve long believed that you teach people how to treat you and that applies to teaching them what your work is worth, too. I’d forgotten that in economics that principle is called “imputed value.” (Thanks for reminding me, Elle.)

The comments on Elle’s post are worth reading, too. There’s some difference of experience and opinion there on what works and why.  Michael Kingswood suggests this pricing strategy:

I think a reasonable pricing structure is as follows. Short stories $.99. Novelettes $1.99. Novellas $2.99. Short novels (< 75k) $3.99. Novels (75k – 100k) $4.99. >100k $5.99.

In case you’re wondering about the difference between a novelette and a novella, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America use the following definitions for its Nebula Awards: short story–up to 7500 words, novelette–7,500-17,500 words,  novella–17,500-40,000 words, novel–varies depending on genre but usually a minimum of 40,000 words.

By that measure, LIGHTBRINGER is priced just right at $3.99. (The Wild Rose Press, however, values VEILED MIRROR at $6.50, so is $3.99 too low?) In a few weeks I’ll be bringing out a 11,000 word erotic fairy tale called “With Heart to Hear.” I’d planned to price it at .99, but now I’m rethinking that and considering listing it at $1.99.

I take away several points from this post and the comments.

  • While a lot of authors are pricing their books very low, many readers avoid .99 books, believing them to be inferior, as prefer them. Maybe more.
  • Focusing on sales rank is not useful.
  • Within a certain range, creating imputed value works. Based on Elle’s experience, I’m wondering if launching a book at a lower price, say $2.99 for an announced limited time, and then raising the price to $4.99 might not be a good strategy.
  • Higher per unit prices may reduce unit sales while increasing net income.

On the other hand, I just read “How Darcie Chan Became a Best-Selling Author” from last Friday’s Wall Street Journal. She used the 99 cent price as part of a larger strategy to boost sales of her book THE MILL RIVER RECLUSE.

‘She noticed that a lot of popular e-books were priced at 99 cents, and immediately dropped her price from $2.99 to 99 cents. The cut would slash potential royalties—Amazon pays 35% royalties for books that cost less than $2.99, compared with 70% for books that cost $2.99 to $9.99. But sales picked up immediately. “I did that to encourage people to give it a chance,” she says. “I saw it as an investment in my future as a writer.” The strategy worked. Several reviewers on Amazon said they bought the book because it was 99 cents, then ended up liking it.’

She also spent over $1600 on banner ads online and an expedited review from Kirkus, but her sales had perked up with just the price drop.

So what is your price strategy? I’d be interested in hearing from other indie authors about how they price their books and what effect that has had on sales and income.


Filed under Publishing

14 responses to “My Self-Publishing Journey: The Pricing Debate Continues

  1. Thanks for posting a summary of that discussion. I have been following the blog discussions of Konrath/Smith/Eisler and others in relation to eBook pricing strategies, and I note that they’re reporting that reader perception of e-pricing to be in flux, changing every few months, and also suggest that success may depend upon experimentation. That’s the phase I’m in — experimentation. My second release is a novelette, under the definitions you posted, which is longer than my first release, which was priced at $.99. If I bring it out at $1.99, I may well do periodic promotions for $.99, as well as including it in a $2.99 3-for set when my January release comes out. No idea how this will effect sales, but it will be interesting to see what results I get from pricing changes vs. advertising and reviews. With 4 million people getting Kindle’s this holiday season plus the new Nook users, it’s going to be a very good 2012 I’d wager, no matter what pricing strategy we use. 🙂

  2. Brinda Berry

    I think about pricing a lot. I have no control over the price of my current and upcoming release in my YA series. My publisher has priced my digital novel at $5.99. I want to think people will think it’s worth the comparable price of a paperback at the grocery store, but who knows. It’s hard to compete with a $.99 book.

    • I know what you mean, Brinda. VEILED MIRROR, published by a small press is priced at $6.50 like their other releases, while LIGHTBRINGER is $3.99. Will potential readers assume VM is better because it costs more? Or will they think it’s overpriced? I believe some readers feel more confident of getting a good read from a familiar publisher than from an indie-author and are willing to pay a higher price for that sense of security. However, once an author is established that caution (and the willingness to pay a premium) will diminish.

      What I read and hear in conversation with other indie authors is that publishing is the Wild West. There are no rules. You read about book sales going up when the price is raised, and about sales going up when the price is dropped. I wonder if readers aren’t just responding to the announcement of a change?

  3. Thanks for the information Frankie. It’s a difficult position for all Indie Authors. There is no ‘magic’ formula.

    Except to write a book readers will love. It’s just getting them to read them.

  4. Thanks for the great post, Frankie. I have no idea what my pricing strategy will be (April 14th release to coincide with 100th aniv of the sinking of Titanic) By then the market will be different, and we’ll all have to make those decisions. Still, it’s easy to change and experiment and watch the results. Meanwhile, writing the next book, of course.

    • Thanks, Bart. I take it you’re book has something to do with the Titanic? (I saw a traveling museum display about a year ago. It was fascinating. They handed out “tickets” with the names of passengers and crew on them at the entrance and at the exit they had a sign where you could see if you survived.)

      • Interesting, Frankie, because nobody really knows how many passengers there were. There were (at least) two passenger lists, and they didn’t match.

        My story is about a time traveling submarine that arrives just in time to save Titanic from hitting the iceberg. Then they discover the world they are in doesn’t quite match the history of our world. Because someone else got there first.

      • Fascinating! I didn’t know there were two passenger lists (or I forgot–same difference).

        I love a well written time-travel story. I’ll check it out.

  5. I didn’t realize that I had used what the SFWA did for sizes. I guess that stuck in my mind for years but that’s exactly how my pricing strategy came about…I am planning to do it strictly on word count…my first self-published work is under 10K. There is no way I would price it anywhere but $0.99 across the board. I don’t know how well that will work with Amazon as they want to always be the lowest. Part of what I plan to do is to make this book free when I release my next self-published book. When I get into my longer books, I plan to do a strategic markdown until it too will be free when the next bigger book is released. And who knows? Maybe it will work and maybe it won’t but it’s worth a shot!

    • I had planned to do that same strategic markdown until Mike Stackpole pointed out that will only teach my readers to wait for the lower price. So now what I’m thinking of doing is offering my books at a lower price for the first 90 days as an introductory offer and letting the world know that at the end of three months the price will be going up. Maybe that will spur early sales.

      Since I already released LIGHTBRINGER at it’s “real” price, I may lower the price for 90 days concurrent with the release of “With Heart to Hear.” Or I may drop the price of LIGHTBRINGER on Smashwords and wait for Amazon to discount it. People love to see that they’re getting a deal.

  6. Hi Frankie,

    Thanks for the mention. 🙂 You quoted my pricing thoughts already, so I won’t restate them except to add that discounts for first-of-series books and the occasional free giveaway seems to work fairly well for folks. But I’m not a fan of pricing really low just for the sake of pricing really low.

    That said, I’m a big newbie to this whole writing/publishing gig, so I freely admit I could be mistaken in my assessment. 🙂

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