Pricing Your Book to Sell

Posted: December 5, 2011 in Writing
Tags: , , , , , ,

This question is difficult.  What do I price my ebook at so that it will sell?  I’m sure some math whiz could reduce the answer to probabilities, statistics, and formulas…but, that’s not me, so I did what I do best.  Trial and error.  I was the first one to jump out of the plane.  I swam in shark-infested waters for you.  I was the damn penguin!  Enough of the pity party–here’s what I found.  (As an aside, the following is all about pricing of ebooks.  I think pricing of paperbacks is much more nebulous, and gets into word count which I don’t want to fret about in this post).

YOU NEED TO BE REALISTIC WITH YOUR PLACE IN THE UNIVERSE

Perhaps you’re about to release your first book, and you’re looking at authors selling copies of their ebooks for $7.99, $8.99, $9.99!  You put that price into your royalty calculator, and by God, you would earn a chunk of money  just by selling a thousand books.  You smile to yourself and say, “What’s so hard about this author gig?”  Wipe that smile away, mon frere.  If you price your book in that neighborhood, I GUAR-UN-TEE you’ll soon be looking at the bottom side of the 400,000’s in your sales rank.  You’re new, and even if you aren’t new, you probably aren’t well known enough to command those prices.  That gets me to our first rule:

ANY PRICE $3.99 AND ABOVE IS FOR WELL KNOWN AUTHORS

People simply are not going to pay more than $3.99 for an ebook from an unknown author.  Shoot, even people that know you may hesitate to pay that much.  Why?  The biggest reason is that your universe, the universe of the unknown author, the independent author, the grinder (and make no mistake about it, I’m in there too) is very, very big.  And, what’s it full of?  Many, many books by other, similarly situated authors, at prices well below $3.99.  Supply and demand, Watson.

I know what the protest may be.  “$3.99 is nothing!  It’s less than a drink at a bar!  It’s less than a hot dog at a baseball game!”  I know.  I agree.  It’s mildly ridiculous.  However, it’s reality, and that trumps.  To prove this reality, I toyed with the price of my book over the course of several weeks.  From $0.99 to $3.99.  Anything over that was so clearly a graveyard even I dared not tread that ground.  I used a nifty Google Adwords coupon, and drove traffic to my book’s Amazon site.  The result?  A significant drop off in sales when priced at $3.99.  Probably a magnitude of around 100-200% less sales.  Why?  I’m no psychiatrist, but in addition to the universe argument set forth above, I think people start comparing your book to what they can get for $3.99.  They can get that latte.  They can rent a movie, or two.  They can buy used books for cheaper.

Still, I wasn’t quite persuaded.  I thought, maybe I don’t have enough reviews.  Or, maybe my Amazon page wasn’t luring enough people in to buy the book.  So, I went and took a look at the Amazon Top 100 lists, in conjunction with some successful authors I have come across on Twitter.  Lo and behold, all of their books were priced at $2.99 or below.  The vast majority of them were priced at $0.99.  Leads us to the second rule:

JOHN LOCKE, YOU ARE MY FATHER

First, if you don’t know who John Locke is, Google is your friend (okay, one hint, add “author” to your search).  Second, that heading sounded like Darth Vader in my head–hope that puts it in perspective.  John Locke is the king of independent publishing.  John Locke sells all of his fiction for $0.99.  John Locke has one book with 469 reviews, which is flippin’ mind boggling.  He has reached a pinnacle of writing where his name is so well known that he could price his books higher, if he wanted to.  And, they would still sell.  Why hasn’t he?  No clue, but that’s irrelevant.  If John Locke prices his books at $0.99, where do you think you should price yours?

Depends on who you are, but definitely not higher than $3.99.  The answer also depends on what you want.  When my book was priced at $0.99, I had a month where I sold just about 150 copies.  All of a sudden, I had a moment of panic and said to myself, shit, what if 75 of those 150 don’t like it, and write bad reviews?  I wanted to turn the flow of water down a bit to see some of those reviews come through, and to continue to feel out the market for whether my book was well-received.  You may have other reasons to price your book above $0.99.  What if you have a $0.99 event coming up?  May want to keep that price at a normal list price until just before the event, so that the participants get a great deal.  This leads to my final rule:

BEING ABLE TO CONTROL PRICE IS A BENEFIT OF PUBLISHING INDEPENDENTLY

I thank the damn stars every day that I’m able to control the price of my book.  If, for instance, Enemy in Blue had been traditionally published, that would not have been the case.  And, the book would have been priced much, much too high for a first-time author.  I also wouldn’t have had enough control to throttle sales up or down.  From one control freak to another–relish fact that you can change price whenever you want.

A couple of miscellaneous notes on pricing.  First, it seems that Amazon has gotten much better at changing prices in a timely fashion, after you make the change in KDP.  In Smashwords, it is instantaneous, which is brilliant.  In Amazon, what used to take 24-48 hours now takes less than 12, and sometimes less than that.  I tried one other thing that didn’t seem to work, at least not yet.  I priced my Amazon book at $2.99, and priced my book on Smashwords at $1.99.  I wanted Amazon to match the lower price, thereby displaying a percentage off of my list price.  The thought process is that people like to see they are getting a deal.  After about 5 days, Amazon still has not matched the price, so this doesn’t seem to be a reliable method of lowering the price of your book.

The conclusion?  Remember what universe you reside in, don’t price more than $3.99, and if you really want to expand your readership, $0.99 is your key.

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Comments
  1. Great advice. The major investment of a reader is not the pennies, but their time.

    • Derek Blass says:

      Definitely true! Thanks for the comments 🙂

      • Ann Mullen says:

        I agree with your concept. I did quite a bit a bit of research before I priced my books for Kindle and NOOK. As an Independent publisher of 7 HC books, I did the same thing when I started out nine years ago. Pricing is very important to your sales. Believe it or not, people judge a book by how much it costs before they even consider a purchase… unless they just have to have it. Good advice. Very helpfull. Ann Mullen/Twitter/ @stanardsville. Facebook/annmullen_stanardsville Thanks!

  2. I’ve had the exact opposite happen with pricing. I raised the price on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords. Result- All three raised the price within 24 hrs, but Amazon discounted back down because Smashwords doesn’t immediately change the price on Ibookstore, Kobo, or Diesel. Sent mail to Smashwords and still no word a week later.

  3. […] of State of Grace and whose Enemy is Blue is worth your time to read) retweeted today a blog he wrote back in December regarding eBook pricing for indie authors. It got me thinking again about the issue of pricing for […]

  4. John Betcher says:

    I understand your pricing rationale, Derek, and can see how it makes sense. And thanks for this post. For whatever reason, I have sold over 8,000 copies of my four books so far in 2012 at $6.99. I’m pleased with the results and am reluctant to change my “price branding.” Any thoughts?

    Thanks,

    John

    • Derek Blass says:

      Hi John. So, I watched your books, particularly when A Higher Court shot up in the ranks. I presume that the bulk of your books sold followed you going free through KDPS, and a healthy chunk of those being with A Higher Court? Obviously, right now you have readers that are willing to pay $6.99 for your books. That’s great! I also think that flows from the fact that you had some or all of your series covers changed? In any event, I am becoming more of a firm believer in keeping a book (ideally the first book in a series) free in order to maintain exposure. Look at what Rebecca Forster does with her legal thriller series. Her first book is ALWAYS free, and the rest sell like hotcakes.

      • John Betcher says:

        Hi again, Derek,

        A Higher Court accounted for about 30% of sales. The rest were divided among my three thrillers. And you’re definitely correct that the new book covers were a necessity . . .though I don’t think they drove the sales as much as kept the old covers from holding sales back.

        Maybe it’s time for a new series. You’re the second person to suggest that to me today.

        Thanks again for your thoughts, Derek.

        All the best, John

  5. That pricing question. I don’t think there is a “right” price. Price is something under your control that you can move to alter your sales. I believe there are “buyers” at different prices so you either need to pick a price to maximize your sales/profit balance, or move your price around if you want to pick up buyers at different price strata. Or move your price to give your sales a kick in the pants if they’ve stalled out. If something doesn’t work, change it.

  6. Great post, Derek. I keep Enchantment priced at $.99 and it’s sequel, Taken at $2.99 (the lowest price allowed to get Amazon’s 70% royalty rate). Enchantment outsells Taken by about two to one, but Taken produces more income. Both books are enrolled in KDP Select and that generates additional income.

    • Derek Blass says:

      Hey Charlotte! Glad to see your books are doing so well. You deserve it. I agree that an initial or intro book needs to be priced at $0.99. We are largely UNKNOWN. How do we expect to command higher prices in that state? It makes no sense. So, that’s why we build awareness, and in doing so, we should be able to increase price.

  7. agstorm says:

    Hi Derek,
    That was a great read with a lot of truth. I also bought John’s book on publishing; it was good advice. And I agree that charging too much is never a good thing.

  8. Hi Derek,
    You make a lot of sense in this post. Have to agree. Even some famous authors may be pricing themselves out of sales (or their publishing companies are). We buy books by indie authors a lot, not exclusively, but almost. And pricing is a big part of it. We keep our own book prices low for many of the reasons you mention and so far, it’s been positive for our sales.

  9. Candy Korman says:

    You’ve nailed it. Keep the price comparable to a cup of coffee — or a cappuccino — and indie writers have a chance.

    • John Betcher says:

      One way to ensure that your book will be valued similarly to a cup of coffee is to price it like a cup of coffee. Personally, I advocate pricing full-length, commercial fiction closer to the Big 6 norms. Just my opinion, of course.

      • I have to agree with you, John. If I pay 99 cents for a book, I’m not expecting quality (unless it is a promotional temporary price.) I’ll offer short stories for free to attract readers. And I always offer free excerpts of my novels so readers have an idea of what they are paying for. If a person can pay $3.99 for a latte, certainly a book that took a year to write, edit, copyright, create a cover for and publish is worth more than $3.99. The latte lasts fifteen minutes. A novel lasts a lifetime.

      • Derek Blass says:

        Cheryl, I agree with you from a purely logical standpoint. However, many purchases are emotional decisions, not logical. And, you are comparing apples to oranges. Specifically, people are willing to pay $3.99 for a STARBUCKS latte–and they do so in volume. A much, much smaller percentage of people pay $3.99 for a latte at a coffee shop they don’t know. The smaller, unknown coffee shops charge $3.99 too, but they do much smaller volume. And then, continuing the analogy, what do you do about McDonald’s? They have pretty decent coffee for $0.99.

        Turning to books, if you are Starbucks (i.e. Grisham, Clancy, King, Sparks) then you can and should charge a higher price for your books. But, if you are the small coffee shop, how can you do that and expect to sell coffee (books)? Further, coffee shops (depending on where you are, naturally) are not typically over-saturated. Imagine a city where every block, out of ten potential business locations, has eight coffee shops. What do you think is going to happen to the price of coffee in that city? Same thing with books. There are MILLIONS of books on one block (i.e. Amazon). If I can pay $3.99 for a book by an author I have never heard of, or $7.99 for a book by a well-known and generally respected author, what do you think I’ll do? And, don’t romanticize the issue by saying, “Oh, I’d like to think people will try out the author they don’t know.” Sure, some will. But, we aren’t hoping that a subset of a subset of people buy our book(s). We are hoping to have legions of fans.

        Just my $0.02.

  10. Hello Derek,
    I totally agree. My Ebook’s £6+ and it pisses me off. I have no say over the matter. The price is decided by my publisher; he calls all the shots. Certainly don’t expect to sell many at that price! I’m a new writer and it’s my first novel. So, Yes, price your book to sell. £3 seems a fair price – and doesn’t come across as greedy.

  11. Amazon doesn’t price match with Smashwords, especially if the price is FREE. After two months with a half-dozen titles priced at FREE, Amazon haven’t priced match. A week after I set up a FREE ebook page on my personal and writing blogs, indicating that the ebooks were FREE on Smashwords but cost $0.99 USD on Amazon, Amazon price matched those ebooks to FREE.

    Maybe my blog readers sent in links for B&N and iTunes that show these Smashwords ebook were available for FREE? Hard to say.

    Since I’m publishing short lengths in both fiction and non-fiction, the FREE to $0.99 USD price zone is where I’m pricing my ebooks.

  12. A great article explained for pricing books thx!

  13. A well-written helpful article. Thank you so much! I’ve retweeted it. I started off with a price of $3.99 for my first romantic suspense. Getting great reviews and comments…from those who find it and read it! Soon, I think I’ll take your advice and at least go down to $2.99. Will be fun to see what happens.

  14. Excellent post. A $0.99 price point has been the ticket for my debut novel Twisted. I haven’t played with my pricing at all but today is the 30 day mark since my release and I am very satisfied with the result.

    After reading about your experimenting, I think I’ll stick with the $0.99 for my next two ebooks in The Twisted Trilogy. Thanks for sharing.

  15. Dany says:

    What about a guide or instructional type book?

    • Derek Blass says:

      Totally different and I’m not qualified in that area. Would suggest pulling up top 100 books and seeing what an average price is, then pricing below that to generate some sales.

  16. Thanks for sharing. Interesting post and information!

  17. I went with $2.99 for ebooks because anything less and your cut goes from 70% to 30%. I figure nowadays $2.99 is still an impulse buy. Also I let people download the first 14 chapters of my book for free on my website, so they aren’t buying a pig in a poke. I’ve heard people argue that if they only pay $.99 they are willing to take the chance that it’s bad, but that is what “look inside” is for. So is my approach better? Maybe, maybe not. There is no easy answer.

  18. Doug Burris says:

    As long as I’ve been buying John Loche books, they have been 2.99 and still are. You mentioned his fiction was 0.99. Was that earlier than a couple years ago?

  19. You’ve given me a headache again… 😉 Very good points. I’m wondering if you still hold to the .99 two years later. It seems like the mindset has shifted a bit upwards in price because of the quality issues with some .99 books. I go back and forth between .99 and 2.99 in my head – hence the headache.

  20. […] is another article on pricing from Derek Blass, a successful self-published author. He offers good points and […]

  21. tammyjpalmer says:

    Funny, earlier today I read a blog about an author who lowered his price to 99 cents and sales dropped significantly. His e-book sold much better at $2.99. I know a popular historical author who found that $4.99 worked for her books; at $3.99 sales dropped. Is the magic number a myth? Or is it different for every author and every book? And are the people who buy 99 cent books actually reading them or just stocking up their e-readers? If they don’t read them they won’t write reviews, or become fans and isn’t that what we want? It kind of makes my head spin thinking about it.

    • Derek Blass says:

      Hi Tammy. It’s certainly enough to make your head spin. I think $0.99 is a sweet spot for an unknown author to start pricing for a series or their first book(s). Unless you hit some sort of lottery, you are competing with hundreds of thousands of books, and people are more often than not compelled to take a chance on a book they don’t know when it’s priced aggressively and has good reviews. In the end though, just my $0.02. See, cheap advice 😉

  22. I’m seeing steady sales at $1.25 for my novels and £0.99 for my short story.

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