Thursday, November 3, 2011

The $0.99 Book Price -- Is it Making or Breaking You?

Hi everyone,

I hear that this is a "hot topic" these days as the publishing world is being turned on its ear by self-published authors that grew tired of waiting for the ultimate "yes" letter. I don't blame you and for those of you still waiting for your letter...STOP.

Self-publishing is easy and fairly inexpensive so why wait to get your work out to the masses? There may be a couple of reasons such as a) deciding on where you want to market your work b) deciding on the cover art and c) probably the most important decision you will need to make ---- what will you price your book at?

I know from speaking with a friend of mine, that is an author and has a book available on Amazon for $0.99, that there are definitely two ways of looking at book pricing. This author is in favor of the pricing whereas I'm somewhat opposed to it. So, I thought I would do an entry on this subject and see what the masses think :-)

IN FAVOR OF THE $0.99 BOOK PRICE:

  • Affordable -- less than a cup of coffee
  • It may make someone who doesn't know you or your writing more likely to give your book a chance
  • It may lead to mass sales due to lower price as opposed to fewer sales at a higher price

OPPOSED TO THE $0.99 BOOK PRICE:

  • May be viewed as "garbage reading" the kind of reading that you find in the bargain bin at the bookstore
  • You are branding yourself, as well as your work and you are a professional author -- when is the last time you seen a book by James Patterson for $0.99?
  • A slightly higher price will make up for the possibility that the masses won't buy if your book is priced above $0.99

I KNOW there are many more points of view on this subject (based on what I've been reading) both for and against this pricing model -- PLEASE LEAVE A COMMENT and let me know why you are "for" or "against" and why :-) 

Oh, and please, please don't think that I'm judging because I'm not. Just a hot topic that provides food for fodder.

(BTW, when did they get rid of the cents symbol?)

Have a great day everyone!

Becky

28 comments:

Rick G said...

I'm neither for nor against it. I think it's up to each author to find the sweet spot that works for them. Personally I favor $2.99 for my novels. For the moment I reserve $1.99 and $.99 for novellas and sales.

I also see no issue with price pulsing, aka testing out different prices to motivate sales a bit.

The only concern I have over the $.99 price point is that it causes a trend towards rushing to the bottom if enough authors do it permanently. However, I'm not too worried about that right now as there already seems to be some backlash against it in the perception that a $.99 book has a greater chance to be crap. It's a false notion (any book at any price can be good or crap) but one that seems to be setting in from what I've seen on twitter and kindleboards.

Lisa Vaughn said...

As a newbie on the scene, I am almost forced to do the $.99 deal...at least for awhile. I'm not thrilled about it, but I'd rather take a hit in the pocket and get my work read, than have all my efforts just sit 'on the shelf' - after all, in my case at least, I didn't write my memoir to become rich, I wrote it to spread a message.
Lisa Vaughn ~ The Gifted Ones
Thx for the topic btw!

Frank Edwards, MD said...

Looking at it from a reader's perspective, would I buy a story for ninety-nine cents and enjoy it? Sure. How many of us have scoured the dollar rack at old book stores looking for treasures? So, if the 99 cent Kindle edition turned out to be a wonderful read, I'd feel doubly blessed, and keep an eye out for more by that writer. On the other hand, if the story was ill conceived or the writing lousy, I'd erase it without feeling terribly cheated. I just wouldn't go back to that writer again. So, I have sympathy for a beginning self-published writer setting the price for his or her early work at the ninety-nine cent point while they develop their craft and build a fan base. But as more and more writers sell their books at this near-give-away level, it's no longer an attention grabber in and of itself and readers may ultimately begin shying away from the gamble.

Jeff Bennington said...

I think the 99¢ ebook has been a homerun for newer, unknown authors. They shouldn't price their books for the same price as Patterson anyway because he can command those prices.

I think pride can keep many indie authors from actually selling because they do not feel that they should stoop so low as to sell their work for less than a buck. I've seen too many $4.99 indie ebooks ranked in the 6 digits and it's sad, because they could actually start selling at 99¢ and grow that "Platform" they were told was so vital to growing their writing career.

Here's a tip for a first time indie author: Set your kindle book's price at $2.99 and then set it at 99¢ at smashwords or B&N. Then tell amazon about the lower price (tab below product details on book page).

I've been selling hundreds at 99¢ and taking in a 70% royalty. Makes more sense that way, and I'm still growing my audience.

Overall, 99¢ is a great way for newbies to break in, or the first in a series, or for a "leader" book. After that, go $1.99 -$2.99. That's what I think.

Jeff Bennington
Author of REUNION & other thrillers
Maker of The Kindle Book Review <~Free publicity

Claude Bouchard said...

I have six novels out there, five of which are part of a series. All were priced at $2.99 for a while with ok, though not stellar, sales. A few months ago, I decided to reduce "Vigilante", the first of my series, to $0.99 to stimulate sales and have no regrets. To make up the 70% royalty I was earning at a $2.99 price point, I now needed to sell six copies versus the previous one copy. My sales on "Vigilante" increased tenfold. I've since dropped the price of "The Consultant" to $0.99 with similar results. In my experience to date, once people have read the first two, many are willing to fork out the $2.99 required for the other four.

Written Words said...

Jeff Bennington has given a very good strategy. I may try that.

I don't think that $1.99 is a barrier for a reader; speaking as a reader, the barriers are the amount of time it takes to read a book, and the overwhelming amount of choice.

I agree that it may be a good strategy to price shorter works at 99 cents, then as your reputation and audience grow, you can ask for a higher price.

But remember: you're very unlikely to make much money as an independent author.

Douglas Dorow said...

You need to think of pricing in terms of your overall marketing and sales strategy. One thing you have in e-publishing is the flexibility to change the price.

As has been stated by other, $0.99 may be a great place to start to get initial sales with those readers looking for cheap reads or as a price to introduce a series.

But you need to realize that there are also readers who use price as an indicator of quality. They are the ones who won't buy a book below $4.99.

Play with the price and see how it drives your sales. Personally, I launched at $0.99, moved up to $2.99 with thoughts of bringing it higher after lowering it for holiday sales to coincide with new readers with new devices looking to buy new books.

I would say don't think of your own value in the price of a single book, but in how much you make over a period of time with that book. It's value to you isn't the price, but rather the sales.

Becky Illson-Skinner said...

Wow! This is great! I appreciate all the views expressed here and everyone is bringing up some very valid points both in favor and in opposition of the $0.99 book price.

I look forward to more opinions throughout the day!

Becky

Michelle Hughes said...

Personally I think it's a choice each author will have to make for themselves. Am I lowering my ebook to $.99 price? No, at least not at this time. When my second book in the Tears of Crimson series debuts in June I may consider offering them at that price.

Anonymous said...

I've read a lot of samples on Smashwords and they are usually uploaded un-edited and have poor spelling and punctuation, the same goes for the free e-books. I shan't be buying any of the free or 99 cent books anytime soon.

I'd like to say as well if the more expensive e-books don't have a sample available then I don't buy then either, I've noticed a trend towards some very odd review practises on Amazon just recently.

rileymagnus said...

I'm not a fan of the $0.99 price simply because it doesn't fit the basics of good marketing. It's all about PERCEIVED VALUE.

Self-published authors have sent money on formatting and having the book edited. They've spent time and talent writing the book. Now they're spending their ego's trying to marketed the book. To price their talent so low tells the public they don't quite believe it's good enough. That may be far, FAR from the truth, but we're talking about the public's PERCEIVED VALUE.

Basically most ebooks are cheaper than a Starbuck's venti latte, so pricing lowest isn't always the best route to take. Between $2.99 and $4.99 makes the statement that the book is as valuable any others out there.

Besides, should you choose to do a promotional blitz and lower the price for an exciting short period, at $0.99 you have nowhere to go.

Emerald Barnes said...

As an author with a $.99 e-book, I think I've sold more at it valued for $.99. But that is solely because it's a novella. I think the shorter the e-book the cheaper it should be.

Also, as a promotion, which my novella currently is in with the www.womensliterarycafe.com, 99cents is a great price!

As with everything else in the publishing world, there are pros and cons. I think it's up to you to decide what works best for you. And as a new author, sometimes a cheaper price works well.

It's all about perspective. :)

Great topic!

Kate Burns said...

It does seem like most of us are undergoing a seismic shift in the way we see the value of a book. I do think that the old ways of doing (book) business still have their mark burned firmly on authors and the buying public. (I still get people asking if I am putting out a hardcover... hardcovers are still perceived as 'high end', reserved for 'literary' writers and biographers of Very Important Celebrities.)

Now add a perception that self-published ebooks are vetted to lower standards, if at all, or that their authors have somehow failed to crack the Big Six and this route is a consolation prize for them, and you have a perfect storm of controversy over the new pricing models.

I heard something that really resonated with me. An author (I cannot remember who, sorry…) was talking about turning books into impulse buy items. That point of view can be taken two ways: One, devaluing the work, a common thought, or… two, a burgeoning market full of eager readers who snap up books on a whim, like gum at the supermarket checkout. It is this market that may be more receptive to new work.

We are not alone in struggling with this new thought process… experienced professionals, denizens of the Big Six, oracles of All That is Readable, are bashing their heads against the new reality. Many are in such stark denial that they put out big name author ebooks at a mere $4 off the hardcover price. To me, that does not make sense. I think it's only a matter of time before their authors figure out that ebooks sales are not what they could be, no matter how established they are.

I've enjoyed moderate sales at $2.99, and have only now started playing with the price. I raised it to $4.99 for a bit, just to see if it had an appreciable change in ranking on Apple (haven't made a dent in Amazon yet).

Now, though, I think I'll take Jeff Bennington's advice, as an experiment, to see if a 'sale price' of $.99 will help make that dent.

I believe that the sweet spot for now may be $2.99. But, the key phrase there is 'for now'.

Thanks, Jeff. If this works, I may owe you flowers.

Wodke Hawkinson said...

We started out selling our first two books at 99 cents as a way of introducing readers to our writing. However, we found that many readers believed the price indicated a lack of quality. :-( We made the decision to raise the price. Our sales fell off a bit after that, but we had put out our novel Betrayed, and most of the readers buying our books are buying Betrayed. We've concluded that people prefer novels to short story collections. We are unsure if the price has that much to do with it.
Good article. It's a question to be addressed. We still don't have the answer!

Rob Cairns said...

It is expected that everything mobile seems to be .99 cents. That is the magic marketing number.

Do I agree with it. I am not sure. A lot of sales at this price have to be made to make money bit some apps have managed to do it.

Robert Bidinotto said...

Becky, I think pricing must be part of an overall marketing strategy.

If, for example, you're running a temporary sale to introduce your book to new readers, to make a run at the top of a bestseller list, or as a lead-in to a series of other books, 99 cents might make sense as a price for a full novel. John Locke had that price as part of a broader strategy, and it worked for him.

However, I don't think 99-cent pricing has the sales punch it once did, because after Locke's success, everybody started to do that. If you do what everyone else is doing, you'll dilute the impact. Moreover, 99 cents has become a billboard shouting "SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK," and for many readers, there's a stigma still attached to indie books.

I think you need to compete not on price alone, but by distinguishing yourself and your work. In an overcrowded market with millions of books clamoring for a reader's attention, you have to stand out by doing something different. That means "branding" yourself and your work in a way that no one else is, with a "sticky" concept that people will notice and not forget.

In my case, I'm "the vigilante author." I write about a vigilante hero in my debut thriller, HUNTER. My blog is titled "The Vigilante Author," and it's devoted to that kind of literature. I used the same art/graphic "noir" design style on the blog header as I did on the cover of HUNTER. My business card reproduces the book cover; all the articles I arrange about me with newspapers runs the cover image and I use the "vigilante" term.

Every author ought to think of his work in a similar way. For example, I love what Debora Geary does with her "modern witch" theme and unified covers, and what Jon Merz similarly does with his vampire-avenger series. That is terrific branding: repeating themes again and again, so that they stick in the minds of readers.

How much better to do that, than simply slap a cheap price tag on your work -- when everyone else is doing the same thing?

Finally, most importantly: You have to write good stories. Most of your effort should be to produce a GREAT story, one that will generate buzz and favorable reader reviews on Amazon. That, more than anything, is fundamental to sales success. No marketing gimmick, no matter how clever, will make an enduring difference to sales if the underlying product isn't good.

Paul Dorset said...

I've noticed there is no 'right' or 'wrong' price for a book. I have ebooks priced at different price brackets and they each sell differently and in different ways. I have one 'how-to' book selling at $5.99 and it sells as many at that price as it did at $2.99. I also have first books in series priced at $0.99. Sometimes that sells other books in the series, sometimes not.

The thing to remember is that different customers are looking for different things. If a price is worth paying, they'll pay it. If the book is dross, they won't come back. Quality overall, matters more than price, but price needs to be attractive if you're an unknown author.

And then you also need to consider marketing. Even a free book won't sell if you don't market it. And unfortunately while us authors may be fairly good at writing, most of us are fairly crap at marketing! That's what I'm going to be spending more time learning about in future - marketing. The pricing will sort itself out!

Paul Dorset, Author - @jcx27 on Twitter

Dawn Torrens said...

Now I know this is a hot topic, I guess it depends how you look at it really, I a sef published author and my e-book is priced at $1.99 usd or £1.47 uk pounds so still not very much although a little higher than $0.99c which does seem incredibly cheap to me when you consider all the hard work that goes into writing a book, at that price you will almost never make that much money really. And 15 percent of all my sales goes to charity too!!!

-RWWGreene said...

Interesting post. It touches on the debate on whether writing is an art (priceless) or a craft (worth whatever the purpose it serves, like, say, a chair). And is it worth more if it has molecules (a traditional book) or made of electrons (an e-book)? I suppose the answer is: price it at the level the market will bear. But that seems so ... mercenary.

Terri Giuliano Long said...

I'm really conflicted on this. I agree that a lower price increases the possibility that readers will take a chance on a new author. Like some of you, I've also seen an increase in sales since I lowered my price. At the same time, I wonder if the 99¢ price point has run or come close to running its course. Ultimately, I think we all need to do whatever makes sense to us and for our book. Thank you so much for posting! This is a vital conversation!

Robert Bidinotto said...

For authors who wish to have their work stand out in an overcrowded marketplace, I keep beating the drum for them to read several short, classic books on marketing by Al Ries and Jack Trout:

Positioning
Marketing Warfare
Focus


Anyone who reads the first, Positioning, will realize that it contains the best book-marketing advice any writer could possibly want.

rjscottiii@aol.com said...

I'm on the fence about pricing my book at 99¢. I know that this thread is addressed to "Mystery" writers. I am not a mystery writer. It was suggested that I add my 2¢, so I am.

On the fence: Nobody really indicated how MUCH they've earned at this rate or how MANY have sold, but the act of pricing my book at that amount is like pleading with the public to buy it; a last-ditch effort to sell a book (ebook and paperback) that's holding its own since it was published in March.

'Crossing the Rainbow Bridge Your Pet: When It's time to Let Go,' currently has 20 5-star reviews at Amazon.com and 3 at Smashwords. It's a coming of age book.

My book was edited professionally as well as by me. (I'm a former Senior Editor for AOL.)

It seems to me that if I were to lower the price and it didn't result in many (or any) sales, I'd be defeating myself in a "You can't go back" situation.

If I KNEW before doing so, that it would result in MANY more sales, that could make the decision easier. However lowering the price could backfire, too, causing people to think "What can I expect for 99¢," and decide not to throw a good 99¢ away on an unknown.

Sure, there's a preview at Smashwords, but they simply take the first x% of the book as a preview. The first 15%, in my case, doesn't get to the "meat" of the book. Amazon does a better job, allowing some "cliffhangers" to tease those reading the preview. That's most likely why the sales at Amazon far exceed those at Smashwords.

Suggestions welcome, and, if you're an animal lover, you might want to consider my book.

I can't issue "specials" at Amazon, but I'd be happy to issue a coupon for a reduced price at Smashwords where various formats are available. Interested? Send mail to "rjscottiii@aol.com" and mention that you read my offer on "Becky's Blog." I welcome additional reviews, too, both at Smashwords and at Amazon.com.

Oh, and Becky, when I have need of the "¢" symbol, I merely open a new Word doc and use "insert symbol," insert the ¢, then copy and paste it where I need it. :D

Anonymous said...

Ugh! Blogger is being really IOS unfriendly today. Rick G here posting anonymously due to this glitchiness.

Anyway, what I've been trying to post is that there's nothing to stop someone from changing their price tomorrow, next month, or a year from now regarding price testing.

If you're worried about setting low expectations then you can always add the words "On Sale" or "Special Promotional Price, Limited Time Only" to the top of your description.

I just came off of a Halloween sale for one of my books at $.99. The end result: Ok, not great. I moved probably a few more than I might otherwise. Interestingly enough, I moved almost as many of the sequel which was available for full price. Go figure.

AnnOxford said...

Curiosity brought me here from Jungle Reds today. Becky, I was about to say that the reason the cents sign has disappeared is that it is not readily available on a computer keyboard. But then rjscottiii, I noticed, had found it or created it -- thank you rjscottiii. I do own an ereader for use when traveling or just out and about. But I refuse to read a 99 cent offering, simply because I truly feel writers, like all artists, are important, necessary and valid and should be paid fairly for what they do. I'm sensing also that writers are now forced to do a great deal of their own promotion? So why are the publishers making more of the cut? Just curious...

Chicki said...

I only offer one book for 99 cents. The rest are $2.99. I find that the 99 cent price works wonders at bringing new readers. When I release a new book, I put the last one on sale. Works great for me!

Stacy Eaton said...

Being a new author- I started my price out high - then started lowering it a bit to see what would happen. After much research - I realized that having a new book out at $0.99 worked better as a new author to get people introduced to me.

After my second book came out and the reviews are now rolling in nicely with both my books - I will soon raise my second book up higher- allow people to taste my first book in the series at $0.99 and then if they like it and want to continue - they can pay the slightly higher price. For the holidays - I'm keeping it down to $0.99. I'd rather sell a bunch and get my name out as a new author.

I have 4 more books in the works - so I am building a group of readers and if they enjoy my work, they will be willing to pay a bit more for it.

Great discussion!

LinP said...

As a reader, I have found wonderful writers through the 99-cent offers as well as some who need good editors. I agree with Rick G. Know your "sweet spot" and your goal. I buy at top dollar when I love the author. I prefer the mistakes costing 99 cents, however.

RJScott said...

Tried the 99¢ route with a "today only" special using coupon code AE77P at http://tiny.cc/c6ixm~ ... not one bite. Seems useless.

I did note that W. Bruce Cameron's "A Dog's Tale" is still listed at $9.99 at Amazon.com.

That suggests that either he's SO GOOD or that all other Indie publishers are SO BAD.

I just hope that I didn't self-destruct by lowering the price.

Comments welcome, buyers welcome (see above) and of course reviews welcome. Currently 20 5-star and counting.