Price Matters: Indie or Trad Pubbed, Everyone Loves a Deal

 

Anyone who has been paying attention to the news lately knows that—as the result of recent Department of Justice lawsuit—traditional publishers can no longer set final prices for their ebooks, which many readers feel should be priced considerably less than their paper counterparts. The question remains, does pricing effect how well a book sells?  Jeremy Greenfield, a contributor at Forbes recently wrote,  “… we’re going to watch the E-Book Best-Sellers List very carefully to see if HarperCollins’s new pricing impacts best-seller ranking. I expect it will.”

How much to price a book, especially for an indie author, is often a guessing  game. Too high for an unknown author looks presumptuous.  On the other hand, free can sometimes feel too desperate. I did a ridiculous amount of research on indie pricing before landing at $2.99. On an average month, I sell roughly 2,000 Kindle copies of my book, One Pink Line, whose ranking tends to hang out in the 1,000’s. Kinda like a high-school kid hanging out in the smoking area, watching the cheerleaders—in this case, titles that have cracked Amazon’s top 100—giggle and paw at each other as they celebrate their fabulousness.

Not to diminish my sales and typical ranking by any means, because I WORK MY TAIL OFF daily to keep it there, but hanging out with the cheerleaders in the Top 100 is where I ultimately want to be.

I wish it didn’t matter to me. I wish I didn’t care about the rankings. I wish I didn’t feel jealous when I see others books doing so much better than mine, but I’d be lying to you if I said otherwise. Much like Snooki, writing novels has been a dream of mine, and if I can possibly do this for a living and maybe support my family by doing so, then my book needs to wear that Amazon Top 100 crown. It matters. Huge.

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to be a part of a group of seventeen indie authors who were going to price their books at $.99 for the Labor Day weekend. Sort of a group sale in which we would all join together to cross promote each others titles and gain maximum exposure for over the long weekend.

Prior to this event, my book, One Pink Line, has been consistently priced at $2.99 – which in my mind (and quite literally) is not a far cry from $.99. That being said, I realize there is a greater perceived savings at the lower price point. The implication that the reader is getting much more of a bargain by paying less than a dollar for my book.

When I had my book enrolled in KDP Select, I vacillated for the entire three months on whether or not to take advantage of the FREE days they offer. In the end, I did not. I know those promotional days have worked wonders for other authors, but I simply could not bring myself to give my book away for FREE. But when this ‘Labor Day of Love’ opportunity came my way, I thought it would be a great way to test the waters of the ‘almost FREE’ and possibly reach my ultimate goal of getting One Pink Line into the Amazon Top 100.

So I priced my eBook at $.99 on Amazon and began doing what I do best: shamelessly self-promoting myself until my eyes bled from the illumination on my computer monitor. Everyone loves a deal, so my amazing network of authors and bloggers were more than happy to share the news. Saturday morning, September 1st at 6:00am I’d sold 13 Kindle copies at $.99 and my book was ranked at #1,645 in the Amazon Best Sellers Paid in Kindle Store. By 7:00pm it was ranked at #536, and when I woke up Sunday morning, it was #60. I nearly fell off my Target barstool. I screamed for my nine-year old son to come look, and he gave me huge grin and a high-five before asking what was taking me so long with his bagel.

I did it.

Thanks to the many people who helped spread the news, I cracked the Amazon 100. And while I spent the next day watching it slide down like a cream pie on a glass window, I have never been so happy to click that refresh button as I was that Sunday morning.

In a matter of three days, I managed to sell 2,178 copies of my book at $.99. Did I sell out by doing this? And why are readers more inclined to purchase at this price point rather than $2.99? My book has 100 5-star reviews; do those two dollars really make that big of a discernible difference to someone?  I think the reason the strategy worked was that I waited until my book was well-reviewed and somewhat widely read before resorting to fire-sale prices. This way, it looked as though the reader really was getting a decent deal. A book with over 125 reviews, and a 4.7 out of 5 rating was being offered up at $.99 – now that’s a steal! By tempting people and lowering my price a mere $2, I incentivized thousands of people that were on the fence into buying it (you know you’ve bought a Groupon under the same pretense!).

My obvious hope was that One Pink Line would hang out in the Top 100 until the price went back to $2.99, much like a party guest that won’t leave until he scrapes the bottom of the spinach artichoke dip with his finger…but that wasn’t the case. However, when I take a step back from my bat-shit-crazy obsession with rankings, I realize that not only are people buying my book, they seem to be enjoying it as well.

They also appreciate a good deal.

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A graduate of Purdue University, Dina Silver has spent the past fifteen years feeding her red wine habit by working as a copywriter in the advertising industry. After seeing the bulk of her professional prose on brochures and direct mail pieces, she is delighted to have made the transition to novelist. She currently lives with her husband and son in suburbia, where she is working on her next book. Inspired by a true story, One Pink Line is Dina’s debut novel. Visit her at www.dinasilver.com .

20 replies
  1. Michele Gorman
    Michele Gorman says:

    Great post, Dina, thanks, and congrats on such amazing rankings! As a fellow obsessive-rank-watching-writer, I’ve been fascinated by the effect that price has on sales. Like you, I found my sales jump when I lowered my price to 99¢ in the same promo, however the boost in sales didn’t offset the royalties I lost. *For anyone not familiar with Amazon’s royalty rules, if you price a book below $2.99 your royalty % drops from 70% of the price to 35% – this means you must sell around 7x as many books at 99¢ to equal the royalty you get at $2.99*

    I probably won’t lower my prices again, both because it isn’t economically viable (I’m a full-time writer so my ability to feed myself comes solely from my book sales) and because I think people make a price/quality correlation, and that makes me uncomfortable. Pricing around the $2.99 mark seems fair – it’s low enough for readers to afford and high enough for writers to continue to support themselves.

    And I think you’re right regarding the quality of a book. Readers are clever bunnies – we’re less likely to spend our hard earned pennies on books with low average reviews or very few reviews.

    Reply
  2. Dina Silver (@DinaSilver)
    Dina Silver (@DinaSilver) says:

    My pleasure, Anna! I have learned so much from other authors who have been forthcoming with their own stats. And Michele, I agree that $2.99 is more than fair, especially when we work as hard as we do to build an audience. There is also a great sense of perceived value, and we don’t want to lower the perception of the work too much. If anything, my next move will be to go up in price, not down again.

    Reply
  3. Sheryn MacMunn
    Sheryn MacMunn says:

    Hi Dina – Great article. Pricing is always a difficult decision. On one hand, I feel like if I price my book at $.99, sales do go up but it’s marginal. However, sales lead to greater promotional opportunities and rankings. On the other hand, at $.99, I’m afraid the book looks amateurish and will be overlooked. So it’s at $2.99 now and it’s still selling.

    However, I did participate in a free Kindle giveaway a few months ago and I did feel it put me on the ‘map’. My book made it to the top 10 during the next week in paid books. I loved your description of watching sales slide. It was heartbreaking. And my kids didn’t get their breakfast on time that day either.

    Reply
    • Dina Silver (@DinaSilver)
      Dina Silver (@DinaSilver) says:

      I’m glad to hear that you were happy with the FREE days, b/c I really struggled with whether or not to do it. Many other authors I know have had success with them as well. I may attempt an experiment with Kat Fight, and see what results I get.

      Reply
  4. FMAnderson
    FMAnderson says:

    I enjoyed this a ton! I think I’m going to go for $2.99 for my novel as well. I had already decided I wanted to go between that and $4.99. My big thing is that I want people to read the story I’ve written and learn about these events, even if my book is only loosely based on the truth.

    What really scares me is the bit you said you work so hard for- self promotion. I’m a teacher with a wife and son. I’ve got a busy life and little time to promote. I don’t see being able to quit to self promote. Beyond that, I actually love teaching. I think I’ll just have to be happy with every sale and focus on trying to reach other teachers and school librarians.

    I’m glad you had so much success. It always is nice to see indie authors doing well.

    Reply
    • Dina Silver (@DinaSilver)
      Dina Silver (@DinaSilver) says:

      Thank you so much for your well wishes! And, YES, the promotion end of writing a book has certainly been the most daunting and time consuming. I wish I could say it’s not necessary, but in my heart, I believe whatever you can afford to put into it will come back to you in spades. I’m not saying that everyone needs to be networking, marketing, and promoting at an insane level. Because they don’t. But I honestly believe a huge portion of my audience has been gained solely through cyber relationships I’ve built with other authors, bloggers and readers through social media. Good luck with your book, teachers rule!! 🙂

      Reply
  5. Ray Flynt
    Ray Flynt says:

    A great article! $2.99 is definitely the sweet spot for e-books, in my opinion. I arrived at that pricing after looking at the economics of my first mystery novel, published in hard cover by a small press and priced at $25.99 (I was lucky when family members were willing to pay that much). My royalty payment on that deal was 8% – or about $2 per book sold. Now pricing my indie published e-reader versions at $2.99, I earn $1.94, and for less than the cost of a cup of coffee the reader gets six plus hours of entertainment.

    Reply
  6. Antonia Murphy
    Antonia Murphy says:

    Congratulations! What a useful post. I was just thinking about this today, because while I’ve heard before that $2.99 is the “sweet spot” for fiction authors, what about other kids of books? For example, I’m completing a book of fun speech therapy games that parents can play with their speech-delayed children. It’s highly readable how-to. I want it to be easily affordable for parents, but it also contains the expertise of a highly trained speech therapist. My gut is saying it should be higher… but not too high. Any thoughts? Any examples out there of successful, self-published how-to books?

    Reply
    • Dina Silver (@DinaSilver)
      Dina Silver (@DinaSilver) says:

      That sounds really great and useful. I’m not well versed on other genre pricing, but the great thing about Amazon is that there is so much available information on their site about every book they offer, so you can easily go through other similar titles and see how they’re priced and how well (or well not) they sell based on their ranking. Good luck!!

      Reply
    • insatiablebooksluts
      insatiablebooksluts says:

      I would be willing to pay more for an expert’s e-book, depending on what the content was–but I have also been burned by this before. I paid $11 for an e-book that a woman I follow on YouTube put out, about how to start/own/operate a bakery… she’s a professional baker, but the book was absolute garbage. So yeah, we’re willing to spend more but we’re also expecting it to deliver real information that we can’t get anywhere else! 🙂

      One thing I definitely advise is to make sure you get it professionally edited.

      Reply
  7. Oral McDanel
    Oral McDanel says:

    Interesting post Dina
    As a 97 year old writer of two folk lore ebooks, which I completed this past year, I need help reaching readers. I have had some sales to school,local library and great grandchildren’s friends and it was well received but I would like to have more readers discover America’s wee folk. Would you advise indie reader? Would appreciate any and all suggestings as time is fleeting. Thanks and may you have great success in all your endeavers.
    .

    Reply
  8. Oral McDanel
    Oral McDanel says:

    Interesting post Dina.
    As a 97 year old who has written two American folk lore ebooks in the last five years I have been looking for ways to reach readers. I have had a few sales including local library but I would like more readers to learn about America’s very own wee folk. Would you advise indie reader? I appreciate any and all help as time is fleeting.Thanks and may you have great success in all your endeavors.

    Reply

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