Friday, January 3, 2014

VS Nelson Discusses Pricing for eBooks - Is Cheaper Always Better?

Veronica sez: Thoughts on eBook pricing from our Contributor Virginia Nelson - here's hoping for a lively debate. Take it away, Virginia:

Flying Books by josterix - sxc
A few years ago, when I received my very first Kindle I was thrilled to learn there was an enormous amount of e-books for free and for just 99 cents I could fill my imaginary book shelves. Did I take advantage of what was offered? Heck yeah, I did; everyone loves a great deal…

Sadly, title after title, left me somewhat empty and I found myself wading through all those imaginary shelves struggling to find something worth while to read. I began to believe cheaper is not necessary better…
…but then again, every so often I would stumble across an exemplary book which took my breath away. It was about this time I began my in depth investigation on e-book pricing. I knew my print books would be hitting the shelves soon and their pricing would be based upon standard page and word count for their genre. So where would that leave my e-books? I began to ask myself questions like…

If someone offered me a chance to pay 99 cents instead of twenty dollars for the same merchandise, what would I do? And what would this do to my print sales?

To satisfy my own curiosity, I began to investigate e-book pricing further. Article after article written by experts in the field of publication continued to debate the same questions I was asking myself.

Would pricing an e-book for pennies less than the paperback guarantee more sales?
Would pricing an e-book for pennies less than the paperback reduce your paperback sales?

The answer to these two questions was unequivocally YES…

 …and then I read a couple of articles which I strongly agreed with.

By now, e-books had gained popularity and other readers were coming to the same conclusion I had. In addition, the free and 99 cents books were acquiring a reputation I wanted no part of… that being, most of those books were less than desired or at best contained sub-standard writing.

This was attributed to anyone and everyone who ever dreamed of being an author was suddenly claiming the prestigious title with a few clicks of the keyboard. Word began to spread that e-books were not as well written as print books, especially the cheap ones.

Please do not get me wrong, I am still talking in generalities, there are plenty of great well-written e-books out there for a decent price.

The articles I refer to gave me hope by stating e-books pricing should become somewhat standardized within a few years based upon genre and length. The general synopsis was, since there was virtually no cost in producing e-books, pricing would always remain less then their print book companion, but an author should see substantial profits from their e-book sales. In addition, they gave several recommendations for the self published author, including how to price their e-books and what the effects might be for each. This of course grabbed my attention and I eventually applied what I learned from the articles to my e-books.

A synopsis of their theories for self published authors follows.
If you are self published, but have followed traditional publication practices by hiring professional editors and cover artists then you should NOT price your 300 page e-book 99 cents merely to make an abundance of sales, especially if you are writing a series. Chances are you will make sales, but your book will remain on their kindle or other e-book reading device and never be read. Deal shoppers tend to purchase things they never use or it may be returned for a full refund because the reader grabbed the cheap book thinking it was something other than it was.

They, in turn, suggested the e-book version of any well written book regardless of genre or publication method be priced similar to other traditionally published well written books. Not having a publicist or staff to handle things a self published author is required to do a little research to make this system work.

First and foremost, one must correctly identify what sub-genre the book in written in. You would be surprised how many times I have been told, “I really don’t know what sub-genre my novel is… well it’s sort of a romance, kind of a mystery, but it has this and that…”  Yes, I know lots of us cross the genre lines, including me, but you will need to identify genre and sub-genre before you proceed with using this pricing method. If you are still unclear, try looking up your favorite author who you write similar too – or one you have been told by one of your beta readers you write like. This is actually the beginning of the second step in their pricing method.

Now go to Amazon and find a similar e-book by that authors whose page count is similar to yours… make a note of the price. Do this again at least three times with different authors whose work is similar to yours. Total the amounts and divide by the number of books you targeted to get an average sale price.
If you are a first time author and this is your very first book, they suggested you deduct a small amount from that price, but not too much. You may also deduct a small amount if your page count differs. Remember, you may not be on the N.Y. Times best selling list, but you hope to be someday…  The thinking is, when a loyal reader of that favorite author of yours’ googles new books, your title will come up. If the pricing, word count and blurb are similar to theirs, there is a good probability the consumer will take a chance on your name and buy your book. Best end result, you just gained a new reader and fan who doesn’t mind paying a little more for a quality enjoyable well written book. 

There is also the good probability your book WILL NOT BE returned. The consumer knew what they were looking for and you correctly identified and priced your book—they received what they paid for and are happy, unlike the deal shopper who had no idea what he or she was getting.  I’m extremely happy to report that out of all the e-books I have sold on Amazon to this date I have had only two returns. And one of the two returning consumers’ sent me a note apologizing for the return; she meant to purchase the second book in the series, but clicked on the first one. My sales record confirmed her statement. 

Additional things I have noticed. (Some tried – some I’m still thinking about)

New York Times and Best Selling author’s new releases sell for more than their older books – even in kindle format. If you are trying to gain new readers and this is your first book, I’m not so sure I would attempt this. If you already have a following and your readers are anticipating your next installment in your series, by all means try raising the cost of your e-book a tiny bit for the first 30 days. When all the hoopla is over, remember to bring the price back down to match the others.

Need to gain a reader base? Try writing a novella or short story and offer it for free or a discounted price. Right before I released my paranormal romance series, Sekhmet’s Guardians, I released a little novella in print and kindle format and signed it up for KDP select. Although, Cupid and Penelope is an urban fantasy and not a paranormal romance I use it as a promotional tool. Although priced like similar novellas I have offered it for free twice, once right before a release, again during Valentines’ day. How many readers my series actually acquired I have no idea, but the response I received was great – that little novella shot up quickly in the rankings during Valentines’ day to number twelve.

The NEW Kindle Countdown Deals – I was thrilled when I discovered this. There have been many times I wanted to offer book one in my series for a discounted price to gain additional readers, but I have never even considered giving a 571 page book away to the general public. This may sound egocentric, but I put way too much work in that novel and I think more of it and myself for that. I choose who gets my books for free. Setting up a sale for a limited time seems like the perfect solution. I can’t give you any specific feedback on this at this time but I should have some data for you soon as I am in the middle of a deal right now.

Update: My deal ended just before I uploaded this article and I’ve already been notified by three of the readers who took advantage of my deal. After reading the first book in the series they sent me a message letting me know they were purchasing the next one in the series. Sales for books 2 & 3 are showing a climb.

A REMINDER Check the similar authors you used in getting your sale price every so often to see if there are maintaining their pricing. While writing this article I revisited my list. Much to my surprise the number one author on my list dropped her older e-published books by $2.00 and she doubles the price of her new releases. She dropped her older titles from 7.99 to 5.99, matching numbers two and three on my list who haven’t changed a thing. It appears I will be adjusting my pricing accordingly.

I’d love to hear from other authors on how you obtained your e-book pricing.

VS sez: And Virginia welcomes feedback from Readers on the topic as well!


LaVerne said...

Great blog. As someone who just self-published the second book in a series I placed the 2nd book at $1.00 more than the first book for several reasons. One of which it was a little longer but also because it cost me more to publish. Publishing quality e-books aren't free or cheap. But I also tried to compensate by offering the first book in the series which has been out for a few months in eprint at half the price for a limited time.

Lauralynn Elliott said...

When I was a complete unknown and first publishing, I priced all my books at .99, I made more money in January and February of 2011 than at my full time job off of one novella. (Not anymore since there's more competition.)Since then, I've been pricing novellas at $1.99 and novels at $2.99. Amazon gives a bigger percentage when your price is at least $2.99. But you know what? My .99 books still sell better than the others, so I'm making more money off of those. There have been times I've been frustrated enough that I've almost lowered them all to .99. But I worked too hard on these books to price that low. When it comes to BUYING ebooks, I'll almost never buy one that's priced higher than $5.00, unless I REALLY want to read it. I think $2.99-$3.99 is a good price point. You get your 70% from Amazon, but you don't price it so high that people can't afford them. I read a LOT, and if I paid too much for ebooks, I couldn't afford to buy many. I don't download too many free ones anymore, though, just BECAUSE they are free.

Unknown said...

Thank you both for your comments... Know what you mean about not buying that many books over $5.00 unless you are familiar with the artist/author and want to read the next on in the series.

Cassandra L Shaw said...

Since I am about to self publish (out in March) I found this interesting and I agree with everything you said. I rarely take 99 or free books now because so many were rubbish. But I also think an author must consider her work valuable for a reader to consider it valuable. I have seen it work very well to make one novel from the beginning of a series cheap or free for a very short time, that it often boosts sales of the rest of the series but if you make it cheap too often if diminishes the 'sale'.

Consider a shop that always has a "sale' and the one that has a genuine one a year sale - which one do you flock to???

Dani Harper, Author said...

Really thoughtful article -- gave me a lot to consider! Thanks!