Monday, October 14, 2013

Cost and Value: eBooks

Aspects of Independent Publishing Part Five: Pricing

How Much is that eBook in the Window?

Today we’re going to discuss the root of all evil. Let’s face it, we haven’t gone this far and argued this much over and about our books without having some sort of financial goal in mind. And, in today’s economy, Money isn’t something many of us have an excess of. We have to have money in order to make money.

Does that mean we have to sell our souls to get our book noticed?

Eh, maybe. It depends on what your end goal is. And if your soul carries a bit more equity than mine does, you may even come out ahead. I’m not equipped to help you with soul-negotiation though, so you may want to seek professional help first.

But, I’m digressing.

The topic I want to discuss over the next two installments is Price-Fixing. And not in the Apple/Amazon/Big 6 5 publisher way. What is the magic number, the magic price tag that will cause a reader to buy my book?

There are a few muddled websites out there advertising convoluted formulas that make sense when the stars are aligned with Jupiter. It’s even kinda cool in a bean-countery sort of way to sit down and chart the what-ifs in relationship to the what-thens. Before we break down these magic components though, I want you to read the following and take it to heart.

  1. My book has value.
  2. My reader owes me nothing.

Wait, Shel. Aren’t these statements contradictory?

No. These statements are the Ying-Yang of your self-esteem and the drive behind your end goal. No one is going to believe in your book if you don’t, and no one is going to believe in it more than you do. Let Kismet or the Magic 8 Ball worry about the proper star alignment around Jupiter. A reader interested in your book will buy your book when and only when they feel like it, based on their own need to make ends meet and not on your needs to make ends meet. 

But... but... but…

Fine. You’re right. I don’t have all the answers, any more than you do. I’m definitely not a marketing expert. I’m not an accountant (although I majored in accounting for a whole semester in college) and I’m certainly not a Magic 8 Ball in league with Kismet.


Let me walk you through what I’ve done, why I’ve done it, and where to go next. Today, we’re starting with the magic number 99.

Have you ever wondered why things are priced at $0.99 and not simply $1? $9.99 instead of $10? $99.99 instead of $100?

Consumers have a really bad habit that has been proven by every psychological experiment dealing with economics and statistics. Most consumers do not typically round up when looking at a price tag. Gas stations tap into this at a deeper level, pricing things at 9/10 a penny. The 9/10 never changes even though the cost of crude does. 


Because $3.75 9/10 per gallon looks more attractive than $3.76 per gallon. 

Same thing goes with books. An ebook priced at $0.99 is going to sell more copies than if it was priced at $1. Psychologically, we think we’re getting a bargain.

I know this to be true, because every time I shop with my BFF, she drops off the cent side of the price tag. “It’s only 13 dollars,” she says. I look at the price tag. It reads $13.85. It’s closer to $14 than it is $13. “What’s the big deal?” you might think. “It’s just $0.85.” Well, if I buy 10 items, the cost is $138.50. My BFF’s $8.50 short in her estimate and I’m $1.50 over with mine. Who’s more prepared for the checkout total? My BFF looks at the receipt each time like she’s been overcharged, when really, all she’s done is underestimated.

But most buyers pay even less attention than that, and retailers know this.

So what you’re saying is I should price my books at $0.99 instead of $1?

No. Wait, yes, if you’re planning on selling your book at $1 and you want volume of sales. But no, that’s not specifically what I’m saying here. What I’m saying is set your price officially with the $0.99 in mind. If you want to sell your book for $5, mark it at $4.99 or $5.99.

Since the publishing outlet everyone is familiar with happens to be Amazon's KDP, I will use their module as an example.

My short story Hagatha Kittridge Must Die is 32k in length, 303kb.  I set this story at $2.99. Why?
Amazon takes 65% of all titles listed at $0.99 or less.  At $0.99, I would make only $0.34  (rounding down). If priced at $1 even, Amazon takes 30%, and I make $0.70. 

I have to sell twice as many books at $0.99 than I would at $1 to net the same amount.

Except, unless you’re enrolled in the KDP select program, there’s a little delivery fee Amazon tacks on depending on the size of the download. At 303kb, that’s a charge of $0.04. So really, I’m making $0.66 at the straight dollar price.

But, I’m less likely to get noticed at $1 than I am at $0.99. So what’s a girl to do?

First, I’m not a big fan of the $0.99 price-point anyway, especially as a reader. One reason may have to do with how much Amazon believes they’re entitled to and that knowledge has jaded me. Mostly though, it’s got to do with quality.

I’m not saying that you can’t find quality books at $0.99. But take a look at other things that are priced that low. Like what you might find at the nearest Dollar Store or $0.97 Heaven. Shampoo for example, priced that cheap, is made of mostly water. I end up using more of it to gain any use of the bottle. Stack five bottles of the stuff against say, one bottle of Suave from Target…How much money are you truly saving?

Shel, that’s a bogus comparison and you know it.

Okay, so maybe it pushes the boundary of believability. But it’s what I had to work with at the time. And there’s still a ring of truth to it. As a consumer, these are the sorts of things I make decisions on every day. So do you. Can we afford to buy the bulk? Will the veggies go to waste before we can use them all? How many hot dogs to hot dog buns?

And the quality of random books isn’t really what I want to discuss here. Why did I price Hagatha Kittridge Must Die at $2.99? Because readers definitely won’t pay me $20/hr for the book. My talents are worth at least that. (See me ooze with confidence?) Seriously though, I feel it’s a good price for a 30k story from a reputable author. It’s a price tag that I as a reader would feel comfortable in paying. As I want to be considered as a reputable author, that’s the price I went for.

The stigma of self-publishing is eroding, but there are still many pockets of deeply-rooted prejudice in readers and even other authors. What works for me, what I'm comfortable with, may not work for you. And that's okay.

My best advice on ebook pricing? Don’t undermine your talent. Be aware of what books/short stories/novellas/flash fiction in your genre is going for. Price the book to fit your conscience. But most of all: be consistent.

Like if you price all your flash-fiction or shorts that are less than 8k words at $0.99, don't write a 4k word piece and publish it at $30.99. Make sense?

Since the ebook publishing world is fluid, it might also be a good idea to experiment until you find a mix you’re comfortable with. Don't just jump on the "it's-got-to-be-$0.99-or-no-one-will-buy-it" bandwagon. Again, this is where I'm going to urge you to do some research, and adjust your plan as you see fit.

Stay tuned. Next week we discuss pricing dead-tree books. 

If you have other questions of a non-legal nature about publishing independently, or if you would like a cheer squad to help you walk through the process, feel free to ask me. I’m willing to help where I can. If it takes a village to raise a child, why not a community to publish a book?

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