Thursday 17 May 2012

The Truth About The Price Of Books

There’s a lot of talk about whether books are priced fairly. Ebooks especially get a lot of flak for being .99c or free.

Various arguments are made for paying a fair price, not flooding the market, quality control. A popular one is that people value things based on how much they pay for them.

The truth is all this fretting has nothing to do with money. It’s got to do with how you feel about yourself as a writer. It’s got to do with how you think other’s see you. It’s got to do with being valued as  a person, and worrying that you're not.

The market has changed and you can’t control what other people do. If they want to give away free books, that’s the world you have to live in. If what others do impacts you negatively, that’s how the market operates. That’s how competition works.

But the price point of books isn’t really the issue. Whether you sell a hundred books at $10 each, or a thousand books at $2.99 each, or even ten thousand at a buck a pop, you’re overall profit is what it is. The method that makes you the most money is probably the one you should go with. There’s nothing very difficult to understand about that.

I know in your heart you feel like, But if I sell ten thousand books at $10... but that’s not how economics works. It’s like thinking, But if we just print more money the recession would be over...

The truth of why writers feel so reluctant to see the price of books as just another variable to play with is insecurity. We all have that fear in our hearts that when people finally see this thing we’ve been toiling away at in our little rooms, they’ll think we’ve been wasting our time.

And if the book is free or very cheap, we won’t even make any money. All that work for nothing.

The idea that somebody reads your book and hates it, after they’ve forked over their cash, is somehow comforting. It soothes the ego. They may think you can’t write, but they had to pay for the privilege of forming that opinion. You may not win, but at least you come out even. Something to show for your trouble.

The idea that someone gets to judge you for free? That’s scary. What do you get out of it? Why would you even want to put yourself in that position? You should get paid based on your effort, not their opinion. It’s only fair.

Sadly, art does not work that way. It never has. McDonald’s does though.

It’s fine to feel insecure, it’s normal, but using it as the basis of your business plan may not be the best idea ever.

A lot of the arguments I see are of this type:  No other product gives away stuff for free. They might offer a sample, a test ride, but totally free in the hope you might come back and pay full price next time? Who does that?

Again, this is based on insecurity. What if they don’t like it? What if I’m not good enough? What if I’m found out? What if I get left with nothing?

And let’s not mince words, in the case of most writers, they won’t be good enough. Most books are rejected by most readers. Even if a million people love your writing, far more will hate it. Or ignore it. And that’s the best case scenario.

Books are not the same as other products. Want me to prove it? Libraries. What other product is set up like that?

Publishers have always hated libraries. In their minds if people can get the book for free that must mean fewer people will pay to buy them.

That seems logical, right?

One small problem: it isn’t true.

Libraries make us buy more books. Why? I have no idea, but they do. Always have done.

Right now publishers are fighting to limit the loaning of ebooks through libraries. Why? Because obviously it must be bad for their business. Just like it’s obvious libraries cut into their profits. They have to, it’s obvious.

No, it isn’t obvious. It’s wrong.

Is all the hard work you’ve put into writing worth .99c? No. Is it worth $9.99? No. A measly ten bucks for a year’s worth of effort? How is that fair or reasonable? But of course ten bucks doesn’t mean just ten bucks. It’s ten bucks multiplied by the amount of books you sell. That’s how you work out how much money you get, by looking at it in holistic terms, not by what you get for one book.

And if you can sell a million copies for a buck each, but you choose to sell a hundred copies at 5.99, then you’ve made a bad business decision, and all because of your need for validation to shore up your self-worth. I know, But what if I could sell a million copies at 5.99? You can’t. Get over it.

Charge what you want. If your stories are no good, people will find out, no matter what the price point. You can’t avoid it. And if your stories are good, people will come back and want to read more. Make no mistake though, you are operating in a world where you can’t control what other people do.

It’s a business model, it either works for you or it doesn’t. Not opinions, not value judgements – bottom line. Cold, hard numbers. Is it right thing to do for you as a writer? That’s up to you. However you choose to proceed there will be no guarantees, plenty of risk. Make an informed decision based on common sense, not anxiety.

Failure or success will be based on your choice, nobody else's.

You can watch and learn and make use of new techniques to get your books out there, or you can plough your own furrow. You can experiment. No one can pull the plug and throw you out of the game. Screwed up and made no money on the last book? Do it differently with the next one.

But the one thing you can’t do is change things back to the way they were. Evolution doesn’t work backwards.
If you have views on this subject and would like to share them please leave a comment. Happy to have a chinwag. If you found teh post interesting, please give it a retweet. Cheers.


Anonymous said...

I can definitely say that libraries make us want to buy more books. Saying that, I go to the library a little too often.

Veronica Sicoe said...

I absolutely loved this post, Mood! Very well said and totally right.

We writers are a bunch of insecure, anxious and conflicted people. We undervalue our work, and overvalue our skills, and when it comes to selling our books, the most of us don't see past the first month and the price of a single ebook. We should focus more on building a solid career, not being a one-hit-wonder. The price per book is far less important than our long term revenues and our careers.

"But what if I could sell a million copies at 5.99? You can’t. Get over it." Cracked me up!

Daisy Carter said...

Where did you get the info about pubs hating libraries? Is this a theory, or did you hear someone say it, or is there a link to that info? I've just never heard any editors say anything bad about libraries. I've only ever heard them praised by industry peeps. Wondering what I've missed!

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

"You can't. Get over it." Truer words have never been spoken!
I've been happy with the prices of my eBooks set by my publisher, because they are just low enough to entice more people to buy but high enough I get a good royalty check.

Michael Offutt, Phantom Reader said...

I think my book may be priced a little on the high side at $4.99 but ah well. I can't control the pricing. That's done by my publisher.

Annalisa Crawford said...

That was a really interesting post that addressed a few of my queries about the price of ebooks. I'm still not completely convinced by free books, though, although I know a lot of authors who have gone that way for one reason or another.

mooderino said...

@Charles-you can never go too often!


@Daisy- 'always hated' is probably a bit strong, back in the early days of modern public libraries many were started by publishers. But since the more recent emergence of large corporate publishers libraries have been heavily restricted in what they can do, and used as a marketing tool by the publishers. If you google 'publishers hate libraries' you should find a lot of articles about it. The latest ebook battle is taking centre stage at the moment, but the better articles provide some historical background. An example of the kind of thing I mean is here

@Alex-I hope one day I'll get royalty cheques.

@Michael-I hope one day I'll get a publisher.

mooderino said...

@annalisa-Clearly it works for some and not for others. I think people would like a guarantee before they roll the dice, and that isn't possible.

t.m. roy said...

I always used libraries to preview books I wanted to then buy and keep so I could re-read them at my leisure. I've ended up buying the complete output of more than a few authors by reading one or two titles from the local library first. :D

Debra L Martin said...

Excellent post. Authors need to do what's best for them and stop obsessing over price once they set it. The good thing is as an indie author, you have the ability to change it so just keep trying different things until you find the model that works for you.

Loved the "But what if I could sell a million copies at 5.99? You can’t. Get over it." That was the best dope-slap I've ever seen!

mooderino said...

@TM-the worry is having instant access to books online will change the way people read, which it will. But that doesn't mean disaster for authors (although it may mean disaster for publishers).

@Debra-it is a less certain system, but the level of control of your own books is a really valuable thing.

Tara Tyler said...

you answered my question as a buyer, why do they charge $10 for an online book that costs almost nothing to publish, demand. i have no shame selling my book at a low price & jacking it as more want it =)

and save the libraries!

Unknown said...

I agree that you certainly have to do what works best for you and your bottom line. A friend of mine, I think, has a great way of handling her book sales. She has a 6 book series (book 6 isn't out yet). Her first book had marginal sales numbers at best before the 3rd book was released and the 2nd books #'s just about matched those of the first. This let her know that people who read the 1st wanted more so she now has book 1 set as free. She gives away tons of copies of book 1 every day and her sales numbers on the following books are VERY close to matching the volume of the free downloads of book 1. It works for her, I think I may give something like this a shot with my books if the numbers line up properly.

Anonymous said...

When you're not selling anything and have NOTHING to lose, you'll go free, if you can. I still dream about earning lots of dollars so I can buy a house with a writing shed in the back yard so I can sit in that shed and write more books. Isn't my dream ironic?

If your business plan involves "going viral," it's not a business plan at all, but a lottery ticket. Such is the life of an Indie Writer! At least we have tickets. :-)

McKenzie McCann said...

Since I'm in the early stages of a writing career, I'm thinking more about how many copies I can sell rather than how much money I can make. I'll worry about making money when I'm old enough to need it. For now, I just want people to hear about me.

Ciara Ballintyne said...

Hmm... libraries make us buy more books by never having the book available when we want it? Well, that's why I stopped going to the library and started building my own anyway LOL

I don't object to $0.99 price point totally. Only for good books. The $0.99 price tag tells me the book probably isn't worth wasting my time on (note the PROBABLY - this is not an absolute) and as a reader that's valuable. It helps me make purchasing decisions.

As a writer, if I thought my book was only of the quality that I most often see at the $0.99 price point, I wouldn't publish it. And that's my decision, and one I'm entitled to make. That is, of course, different from choosing to market at the price point for stregy reasons.

mooderino said...

@tara-demand and minimal competition.

@Eric-I think having a bunch of books is key to using the free book strategy.

@Dalya-I think a lot of people dream of being that luky lottery winner, not really an actionable plan.

@McKenzi-I hear you!

@Ciara-it's one of the publisher's strategies to make sure libraries are understocked for that very reason.

LD Masterson said...

I agree that libraries promote book sales. I've discovered many authors through the library then purchased additional books the library may not have had.

If I could know going in that I'll sell a million copies for a buck each but only a hundred copies at 5.99 then it's a no brainer. But I don't. What if my potential readers equate quality with price and I'll only sell five hundred copies at a buck but still sell a hundred at 5.99. Not likely but until an author's been out there and tested the waters I think it's still pick a price and hope for the best.

Russell Blake said...

I tend to think that authors have been sold a load of goods based on an antiquated paradigm, when it comes to pricing their work at .99. This was all based on the wisdom of several indie authors who sold a million at that level, so the mad rush was on to duplicate their success - and rather than considering random variables like luck, or timing, or the state of Amazon's algorithms, or competitive forces in the market and the advent of new technology, most walked away with one message: price it as cheap as dirt, and they will come.

Except they didn't. I would wager that most who went down that road made little or no money, and have now branded themselves as being .99 level writers, whatever that means. And the world has moved on since 2010, when that notion seemed to work, and now free is the new .99 - except it isn't, either. That was then. Things move. They've moved again, mainly due to Amazon again changing their algorithms so free receives a fraction of the weighting it did only a month ago, thereby minimizing any positive impact on sales, as well as readers being saturated with content they have stuffed their kindles with and will likely never get around to reading.

I just posted a long blog about the latest algorithm change, which appears to be using price as the differentiator for placement on the popularity lists. Put simply, favoring dollars, not units, which makes a $5 book sale worth five times what a $1 book is worth, whereas in the past, a unit sold was a unit sold, regardless of the price.

Without belaboring all the nuance, it changes the playing field again, and favors titles that are selling more in dollars, and not so much in units. Bluntly, I have to sell two $5 books to equate to one $10 book sale, and a .99 book has to sell ten copies to have the same impact on popularity list ranking. Over time, that will relegate all but the most popular .99 titles to a bin you don't want to be in, for business reasons, not ego-centric ones. If you aren't getting visibility, you won't sell books, thus your business will suffer.

Good blog.

mooderino said...

@LD-you can't know how your book will sell at any price point, so it's a shot in the dark whatever way you go.

@Russell-there's just as many authors who made no money on their books who charged 5.99 (or whatever price). Most books don't make money, because most books aren't very good.

What people really seem be looking for with all these discussions is how best to make money with a mediocre book. It used to be easy, create hype, get the media on board with a bit of schmoozing, by the time the reader realises they've bought a dud £20 already in the register. Can't do it that way anymore.

Interesting info on the new algorithm.

Rachna Chhabria said...

I think my two books for children are priced a little on the higher side, but that was a decision taken by the publisher. I am still clueless about book pricing.

mooderino said...

@Rachna-I don't think there's a right or wroing answer, or if there is it's constantly changing.

Charmaine Clancy said...

Great post, hits the nail on the head. You're right about libraries, I love going there to write and always browse the shelves for books I like, but then go and buy them. I never borrow books, I like to read them brand new before anyone else does. But I know kids who will borrow a book and if it becomes a favourite they just have to buy it and then of course comes the advertising price just can't compete with - word of mouth.
There's many different price structures and you just have to find the one that works for you.

Ciara said...

Thought provoking post. I actually got an email criticizing me for offering my book for free on Amazon. I explained my publisher did it after we spoke. I was a little surprised at the reaction.

mooderino said...

@Charmaine-I think libraries loaning ebooks is going to be a big battle, but it isn't the negative thing publishers think it's going to be.

@Ciara-that's the internet for you. A million opinions and most of them unasked for.

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