E-Books And Pricing

Last year, I had a few people–not many–tell me that $5 was the “sweet spot” for e-book prices. Mind, these were not the people actually interested in buying my books. These were people who had studied their market and concluded that $5 was the optimal price. I had one conversation with a fellow author who was dismayed that my higher prices had not hit this sweet spot, who was unconvinced by my observations that my books were generally pretty price-inflexible. He assured me that after six months of dropping my prices, my excess sales would more than make up for the lost revenue.

I have talked a little bit about my rationale for pricing. It is set partly by Amazon and partly by what the market will bear. By and large, my books are specialty items and people seem to understand that. If I could get a Tom Clancy audience for my books, I would happily sell them at $4.99, all of them, because umpteen million times 70% of $5 = enough to keep this fox in chicken for the rest of my life. As it happens, my audience is generally in the high hundreds–very very low thousands for the OOP books–and the difference between 70% of $9.99 and 70% of $4.99 is a couple plane tickets to conventions, which are part of my job and a lot of fun and people seem to like it when I show up in person to things. And you guys, my fans, seem pretty cool with the prices–I’m sure you would be happy if they were lower, but I almost never ever hear bitching about prices. (*) I am really grateful for that, and trust me, I appreciate it.

* For the audiobooks, Audible/ACX sets the price and I have nothing to do with it. I wouldn’t have put Bridges at $19.99 when it’s half the length of OOP, which is $24.99, but I can’t change it.

$9.99 isn’t that bad a price, comparatively. It stands out in the gay romance field because a lot of those books are disposable/interchangeable and priced at $4.99 or $2.99 or even less. That’s fine. I don’t want my books to be lumped in with disposable gay romance books. It stands out in self-published (which these aren’t really except the e-books sort of are because my publisher didn’t want to do them when I started doing them) and some small press. But $9.99 is also lower than a lot of contemporary fiction books. Look at Amazon’s top ten sellers in the Kindle store, and $9.99 doesn’t stand out as an unusually high–or low–price.

One of the things about price is that it has indirect effects as well as the obvious direct ones: the price you set your books at influences how people think of them. If you price your e-book like a cheap e-book, then people will think of it as a cheap e-book. If you price it at $9.99, then yes, perhaps fewer people will buy it. But the ones who do will be making a considered decision to buy it and will actually take the time to read it (you hope) rather than shoving it into a pile of $1.99 books they bought on impulse. Think of how you feel buying an unknown $1.99 book. If it were really good, you’d be surprised, wouldn’t you? How many $1.99 books do you think you’d need to buy to find that “diamond in the bargain bin”? (I specify “unknown” because my fans–and every author’s fans–will go seek out their books and knows what they’re going to get, and I’m not just talking about furry book buyers here.) Now think about a book you’d spent $9.99 on, perhaps on the recommendation of a friend, or because the blurb looked interesting. You have higher expectations for it, don’t you? More likely to try it out and make sure you get your money’s worth?

Why is that important, you ask? Doesn’t the money spend the same?

Yes. But what’s important about it is that the person who takes the time to read your book and likes it will seek out more of your books and buy them. The person who tosses your book into their “$1.99 folder” may never read it, and may not even recognize your name the next time one of your books pops up. I’m trying to build a fanbase, which is a slow process. But I want the people who buy my books to want to buy them.

What’s more, my books are mostly erotica, all furry; these are not going to get plastered on Amazon’s front page. They are specialty titles, as I said above, and the people who buy them generally have been seeking them out. Which means that they are largely price-insensitive. Yes, $9.99 is more than $4.99. But it’s not that much more if it’s something you know you want. Hell, I spent $9.99 just to get a book I love and already owned in electronic format so Kit could read it. And I am pretty proud of my books. If you ask me why my books are twice as much as most gay romance novels, I will respond that I think they’re worth it (I have read a bunch of gay romance books). You might disagree; that’s fine. But I don’t think it’s an unfair price.

Which brings me to this year’s experiment. The Argaea books are old and were not selling all that much, and thanks to Google setting prices at a discount, had already been dropped to $7.99, which I felt was fair because they’re old and don’t have art. So fine, I said, I will drop the price to $4.99 and we will see if my sales at least double. I was assured they would, although it might take up to six months. I was highly skeptical because of all the reasons outlined above, but I am a scientist and was open to experimentation.

When I dropped Volle and Prisoner’s Release to $4.99, I made an announcement. When I dropped Pendant of Fortune and Shadow of the Father, I didn’t. They have all been $4.99 for 5-6 months, and here are the results of my entirely scientific experiment: I was right. When I made the announcement about Volle and PR&OS, they got a boost in sales, about double normal for that month. Then they went right back to their regular numbers and haven’t budged since. Pendant and Shadow didn’t even get that boost. (*)

* If you want to go get them, you can still do that…I am leaving the books at $4.99 for the moment, at least on Amazon, because I am too lazy to change it (I think iTunes let me put an end date to the sale, but I’m mad at them because of Divisions anyway), but if at some point I get the money to put the art in those books and republish them, I will likely bump the price another few bucks, because art!

I’m posting this not to do the “ha ha I told you so” dance (okay, not just for that), but to offer my own experiences as helpful data points for other people. You might not be writing furry books, or erotica, and your audience may be broader than mine; you might be writing even more specialized work. All I’m saying is: this appears to be working for me. I’m sure that the author I talked to experienced a boost in sales when he dropped his price. But he’s not writing my books, and I’m not writing his. Books are not interchangeable commodities, and if you take nothing else away from this post, please at least remember that.


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