Zoe Winters on E-book Pricing: Does Low-balling Attract the Wrong Kind of Reader?

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on March 16, 2011 in E-books, Indie Authors
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As an e-book publisher should your rankings be based on your low-ball rates or on the merit of your work? Coming from the traditional side of e-book publishing, I'm a fan of the latter. I believe in premium pricing when you put out quality work. And I believe in letting your individual market help determine your rates -- not Amazon or the general masses.

Blood Lust: Zoe Winters

Zoe Winters' Blood Lust

Nonfiction e-books are my specialty right now (although I'm working on my first novel). You'll never see me engage in the Amazon-induced pricing wars because I'm a big believer in the quality of your customers over simple quantity (although having both doesn't hurt).

I've made it work for me quite well, selling e-books at price points of $9.97, $17, and $37. Because I have a strong promotional background, had a solid platform already built when each e-book was published and intimately knew my target markets, this was a successful strategy for me. Then again, I can't speak to the fiction side. There's a big difference between selling e-books for entertainment versus selling nonfiction to readers who see it as an investment because they'll get a real financial return from the information you provide.

Knowing I'll have to price my own novels in time, the fiction side of the e-book pricing conversation is of interest to me. I saw Zoe Winters talking about this very issue over on the Keyboard Hussy blog, and just had to pick her brain. She kindly agreed to an interview. And here's what she had to say.

Jenn: What convinced you to initially price your e-books at 99 cents and stick with that price for a while?

Zoe: I was basically trying to build audience. I thought it was important to get as high as possible in the Kindle store so that when the wave hit, I would be well-positioned. I did do pretty well, and in May 2010 all three of my novellas got into the top 200 of the Kindle store and stayed there for six weeks. Mated got all the way up to 105, but it was too hard to maintain those types of sales, and the money was crap (for all the copies I was selling). Though, it felt like a lot of money at the time, since I'd never made that much in a month before doing anything (sad, I know).


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Jenn: What triggered your first e-book price increase, and how did you choose that price point?

Zoe: I realized I couldn't maintain decent earnings at that price because although I sold a little over 6,500 ebooks in June of last year, that's just hard to maintain. If you aren't the ebook flavor of the month, it's just not sustainable for most people. I started raising my prices, partly in response to the realization that to make a living I needed higher prices. I also got tired of people who read Kept at 99 cents and complained that it should be free because it was "short".  That was ultimately what made me raise prices when I did. That attitude from some readers was the last straw for me. I noticed that 99 cents drew some unappealing customers.

I'm not saying everybody who buys 99 cent ebooks is "bad", but, there is a big number of readers who buy at 99 cents just to hoard. They don't read, they just buy thinking maybe they'll "get around to it". But they didn't invest enough money in it to really care if they ever read it or not. And many who do read, act "entitled". A strange but true rule of business is that the customers paying the least amount for a product or service always complain the most and try to squeeze more out of you. I really don't want to participate in the Walmartizing of literature or cater to that audience.

Smart Self Publishing: Becoming an Indie Author

Zoe Winters' Becoming an Indie Author

Then there was the fact that I wanted to cultivate a loyal following and most people who expect ebooks to be 99 cents aren't that loyal. They're shopping by price as their main deciding factor. I just don't want those readers. Anybody that price sensitive just isn't the demographic I'm going after. (And there are plenty of readers who pay 99 cents who would gladly pay more, but when you're priced at 99 cents, there is no way to separate that demographic out.)

I want people willing to invest in my work and in me because I work hard at what I do. And I want readers who respect that. I made my novellas all $2.99 because I felt that was a reasonable price point. I raised Blood Lust to 3.95 in the effort to slowly ease it up to it's final price point of $4.95. Eventually it went up to $4.95 as did Save My Soul. With my novels I intend to do a $2.99 intro price for the fans/newsletter subscribers, but raise up to the full price as soon as possible with each book.

Jenn: If you could start over again and price your e-books differently from the beginning, would you? If so, how would you handle things differently?

Zoe: I'm really not sure. Right now I think 99 cents isn't a great idea. I feel like it drives the prices down, and it's hurting everybody. I'm not sure 99 cents has a huge positive result for most authors right now anyway. There are plenty of indies priced at 99 cents who are hanging out in the 200,000's in sales ranking on the Kindle store. So clearly price isn't the only factor of why people buy.

Often what determines whether or not someone buys a book is cover, description, if it was recommended to them, etc. Your book can be 99 cents, but someone still has to find it. Then, most of the types of readers you want, will have to get over their fear that it is "probably crap". Most of the loyal long haul type of fans are going to look at 99 cents and be suspicious. Why not just price higher, avoid suspicion, and make more money?

I also know several authors have started at higher prices and done well, like Michael J. Sullivan.

But I don't know. I can't really say it would be better for me to do something different "at that time" because there weren't that many people indie publishing when I started. 99 cent ebooks were actually a strategy at that point. It was a totally different landscape than it is now. I think it's a bad idea now in general and for me, but that's now. I can't go back in time, and even if I could, doing things differently may or may not have been beneficial.

Jenn: Do you think low pricing schemes for e-books will prove to be sustainable in the long run? Why or why not?

Save My Soul

Zoe Winters' Save My Soul


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Zoe: I think what will happen is many indies will train a lot of readers into entitlement and "expecting" super cheap ebooks, which will make normal prices like $4.95 seem like "too much". I think almost no one can make a solid living with 99 cent ebooks because you have to have huge volume for that. When I sold 6,500 ebooks in June 2010, that was around $2,300. Well, most people can't live on that, especially after you take out Uncle Sam's cut.

I'm not saying that everybody or even most indies will be able to make a living anyway, but if it's your goal, 99 cents might not be the way to go. You only have to sell 677 ebooks in a month to make that same $2,300 if you are selling at $4.95. And while that may still be hard for a lot of indies to accomplish, especially if they don't have a backlist, the math just doesn't favor 99 cent ebooks for anyone hoping to make a living. And I think writers should be able to make a living. Or at least have the potential to do it. If everything goes to 99 cents, I just don't see that happening. I see publishing becoming little more than a hobby for most.

Jenn: What differences have you seen, if any, in audience response to your e-books after prices were raised?

Zoe: I think the readers I attract now are truly interested in MY work, and not just a bargain. I feel like the readers I'm attracting are the types of readers who are going to be passionate about the work and tell other people. I also think that people don't expect it to "probably suck anyway" if it's $4.95. That negative assumption with 99 cents devalues the work because human beings are psychologically wired to get the experience they expect with many things. Fiction is one of those things. Reading fiction is a totally subjective experience, so any attitude you bring in up front about a book or author is going to color your experience. So to those who think 99 cents doesn't devalue the work, think about the people who will click "buy" but think: "Well, it's only 99 cents. It'll probably suck, but who can pass that bargain up?"

That's just not a thought I want a single one of my readers to ever have. At the higher price point, people just expect it to be good. And I work hard to deliver on that expectation.

I'd like to thank Zoe Winters for taking the time to share her thoughts on e-book pricing. Check out her author site to buy her books or stop her blog to say "hi."

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Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, and indie author. She began writing for clients in 1999 and started her first blog in 2004.

She owns 3 Beat Media - a publishing and client services company which operates All Indie Writers as well as several other websites and blogs including The Busy Author's Guide and BizAmmo. Jenn comes from a background in online PR and social media consulting, having owned a small PR firm for several years before choosing to pursue a full-time writing and publishing career.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names in the areas of children's fiction, mysteries, and horror fiction. Jenn is an active member of the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and currently serves as the organization's Assistant Coordinator of Promotions and Social Media.


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171 Comments

  1. Evelyn Lafont
    Evelyn Lafont March 16, 2011 Reply

    “Then there was the fact that I wanted to cultivate a loyal following and most people who expect ebooks to be 99 cents aren’t that loyal.”

    That quote really resonates. Don’t we all want our best shot at getting readers that love our books as much as we do? Not someone who sees it as a disposable, “WTF” buy.

    Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy to take rubbernecking money, but the end goal is to develop a readership, and I think you are right that a $0.99 book is going to have a much harder time doing that.

    • Sascha von Bornheim March 19, 2011 Reply

      Hello,
      I read your article with interest. I have been selling a books on amazon since August 2010, and although I started out at 0.99 as well, I quickly realized that i wasn’t making any money. I’m still not making nearly enough now, after having raised prices to 3.99 for most of my books, but… my sales have actually increased. I’m not sure why that is (popularity of the kindle? word of mouth?), but I have not had any complaints about my prices.

      I am currently finishing my first novel, and will introduce it at the 3.99 price point. No going back to 0.99 for me; as you say it not only means that we are not really being paid for all the hours and hours of work that we put in, but it also professes some sort of lack of esteem in our work. It makes us look like General Motors, the company that can only sell its horrible cars when it practically gives them away for free.

      I want to be a BMW, not a Chevy. I do have that much self-esteem. :)

  2. Zoe Winters March 16, 2011 Reply

    Thanks, Evelyn! The question to ask with 99 cents, even if you get high in sales rankings is: “Will these people stick with me and support my career?”

    Most of the time, no. They’re treating books like toilet paper.

    • Glo March 16, 2011 Reply

      I don’t know, When I heard that ‘Kept’ was good and free I decided to download it. The free factor was an incentive for me, because I wasn’t sure if I would like it or not, not because I don’t value a good book. I ended up loving it and have purchased all the Preternatural books, since then, and I even brought Blood Lust for my sister and best friend. They in turn brought ‘Save My Soul’. So, I think offering just one book for free or at a very low cost is a good way to let people sample your work. However, that any books which come after the initial low cost ‘sample’ should be priced at a regular higher cost.

      • Jennifer Mattern March 16, 2011 Reply

        That’s the thing with fiction. You’ll never know if you’re going to like it until you read it. But I’d say there are other ways to go about it. If you specialize in e-books for example, you can use your blog to offer samples and give people a taste without undercutting the value of your entire e-book. You could do the same if selling print books actually. And while you might have purchased more (which is awesome by the way), it still doesn’t address the hoarding issue — leading to inflated stats on legitimate interest that could have a significant impact on an author’s decision to pursue another book. In that case, it’s actually bad marketing. The author could assume more interest than there really is, spend a lot of time and money producing another professional book, and have dismal sales at the higher price point. I’d say if any book should be priced that low it should be an older one no longer bringing in full price sales rather than having the higher priced books “come after the initial low cost ‘sample.'” There are other ways to give readers a taste of what you have to offer. In fact I’d argue you could even get more value by offering something for free if you know how to leverage it for long-term subscribers and ancillary product sales. That’s more of a promotional sample than lumping your book or e-book in with low-priced “competition.”

        • Zoe Winters March 16, 2011 Reply

          I think you summed up why I don’t like it. I am part of an ebook short story anthology that is priced at 99 cents, but my contribution to that was just a short story. I wasn’t in charge of pricing or I would have made the price higher, especially given that proceeds all go to charity. But it was also for visibility. My rationale is… there are 8 other authors in that anthology, and I’m pretty sure no one things I had final say in pricing.

          But I totally agree with what you’re saying with regards to free being just different than 99 cents. If someone does something free on a retail site I believe it should be temporary promo, otherwise, I think free should be in other places besides retail sites where people are there to buy.

          I don’t think people go to Amazon thinking they’re going to get a lot of free stuff, they go with either a window shopping mentality or the intent to purchase. To then get people to purchase at 99 cents trains people to undervalue and take for granted the work that goes into good books, even in digital format.

      • Zoe Winters March 16, 2011 Reply

        Glo, first, thanks for reading! Kindle and Smashwords and B&N all offer generous samples, so even if you hadn’t gotten Kept free, you would have been able to sample enough to know if the work was right for you.

        I am not “opposed” to loss leaders, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Kept is free in a few places and I’ve left it without taking it down simply because it seems non-beneficial to remove that entry-point into my work. I do offer Kept free off my site though with a newsletter subscription.

  3. Everett Powers March 16, 2011 Reply

    99 cent ebooks may devalue epublishing, or it may not. We have to consider eindustry as a whole. 99 cent books create publicity, which drives people to ebooks, which helps all ebook publishers.

    I think it’s helping to drive up ebook’s share of publishing.

    I don’t want to sell my books for 99 cents because I think they’re worth more, but I like the idea that millions more are shopping for ebooks because of the 99 cent buzz.

    • Jennifer Mattern March 16, 2011 Reply

      But as Zoe points out, buying more doesn’t mean people are reading more. It frequently means people hoard the cheap e-books.

      Also, as someone coming from a PR background I really question the publicity value. Low pricing is at best a publicity stunt — not a long-term sustainable tool for most. Pricing is an important part of the long-term marketing mix; not a PR stunt. And when you create an immediate increase in that “entitled” mentality among members of your target market, you risk damaging that long-term potential. The ridiculously low prices become expected, and the Average Joe seems to have a rather difficult time separating the concepts of price and value. Devalue your work too much up front and you risk keeping that low value image indefinitely.

      • Zoe Winters March 16, 2011 Reply

        You said this so much better than I could! (Too bad I didn’t read your reply before I commented as well, lol!)

      • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

        Publicity is different than marketing. In marketing:

        Low price point leads to sampling.
        Sampling leads to sale.
        Sale leads to return user.

        The price point isn’t a psychological impediment to ever paying higher for a product, and besides we aren’t talking about widgets we are talking about books, and a low price point on one book by an author doesn’t mean there is an expectation that another book by that same author will be priced low. In fact, the “sampling” model is widely used now for first books in series, and the consumer expectation is that they WILL pay more for later novels after they’ve dipped their toe in the water.

        • Jennifer Mattern March 21, 2011 Reply

          I’ve said it in response to another comment of yours here, but it bears repeating:

          You do not need to use low prices in this day and age to let people sample your work online. There are ways to get the best of both worlds — get those opportunities without sacrificing an income stream.

          • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011

            You don’t need to, but it can certainly help. This is why lower priced books generally (not always) sell better than higher priced books. It is a tactic that is used for specific purposes. My point is that you shouldn’t use the “99 cent price point is horribel” brush to paint what can be a valuable marketing tactic.

      • Angela Perry March 21, 2011 Reply

        This really resonates with me, because I’m one of those hoarders. Not entirely of course: I’ve purchased several ebooks, ranging in price from $2.99 to $6.99, and I’ve read each of them. But I also downloaded a bunch of free books on my Kindle because I could. And I haven’t gotten around to reading them yet. That’s scary to realize.

        • Zoe Winters March 22, 2011 Reply

          I realized I did the same thing, too. Human nature, I guess! It’s easy to think “I’ll get around to it later” and then you don’t.

    • Zoe Winters March 16, 2011 Reply

      That’s why we differ, the whole mentality of all these readers flocking to 99 cent ebooks is that they “expect” ebooks to be free or cheap, or they will with continued undercutting.

      This is not giving us any sizable audience of a type that we actually should want. When all we have are ebooks, but those ebooks are all cheap, we’ll all be making slave wages or getting into other occupations.

      • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

        I respectfully disagree. There are certainly some consumers out there that expect a 99 cent price point, but they are noise in the system. I have seen zero legitimate research that indicates that book consumers overall have a 99 cent ebook expectation. My own experience in digital media leads me to believe that a vast majority of consumers don’t have that 99 cent expectation.

        It is much more likely that digital consumers expect SOME discounting off of the hardcover or even softcover pricing due to their belief that digital copies are cheaper to produce. But that specific price point is certainly not written in stone.

        • Zoe Winters March 21, 2011 Reply

          Not yet they don’t have that expectation. If the entire market gets driven down, they will. The mindless race to the bottom participated in by everybody who thinks 99 cents is still a “strategy”.

          There already IS an “entitled” demographic. No, it’s not most book consumers. Most book consumers still think $4.95 is a bargain and THOSE are the readers I want, not cheapskates who can’t figure out how to work the sample button.

  4. Traci March 16, 2011 Reply

    I’m leaning strongly to raising my prices come Easter (because I’m not looking at KDP until after Lent is over) I think that I gave an awesome intro price to about 6000 readers and got lots of feedback. Around that same time I’ll release my second book as well. I’m planning on making the jump to $2.99.

    If you don’t mind my asking…will raising the price of the existing book make me look greedy?

    • Jennifer Mattern March 16, 2011 Reply

      The “greedy” issue sounds like a lot of writers I know on the freelance side. You should never be afraid to charge what your work is worth. It doesn’t make you greedy. It just means you have to know your target market and be prepared to sell to them rather than trying to appeal to everyone or just too broad a group. One of our jobs as writers is to convey the value of our work. If we do that well, prices matter much less to the end buyer.

      • Zoe Winters March 16, 2011 Reply

        Exactly! There will always be a group of people willing to pay more for quality. I would rather seek out “premium readers” than “bargain shopping” readers. (Though frankly, compared to the Big 6 prices on ebooks, my $4.95 novels are STILL a bargain. But I want the readers who agree that’s a bargain and not the ones so price sensitive they balk at paying $5 for fiction.)

        • VKelterborn March 22, 2011 Reply

          Thank you so much for the encouragement. I released my first novel on Amazon.com as well and I have been vacillating on whether or not to change the pricing from its current 2.99 to .99. (http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004RPZTR8) I believe that I’ve produced quality work and it’s worth that much and more. I too had the same thoughts. Thank you for giving me a boost.

          • Jennifer Mattern March 22, 2011

            As long as you remember it’s less about the price and more about your ability to convey value that justifies that price, you should be fine. Simple rules: don’t produce crap; add value; demonstrate that value to your target market. That’s the gist of it. It doesn’t matter what we think our work is worth if we can’t convince others through our marketing and PR work.

    • Zoe Winters March 16, 2011 Reply

      There is no universe in which $2.99 is greedy. I sell my full-length novels for $4.95 with a $2.99 introductory price, and my novellas stay at $2.99.

      Any reader who thinks you are greedy for raising your prices to $2.99 is probably not a reader you want to begin with.

    • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

      I’ve worked in digital media since the time of Napster. It is what I am paid to do in my day job. I can tell you with no uncertain terms that releasing a first book at a low price point and then a follow-up at a higher price point will NOT make you seem greedy.

      You will get some complaints, sure, but that will ALWAYS happen when you raise prices. The simple truth is people like lower prices more than they like higher prices, but that doesn’t mean they won’t PAY for those prices. Ultimately, there really is only one way to assess this: Look at your sales. If you sell a good amount of your new book at the higher price point, well, your fans felt it was worth it.

      It really is as simple as that.

  5. Torre March 16, 2011 Reply

    I love this – “I also think that people don’t expect it to “probably suck anyway” if it’s $4.95.”

    Makes perfect sense.

  6. Jonathan Eli March 16, 2011 Reply

    I really didn’t want to start out at .99 but was talked into it because I was new. I am now wondering if because they are .99 people are thinking they are not good and are passing them by? Maybe a price increase is in my future? Thanks for the info Zoe.

    • Jennifer Mattern March 16, 2011 Reply

      It’s possible. But then again that’s why no author should let someone else pressure them into a certain rate structure. That’s just bad business. Conduct the market research you need to do up front and price your book properly for your unique target market — not based on what others are charging for things that might kinda sorta be similar in some way or what the masses say they want (hint: most will want cheap or free, and they’ll still expect the world for it). If you consider raising your prices, congrats on that. But I’d suggest the same — conduct that market research rather than pulling numbers out of a hat.

    • Zoe Winters March 16, 2011 Reply

      When I first started with 99 cents, I think it was a genuine “strategy”, because there weren’t a lot of 99 cent ebooks at all. Though, I do believe I kept my prices too low for too long.

      My other pen name sold for a VERY short period of time at 99 cents and then ramped the prices up. I have no loss leaders for that name and sometimes sell better than my Zoe name. And that name has pretty much no platform.

      I do think that as readers buy and get burned by 99 cent ebooks that are crappy, they are going to start looking for higher priced ebooks. Automatically with 99 cents, unless someone already knows you and your work, you have to overcome the objection. But be sure that your work really IS ready for prime time. Because if you price too high and your work doesn’t stand up to that, you won’t sell anything that way, either.

      • Jay Swanson March 17, 2011 Reply

        First off thanks for all of this. I was leaning towards .99 simply because I’m new to the scene, but I’m definitely rethinking that. I could go for some more suggestions if either of you have them, especially regarding market research and figuring out where your pricing should fall.

        I honestly believe in my work, and once it’s polished I think it can go head to head with NY. Even if it can I still want to go Indie; for the adventure as much as anything ;)

        I loved your bit (Zoe) in your book about leaving DRM out as well. I agree, if people want it for free they’ll get it. The only ones that suffer in the end are honest people.

        And since it’s honest people I’m after, how do I make sure I’m giving them a fair price and not imposing my own beliefs about the value of my book?

        It’s what I believe to be at the center of the piracy issue anyways. Except for the delinquent core of piracy it seems that most people would buy if they felt it was reasonably priced.

        Thanks so much for all of the helpful information you’re putting out! It’s been more encouraging than you know =)

        • Zoe Winters March 17, 2011 Reply

          Hey Jay,

          I believe that most readers will consider $5 reasonable until we Walmartize fiction so much that they don’t any longer.

          Before the big Kindle ebooks thing, epublishing was booming with erotica and romance epublishers who were far more forward-thinking than anyone now gives them credit for. No reader even blinked at $4.95 as an ebook price.

          It’s definitely something to think about.

          $2.99 is LOW for a full-length novel, and if the work is good and you’re marketing, you shouldn’t have a problem selling at $2.99.

          A lot of newer indies are talking about the unfairness that I got to price at 99 cents but now I encourage people not to. Like why was it okay for them but not for me? But the thing is… If a reader can’t pay $2.99 for your novel, do you really want them? I mean really? Every single person in the universe just about pays more than that at the McDonald’s drive-thru. If they value disposable, cheap, fake food over your writing, it’s just plain insulting.

          Also, now you have to battle the hoards of 99 cent ebooks, so it’s just not a “strategy” anymore. When everything is 99 cents, then people have to survive on merit, not pricing gimmicks. And at that point we are all being paid Sh*t for our work.

          Plus there is a whole group of (smart) people who are going to assume anything 99 cents is CRAP or “short”. Readers who want full length novels are already shying away from 99 cents because they are learning that the 99 cent market is flooded with short stories and novellas. Readers who don’t prefer those formats get burned a couple of times and then they start paying at least $2.99 to ensure they are getting a novel.

          • Jay Swanson March 17, 2011

            I love your reasoning. It’s encouraging because in a way I do feel like I’m selling out/underselling myself to go the cheap route. It’s just hard to know where to draw the lines being new to this.

            You said you had great success with smashwords, but if you could have directly distributed to all of the places they’re distributing to would you have done that instead?

          • Zoe Winters March 17, 2011

            re: distro, it depends. I distro directly to both Kindle and B&N because I have full control over my product page and can update it myself and it doesn’t take a million years to update.

            With some places like Apple and Kobo, it’s just not a user-friendly system, so I use Smashwords as a distributor. If Apple and Kobo ever DID have a user-friendly set up for me to deal with them directly, I would. Because it’s been my experience with B&N that I sell a lot more going direct than going through distributor with an extra layer in there I can’t control as much.

          • Eric Christopherson March 17, 2011

            In a gate-keeper-less environment (no agents or publishers filtering quality) I think it’s reasonable to ask a reader to pay only 99 cents to gamble on an unknown author.

            I think all new authors will eventually figure this out and start there, at 00 cents, and authors will have to earn their higher prices as they release new books.

            Here’s a little experiment I’m conducting. I’ve got one book at 99 cents and another at $2.99. The first book has sold about 14,000 copies and earned good reader reviews. The other book at $2.99 didn’t sell much of anything until the lower priced book had sold about 13,000 copies. (Yes, there are loads of people who don’t read the 99 cent books they buy, and loads more who take months to get around to reading their purchases, but who cares?)

            The higher priced book still isn’t very visible on Amazon and I’ve only ever advertised it once, so the recent sales increase can only be the result of repeat customers, those who discovered at 99 cents that I don’t suck. I plan to release two more books this year at $2.99 but keep my gateway drug novel at 99 cents.

          • Eric Christopherson March 17, 2011

            Caught a typo: “not 00 cents” but “99 cents,” I meant to say.

          • Eric Christopherson March 17, 2011

            I might add also that I do think it possible to start out as a complete unknown at the $2.99 price or even higher, but this wouldn’t work unless you marketed the hell out of it.

            Me, I don’t have the time, nor inclination, to market a lot. So luckily I’ve found that a 99 cent book with strong reviews sells itself, and that’s all I need to develop a following, I think.

          • Jennifer Mattern March 18, 2011

            Eric — Just like you have to keep the target market of your book in mind when pricing it, the target market of a blog is equally important.

            Here for example, we don’t target self-published authors who take a no-barrier-to-entry approach. We make it a point to target professional indie publishers. There are plenty of barriers to entry for that group.

            In addition to it being cost-prohibitive for many to bring a professional book to market (and if they’re serious about their book — which is in turn running a business — they’d better have a budget like any other business owner), there are other factors.

            For example, beta readers weed out early garbage and give feedback on storyline edits. It would likely go through at least one professional third party editor (and not “editing services” provided by some POD publisher that cares about taking your money rather than taking a successful book to market. You’ll have designers, typesetters, proofreaders, etc. giving input. Those are indeed barriers to entry, unless someone is so unprofessional that they would choose to ignore the feedback they receive. I prefer to give most serious indie publishers enough credit to think they wouldn’t behave that way.

            So yes, there are barriers to entry. But at the same time, why should there have to be just to be able to charge more than 99 cents?

            There are few barriers to entry in most areas of going into business for yourself. It’s true of freelance writers for example. Does that mean they should charge next to nothing in the beginning. Hell no. That’s precisely how so many end up quitting. The same is true of just about any business where the professional isn’t required to have a license.

            You charge what your product is worth, period. If you don’t, there’s room to improve in business. If you’re not ready for that improvement, there’s nothing wrong with that on a personal level. But that’s only true if you go in with your eyes fully open. I’d argue many authors do not. If they did, they wouldn’t base prices over generalist feedback and other books that are in no way their competition.

            As for the marketing aspect, I say authors need to suck it up. When you choose to become an indie publisher, you’re in business. Marketing is part of the job. And if you can’t (or won’t) do that job, you probably aren’t really ready to be in that business. The indie publishing world gets more competitive every day. Marketing is not an option. It’s a necessity. Advertising just once doesn’t cut it if you want to make a comparison. The books are targeting fairly different markets up front. And while it’s okay to convert those low price buyers upward, what the experiment fails to do is show you how many people would have paid that up front had you given it a serious marketing push. And that’s important. Frankly, even $2.99 is extremely low for a novel.

            You can build an audience and give readers a taste of what you have to offer quite easily these days. Blogs and excerpts go a long way. Anyone who goes into indie publishing thinking they have to be unproven and therefore need to charge next to nothing needs to go back to square one and focus on becoming proven first. There’s a reason publishers expect you to have a platform before taking you on these days. And there’s no good excuse for a professional indie author not to have the same.

      • Rachel May 22, 2012 Reply

        (As someone who’s been following the Internet Marketing industry for a while)

        I think that most people don’t realize that the 99 cents/free books started off with internet marketers, who used Kindle as a way to get more readers visiting their sites.

        The point was for people to snap up the book at a price they couldn’t resist, and then if they liked the e-book, they would check out the author’s web site.

        Once in the web-site, the author already had a funnel in place to push that reader to a higher-priced product, usually a workshop or other kind of course.

        So the cheap/free books were never meant to make money, but were only part of a larger marketing scheme.

        But then other people saw how well it works, and decided to jump on the bandwagon.

        • Jennifer Mattern May 23, 2012 Reply

          That summarizes e-book publishing in general really.

          In their defense, some authors are using the low pricing in a similar way, because they have higher priced items for sale as well. The difference is that authors seem to use it to sell more relatively low priced items (like a 99 cent e-book to help sell a $2.99 e-book later) whereas Internet marketers are much more skilled at turning that 99 cent (or even free) item into sales of high ticket items or professional services. While there are some exceptions in the publishing world who can turn those 99 cent e-books into massive sales of other titles, most are not. It’s just a case of one marketing strategy being effective in one industry and not in another. And when it comes to marketing our own products — e-books or otherwise — we have to know what’s going to give us the best shot as opposed to what happened to work for someone else who’s already more established with an audience.

          • Rachel May 28, 2012

            (Sorry about the double comment – not sure what happened)

            I like Sean Platt’s strategy best. What he does is write stories as serials (ala Stephen King and the Green Mile, which did very well).

            The first part of the serial is free. Then each additional installment costs $2.99. If you wait until the whole thing comes out, you can get it at $4.99 – but then you have to wait to find out what happened!

            I think this is an excellent strategy. The first free chapter hooks you in, while the additional $2.99 is a very small price to pay for something that you know you already like.

            Just my thoughts as a consumer…

          • Jennifer Mattern May 29, 2012

            I’m planning something similar. I’m releasing things free via email subscriptions — one chapter per week. And I’ll be pricing fiction similarly to Platt (nonfiction higher). In my case I’ll have ancillary products to sell that tie into the books and ad support in the emails as well — monetizing readers even if they don’t buy the book. And even if the first chapter alone doesn’t hook them, that gives me the better part of the year to convert them into buyers. I’m betting that the vast majority of my readers (an already established audience) will opt to buy rather than wait 30 weeks or so for the whole thing.

    • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

      I have seen zero research that readers automatically assume a 99 cent book is crap more than they assume a 99 cent book is a great bargain.

      • Jennifer Mattern March 21, 2011 Reply

        No one said all do. But there have been plenty of comments from people who say they feel that way in this discussion (which has spread among quite a few blogs this week) as well as authors who noted sales improved when increasing prices. That tends to happen when you realize your marketing failures and work to improve your strategy. Will it work out that way for everyone? Of course not. But when people are so quick to jump on anecdotal evidence from those who make up the exception and not the rule, I think you have to pay attention to the other feedback even moreso.

  7. JRMurdock March 16, 2011 Reply

    Great post/interview and great comments.

    I recently threw my hat into the Indie Arena. I priced my book at $3.99 for many reasons that were mentioned here. I don’t want impulse buyers thinking, “What the heck. It’ll probably suck but it’s only .99″. There’s also the fact that I can give away copies and make people happy they got a free copy. I can also offer discounts and still make more on the royalty than I can at .99 AND readers will feel like they got a bargain. Yes .99 can be a loss leader like J.A. Konrath and Amanda Hocking are doing, but those are exceptions.

    Take a look at the Amazon Kindle top 100. You’ll see 13-17 books priced at .99. You’ll see a handful at $2.99. Most are over $5. That tells me that people will pay for a quality product. And that’s the key. Produce a quality product and price it accordingly.

    • Jennifer Mattern March 17, 2011 Reply

      The sale issues is one I’ve talked about in traditional e-book pricing, but it definitely applies to newer formats as well. It’s usually a smarter strategy to price high and leave room to discount later than to price too low and try to raise rates later. In one case readers can feel screwed over. In the other you get to offer timely discounts that keep them happy and help you drive sales at different times past the launch rush.

      And I agree. Far too many people look to the exceptions to the rule and assume they can follow in those footsteps. I tell freelancers all the time never to assume you’ll be the exception to any rule. And the same applies here. Can someone make a crapton of money selling at $.99? Sure. But those people are going to have huge audiences already for the most part. And of the indie e-book authors I know, most don’t fall within that group. Even then, super low pricing is only smart business if you couldn’t sell a similar number of copies at a higher price point or at least earn a higher profit with fewer sales that way. And in the case of more well-known folks, I just don’t buy it. $2.99 – 4.95 already puts you into “bargain book” status. If they can’t sell well on the merit of their work and have to rely on extremely low prices, I’d either call that bad business or a reflection on their work.

      • Zoe Winters March 17, 2011 Reply

        I think this is a good point. Like, I think Amanda Hocking could easily sell novellas at 2.99 and full-length books at 4.95. Sure, she’s making so much money she doesn’t “need” to do that, but she could.

        Why sell ANYTHING permanently at 99 cents when you don’t have to?

      • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

        This is a strategic decision, but you make good points. If you’re placing your first book for sale, do you price it at 99 cents, build a readership, and then price subsequent books higher? That’s an entirely legitimate strategy. Or do you price at $4.99 with the goal that you’re pricing pulls your book above the large mass of books priced at 99 cents. Well, that’s also a legitimate strategy. In either case, your goal is to get noticed.

        What I think is a mistake is assuming that getting noticed at a 99 cent price point is somehow worse than getting noticed at a $4.99 price point.

        • Zoe Winters March 21, 2011 Reply

          It *is* worse if you don’t want to attract that demographic. There is nothing “inherently wrong” with how Joe and Amanda are doing things. It works for them; it makes them a lot of money. It’s not how *I* want to do things.

          Just like someone making a premium hamburger doesn’t want to charge 99 cents for it like McDonald’s does. They aren’t McDonald’s. They don’t want to be McDonald’s. For someone harping on my lack of marketing understanding, market segmentation seems to escape you.

    • Zoe Winters March 17, 2011 Reply

      JR,

      That’s a good point with regards to discounts/sales. At 99 cents, there is NOWHERE TO GO. A lot of people don’t think about that part.

      If you get down to 99 cents and it’s not moving, there is no pricing strategy in a retail store that has 99 cents as the rock bottom price, that will allow you to move up in the rankings again. Price is only one factor of why something sells.

      I so agree with you with regards to “Produce a quality product and price it accordingly.”

      I also noticed that most of the books on the bestseller list are still over $5. Indies are such an insular little group that they often forget that we’re sort of in an “indie ghetto” and we don’t really realize the larger buying patterns of people who don’t “just buy indie”.

      That’s one of the reasons I feel it is SO important for indies to start freaking blending with trad pub. It’s not a political statement worth making if people are going to automatically expect indies to charge less/be worth less. My goal is for the average reader to never know I’m indie unless they “seek that knowledge out.” Because I know I’m good enough to stand next to any trad pub book.

      I’m certainly not ashamed of my indie status, but I’m going to make the decisions that are best for my bottom line.

      With regards to the $3.99 pricing, one thing I figured out with experimentation that was true (at least for me), was that when I went from 3.95 to 4.95 it didn’t affect my sales rankings at all. It seems that the consumer that will pay 3.95, just as easily will pay 4.95, and that’s an extra 70 cents per copy and more cushion for making a living.

      • Sadie Hart March 17, 2011 Reply

        “With regards to the $3.99 pricing, one thing I figured out with experimentation that was true (at least for me), was that when I went from 3.95 to 4.95 it didn’t affect my sales rankings at all. It seems that the consumer that will pay 3.95, just as easily will pay 4.95, and that’s an extra 70 cents per copy and more cushion for making a living.”

        That’s a very good point, Zoe. Looking at it from a reader POV, when I looked at those prices I went: What’s another dollar? Sure, after a few ‘extra dollars’ we get to the: I could buy this for the same price and have it in paperback… but anything under $5, I’m pretty game reader-wise.

        So if the writing is good, I don’t see why people should keep underselling themselves. And the writer side of me definitely doesn’t want to cheapen the market. It may not be possible for us all to make a living off writing, but it’s still a goal I intend to aim for. Selling at .99 would be a very rough road and if I didn’t think I was good enough for traditional publishing… I shouldn’t be thinking of self publishing. The writing has to be good either way.

        • Jennifer Mattern March 18, 2011 Reply

          “if I didn’t think I was good enough for traditional publishing… I shouldn’t be thinking of self publishing.”

          Amen to that!

        • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

          Sadie,

          This is a lot of why I try to blend with trad pub. I want the general average reader who isn’t also a writer and doesn’t already know me from somewhere online to just “assume I’m trad pubbed”. If they assume that, then $4.95 is a bargain. This is that whole indie ghetto thing I’m talking about.

          Why should a debut trad pub author be priced higher but a debut self-pub author (even if they’ve done everything to ensure quality) feel like they need to charge 99 cents?

          And someone earlier where it was too complicated to figure out which reply button to hit, said something about how untried indies need to price at 99 cents so someone takes a risk on them.

          I don’t take risks on 99 cent ebooks. I assume it’s crap. EVEN as a self-pub author myself. Because I know most of it is. I want a book that is moving at a higher price point, unless I know the author. And most readers are getting more suspicious of 99 cent reads after having ebeen burned.

      • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

        If you price at 99 cents, and your book isn’t moving, then you have bigger problems than pricing. Most likely your marketing is not working. It is possible that people don’t like your book and thus aren’t telling their friends to buy it. In any case, not moving books at 99 cents has little to do with a pricing failure and everything to do with all the other things.

        • Jennifer Mattern March 21, 2011 Reply

          Pricing is a part of the marketing. That’s why it’s such a problem when readers automatically associate your book with the other garbage they’ve seen at the same price point. Is it fair in all cases? No. But it does happen. If not moving books at 99 cents wasn’t about a pricing failure, you’d never see people do better when they increase those prices (as other comments here seem to demonstrate).

  8. Caethes Faron March 18, 2011 Reply

    “A strange but true rule of business is that the customers paying the least amount for a product or service always complain the most and try to squeeze more out of you.”

    I have seen this proved over and over again and I don’t think enough people realize the truth of this statement.

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      Yeah, and I just don’t want those types of readers. They need to read someone else. I want someone willing to invest in my work and who is a little more discerning in what they read. Because I believe my work stands up to that scrutiny.

  9. Lucy March 18, 2011 Reply

    Zoe, I am so relieved to read this. I’ve been thinking along these lines for a while but it’s a brave person who comes out and says, “some kinds of readers might not be good for your career.”

  10. Scott Nicholson March 18, 2011 Reply

    Zoe, we clash often (in fun) and what’s this with “becoming hobbyists”? Most writers in the history of language have been hobbyists. Like, 99.99 percent. That ratio is exactly the same now–for every indie that launched a career, a trad author had to get a real job.

    I agree on low-mid pricing variety but I also use 99 cents mainly for a couple of volume sales (because nothing in the world markets like an Amazon algorithm gone wild) and because I use it for my story collections. I’ve sold thousands and thousands of story collections in ebook. In paper, I have sold maybe a thousand copies in 10 years. Do more people like stories now? No, as Eric says, they hoard. Maybe one day they get around to reading it and go for more. I’ve even had people say they read a collection and “then go buy one of my REAL books.”

    The worst reviews I ever got were for a freebie, The Red Church, a very popular book that has sold steadily for over a year. It got hung up as a freebie at BN through Smashwords and I got one-star reviews like “I got this for free, but I don’t like supernatural books.” I mean, you can’t really argue with that, but it kinda sucked. So I will agree with half of what you said.

    Scott Nicholson
    Speed Dating with the Dead

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      Scott, I don’t want to “sell copies”, I want to “gain a loyal following/readerbase.” It’s about building platform, not one-off impulse purchases.

      And you can say that leads to more purchases, with some, yes, but many just hoard and don’t read to begin with. Or they expect lower quality and bring their expectations into the work.

      Honestly, readers who aren’t smart enough to get a sample and then make an informed decision about whether they want to click the buy button and continue reading, should probably read someone else. Because I’m not playing this “race to the bottom” game.

      • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

        Yes, but Zoe, the undeniable truth is that “selling copies” is what leads to gaining a “loyal following/readerbase.” You can’t have the latter without the former. Sure, you’ll get a lot of chaff with that wheat, but the point is that you’re also reaping wheat in the process.

        One of things that I take issue with is that having lots of people who sample a book and don’t like it is a bad thing. How many people go through a bookstore, read the jacket copy and the first chapter and put it back. Some of them will buy the book. If you think of low price volume sales as browsers who are sampling your books, each one is an opportunity. Many of them aren’t, but you should focus on the opportunity and not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        • Jennifer Mattern March 21, 2011 Reply

          Sure you can Jake. A readerbase doesn’t have to be huge to help you meet your goals. There’s the ego-based “I want to sell a crap ton of copies to top such-and-such a list” and there’s the “I want to make $x from book sales.” You can fall somewhere in between, but you can absolutely reach your business goals without worrying about building a large readership. You can “reap wheat” without focusing on the largest readership you could possibly build. Relevancy plays a role.

          And there’s no reason to use low pricing as a form of sampling. You don’t have to sacrifice the income stream to let people sample your work. You can build that same opportunity in other ways — free sample chapters on your site, book previews on sites like Amazon, etc. So yes, focus on opportunities. But low pricing to get them can cost you more than you get in return if there are better options available.

          • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011

            Well, I’m approaching this from a purely business point-of-view. Which is to say that I’m assuming the goal is to make as much money as possible. I’m ignoring all the warm and fuzzy stuff about being loved and having a large readership. If the goal is to make money, you embrace the effective strategy that works for you, and one legitimate strategy is selling books at 99 cents.

            You are saying “you don’t need to do this,” but that’s short-sighted. If it is a legitimate tactic–and it is–then you should assess it. I’m not saying everyone should do it. I’m not saying most people should do it. But keeping it in your publishing/marketing arsenal for the right situation is perfectly reasonable. There are times when tossing out a 99 cent novel will make a lot of sense.

          • Jennifer Mattern March 21, 2011

            As am I Jake. And here’s the thing. It doesn’t matter if a marketing tactic “works.” It only matters if it works better than other options available to you. That’s how you make as much money as possible. And when it comes to the concept of sampling, no one is saying you shouldn’t provide samples. We’re simply saying there are ways to do it while still maintaining the income stream from all of your books. Do you have to do it that way? No. But please stop twisting what’s been said to defend your point and implying that others simply don’t understand marketing — couldn’t be more wrong.

          • Zoe Winters March 21, 2011

            Jake,

            I approached it from a purely business POV. on my BEST 99 cent month I earned $2,300 for that month. On an average month at the higher price points, I earn almost 4.5 TIMES that.

            TRUST ME, I make a LOT more money at the higher price points. It’s not about stroking my vanity that “gee, golly wow, I can sell books at $4.95″. But fans who “love you” are important, because they are the kinds of readers who get not only more financially invested in your work, but emotionally invested enough to review, tell others, etc.

            A big part of the 99 cent bargain reading demographic doesn’t behave the same way. That’s my experience. Other people’s experience may vary. When you’ve sold thousands of ebooks at 99 cents you’ll have a good sampling to determine if that’s the demographic you want to seek out.

  11. Adam iWriteReadRate March 18, 2011 Reply

    Hi. I think there is room in the Market for various pricing levels, and if you already have a following naturally you have the option to charge more. The eBook Revolution does give indie and unpublished writers a great new opportunity to get their work out and start building a readership – the internet seems almost purpose built for this, giving aspiring authors easy access (through an eBook platform) to global distribution.

    Whilst I do think there will always be a place for premium priced, fully marketed, published work; I also believe there is a place for lower price points for indie and self-pub work. It’s a world of potential out there for new writers and readers looking for something a bit different.

    As it happens we’re launching such a place – it would be great if you could stop by sometime.

    All the best

    Adam Charles
    Director
    iWriteReadRate.com

    • Jennifer Mattern March 18, 2011 Reply

      Hold on now. You say that as though “premium price, fully marketed, published work” and “indie and self-pub work” are different things. If you’re talking about hobbyists, sure, that may be the case. But if you’re talking about those who want to pursue indie publishing at a professional level, they can very well be the same. And that’s the target readership here. The implication there is a bit insulting for those who do act like professionals and take more responsibility for their work — not stopping at the writing, but fully pursuing the marketing side of that business as well.

      And please. People need to stop referring to “the market.” There is no such thing. There are hundreds – no thousands – of markets for both traditional and indie publishers. Not acknowledging that and assuming there’s one larger market at play is one of the biggest mistakes any author could make, in pricing their e-book or book or pretty much anything else they do beyond that. You’re right that there’s a place for the cheap e-books. The question is whether professionals should assume they need to lump themselves in with the unvetted amateurs who do put out crappy products (and let’s be realistic — for all the good in self-publishing there are plenty of bad “books”).

      If you’re only starting to build a readership after your book is written, you’re seriously behind in this day and age. There’s no excuse for any serious indie author not to work on building a platform long before they get to that point. And when they put in that up front effort, they do not have to take part in the race to the bottom initiated by the likes of Amazon. And I’m not sure what “e-book revolution” you’re talking about. They’re not new. They’ve been around for quite some time, and have sold successfully at much higher price points than you’ll find on Amazon. The only revolution recently is a drastic drop in prices as authors can’t figure out what value proposition they can offer beyond appealing to cheapskates and hoarders. The other revolution — the one bringing global distribution to the masses — is not new and had nothing to do with ereaders and bottom of the barrel pricing models that benefit those selling the ereaders more than the authors.

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      I don’t really think $4.95 is a “premium price”. It’s still a bargain. In trad pub it would be a bargain. By saying $4.95 is a premium price for indies, you admit there is an indie ghetto and indies shouldn’t be able to charge as much because they are in some way “lesser”.

      If the work is quality, have confidence in it and price it accordingly.

  12. Michelle March 18, 2011 Reply

    Zoe,

    I read your post over on Konrath’s site not too long ago.

    What would you consider the ‘sweet spot’ for new authors? We don’t have name recognition. 99 cents seems like the way to get it, but on the other hand, I wonder if you’re right about how people might perceive the book. As Scott said, the worst review he got was for a free book.

    Thanks for such an informative post. It gives me a lot to think about.

    Michelle Muto
    The Book of Lost Souls

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      Michelle,

      When I started, there weren’t enough 99 cent ebooks for there to be a perception about it. Right now everybody is jumping in on this self-publishing thing, leading to a lot of crap at the bottom of the pricing barrel.

      If you’ve got a full-length novel, starting now, in the current climate, I’d start it at $2.99 at least and market it. Later if you need to run a temporary sale you can always do that, but if you can get people thinking of the $2.99 price as the sale price, all the better.

      $2.99 is STILL an impulse buy. Though, you can also just bite the bullet and start out at whatever price you want to end up at. If you start at $4.95 or something along those lines, and with marketing and such you can’t get the book to move, you can always offer temporary sales to get things moving. It’s better to start higher and drop price if necessary than to start lower unless you’ve got a specific strategic reason for it.

      Like… when I release a new book, I start it temporarily at $2.99 to reward fans/newsletter subscribers/people who actually follow me and stay plugged in. Then I raise the price and those who weren’t paying attention or subscribed pay the higher price.

      But remember, if you start at 99 cents and it doesn’t move (which DOES happen a lot, 99 cent’s isn’t magic), then you have nowhere left to go.

      • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

        This is a relevant argument. Any kind of price point aimed at generating a large volume of new readers more than maximizing income should be done with your comments in mind. If the 99 cent price point has become so awash in releases that it is nearly impossible to get noticed, the value of the lower price point is significantly less.

        That said, if the price point is your ONLY marketing element, you should probably not have high expectations anyway. An introductory price can only go so far in pushing volume sales, especially for new writers.

        • Zoe Winters March 22, 2011 Reply

          True, Jake. There was a point early on when just pricing a book at 99 cents made it move. It’s not always the case now. Authors are having to work harder to gain attention and readers than they had to before when there were less readers. It seems most readers are willing to pay more than 99 cents, so if you have to do all that marketing anyway… and someone comes to your page and sees your book and thinks it seems good… it seems likely they’ll buy it whether it’s 99 cents, 2.99 or 4.99 without much hesitation.

          I’d say 4.99 might be harder to pull off for someone new, but Michael J. Sullivan started at that price point and does well.

  13. Michael Schultz March 18, 2011 Reply

    While I don’t disagree with you, like others have said, as a newer indie author, I don’t have name recognition, and despite a few barebones classes on it over a decade ago, I have very little marketing experience/knowledge. I completely get what you are saying about people thinking 99 cents is crap and everything, but if we don’t know what to do about marketing and can’t afford someone to do it for us, what else can we do? :/

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      I still think you should be able to move copies at $2.99. I have another pen name, she has almost no platform and doesn’t really market. Books at that name are selling sometimes better than Zoe at $4.95 with no loss leaders. I started the first book at 99 cents for a VERY short period of time, then slowly creeped up to $4.95. But I just don’t believe you have to have a giant platform to sell at higher prices.

      It doesn’t take giant numbers of people to read your book and start telling their friends. If you’ve got something well written with a professional cover and description and you get some book bloggers to review it to get the word out a little bit about it, I certainly can’t guarantee it will do well, but I’m not sure that it would do worse than you’d do at 99 cents as a new indie.

      I think a lot of indies really overestimate the magic of 99 cents. People still have to find you. Then if they are the kind of reader you want, most of the time, they have to get over their suspicion of you… because of all the crap at 99 cents. The kind of readers you want, aren’t just buying books because they’re 99 cents anyway. They are buying stuff others have told them about or stuff they’ve stumbled upon and decided they think they want to read.

      And anyway, I think a slower build of loyal unentitled readers is better than a lot of hoarders and people who don’t value what you do enough to pay for it. (and IMO 99 cents isn’t really “paying for it”, it’s dropping quarters in a hat while you play music for them.)

      Don’t assume right out of the gate that you can’t move copies for more than 99 cents. $2.99 is still an impulse purchase and a good introductory price if you’re a totally new indie.

      • Jennifer Mattern March 18, 2011 Reply

        Excellent point about “giant numbers.” This is another one of those crossover issues between indie publishing and freelance writing.

        On one hand you have the people who set very low rates because they say it’s easier to attract buyers. That’s all honky dorey. But then you have the other group with higher rates who can sit back and laugh their way to the bank because they have the business sense to understand that with higher rates you don’t need to make as many sales.

        And I think that’s a bigger problem in indie publishing because you have the sales figure lists. People focus on the ego aspect of saying they sold X number of copies rather than focusing on the quality of the readership, relevancy, and keeping things as profitable as possible. You can earn significantly more even when others are charging much less to bring in more buyers. But you have to decide. Are you in it to stroke your ego? Or are you in it for the business of it (what we focus on here at All Indie Publishing)? there’s nothing “wrong” with the former. Just know you won’t get the benefits of the latter that way — or at least most people won’t.

        • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

          Definitely, and I really struggled with that for awhile. And it’s a lot of why (with the exception of this hiccup at your blog, lol), most of the time I don’t focus on “being indie” so much as “being a paranormal romance author”.

          I felt this sort of pressure to keep being “relevant” in indie circles as an “achiever”. And of course Joe and Amanda sell a lot more than me, but I’m not selling tiny numbers.

          I make good money. And I make good money because making a living doing what I love is more important to me than everybody thinking I’m the “bestest indie EVAR!!!”

          I might have higher sales rankings at 99 cents. But I’d also probably not be making a living, and even if I was, I wouldn’t be making as much as I’m making right now. I’ve crunched the numbers. I know how much I’d have to sell at 99 cents to make what I’m making right now. The numbers are far too insane and unlikely to reach.

    • Jennifer Mattern March 18, 2011 Reply

      You can learn. There are more than enough resources out there to teach you. We’ll have plenty here on this site, with a lot of info coming from my own background doing PR work for creative pros. Let me be frank. There’s very little a publicist or marketing professional can do that you can’t do yourself. And there are times to hire them — like when you have too much else going on with the writing, editing, or other work you take on in addition to your books and e-books. But early on, you can take the DIY approach and build a fairly large platform without much help. My response to any author who says “but I don’t have name recognition” is to get out there and build it! You can. And if you want it badly enough, you’ll make that happen.

      • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

        Exactly. I started a blog 3 years ago. Nobody knew who the hell I was. Nobody built my platform for me. I just got out there and was squeaky.

        • Michael Schultz March 18, 2011 Reply

          I see your points, both you and Jennifer, and “being squeaky” is something I am trying to learn :)

          Just as an aside, I agree whole-heartedly about worrying too much about being indie. I think that’s a term being thrown around a bit too much these days. I don’t think building a business on the internet has been “indie” since the early 2000’s :)

          Worry less about your “cred” and more about your writing! ^_^

          • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011

            Exactly! It’s gotta be about the words and the experience you’re delivering to the reader. We waste SO much time on the ego crap.

            Fellow writers can be awesome, and many of the ones I know have been invaluable to me both on a friendship level and on an “upping my game” level, but I think sometimes we spend too much time with other writers and if we stopped doing that… we’d be happier. Writers often… especially in large groups… do not play well together.

    • Suzan H. March 18, 2011 Reply

      Michael, if you don’t mind my asking, but why aren’t you seeking out information on marketing?

      Honestly, I’m not trying to pick on anyone, but indie publishing is still a business. It always amazes me when I hear anyone say they don’t know marketing, and then insinuate they have neither the time/desire to learn.

      I want my writing business to succeed, but I also have a huge pool of personal acquaintances who allow me to pick their brains.

      Please, Michael, go out, network, learn. I want to see you kick butt.

      • Michael Schultz March 18, 2011 Reply

        It’s not that I’m not seeking out information, I am. But I know enough about marketing to know that it’s tricky. I have such respect for those who can do :)

        I will get it, but it can be difficult to know where to start! :)

        Believe me, I WANT to kick butt! :D

        • Jennifer Mattern March 18, 2011 Reply

          Here’s where you start:

          Stop telling yourself it’s tricky, and start telling yourself “hey, I can do this!” ;)

          I think a lot of writers struggle with marketing because they think of it in terms of the hard sell. But there is so much more that you can do. Focus on building a platform and visibility for example, and a lot of the more aggressive promotion is actually done for you by your fan base. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be aggressive at all. But focus on what you can handle at first. And for goodness sake don’t try to do everything. That’s an easy way to let it overwhelm you. Choose one or two things you can really focus on at first. Then you can always broaden your marketing strategy.

          • Michael Schultz March 19, 2011

            “Here’s where you start:
            Stop telling yourself it’s tricky, and start telling yourself “hey, I can do this!” ”

            Ha! :) You’ve got me there. You’re absolutely right. A self-defeating attitude is the worst thing you can have as a writer trying to get your stuff seen.

            Being an “indie” (there’s that word again :) ) author requires so much more work from the author, but in the end, I think it’s SO much more rewarding to be able to say you did it on your own!

  14. Adam iWriteReadRate March 18, 2011 Reply

    Hi Zoe. Thanks for your in-depth reply. As an indie author myself there’s nothing I don’t agree with you on.

    I too have a concern that indie authors that have taken the time to edit, Market, edit, and publish their work (and whose work is well written) may get a bit drowned put by low cost, poorly put together work.

    My sincere hope is that the cream will still rise to the top, and that readers continue to be willing to pay a bit more for the best indie authors.

    All the best
    Adam

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      I think if the better indie authors price higher and those who sling together crap, price lower, then the “you get what you pay for” mentality will sink in even deeper and we won’t have a giant problem.

      Even if 99 cents is a “bargain”, if you have to wade through mountains of crap to find the good stuf… well, how much is your time worth? My time is worth enough to just pay $5 for something I know is good and be done with it.

      • Adam iWriteReadRate March 18, 2011 Reply

        Agreed! This is one fantastic debate you’ve started here!!

      • Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

        The trouble is that you can’t equate quality with pricing. Each reader has different tastes and may find a book priced at 99 cents wonderful and one at $4.99 a piece of crap. Similarly, you can be certain that there are lousy writers thinking the same thing, “My book isn’t lousy. I’ll price it higher so that it stands out from those other books.” The real issue is the pure volume of books priced at 99 cents. Standing out in that crowd is more difficult and Sturgeon’s Law still applies.

        The reality is that price of a book has nothing to do with its quality, and consumers know that. They see some of the greatest books in literature available for 99 cents. They see publisher specials of their favorite writers available for 99 cents. They pay $9.99 for a book that they may hate.

        In the end, readers will pay what they are willing to pay. Nothing more. Nothing less. Pricing is thus just a way to maximize your return as an author and publisher, whether its in generating new readers via sampling or higher income via volume.

        • Jennifer Mattern March 21, 2011 Reply

          Yeah, but…

          1. If someone doesn’t like a book because it simply doesn’t suit their tastes, then they weren’t in the book’s target market. I’m sure there are cozies thriller lovers would hate and vice versa. But you don’t price your book based on people who likely won’t enjoy the book anyway. You target the right market and set your price based on them.

          2. You’re right that most writers don’t want to think their own books are lousy. Then again, there’s a difference between someone slapping something together and someone taking a more professional approach — hiring the right editors, designers, etc. to put together a top notch product. Will some people still not like those books? Sure. But you’ll never please everyone, and there’s a better chance they won’t put out crap with those safeguards in place. More importantly, if someone does release crap and try to charge more to avoid that image, they’ll be called out for it anyway. That’s where reader feedback comes in.

          Quality absolutely plays a role, but what matters is quality in the opinion of members of your target market — not a general group comparing your work to unrelated things. Pricing is a marketing strategy. It always has been. It’s one of the fundamental “4 Ps” at that. The key is whether or not you know how to successfully convey value — that’s how you get people to pay more in the beginning. But the quality issue plays a huge role in keeping customers coming back for more.

  15. Larry Marshall March 18, 2011 Reply

    Great post, Zoe. I think you’re closer to the mark than most. Clearly the 99cent price is effective in ‘climbing the charts’ on Amazon but I have to wonder about the long term. I do think that an author determining pricing based upon anything other than how much money they’re making is silly, though.

    I’ve been buying eBooks for more than a decade. Before the Amazon/B&N explosion, I thought nothing of spending $5-7 for an eBook and I’ve bought hundreds of them at those prices. But I admit that I could get past the DRM and properly catalog my library of books. I still see DRM as a barrier to ‘normal’ eBook prices.

    Since getting a Kindle, I have bought some 99cent books, on a lark. The ‘click’ is so easy :-) But with one exception (a Scott Nicholson short story collection) I haven’t read any of them. At the same time, I won’t buy books from the big six that want to charge me $15 for books that don’t even come with covers.

    Cheers — Larry

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      Hey Larry,

      Indie authors control whether their book has DRM (as do the big publishers, but most big pubs pick “yes”). The way you know if a book you are considering buying has DRM is… in the technical info about the book (like file size and publisher and such), there will be the following if it’s DRM-free:

      Simultaneous Device Usage: Unlimited

      If it has DRM on it, that line won’t exist at all.

      And thanks!

  16. Tara Maya March 18, 2011 Reply

    Great post, as always, Zoe. This is such a big question right now, I appreciate your insight on the matter. And congrats on the shout-out from Nathan Bransford. :D

    Tara Maya
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate (US)
    The Unfinished Song: Initiate (UK)

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      Thanks, Tara!

      And yeah, I’m a Nathan Bransford fangirl. I’m glad he stopped agenting, because otherwise I would have found a way to throw money at him. hahaha.

  17. Minx Malone March 18, 2011 Reply

    Great post. There’s so much to think about in regards to pricing. I mainly decided to self-pub a few things to counteract the super high third party pricing on some of my traditionally e-pubbed stuff. Readers who’ve heard of me and seen my other books can try out a 99c short story before paying more.

    But so many things you’ve mentioned make total sense. I’ve seen the glut of books available at the lower price point, some of which even have typos in the book description! It’s frustrating because I definitely don’t want my work lumped in with the poorly formatted, unedited stuff. I work too hard for that.

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      Minx, and I think for a genuine short story that 99 cents is totally fine. My issues are with novellas and novels being priced at 99 cents. That’s just too much work to be paid so little for.

      And that’s another reason why it may be more beneficial for serious indies (defined as those who approach this professionally) to price a little higher to blend in with the others who know what they’re doing. Because, when trying to convince a bunch of strangers your work is worth their time and money, being “shelved” right next to a lot of work that is obviously bad, associates you with the bad element.

      • Leigh Saunders March 20, 2011 Reply

        Exactly! Camden Park Press, who I publish through with a couple of friends, publishes short stories (under 10K words) at $0.99, novelettes (10-25K worse) at $1.99, novellas (25-50K words) at $2.99, and novels from $3.99-up.

        We’ve had a few people complain about paying $0.99 for a short story (and one person mentioned in a short story review that they hope my upcoming novel will also be released at that price — NOT!), but for the most part, the response has been very positive. Why? Because we all do our best to write the best books we can, write decent blurbs, and present them professionally (meaning clean editing, professional-looking covers, and appropriate pricing).

        In short, we’re acting like professionals, in a professional environment, and finding an audience that (I hope) will become a long-term group of core fans who will come back when one of us has new work, trust new authors who join the group (like my friend Liz who just put up her first short story), and help us build not only our own individual following, but also a bit of brand loyalty.

        All that said, there’s still work to be done, learning the marketing, building the platform, and writing new fiction to build the inventory. One step at a time :)

        Thanks for this conversation!

        –Leigh
        www.leighsaunders.com

        Camden Park Press
        www.camdenparkpress.com

  18. Kat J. March 18, 2011 Reply

    As always – interesting and informative.

    My book was selling a few copies a month on Amazon at $3.25. When I dropped the price to $.99 sales stalled and stayed stalled for 6 weeks.

    As you pointed out $.99 ISN’T magic. I may still be at the bottom of the learning curve when it comes to marketing but I don’t have to stay there.

    Raising the price back up across all the vendors is a hassle. So be it – I’d rather be pleased when I make a sale $2.99 than pissed off because I lost money at $.99.

    • Zoe Winters March 18, 2011 Reply

      Same here, Kat. I would really resent it too much at that price point.

  19. JL Bryan March 18, 2011 Reply

    This was a great post, Zoe, and a great conversation on pricing. I’m definitely rethinking how I’ll approach prices, especially on future books. Thanks!

  20. Cyndi Tefft March 18, 2011 Reply

    This post is exactly the kind of discussion I have been looking for. I created a poll on my author FB page along these same lines.

    Honestly though, I never considered the $4.95 price point and after reading the post and comments, am leaning in that direction (while using coupon codes in promotions since everyone likes a discount!).

    The 99 cent price point seemed like the way to go at first blush, but you have swayed me. Well done!

  21. Hayden Thorne March 18, 2011 Reply

    I’m straddling both traditional publishing and indie publishing (traditional for my YA novels and indie for my adult fiction), and for my first dip in the indie waters, I priced my novel at $2.99. It’s incredibly tempting to lower the price and entice readers that way, but the concern that Zoe raises has also crossed my mind.

    So far my sales have been very modest at most, but I’ve only had my book up for three weeks. Besides, another factor that indie authors also have to consider is genre. I primarily write for a very small niche, and to price my books at 99 cents would really kill me in the royalties department with far less readers compared to those writers who appeal to a much broader audience.

    • Zoe Winters March 19, 2011 Reply

      Hey Hayden,

      Best wishes on your book! It takes awhile for audience to build, especially in the more crowded market. Just keep marketing and doing your think to raise awareness. And that’s a very good point about pricing in relationship to the overall size of the market you have to work with. Those trying to appeal to a gigantic audience theoretically, if they are like Amanda Hocking, could make good money with enough volume… volume which runs no risk of really “running out” since there are a LOT of readers out there for more mainstream/commercial work.

      • Zoe Winters March 19, 2011 Reply

        ugh… doing your THING. I should proofread before I click post. I look like a big goober when I don’t.

        • Nancy Peske March 21, 2011 Reply

          I did the same thing, LOL! Now, of course, there is software to use for your actual text that will help you with grammar and spelling mistakes, but even Grammarian, which is rated best, misses a LOT. I just found autocrit.com which picks up overuse of certain words and the need for more variation in sentence structure and length. Even so, I think a book that has had NO editing, NO copyediting, NO proofreading is not as valuable as one that has because it’s harder to read. I think people forget that for a writer to hire those professionals freelance (as opposed to having them on staff, as publishers do), that factors into the cost as well. 99 cents just doesn’t feel fair to me as a buyer, much less a writer.

          • Zoe Winters March 22, 2011

            My problem is, I type it and click submit and don’t do ANYTHING to even look at it again. Then I look like a big moron. LOL. Because I’m too impatient for my comment to post.

  22. Adam iWriteReadRate March 20, 2011 Reply

    We’re going to price our work depending on length too – makes sense to us! From .99 for shorter stuff and up to 6-7 for really long work.

    All the best
    Adam
    www.iWriteReadRate.com

  23. Brenna March 20, 2011 Reply

    This was really interesting. I hadn’t thought of it this way. Thanks!

  24. Kevin A. Kierstead March 20, 2011 Reply

    Glad I read this. I had mine at $0.99 for a couple of weeks (from early March til what was supposed to be mid-March, aptly named the Ides of March sale), but as I’ve told my fans and friends, better grab the e-books now because they are going back up to $2.99 (x2) and $4.99 (x1). :) Thanks again. I didn’t put 1,500+ hours into a novel to make $0.40 per sale. Seriously… glad I read this. Will share with my writer friends.

    • Zoe Winters March 22, 2011 Reply

      Wow, that’s a lot of hours! It’s so much work when you think about it. I try not to, or else I’d never get through it.

  25. Andrew Kent March 21, 2011 Reply

    A great set of thoughts from Zoe, as usual. It’s absolutely true that people who buy $0.99 e-books are more profligate in their purchasing, less discriminating, and also I think less attuned to writers and publishing. Lowering the price of my first book brought in more readers but some absolutely devastating reviews from people who probably would have thought twice had the book been priced at $4.99 or so. My second and third novels have had higher prices, and the reviews have been uniformly good and less volatile.

    My beef is with Amazon, which won’t let me raise the price of my first book for some reason. It’s in their system now at $4.99, but they continue to sell it at $0.99. Why did I raise the price? Because trolls with $1 were buying it and trashing it. I wanted to stop that. Apparently, Amazon doesn’t care to help me do that.

    Oh well. I know which reviewers paid $0.99.

    • Zoe Winters March 21, 2011 Reply

      Andrew, check everywhere you’re selling it at and make sure it isn’t still selling at 99 cents anywhere. Amazon’s spiders will get ya and discount your book. Also, even after all prices are changed and showing up right, sometimes it takes 3-5 days for the Amazon spiders to notice it and change it back.

      If it’s a DTP issue where it’s not showing up on the site as discounted, but just flat-out, 99 cents, sometimes if you go into the DTP and click edit, and resubmit it, it’ll show up. Sometimes I have to do that with my description when I change it because the description doesn’t always seem to “take” and make it onto the regular site.

      Hope that helps!

  26. Jake Kerr March 21, 2011 Reply

    I should note up front that I believe that a higher price point for ebooks is not just sustainable but wise, see this post for more details: http://www.currentsandtangents.com/2011/03/20/on-ebook-pricing-and-digital-markets/

    That said, this interview reveals more of a misunderstanding about marketing than any legitimate criticism of pricing books low as a strategy. Of course if you price a book low you will get more “browsers” than fans. Of course if you get a lot of browsers quite a few of them won’t like your book or even read it. The point is that you will be providing large number of people who had otherwise never heard of you as a writer with a full-length sample of your work. Your job is to write something that will convert them into fans.

    There are lots of ways this can go wrong. Maybe a book description is fantastic but doesn’t quite match the book or oversells it in some way that disappoints the reader. Maybe the book isn’t that good in the opinion of a lot of those new readers. Maybe they loved the book and bought the other ones.

    Specifically on this example, I can point to two things worth considering:

    1) Zoe made a huge mistake in pricing ALL her books at 99 cents. The power of pricing a book at the “sampling” price is to push your catalog, which is priced higher. This is why Game Of Thrones was priced insanely low (like $3.99) last year but the other Martin books were priced at the higher price point. The goal was to draw people in with one and then gain with the other books.

    It would have been very interesting to see if Zoe had priced one of her books at 99 cents and then see if that led to an increase in sales for her higher priced catalog. THAT is a legitimate way to market with a low price point.

    2) Is there any way to see how many of those people who bought at 99 cents bought Zoe’s entire catalog? If a person buys one of your books at 99 cents, that’s one thing. But if they buy ALL your books at 99 cents, that’s a much higher investment and tells a much more rosy tale in terms of nurturing future fans. Looking at this overlap is important, but probably not possible with the data you get from Amazon. Although, I’m not sure.

    In short, you price low knowing that you’ll get a large number of browsers and readers who are nothing but a waste of time. That’s the price you pay for knowing that some of those browsers will buy more of your books, and some of those will be devoted fans you otherwise would not have reached.

  27. Nancy Peske March 21, 2011 Reply

    I wonder if those who are snapping up 99 cent eBooks will slow down after they realize they’ve loaded up their eReader with books they’re not all that interested in? Could this be a temporary phase? I can see spending 99 cents on a short-form ebook but I personally would be skeptical of its quality. Then again, if I read the sample material and contents and was impressed, frankly, I’d gladly spend more than 99 cents!

    I wonder–what if the description of the eBook listed the editor and some of her credentials? Would people more easily recognize the value (and hidden costs!) of an eBook if editors and copyeditors were listed? There seems to be an odd notion going around that ebooks “cost nothing” to produce. Well, yes, if you don’t pay to have it edited or copyedited. Plus, time is money. It doesn’t feel right to me to pay a mere buck or two to someone who has taken the time to write an entire book unless the description said, “Hurry! Price is for a limited time only!”

    • Zoe Winters March 22, 2011 Reply

      It does seem like a phase to me, honestly. I think as people get settled in with their Kindles and Nooks and such and realize ebooks aren’t going to just all disappear or something, they might slow down a little and be a little more choosy with what they download.

  28. Nancy Peske March 21, 2011 Reply

    “pay for it to be edited”–see? Even comments needed to be copyedited!

  29. Zoe Winters March 21, 2011 Reply

    I would just like to say… a book doesn’t have to be 99 cents for somebody to sample it. (Unless that person is just cheap or poor… Poor is understandable, cheap is just obnoxious.)

    Every single book in digital format has sampling at most major online retailers. EVERY book in the Kindle store has a free sample you can download. Same on Nook.

    When you say “sampling” at 99 cents, you seem to be acting as if the ENTIRE BOOK is a sample. When you go to the grocery store and they are handing out free samples of hot pockets, you get a little square of it. You don’t get a whole hot pocket. That’s not a sample.

    And having been someone who has priced both at 99 cents (for a LONG enough time to know the results) and also at a higher price point… I’m making a living at the higher price point. Most people (including me) cannot make a living at 99 cents.

  30. John Riffice March 21, 2011 Reply

    Excellent and gave me loads to mull. Not sure what to do yet, but simply cutting to .99 doesn’t seem like the panacea many think it is. Thanks!
    john
    www.johnphilipriffice.com

  31. Zoe Winters March 21, 2011 Reply

    Caution: LONG blah blah incoming:

    I debated whether or not to respond to the post that insinuates I’m some kind of marketing noob or moron. And against my better judgment I’ve decided to reply.

    Kept, Claimed, and Mated are all novellas, not full-length novels. People like to forget I was doing this early, before “everybody” started doing it, when it was the wild west and we didn’t have little focus groups on KindleBoards and such. I didn’t know what the market would bear for a novella from a complete noob. And I was also trying to build a large platform so I would be well-positioned for when the ebook wave really hit.

    That strategy might have worked for me if I’d had a bigger backlist built sooner instead of arguing with people on the Internet like I’ve apparently decided to do right now.

    Kept was only 21k words. I wasn’t sure how much over 99 cents I could price it. Claimed and Mated were 35k and were 99 cents for a very short period of time before they went up to 1.99. I originally planned to release the full length novel at 99 cents for a very short time while the other stuff was higher to try to move up the rankings and then move the novel up to a higher price point where it would stay.

    But by the time I released the novel I intended to do that on, I was already fed up with 99 cents and wasn’t about to lose revenue from core fans who would buy the book anyway at a higher price point.

    This isn’t about me not understanding what a loss leader is. I understood what a loss leader was and how they worked before I put my first ebook out. But the point is… not every market/demographic NEEDS loss leaders. People who don’t bat an eyelash at a $5 ebook, do not NEED you to offer them one at 99 cents first. $5 is cheap enough to begin with.

    With free samples available on every ebook, nobody is “taking a risk”, so the need for 99 cents to lower people’s resistance, is IMO, unnecessary.

    Anyone who hears about your book and wants to read it and checks out a sample and likes it and isn’t part of the cheapy discount-only demographic, will buy it.

    99 cents, even as a loss-leader isn’t a huge “strategy” anymore, anyway, because everybody is doing it. So basically, you still have to market it. If you have to do active marketing work to get people to your book page anyway, most of the readers who respect your work enough to pay a fair price for it (the ones you want to become fans), would have bought it anyway if you’d priced it higher.

    But back to the original story… It was a new frontier and I wanted to get “as many readers as possible” to help push me up the ranks. I knew that 1 99 cent novella with two others at higher price points was one strategy…

    But another strategy was leaving all three at 99 cents for a little while so they ALL had that “low price act now” benefit going at the same time feeding off each other. And I know for a fact that many readers who bought one bought the others because of how Amazon’s recommending system works as well as how many of the reviews were phrased.

    The plan was always to raise prices at some point, and maybe keep one as a loss leader once we got to that point.

    What I came to find was that if I didn’t want a bunch of drama from the cheapy demographic I had to start appealing to a higher pricing demographic. That particular demographic is less influenced in their buying decisions by “loss leaders”.

    I also started running up against the suspicion over 99 cents. Directly and indirectly. I would get great reviews that started with: “I was really suspicious because this book was so cheap but I decided to take a chance anyway”. And also indirectly… general discussions amongst readers on the Internet with regards to their waryness over 99 cent ebooks.

    As I both gained confidence and got fed up with a certain type of reader demographic, I raised my prices. I make a healthy living now selling fewer copies a month than I did on my best month at 99 cents.

    I think 99 cents as any kind of long term strategy is a bad idea UNLESS you for some reason want to appeal to a bargain basement consumer. (And some people, for whatever reason, do.)

    But to paraphrase someone who commented recently on Joe Konrath’s blog… there are only 2 sane reasons to price an ebook at 99 cents:

    1. You KNOW you can sell a giant volume to make up for the lesser royalty (though if you can do that, TRUST ME, you can sell at a higher price point and make as much or more likely more money.)

    2. It’s a temporary strategy to try to push yourself high up in the rankings for visibility at which point you switch the price to something higher.

    With option 1, I guess you want the discount reader as your demographic. With option 2, you’re going to bring in some of that bargain demographic, but you only have to deal with them for a short period of time because it’s all about the visibility and soon you’ll be priced out of their comfort zone anyway.

    With a long-term loss leader where you have a book that is ALWAYS 99 cents, you basically are continually appealing to a discount demographic while hoping some of them are less price sensitive than others and will end up buying your other stuff.

    But the point is… you don’t HAVE to appeal to “everybody” to succeed financially as an independent author.

    Often the numbers don’t play out to make up for all the money you’re losing on the 99 cent book. For SOME it does… folks like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking, but we aren’t all Joe and Amanda. Those of us who are not Joe and Amanda have different strategies for making a living.

    And while I’m going all out here… I’m not sure who said something about my comment about selling copies vs. gaining fans/readers, and I’m not sure if you’re being willfully obtuse or what… Of course you have to sell copies to build a reader base. I am talking about people who just want to sell a bunch of copies as one-offs and don’t seem to care about building long-term reader loyalty.

    Selling fewer copies with a higher percentage of loyal fan gain (plus making more money) is just IMO smarter than selling more copies with a lower percentage of loyal fan gain plus making less money.

    To me it’s common sense. Maybe to other people it isn’t.

  32. Zoe Winters March 22, 2011 Reply

    I think I replied to everybody in one way or another. If I skipped anybody, I’m not intentionally ignoring. Though I think there were one or two times Jennifer jumped in and replied and her comments were better than what I would have said (plus probably less screechy, lol), so I just decided to stay out of it! (Possibly one or two other times I should have done that! But meh, we all have our days)

    Thanks for all the great comments and tweets and blog shout outs, etc.

  33. Lori March 22, 2011 Reply

    Here’s the comment that stuck out to me: “I also got tired of people who read Kept at 99 cents and complained that it should be free because it was ‘short’.” Proof to me that cheap prices beget cheapos and complaints.

    But more to Zoe’s point – she said she saw hoarders instead of readers, people jumping on the low price, but not really reading the book. That’s something I’m going to store in my brain forever. If you don’t charge what it’s worth, you don’t build a legitimate readership.

    Excellent interview, Jenn. Thanks!

    • Zoe Winters March 22, 2011 Reply

      Thanks, Lori! There is a big part of me that doubts I built my actual readership any faster with ultra cheap prices than with the higher, yet still reasonable, prices.

      So it seems fairly silly to price too low, not make enough money, attract a lot of the whiners and complainers and hoarders, and still have about the same level of “actual fans” that you would have had if you’d priced higher, made more money, and avoided the drama to begin with.

      Plus those actual fans would have paid more. I got a lot of emails from those actual fans who said: “I loved your ebooks, but why are you only pricing them at 99 cents, I would have paid a lot more.”

      I find it both frustrating and amusing that there is anyone on the planet who thinks I should WANT the reader who says: “Kept is short, it should be free”, rather than the reader type who thought they should be paying more.

      To me, which type of reader I want is no contest. One of them both pays me fairly and respects my work, the other just wants to act entitled to my work for almost nothing.

      • Lori March 23, 2011 Reply

        Zoe, The Old Man and the Sea is short – it’s not free, either! :)

  34. Sonia M. March 23, 2011 Reply

    Excellent points. I hadn’t though very much about it before. $.99 didn’t seem like that great an idea for making a living but it seemed like a good way to attract readers. I see that it’s really not.

    • Zoe Winters March 23, 2011 Reply

      It “can” be a way to attract readers if you’re also marketing, but it also can be a way to push away the demographic you’re actually going for. It just depends if you want to pull from a larger pool of readers and have a smaller actual fan base and less money per sale (which usually equals to less money when it all shakes out), or whether you want to appeal to a different demographic and have a stronger percentage of fans from that buying group.

  35. Stephanie Golden April 4, 2011 Reply

    Since my first venture into ebooks is an out-of-print nonfiction title, I’m in a slightly different situation from most of you. Time spent on the Kindle Boards helped convince me to lower my price from 8.99 (which I thought quite fair for an intensively researched book that took many hours of labor to convert since I had to proofread and format a scan of the hardcopy) to 2.99, which was really painful.

    So I’m grateful to you posters above–you’ve given me a lot of reassurance and a different take on the issue. Jenn’s comments especially about marketing and targeting your readership especially have really turned my head around. Thanks!

  36. Tony July 9, 2011 Reply

    Oh man, am I glad to know I am not the only one that feels this way. .99 for a full sized novel is ridiculous and absolutely cheapens your work. If it is worth reading, it is worth paying a proper price for. I am both published, and a self-publisher, and I cringe every time I see someone put their work out there for only .99cents. The way I look at it is, “Congratulations on your one-thousand plus sales that works out to be $350-400!”

    We do not write to have cheapened numbers, we write to make a living, right?

  37. Lorna Suzuki July 25, 2011 Reply

    Hi Zoe! Good to see you here! Thanks for the great, thought-provoking post! I remember discussing this whole pricing issue back when I had you on my site as a guest blogger.

    I agree 99¢ for a full-length novel is too cheap. For me, I’m using this as a promo to introduce readers to my epic fantasy series and the subsequent books in this series are currently selling for $2.99.

    I found that if you have loyal fans, not only will they buy all the ebooks at the higher price to complete their collection, but nothing pleases me more than when they email me to say they also paid $19.99 (per copy) to buy the print books too just because ‘they wanted to have them on their bookshelf’!

    As writers, I believe many of us undervalue our works, but you can believe that once full production begins on the first of my three novels (in pre-production now) for a major motion picture trilogy, I will be raising the prices to a more realistic level once the film producers announce the release date of the 1st movie!

    Thanks for giving all writers something to think about as they immerse themselves in the world of indie publishing!

  38. Alshia M. September 17, 2011 Reply

    “And I believe in letting your individual market help determine your rates — not Amazon or the general masses.”-Jennifer Mattern

    Jennifer, I really enjoyed this and yes, I agree with you & Zoe. Nobody in their right mind wants to slave over an ebook (or anything else) and earn 35 cents for it, which is what Amazon selp publishers earn at the 99 cent price point (Amazon takes 65% royalties on ebooks priced under $2.99 or over $8.99 for those that don’t know).

    I’m working on 5 novels right now & I DO NOT want to give everything I do away for free. It’s like a rock and hard place : If a legacy publisher releases the ebook, people automatically feel it’s safe to purchase. But the author’s royalties are so low we might as well give it away. If we self publish we earn awesome royalties, but people automatically don’t trust self published books and are leery and hesitant. A rock and a hard place.

    I agree with Winters about everybody pricing their books at 99 cents now, so it doesn’t really make anybody stand out anymore. And she’s right : a lot of books aren’t selling well. Actually there are like 750,000 self published ebooks on Amazon so to be in the 200,000’s doesn’t sound as bad as it seems. Of course Kindle top 100 is much better.

    And I noticed what she said about people who get something for little or nothing being the most vocal with complaints. They are the first people to rush to give reviews, too- rarely over 1 star reviews. They tend to beat everybody else to the review section. I’ve seen this with Amanda Hocking. One Amazon reviewer whoggave her a 1 star review, complained that he wasted his 99 cents and told others to go buy a 99 cent app instead. I thought that was out of line & stupid. What are you gonna get with 99 cents? Okay, a cheese burger & a song on iTunes, but not much else. And cheap consumers like these are the hardest to please. How many products and BOOKS have we each bought that we just didn’t like? I recently bought Vampire Academy #1 and a Morganville Vampires books & had to quit both books because I just hated them. Together they cost me $16 as paperbacks. I counted it as a loss but I didn’t run to those author’s pages waving 1 star reviews over it.

    Anyway, I’ve talked too much. Wow. Jennifer, I know you’re used to making top dollar on your non-fiction sales but for ebook fiction, people complain too much about $12.99, so I don’t see a possible $37 price point going over well at all. In fact I see a lynching taking place (virtually, anyway). I was sort of joking but not really. Maybe stay with non fiction? If it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it, you know? I mean if you enjoy the $ you’re just going to be resentful that you have to go so far down in price. I’ve never charged $37 and even I’m resentful about the 99.

    Try my awesome paranormal teen romance, WHITE BROTHER FROM ANOTHER MOTHER.

    Please join me on Goodreads’ Authors
    http://goodreads.com/alshiam

    • Jennifer Mattern September 18, 2011 Reply

      Thanks for your thoughts Alshia! And never worry about talking to much here. Conversation is always welcome. :)

      As for my move from nonfiction to fiction, I’m not too worried about it at this point. I’ve put a pretty solid plan in place. Paperbacks will be $6.99-7.99 and e-books a bit less for novels. There will be a free version online for email subscribers, but if they want it for free, they have to remain subscribed through the chapter-per-week setup (more than making up for the lost sale price in the marketing value of the mailing list, and that should convert more readers to buyers than a single free chapter would as they get impatient for more). Hardcovers will come later rather than first. They’ll be sold at a premium and in limited supply as a collector’s edition, and they’ll come with a free copy of the e-book. More importantly, the main novel series has a collection of ancillary products being released alongside them. Those are digital products that will be priced around $20 each. I’m a big fan of ancillary products, and honestly I think that’s going to be one of the best ways to profit from writing fiction in the future — especially for independent authors. It won’t work for every work of fiction. But where it will, it can make up the difference and then some between typical novel prices and what we’re able to earn with information product nonfiction e-books. :)

  39. Brian Bianco September 22, 2011 Reply

    I agree with Zoe completely.

  40. Alshia September 28, 2011 Reply

    Hi, Jennifer!

    Thanks so much for responding! And I MUST say your plan sounds like a total winner! In fact, it sounds beautiful, professional! Too often the only plan I hear among our kind (SP) is “99 cents”. It’s like some kind of Holy Grail or something, and it’s crazy!

    I’ve come up with a new stategy of my “own” since the last time I was here, Jen. When I wrote my last comment here I was frustrated & disappointed-even angry. All these authors coming out on 99 cents every single day on Amazon? I never hear anybody talk about improving “content” as a way of luring people or exciting people into checking out the ebook-just the price point. So I re-grouped & tried to figure out how to set myself apart from the rest AND avoid the 99.

    But yeah, like Zoe said on here (or maybe it was you): where can you go at 99 cents? That was in my mind, the feeling of being “trapped” at that price point. I respect author John Locke, but I remember when he charged a measly $4.99 for his non-fiction book “How I Sold A Million…” and a lot of people (I’m guessing his fans) were upset & left negative comments on the net about how they resented the price jump. They’re so cheap. No disrespect to Locke. And honestly that was a steal for the subject matter & genre. They should not have complained about him. It goes back to the “sense of entitlement” you spoke of.

    Oh, one more thing. I got some obvious facts WRONG in my last post. That 99 cents was on my mind so my passion distracted Me. What can I say? The 70% royalty is $2.99-$9.99. I don’t know where I got $8.99 from.
    But anyway, thanks again for letting me comment!

    Alshia
    http://butterfacewriter.blogspot.com

  41. Christian March 14, 2012 Reply

    Thanks to everyone contributing to such a lively conversation.

    Perhaps it is worth considering another perspective on the cost of a book. How much is a hamburger? Or coffee and cake?

    If what you are creating is worth reading, enjoying, and even keeping, then you should be happy to offer your work for more than something that dribbles down your top and burns your tongue. This whole issue is not so much about money but, as others have safely reminded us, it’s about quality. And, from a writer’s viewpoint: dignity.

  42. R.D. May 3, 2012 Reply

    This might sound like a n00bish question, but — isn’t the majority opinion still that self-published/indie e-books are “crap” anyway, regardless of how they’re priced?

    I probably fall into a catch-22: I am unemployed, with no money of my own, and can’t afford to hire an editor to assist me in writing a book of publishable quality (much less one that exceeds the standards). The only way to do so would be to find some way of making money with what I’ve already written, which I myself find to be crap (and which I wouldn’t dare put forth on unsuspecting customers), or find some other way of making money “on the side” because the economy is dead.

    I also fear that e-book publishing is a death knell for any chances of traditional acquisition rather than a potential gateway as it’s seldom proven to be. Plus, isn’t much of the direct to e-book market all 18+? Wouldn’t that be a stigma that print pubbers would rather avoid like the plague?

    • Jennifer Mattern May 15, 2012 Reply

      First, my apologies for the delay in approving and responding to your comment. I was away for my wedding and honeymoon, and am just now getting back to work. Now to your questions.

      1. I hesitate to guess what “majority opinions” are. And really, most readers wouldn’t know the difference between a professionally produced, independently published book and one put out by a publishing house. People discuss their opinions more and form them based on the newer wave of self published authors. But self publishing in general is far from new. It’s been popular in the business world for decades, but I’d wager that most people who pick up books from these entrepreneurs, CEOs, etc. have no idea the books are self published. They just choose not to release crap. And really that’s key. Who cares what people think of self publishing itself? What matters is that you don’t publish garbage. If you release good material, you shouldn’t have a problem winning over your audience. If you’re concerned about generalizations, just don’t shout your self published status from the rooftops when you market your book. You can even operate under a business name (even as a sole proprietor), essentially operating your own small publishing company.

      2. If you can’t afford to hire the professional help you need, you have a couple of options. You could go it alone (which I don’t recommend — no matter how good you are, you can never be fully objective about your own work during the editing process). You could barter for services if you know an editor and you can trust them to give you good feedback. In other words, don’t barter with friends if possible. They may be more inclined to rave about your book instead of offering constructive feedback because they don’t want to hurt your feelings. Or, as you mentioned, you can find other ways to earn money now so you can afford to publish a more professional book.

      This is largely how it works in the business publishing niche when people self publish. They already have their own business which brings in money. They invest some of that money in their book’s production and marketing so the book in turn will bring them even more money (both through book sales and increased clients or other sales).

      This is also the route I’m personally taking. I already have a business. I earn my living as a freelance writer, and that money can be re-invested into any Web development or print publishing projects I choose to pursue. Is there a service (writing or otherwise) that you could offer on a freelance basis? If you’re only doing it to afford the book publishing costs, you wouldn’t need to worry about securing enough clients for full-time work at least. Another option is to publish and sell shorter digital reports or stories. These would be lower price point items that are quicker to produce, or “information product” e-books that generally don’t go through the same rigorous editing and development process as traditional books. For example, you might write a 20-page “how to” style e-book / report and sell it for $4.95 or something. It’s just about creating quicker income streams. Of course if you don’t feel your work is worth publishing in a self-editing state, that won’t be a good option for you. But it’s something to consider.

      3. I’m not sure why you feel self publishing will automatically hurt your chances of being picked up by a traditional publisher. It’s possible I’ve missed something, but the last I heard things seemed to be moving in the opposite direction (with stories out about indies being courted by publishers and editors offering classes on how self publishing can lead to traditional book deals).

      You say it seldom happens. But I think if you looked at all of the hopeful authors-to-be out there, you could equally say it seldom works out to just pitch traditional publishers. For all of those picked up, there are countless others who never make it that far (or who spend years trying before it happens).

      At the very least, self publishing gives you an income stream in the meantime. And at best, if you do it well, it can put you ahead of other new authors by proving that you not only have an audience and a product they want to read, but that you also know how to sell to that market. That’s the kind of thing that makes you more attractive to traditional publishers.

      But again, you have to do it right. If you knowingly release crap or slack off on marketing the book, it’s not going to help you. If you delude yourself into thinking a novel you whipped up and tossed on the Web with no editing is a masterpiece, it’s not going to help you either. But if you take the project seriously and handle it professionally from day one, you’ll stand out. Think of it as an opportunity. And if you’re really that concerned, consider self publishing under a pen name so you can still pursue traditional options under your real name.

      4. As for the 18+ e-book market, again, who cares? I wouldn’t say they make up the bulk of the e-book market. E-books were around long before they became popular vehicles for fiction. There were plenty of spammy “make money online” types of e-books early on, and they gave them a bad name. But the good ones still sold well, and that hasn’t changed. If you’re not writing for the adult market, don’t waste time thinking about it. What’s published for that audience should not in any way affect you when you publish in a completely different area. No one’s going to assume your book falls into that category unless that’s how you market it. And if someone does, they probably weren’t in your target readership to begin with.

      I hope that helps!

      Jenn

  43. Sarah January 2, 2013 Reply

    I couldn’t imagine selling a piece of work that I poured my heart and soul into for a measly 99 cents. I do think that can lead to a predisposition about the quality of the book. Have a bit of dignity, even if it takes some time. If it’s a quality read with an appropriate price range and clever marketing, you will sell eventually.

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