Thursday, February 16, 2012

On E-Book Pricing

I wrote recently about the length of novels. At the end of that article, I started in on my thoughts about pricing. Then I realized it was a different topic altogether, lopped it off, and saved it for another day. Well, folks, that day is today. The following are my opinions, as both a reader and a writer, on pricing.

As a writer, I'm not too concerned with length, preferring to let the story dictate how many words I need. As a reader, though, I'd like to know what I'm getting for my money. That's why the length labels will, I think, become increasingly important. Should a novel cost the same as a novella, novelette, or short story? What about a 50k novel compared to a 100k novel? Does it matter if the author is a Big Deal or, like me, a minnow in the great ocean of literature?

I have in mind what I think is fair to pay for stories. This is both what I would look for in other works, and what I try to follow for my own. Now, being a minnow, I don't really get to set pricing trends. To some extent, I have to swim with the stream. Especially if I want to entice new readers.

Zoe Winters wrote an article wherein she philosophizes about her pricing practices. I tend to agree with her underlying theory of "I want solid fans, not random readers." That is, I want to write kick ass stories for people that like the kind of story I'm (hopefully) getting good at writing. I recognize that there's no way I can please all the people all of the time, so I want to shoot for my niche, and niche the hell out of it. It's one of the reasons the whole "dare" things makes a lot of sense to me. While I'm not going to compromise a story, I definitely want to try my best to throw the things in there that my readers have said they want to see. To me, that's all part of the challenge.

A big part of that challenge, though, is getting a critical mass of fans where you can subsist on writing alone, and thus give them your full attention. I'm not there yet, and until I am, I have to go with the popular flow. Doesn't mean I have to agree with it, though.

So, here's how I'd lay out pricing in my ideal world:
  •  Novel, >50k words - $3-$5 
  •  Novella, 20k-50k words - $1-$3 
  •  Everything shorter - free to $1 
I'm not sure what to do right now with huge novels. Think >100k words. Should those really price the same as a 50k novel? There's a lot more buying history to overcome there than with the shorter works. Still, maybe huge epic fantasy novels push the $5 into $6 or $7, but still stay completely reasonable for the "entertainment per hour."

Now, this is all for a non-traditionally published author. We have the flexibility to keep our overhead low, so this pricing can work for us to make a living. For an experienced, professional author, I'd be completely willing to pay upwards of $10. I don't really cringe at a $10 price point right now on a traditionally published book. I am, however, less likely to take a chance at that level.

Some of the higher price points of traditionally published books have made me balk, or at least put off the purchase. I used to save my splurges for my absolute favorite series and get them in hardcover. Now, I don't know. I've certainly been thinking a lot more about prices. I could afford to read a lot more at a lower price point. And I'm a lot less likely to be pissed if a cheaper book isn't exactly what I wanted/expected. For the traditional folks, they better make damn sure the quality is top notch (not true of some traditional books I've read, where typos and the like have leaked through.) I would say a good rule of thumb would be to add about $5 for anything traditionally published. Does a publisher add $5 of value? That's for you to decide. I think they can, but perhaps aren't quite there yet

On the shorter end, I like the concept of offering a short story free at some places, and then perhaps for a $1 on major platforms like the Nook and Kindle. It takes a bit of work to get everything set up nicely on there, and asking for a dollar seems completely fair. The between prices can largely be dependent on the amount of work that went into each story.

I love offering coupons and giveaways, too. I think that should be done early and often. A majority of people are likely willing and able to pay $5 for a story, but not everyone can. And I'd rather those people have a shot at reading than be left out in the rain. Limited time offers and giveaways are perfect for this, allowing people to perhaps do a little extra legwork for a price cut. Seems fair to me.

Also, something I'd like to see (and perhaps do eventually) is authors being able to reward fans. The traditional approach has meant that rabid fans get gouged at the release of a book with the highest price, then things get discounted over time. I think I'd like to offer a cheaper price at the front end. Think of it as a "thank you" for the people who have waited for the next book. Then the price could be raised after the first month. Sort of an intro sale. Since new releases tend to boost the sales of older books, I think this is a completely reasonable way to launch a book, but really flies in the face of tradition.

As readers, as writers, what do you guys think? What is "fair?" When do you feel like you're getting a "good deal?" Or, conversely, a bad one?


Lauralynn Elliott said...

My older stuff is all .99. At this point, though, my novellas are going to be 1.99 and my novels are going to be 2.99. Maybe. LOL. I released a short story for free on Smashwords (Amazon wouldn't let me make it free)and I've had 634 downloads so far. And good reviews. So releasing something for free is probably a good thing from time to time. Btw, I've actually had a few sales of it on Amazon for .99, so some people will pay .99 for a 5,000 word short story.

It's funny you mentioned free. I had a little bit of a meltdown on my blog today because no one was taking advantage of the free books I was offering. LOL

Matt said...

My first book is $2.99. I'll probably start my second book off there as well. Since both are over 100k words, it's hard not to think that I'm writing two books and pricing it as one. Especially when quantity seems to really help with discover-ability. Still, my goal is tell the best stories I can, not become famous. I'd love to do this full time, but I'm not hanging my hat on it either. I can afford to be patient and price low.

I want to do free and sales from time to time, but I'm waiting to really jump into the price game until I have a solid stable of work out there. A lot of these price musings revolve around hooking readers as fans so they buy all of your stuff. If I only have one book, then it doesn't make a whole lot of sense to place Price Wars.

But it is definitely something I'm watching, waiting, and thinking about. Who knows what the landscape will look like even in a month from now? $2.99 is a good place right now for a novel that you want to hook new readers.

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