Friday, January 17, 2014

What is the best eBook price?

Most of us at one point have bought a new car.  Now I am no petrol head, but I do appreciate a nice car, and have been known to browse the pages of Autotrader during an imaginary spending spree.  When faced with a list that has the likes of Range Rover, Aston Martin, and Jaguar, I can't help but take a look.  So lets just imagine I am about to drop a stack of cash for an Aston Martin DB9.  There are two almost identical models on Autotrader today.  One is selling for £31,500, and the other.........£850.  The automatic assumption is that this is either a mistake or a scam.  The price feels inherently wrong.  It's easy to tell, and nobody would go for the cheaper option. 

But what about if the cheaper option was only $0.99 cheaper, and the differences we were talking about are only a dollar or a pound here and there?

When I first started self publishing it was 2012.  One of the first names I heard about was John Locke, and whilst being in the indie publishing news for all the wrong reasons, he was also fairly famous for making a lot of cash by pricing his books at $0.99.  It seemed to be the sweet spot as far as pricing went, with lots of excitable eReader owners going crazy for bargains.  But since the early days when self publishing was still fairly new, it has now grown into a well known and acceptable route for a writer to publication.  And therefore a great route for a reader to get their books.  But readers have certain expectations.  They don't want to fill their eReaders with nonsense that is badly written or badly edited. 

So how do they distinguish between a good eBook, and one that's, let's just say, not so good?  The cover, the Look Inside function on Amazon, and reviews, are all ways in which a reader can take a decision.  But there is also another way, one that has much more to do with reader psychology than any tried and tested method, and that is price.

According to Smashwords, who analysed 11 months’ worth of sales  ($12 million, 120,000 eBooks sold), the $0.99 price slot was no longer the best level at which to price your books.  It seems that most books were at priced at $2.99, but yet those priced at $3.99 sold more copies.  It also seemed that the $1.99 price tag was a complete waste of time.  One commentator even suggested that for a writer to price their book at $1.99 would suggest that not only do they not possess good business sense, but also that they are probably not a very good writer.

Escaping Life is at the time of going to press, priced at, yes you guessed it, $1.99.

So why did I do this?  Because I know I'm a terrible writer and have to shift my books at a bargain price?  You'd hope not.  I simply decided to try three different prices for my three different titles.  $0.99, $1.99, and $2.99.  Which sold the best?  The Loss of Deference at $0.99.  Second best?   Identity X at $2.99.  Coming in last therefore would be Escaping Life, (except for a one month outlier post promo period) lost in the apparent black hole of $1.99.

But it is also true that most books are priced at $2.99 (according to Smashwords) so there is a potential for bias.  If the most successful titles are priced at $2.99, then there is an obvious potential for skewing the results.  If you have ten outliers in that price range who all sell 10,000 books in a few months, this price point can and will obviously come out top in a simple look at averages.

My intention when pricing my book at $1.99 was in the hope of attracting more readers.  I thought the price might attract somebody looking for a bargain and told myself not to be greedy for a 70% Amazon royalty at $2.99.  But it seems to be a mistake.  It looks like not only am I doing myself out of profit, I am also turning off readers because they assume what I done writ is a bit, well, shite.  The price point of $0.99 is well received as a promotion, a short term offer of which people can take advantage.  But if you want to appear as an author of work worth a readers attention, it appears that first of all we as authors need to know our own value, before we expect readers to recognise it for us.

So I'm going to up my prices as a bit of an experiment.  The results will definitely be skewed this month because I had an ENT promotion and the sales were unusually high.  I have adjusted the price of two of my books to $3.99, the apparent new perfect price, and will wait to see what happens by this time next month.

I'll keep you posted.

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