e-Book Pricing – Part II

Amazon knew what they were doing when they made the 70% royalty capped on both ends. They have effectively thumped writers on the head telling them – ‘get with the program.’

Most Indie writers have heard the call and upped their prices. Backlash comes from people who don’t want to pay for novels. (Well, neither do publishers for that matter, royalty percentages are chump change.)

If we look at the cliché ‘the cream rises to the top’ then we have a better idea of the pricing structure as a “system” of the market.

For instance, Fan Fiction is free. The best FF authors can hope for is eyeballs. Not many people are willing to pay even a penny to read the stuff. There is a lot of free crap out there – thank God most of it won’t see paper, ever.

In fact, Smashwords is so full of freebies that’s it’s hard to make any money there. As a distributor, they give great access – sales are iffy at best.

The Kindle Store was the home of the $.99 Newbie Indie because Amazon wisely won’t let Indies give their work away. Those rock bottom prices won’t go on forever. The $.99 novel needs to go the way of the $.99 gallon of gasoline.

At $.35 a copy, it will take months to pay for the ISBN I bought from Smashwords. It is not going to pay my car payment, or buy hay for my horses.

The latest game-changing group to hit the e-book market are the mid-listers, salvaging their careers by publishing their backlist. These books were published – they are not going to be priced for $.99. They have no reason not to charge ‘pro’ prices.

If the “average book sells 18 copies” never earning out it’s advance, only staying on the shelves a few weeks, going Indie makes a lot of cents. (pun intended)

Like it or not – writing is a craft, but publishing is a business. Responsible publishing means responsible pricing. In order to stay in business writers HAVE write a book that proves they are pros, and charge accordingly.

If The Great Publishing Company can sell an e-book for $12.99 the same book is a bargain at $6.99. No agent to take ‘charge’ of the money, then ‘forget’ to send the royalties to the writer. (Yes, it happens.)

The ‘carrot’ approach to rasing prices should have worked like a charm. Instead it has run smack into the writer’s paradox – inferiority from years of abuse from agents and the snobbery from rest of the publishing establishment.

A starving artist should shut the hell up and starve. The literary status quo must be maintained.

And those two guys behind the curtain – you know – Joe Konrath and Dean Wesley Smith – they are lying! Everything they say about the changes in publishing is a damn lie.

Right – and I’ve got this big bridge that I’ll sell you cheap….

Perfect Bait – Flash Fiction

The business world is full of sharks like Marion Anderson.

Wearing a gold silk dress, her bronze hair up, away from her delicately chiseled face, she was surrounded by staff, like a shark by cleaner fish. She had graceful lines, fluid movements, a keen mind, and a nose that could smell blood a mile away. She ran a security investment exchange; a corporate raider preying on little companies, like mine.

Somehow she’d bought stock in my company. One of the stock holders in my closely held company had sold out.

We had a niche market, greenhouse heat & watering systems. The heart was a program that read sensors and controlled switches. It worked well in greenhouses or for security.

Which is why I, Doug Haskell, was at a fund raising benefit for an old Theatre, scoping her out. She caught me staring, and smiled. I smiled back, then turned away, pretending to study one of Remington’s breathtaking landscape paintings.

Like a good predator, she followed sedately. I saw her out of the corner of my eye. It was an eerie, hair-standing-on-end feeling I’d had hunting once when a curious bear had stalked me. A million years of evolution had kicked in, I’d known it was after me. Just like now.

Where was the music from Jaws when you needed it?

“That is a very nice Remington.” Low, husky, that voice was pitched for my ears only. I looked down at her. Beautiful, warm gold-flecked brown eyes smiled up at me. She barely reached my shoulder.

“I’ve always liked Remington,” I replied, truthfully, “a raw style for a raw life.”

“I have one of his sculptures.” She glanced at the print.

I noticed something in her hair.

“Hold still,” I said. My fingers plucked it from her bronze hair. I examined the proof of her humanity: a fragment of timothy hay. “How did that get there?”

Only one hay-eating animal was expensive enough for her: a horse. I suspected her enthusiasm for the sport rivaled her inclination for corporate bloodletting.

“I thought I’d gotten it all.” Long dark gold nails on a small, strong hand plucked the hay from my palm. I was satisfied to see her blush, retreat in confusion, from a fragment of timothy.

“Do you always feed your horse yourself?” I asked.

“Yes,” Her social mask slipped; there was genuine fondness in her eyes. “He was playful tonight.”

“I’ve got a horse, had him for years.” The old gelding wandering around my place belonged to my sister’s kids. “There’s nothing like a long trail ride.” I hadn’t ridden a horse in years, but I would say anything to save my company. “We should ride some time.”

“I’d like that.” Her eyes lit up.

The perfect opening was ruined when a member of her staff claimed her. She excused herself and walked away. I knew that I wouldn’t be forgotten.

Now, I had an edge, bait to reel in my shark.

E-book Pricing

What price to charge for an e-book? This is the great debate amongst Indie writers.

Hanging out on a few independent writer sites, I’ve noticed this issue cropping up. It is the one foremost in my own mind. Joe Konrath made a good case on Kindle boards (sorry can’t find the link) and has another blog post about pricing here. Zoe Winters has touched on the subject here and here. Joe and Zoe are only two people, but both are very visible.

Kindle and Smashwords are the two venues I’m the most familiar with, but there are more. Publishing through Smashwords opens up 4 other markets – Barnes & Noble, Apple, Sony and Kobo. (PubIt! just went live. As a reader, I’m excited. More books for my Nook!)

The Kindle store doesn’t allow Indie writers to give their work away. In fact, Amazon may have raised the royalty rate to 70% to bring the price of e-books UP to $2.99 as well as down to $9.99. While Smashwords hasn’t set a minimum price – they have “coupon codes” so a writer can price their book at a competitive level, yet still give away discounted or free copies as needed.

I want to point out is that many Indie authors are selling their books for $.99 or giving them away. Selling a book cheap (or free) was the way that Winters and Konrath got noticed. As the numbers of Indie authors have skyrocketed, cheap reads are very common. Perhaps too common, there is a lot of downward pressure on book prices.

There is a precedent for freebies on the ‘trade’ side, too. Ellora’s Cave and Harlequin give e-books away. Barnes & Noble gives away a book a week to Nook owners.

I’m kicking myself for losing the link for this – but I picked up the price list below from somewhere. (I’m so sorry, whoever you are!) I found this place from a link of Zoe’s, I’ve posted it here to give us a benchmark.

$0.99 Short Shorts: Under 3K
$1.99 Shorts: 3-7K
$2.99 Stories: 7-15K
$3.99 Novelettes: 15-35K
$4.99 Novellas: 35-50K
$5.99 Novels 50-70K
$6.99 Super Novels: 70-140K
$7.99 Super XL Novels: 140-250K
$8.99 Super XXL Novels: 250K +

Pricing by length makes sense to me. This list is from an e-publisher. Some would say a ‘professionally’ published e-book ratea more money than a lowly self-published book. Following this price schedule would be a huge step up – “Let’s Do Lunch” would sell for $6.99 just by word count.

A second point is that e-book length, as well as pricing, appears to go in two different directions. The women’s fiction/romance/erotica market is going shorter, while the fantasy side is getting longer. Hmmm…Does this reflect the free time available for each gender? I know that I don’t read modern fantasy anymore, because the darn books are too long. I digress – back on track.

Is this a textbook case of ‘the cream rises to the top?’-

Joe and Zoe – who gained their popularity with $.99 books, are vocal about raising prices in a time when more people are saying ‘Indie books are worthless crap.’ Since they are the ‘cream’ of the Indie world, they may be on the right track for themselves, but not for everyone.

I killed my sales by upping the price of Let’s Do Lunch” to $2.99. There are a number of caveats to that statement. The book is available in more markets than just Kindle, thanks to Smashwords, it even has an ISBN number. Having the sales drop from 4 a week to 0 was a big ‘oh shit.’

The reason that I’m ‘coming out’ on this issue is that I promised myself in the beginning that “Lunch” was an experiment. I could document the ‘ups and downs’ so other wannabe writers could check this blog for ‘real time’ results.

Back to pricing – Is $.99 the only answer?

I hate to say it, but the answer may just be ‘yes.’ Unknown, self-published authors may not have a choice. Is the market saying ‘if it costs more than a buck, forget it.’ to unknowns like myself?
Should I just wait it out – leave well enough alone until the Smashwords affiliate sales reports come in?

Should I drop the Kindle price back to $.99 because I’m desperate to see some sales? Or, raise the price to the charts ‘market levels’ to combat the pressure for cheap/free reads? Either way changes to Smashwords take weeks to trickle down, while my Kindle contract stipulates they will have the lowest price.

Splitting the price to the different markets could be a good way to test my pricing theory. I could drop my Kindle price to $.99 and leave the rest the same. This could also be an ugly can of worms that I don’t want to freaking open! I can see an price war – of my own doing – that will take months to clear up.

Kobo is already selling my book for 20% off the cover price. Amazon is sure to follow! Which may (or may not) knock me out of the 70% royalty. Currently the Smashwords price is $3.25 – because Kobo does this. It gave me some wiggle room.

Top it off – Apple & maybe Sony will round up the price to the nearest $.99. So my book could sell for $3.99 at either store.

Marketing is a pain in the tush – get on with it!

The ugly truth is that marketing is now the ‘make or break’ for a writer. It doesn’t matter if you are published by a ‘trade’ publisher, or if you self-published. New writers don’t get any marketing help. (I promise to write that post soon.)

Short of hiring someone to market the book, how should a writer work out some kind of marketing strategy? There are plenty of review sites, more ‘author interview’ sites. Neither of these made any difference in my sales. (Not even Authors on Show, though they gave me a week of phenomenal hits.)

Creating a marketing co-op could be an answer, if I decided I didn’t want to write and wanted only to market other writer’s books. In my case, joining a co-op would be a better idea. Yet when I look at the one co-op I’m familiar with, it doesn’t look so good.

Lebrary.com is the co-op I’m talking about – I see where they are trolling for authors – but not advertising their content. Book prices vary by length and the purchased package. Yet I don’t see them taking advantage of their content by marketing the site to readers. They have no brand. This mistake may kill the site.

Content is valuable – to simply charge authors for disk space is a waste of resources. Kindle is a brand. Barnes and Noble is a brand. Authors on Show has the right idea. (Go Team AoS!) Lebrary.com could learn a lot from AoS.

Even though my efforts at marketing (besides the $.99 price) have been futile, other writers are looking to me for advice, and/or help marketing their books.

Talk about the blind leading the blind.