A matter of Price and Death

What you charge for your ebook is a hot topic, a hot potato and a headache all in one.

And its a matter that I don't take lightly. Throughout the last 6 months, I've read many authors' and bloggers' thoughts as I've gone through the process of making William's work available in ebook form.

Pegasus Falling has been available at several price points since its launch in March. I launched it at a fairly respectable (in my then opinion) £1.49 / $1.99. Although this didn't qualify it for the 70% royalty on the US price, it did represent (again, in my opinion), a good introductory price for those who would be interested in reading it.

However, as I read more into it, it looked like I might have been too eager, and evidence was pointing towards new authors having to price their work at rock bottom to start sales going. On the back of a story published in the Guardian back in February, I dropped the price to the minimum permissible on KDP - £0.75 / $0.99.

Sales started to pick up. This is without doubt partly down to us receiving some very positive reviews from early readers on Amazon and the intrepid and generous bloggers who have taken a punt on an unknown author. But it did appear that if people were seeking the book out, the low price was leading to an on-the-spot sale. After all, it's less than a quid - where could you go wrong?

Then, as sales started to go slowly but surely upwards,  I started reading around again, and was worried that I was doing the novel an injustice by charging the bare minimum...

This interesting post from Catherine Ryan Howard helped seal my decision. Her argument seemed to ring true with what others were saying around the net - that you should try and price your work at a point where it is simultaneously a bargain and expensive enough not to look suspect. I could see the logic behind thinking that readers would be put off by a price that was too low - after all, you tend to get what you pay for, don't you? And with me thinking it would be nice to earn 70% of £1.79 (£1.21) rather than 30% of £0.75 (£0.26) with each sale, and confident that sales figures would continue to rise and rise on the back of more and more positive reviews, so I made the changes.

I upped the price to £1.79 and $2.99 on all platforms. And, to be fair, sales continued for a week - albeit with Amazon discounting the book to start with, because they had been quicker to apply the new price, so were still price matching the dawdling Smashwords and Kobo.

But then, the worst thing possible happened. Sales slowed to a barely noticeable trickle. Despite the fact that more positive reviews continued to be posted, with each one, the anticipated flurry of sales failed to materialise. It was more like an occasional drip than a flurry - a lone snow flake blowing in the wind, not the blizzard I had been sure would happen.

So what went wrong? I had priced the book at a reasonable, yet still bargain basement price. But sales made for the opposite direction to where I'd hoped.

It took a while for it to sink in, but after arguably our best and most widely read review yet lead to one of the most lacklustre sales weeks we've had so far, I had to come to the conclusion that something was wrong with the price.

Promoting your book is all about making people care about it - they have to want to pick it up and read it. Reviews are one way of getting it seen, and Pegasus Falling has had universally good or excellent reviews. But, as I've discovered, that's not enough to get people to reach into their virtual pockets and pay good money to read it.

The fact is that many people must have had a good look at Pegasus Falling online, but decided that $2.99 is still too much to fork out, seeing as they've never heard of the book before and besides, there are other books by other unknown writers out there which are being given away for free, or close to free. That barrier that goes up in a large proportion (whether its a majority or not, I still don't know) of the reading population when they see a self-published book (or suspect it is) stops a lot of potential buyers from clicking "Add to cart".

And after all, The Bridge aside, there are no other works of William's available...for now. Until It Never Was You is released later in the year, he will remain a completely unknown author of only one major work, and people are wary of trying out anything new. 

Although the argument that a higher price will give your book more kudos amongst the reading public might be a very attractive one, I think it is flawed - certainly for the little or unknown author just starting out. Yes, I believe that Pegasus Falling is well worth the $2.99 price tag, but I can't get passed the fact that at that price, it has sold nowhere near the numbers it has at $0.99.

And at the end of the day, it's sales that matter at this stage. The more people read the book, the better. We have to make some money from the venture - bills need paying, after all, and yes, the royalties are far lower per unit at this price point - it takes almost five sales at $0.99 to make the same royalty as it does one sale at $2.99. But if your sales increase 10-fold, you win in two ways...you make more money, and more people read your books. 

So, the decision has been made to reduce the price back down to its minimum and the ebook is available on all platforms for £0.79 / £0.99. Whether it'll be permanent or not, I don't know, but it will be interesting to see if sales pick up and grow again.

One thing I'd say to other novice self-publishers is this. Although you know your book is amazing and people will love it when they read it, the general public don't know that yet, and even if it tickles their fancy, they may not want to pay good money on an unknown quantity. Don't run before you can walk. Although you know in your heart that your book is worth more, price it at a point which makes the most sales. Experiment, by all means - you may be luckier, and find that you can get away with a higher price - but don't be scared to bring the price down again.

I'd be interested to hear what other authors / publishers experiences have been.


EDIT (4th September 2012): Well, since first writing this post, we've had another lacklustre month of sales. Perhaps it was the small matter of the world being distracted by elite sportsmen and women doing what they do best, or the fact that people just don't buy books over the summer because they're on the beach reading the ones they've already bought, but reducing the price to £0.99 made no difference at all.

And in the mean time, I've been talking to other indie authors about the subject. It seems there is no easy answer, but the $0.99 price point is no longer the silver bullet it once was. It's too low for the book for serious readers to be take it seriously, and too high for those readers only after freebies to consider.

So once again, the price has changed. It's back at $2.99 / £1.79. With Saturday's exciting news that Pegasus Falling has been named a finalist in the Kindle Book Review's Best Indie Books of 2012 contest, the accolades are starting to roll in, and I have to set the price at a point that matches the excellent response its getting from those who do read it.

Pegasus Falling is a serious book for serious readers and I feel that I have to stand by its quality. Others are, so why shouldn't I?


Pegasus Falling is available now from Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Kobo & Smashwords

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,