Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Why 99 cents doesn't work for me

The vast majority of indie authors can't make serious money at the 99 cent ebook price point, but some will tell you the increased exposure that comes with higher sales volume is worth the cost. They'll explain that more sales increase their rankings, possibly putting them on genre bestseller lists or, if they are very lucky, into the Kindle top 100.

A good number have achieved success with the bottom-rung pricing strategy, but at what cost? Joe Konrath, a bestselling ebook writer, has run a number of 99 cent sales recently; here he mentions the loss he's taken for the sake of making the bestseller list with The List.

For a time I priced Unbroken Hearts at 99 cents. My ranking improved dramatically. It also brought me readers from outside the genre: Bargain hunters who snapped up anything at the 99 cent price point. Most don't read the sample. At 99 cents it's an impulse buy, and why not? They've been conditioned to believe price will go back up next week, as it does when traditional publishers put their books on sale, and many readers can't tell the difference between a trad published book and an indie. By employing professional cover artists and editors, the indie works can look just as "pro" as the big boys.

Is it a deal if the customer starts reading the bargain book and doesn't like it? Is it a deal for the author when the disgruntled reader leaves a bad review because it wasn't their 'cuppa'?

The worst Amazon review I've received on Unbroken Hearts was submitted when I had the book on sale (99 cents). John Locke's 99 cent books attract as many negative reviews as positive (see Saving Rachel), in spite of rising to bestseller status.

What do those bad reviews tell us about the reader's perception of value?

My takeaway is the reader's time ranks ahead of price.

What's more, I'm not convinced an indie-published book can't make the top hundred with anything but a 99 cent price. Carpenter is killing it with The Killer at 2.99. Blake Crouch is making a run at the top with Run, also 2.99. I'm bidding to take down the old dog-eared, established names with TAKEDOWN. Sorry, I couldn't resist ;-)

I'm making more, but selling fewer copies, on TAKEDOWN, at 2.99 with the 70% royalty. I'm also hauling more revenue on the Easton Hearts series at 2.99 than I made at 99 cents. Yes, fewer actual copies are sold, but I'm hoping to engage more thoughtful and discerning readers.

It's all about finding a fit with the right audience. My books aren't for everyone, and I don't want them to be a blind bargain purchase. My goals are to delight the customer AND maintain a sustainable business model.


  1. Came over from the Konrath blog.

    You should check out Dean Wesley Smith's take on all this (http://www.deanwesleysmith.com), if you haven't already. He's in agreement with you, pretty much.

    He says that there are the discount publishers (the 99 cents price point), the more high-end publishers (think: hardback books, limited editions, that sort of thing), and then there's the model he's going after and encouraging his readers to do so, too, the middle-of-the-road publishers. They do e-books with price points of: 99 cents for individual short stories; $2.99 for short novels/novellas and small short story collections; and $4.99 for novels (anything above 35K or so) and large short story collections.

    You should check out his series called Think Like a Publisher, http://www.deanwesleysmith.com/?page_id=3736

    He's opened my eyes to a lot of things, like setting up a trade name for my! own! business! I'm going on to the next step, which is setting up a free business checking account, and then on from there.

    Sorry to go on like this, but I happen to agree with that model. It's good to see not everyone is falling in lockstep with the "99 cents or nothing" mantra.

    Thanks for an interesting post. :-)

  2. Thanks, Nancy. I'm heading over to Dean Wesley Smith's blog right now!


  3. I wish more new writers would experiment with different prices. How might $3.95 work for Westerns, or $4.95 for Epic fantasy and science fiction? There's something to be said for drawing readers from other genres, but I wonder if the people who buy 99 cent books on impulse actually read them. I'm sure some do, but it's not uncommon for a writer selling 99 cent books to sell 30,000 copies and only have a few reviews. That tells me most are going unread.

  4. Great blog, with some excellent points. I think, when considering whether or not to charge $2.99 or .99 self-pubbed authors need to ask themselves "are readers, that are interested in this book, going to buy this for .99, but not for $2.99?"

    It used to be, back in the olden days (about a week ago) that .99 (and even $2.99) were the self-pubbed's weapon against the marketing and buzz wielded by trad publishers, but now I'm not so sure. And at some point the trad pubbers are going to drop (some of) their books to .99 or 2.99 and if you've been relying on that as the only way for readers to find you, you're screwed.

  5. @David, is it really not uncommon to sell 30,000 copies at .99? That's about $10,500. which, regardless of whether they are being read or not is (almost) argument enough to sell at .99.

  6. It's not an argument to sell 30,000 copies at $.99 if you could have sold more than 5,250 at $2.99.

  7. There are a few that are in the top 100 with a non $0.99 price point. Though admittedly most are at $0.99 or have another title earlier in the series with $0.99. J.R. Rain's Book #3 in the Vampire for Hire series was the first to hit the top 100 at $3.99 (since I started tracking). I think in time we'll see more of the higher priced books making it.

  8. I'm in complete agreement with you here. Yes I'd like to reach the broadest historical romance audience as possible, but I not only want to make a decent profit doing it, but I want my audience to be readers who are really looking for the kinds of book I write and who are willing to pay as much for it as they would if they walked into their local book store.

    To me, a fan base is built over time with good books, good promotion and marketing. I'm not trying to shoot to the top of any list immediately. I would just like to see my sales go up with very book I put out.

  9. Authors who make it into the Top 100 typically spend a lot of time building their "brand." For their target audience, they have acquired a reputation for quality -- hence, value.

    A reputation can't be built on price alone. It must be built on value. Competition on price alone is fleeting, because you can always be undercut. When well-known authors with big followings also cut their prices to match yours, whose books are readers going to buy: the Name Author's, or the Unknown's?

    Fact is, it takes WORK to establish a reputation for quality. This is not a business for get-rich-quick mentalities who think they can just upload any drivel into print, slap a home-made cover on it, price it at 99 cents, and wait for sales to pour in. That's a sure-fire way of "branding" yourself with a host of 1-star reviews on Amazon.

    Take the time to do this right, build a reputation for quality, and you'll build a loyal fan base for whom a higher-than-99-cent price is no impediment to a purchase.

  10. Anna,

    I love what you have to say about this! I'm publishing in a few weeks. It will be a novella. Like you, I've hired a professional graphic design artist for the cover, and paying a pretty penny for editing from a professional editor who's not cheap! lol.

    I think the length is about the length of "Takedown". I'm pleased to see that you priced it at $2.99. I think that is what I will post mine in a few weeks.

    For about a week, I toyed with the idea of .99 price because that seemed to be "the trend" with shorter pieces of fiction. And as an outsider looking in, a newbie you may say, in this indie publishing world, I'm a student and observer; taking everything in! So, it seemed that ,99 worked well...but deep down inside, I thought, "This is my hard work! I'm not listing it as .99 even if it's a novella!"

    So, you've served as inspiration :) Thanks! :)

    Lacy Camey