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Why I think price promotions backfire.

Sale percent

In the early days of digital publishing, free was one of the most powerful tools that could be used to elevate the profile of a book.  In a self publishing world, the price is probably the number one promotional tool of an author.  But is it still working?

A few on the Kindleboards have reported more diminished success with Bookbub, a newsletter that broadcasts sales and freebies to an audience of hundreds of thousands of subscribers. I’ve come across a couple of author posts that suggest that free and even 99c promotions aren’t working as well as they might have in the past even though promotional pricing is more popular than ever.

One of the 99c successes was Rachel Van Dyken’s The Bet. It sold over a hundred thousand digital copies, was a #1 NYT Bestseller, and the author was rewarded with a major deal from Forever. (Major is seven figures).  The sequel to The Bet was priced at $2.99.  And despite what seemed to me like a low price, The Wager, sold moderately well the first week and in the third week, the price was dropped to $0.99 and while it showed up briefly on the Times list, it wasn’t within shouting distance of #1.

To me that confirmed my own reading habits of buying and then hoarding at 99c. At some point, I wonder about the 99c efficacy. But price promotions like this will continue unabated.  Even more stingy publishers like Random House and Penguin have started discounting the first in a series to promote an upcoming book and readers are beginning to learn the signs. A recently reduced book signals a new release.

But as more and more books are being discounted including ones by big publishers are discounts teaching readers to wait and diminishing the likelihood readers will take a chance on full priced books by new authors?  In other words, is a discounted book the only way to introduce a new author?

Two of my favorite reads of 2013 are Stir Me Up by Sabrina Elkins which is priced at $1.99 and The Last Hour of Gann by R. Lee Smith priced at $6.50.  I’ve never read Elkins before and indeed Stir Me Up was her debut.  I had read one other Smith before but while the writing was excellent the subject matter was difficult and everything I’d heard about her other books suggested that they weren’t for me.  Yet I didn’t hesitate to pull the $6.50 price trigger after receiving a couple of recommendations for this book.  And frankly I didn’t hear much complaint from readers who went on to buy the book. Was it because The Last Hour of Gann is something like 900 pages and over 400,000 words and thus readers felt that they were getting their money’s worth?

I wondered, though, if more people would take a chance on lizardman if he was priced at $.99.  It may be that they’d buy the book but not necessarily read it. You don’t buy a $6.50 book and stick it in the back of the TBR pile.

During my last podcast with SB Sarah, we talked about pricing and bundles. In recent weeks, we’ve seen the loyal fans be punished by post release sales. Often (but not always) the sale is triggered by a retailer. Because Agency pricing has been eliminated for a couple of years, retailers are free to reduce the prices of any book in its catalog. Google has been playing with price and Amazon price matches.  This has resulted in current releases being discounted from $7.99 to sub $5.00.

As I related to Sarah, I was burned by buying a self published book on release day only to see the price reduced four days later. I was upset, returned and rebought my book at 99c.  I’ve also noticed that almost every self published author has their book on sale at 99c at some point. I do a lot of impulse buying and have bought books at $3.99 and then not read them right away.  Now, I’m trying to remember the books I’m interested in so I can buy them when they go on sale.

That’s right. I’m not even buying at 99c because I don’t have any confidence in these prices. One self published author (actually a writing team) has declared that their opening price is $3.99 and that the regular price will be $4.99 for their books.  This way readers can be confident about their purchase. Early readers are rewarded with a lower price.

I do think that’s the smartest marketing technique. Readers are encouraged to buy right away, thus gaining in velocity on the retailer lists.  Further, early readers – the most loyal ones – are rewarded with the lowered pricing.  Pulling down the price of a book within days or even weeks of a release can really serve to do worse for an author. It punishes and annoys the loyal reader while doing very little to gain a bigger readership.

For indie authors, yes, pricing at 99c can shoot the author onto a list but indie authors are not as prevalent on the bestseller lists these days. It might be because this is the season for the BIG BOOK. Publishers always put out their big books in the fall hoping to capitalize on the holiday buying season.  Lists appearance does very little to enhance an indie author’s viability. Appearance on the Times, for example,  primarily helps only the print authors.

Many indie authors see no recognizable boost in their sales post list appearance and having NYT and USA Today Bestseller on an author bio doesn’t really mean that the next book is going to be a big seller.  There’ve been plenty of indie authors with those credentials who’ve seen their subsequent books sell less than a newcomer with no name recognition.

As much as I like a deal, I don’t enjoy the feeling that I’m getting shafted by being an eager reader. If retailers, authors, and publishers want to teach readers to wait to buy at the lowest possible price then coming out with a higher price only to lower it within days or weeks is the right way to do it.

Obviously that’s not a very good pricing strategy but that’s currently what is happening.  Perhaps the loyal reader only makes up a small portion of the overall buying audience; but it’s the loyal reader that you want to foster because they are the ones who are helping the author’s book gain visibility.

Those on the pricing side can use price promotions to drive sales, but to do so at the cost of alienating loyal fans for not much long term gain seems counterintuitive.

Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

44 Comments

  1. Noelle
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 04:46:40

    This is so absolutely true. I’ve seen major changes in the effect of price promotions just in the one year I’ve been self-publishing. Early this year, my free or $.99 promotions would have lasting effects on the full-price sales of the promo book and also my other books, but they just don’t anymore. The promotions are so common that, as you say, readers have gotten into the habit of waiting to buy until a book is cheap and also of gobbling up cheap books and never reading them.

    BookBub can move a book up in the rankings without fail, but there’s just not as much lasting effect anymore. The thing is that the price promotions only lead to real success if readers actually read the book and like it enough to talk it up and buy the author’s other books. There are so many $.99 books out there now (so many 10 or 12-book bundles for $.99) that most of the books that are bought cheaply are never read.

    The only surefire way for a book to be a success is for it to get a lot of buzz. And, in that case, readers are likely to buy it at a higher price point anyway. I’m intrigued by the idea of the promo price being the initial price before it goes up to the regular price. I’m going to think more about that.

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  2. Dee
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 04:48:09

    I have also noticed price reductions in ebooks I had purchased as soon as they were released. Some of which I only bought because I had received an alert from the author, as in, “My new book is available for pre-order! Please buy it! Buy it! BUY IT NOW! Oh, thank you…I will love you forever!” Which then makes me grind my teeth at the quick subsequent price drop. Because, then I feel used. So, no more pre-orders for me. No more buys as soon as it’s out for me. I use Calibre, and have soon to be released and just-released books entered as “Books I Want to Buy”. Then, I can purchase at a later date, when the price has fallen. Of course, you have to practice restraint, but luckily my already purchased TBR list is really long, so I can manage. This way, I always have a long list to choose from, and am always picking-up great reads, after the price comes down.

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  3. Ros
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 07:48:55

    A boxed set at 99c makes me feel like they are dollar store books and dollar store quality. It’s a total turn off. A price-drop shortly after publication makes me feel angry and manipulated. I do like your suggestion of lowest price at release and then higher prices later, to reward those early readers and give it the best chance at the start. If readers like the book and it takes off, it will earn the higher price on the basis of those recommendations.

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  4. Keishon
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 07:56:06

    I cancelled all my pre-orders since the trend seems to be to lower the price significantly a few days or even a couple of weeks after the release. The erratic discounting has curbed my impulsive buying habits and has made me utilize a wishlist for ebooks to read later. By the time I get around to reading it, the price has dropped quite a bit.

    The free or 99 cent promotions by authors unknown to me are unlikely to lead me to purchase. Word of mouth by friends for books priced free or 99 cents from unknown authors will more than likely get me to purchase. That’s it. Adding that if the writer is known to me then more than likely I will purchase their book(s).

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  5. Gennita Low
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 08:22:42

    Most writers don’t seem to practice long term business planning. Out to make the most a month, when they see sales drop, they tend to put all their books into Select to give away one by one as a promo tool or sell at 99cts to get people to buy bunches. And also to get on the list, so they stay visible.

    For myself, from experimenting with all the promo tools available (Select, Bookbub, etc.), my current plan is to just put any books on sale which are not at least nine months to a year old. Never give away free any other book but the first one of a series.

    Sometimes, though, if there is a special holiday, like Valentine’s or Memorial Day, it is okay to put a bunch of books on sale for the week/end. It’s just good business to get some sales then. As for lowering the price of a new book almost immediately, no, that’s just going to make your most loyal readers who bought at full price mad at you. Unless it’s part of an anthology to get more readers to try your work, it’s better to just have a set price for new books.

    Amazon is constantly tinkering with it’s promo tools, though. Indie authors need to pay attention and adapt.

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  6. Bree/Kit Rocha
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 09:25:41

    I do think there’s short term thinking behind a lot of these author decisions–and I’m not even saying I don’t get it. Sometimes I think the power to carry out decisions made in panic is the biggest downside of self-publishing. It’s amazing how quickly you can get used to a level of sales/income that would have been unthinkable a few months ago, and how “returning to normal” can feel a lot more like starting to fail.

    I admit, the biggest struggle I have right now in regards to pricing is how to reconcile not punishing early buyers with my lingering reader assumption that older books should be cheaper books. I don’t know if it’s how many years I’ve spent waiting for hardcovers to turn into mass markets, or books to end up in the bargain bin, but I absolutely still have this strong conviction that older books should cost less.

    I just don’t when “older” kicks in. The speed at which publishing is running these days has totally messed up my sense of time. I know intellectually that I used to wait patiently for a year or two in between releases in my favorite series, but now I can get two books in a year and be left thinking, “Is that all? Whaaat?” So “old” used to feel like 10 years ago, now 1 year feels like ancient history.

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  7. Lisa J
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 09:55:16

    Count me in as another reader who canceled her preorders. I was burned by preordering Dark Witch. Amazon did issue me a credit for $5, but warned me they do not refund price drops on e-books like they do on paper. My plan now is to keep a list of books and watch for a while to see if the price goes down before jumoing in to buy. It certainly taught me to be patient, especially since I rarely read the book the day, or even week, I buy it.

    I’ll be happy when all books are coupon eligible everywhere. It’s annoying to want to buy the book and get to the checkout and then find out my coupon is no good. I forget about a lot of books/authors because of this. They need to catch me when the impulse is there.

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  8. Miranda Kenneally
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 10:10:48

    Honestly, I rarely look at price anymore. I want to read books because they are good, not because they are inexpensive. If someone has recommended a book to me and it sounds good, I’ll buy it no matter if it’s priced at $6 or $1.99. STIR ME UP is a great example. I read and really enjoyed that book this year, but I bought it because Goodreads friends liked it – not because it was $1.99.

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  9. Darlynne
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 10:13:26

    I don’t have any pre-orders, but my Amazon wishlist is full of books I’m waiting for and watching the price fluctuations has been puzzling.

    Devon Monk’s HELL BENT started at 7.99 for pre-order and then dropped to 5.99 at its release, where it’s stayed. Although Ms. Monk is usually an auto-buy author for me and 5.99 is certainly reasonable, I’ve started waiting until I’m ready to read a book; the sheer volume of my TBR pile really bothers me. Now, waiting pays off for me as a consumer.

    For what seemed like only a few minutes on Friday (I never received an eReader IQ alert and happened to be culling my wishlist at the time) the price of HELL BENT dropped to 4.78. I bought it and later that day, the price was back to 5.99.

    So now I’m completely baffled.

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  10. Carolyne
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 10:15:58

    It seems like writers of serialised fiction could be at an advantage–just always price the first installment at the gateway price of .99 (or free) to hook readers. Although they’re at a disadvantage since I hear that not a lot of readers like serial stories (I love them).

    I first heard about this great idea of lowering the price so quickly after publication in the context of of big publishing houses doing it, which could presumably be blamed on marketing and sales departments factoring in only the math and not the human aspect. I can understand independent authors doing it too in an effort to boost sales, but maybe authors in general will begin to weigh in that human factor. Personally, I’d worry that people who put off buying a book while waiting for the price to drop will simply forget about it as another thousand books come out in the meantime.

    The whole process is inside out–I’d love for books to have a low pre-order early-bird price, then the normal price, then a year down the road or whenever the author’s next book is out a discount price again to bring the book back to everyone’s awareness again. Juggling the numbers to get on bestseller lists and boost a slow month would rely on a constant flow of new readers rather than building a loyal group who review and rec and draw in others.

    To be honest, the only reliable way to get me to buy a 99-cent book is a nice write-up here. Anything else, I buy based on trusted reviews and recs, not because of a low price. And those “10 books for 99 cents!” bundles do scare me off, and I know it’s because it feels like they’ve come out of a grubby Dollar Store.

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  11. Andrea T
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 10:27:33

    I agree with your opinion. It us extremely frustrating to see a price drop after purchase.

    I used to be in the habit of scooping up tons of $0.99 books that are ranking well on Amazon, then began to realize that the only reason some of them were selling was the price and not the quality. I’m now more confident in books that are doing well at $1.99 or higher.

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  12. Keishon
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 10:37:52

    @Miranda Kenneally:

    I didn’t say it so great but I agree with you and think that story trumps price in most situations. Who cares if it’s on sale for $1.99 or free. Is it any good? is always my first thought as well.

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  13. cleo
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 11:23:17

    I used to buy a lot of deals and freebies and then I realized that I wasn’t reading most of them (well first, I got burned on some really awful freebies, which made me more discerning – but even buying books with good reviews etc didn’t seem to guarantee that I’d actually read them).

    The book hoarding post inspired me to become more conscious about how I spend my book budget. While I like the idea of getting 9 or 10 books for 10 dollars, the truth is, if I don’t actually read any of them, I’m wasting money, not saving it. I’d rather spend that 10 dollars on one or two books (or half a book) that I’m interested in and will actually read.

    So far I haven’t been burned by pre-ordering, but the stories are making me wary. I usually pre-order from smaller presses that discount pre-orders. I love pre-ordering – I can pre-order when I have the money, and then it’s like a present to myself when it comes in.

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  14. library addict
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 11:58:26

    I don’t usually pre-order digital books. But there have been several books lately that I purchased on release day only to see them on sale the next week or even later the same week. Since I like ePub and shop mainly at Kobo, Sony, and ARe returning and rebuying at the lower price is not an option. I know if I had purchased these books and stuck them in my TBR pile I would be very mad. Thankfully, they were all read on the day I purchased or within a day before the sale hit. They were all also by autobuy authors. But still a part of me is like :(

    I don’t get every 99¢ or free book anymore as I used to hoard them and my TBR was totally out of control. It was time consuming to go through them all and read the first chapter before deleting the majority of them. So now I don’t buy unless I think I really will read it one day. That said, the 99¢ books on sale usually do go into the TBR pile and I’ve read less than 10% of them this year. So buying (because of sale) and not reading (even though I think I will someday) is an issue for me.

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  15. Crista McHugh
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 12:44:55

    I’ve been following this discussion for over a month now on various loops and forums. It’s one of the reasons why I priced my latest release at 99c for the first week and will be raising it bit by bit each week until I reach my target price.

    But yeah, looking at my kindle and nook libraries, there are a ton of books I’ve bought because they were on sale at 99c that I probably won’t get around to reading. I find I’m willing to pay full price for a book I’m dying to read (like Nalini Singh’s Archangel’s Legion) . The 99c price point will sometimes entice me to try a series or book I’m on the fence about. There have been a few times I’ve loved the first book (like The Iron King) so much, I went on to glom the rest of the series, regardless of the price, but too many times, I’ve had a “meh” reaction to these bargain books that I bought only because they were on sale.

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  16. Tripoly
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 14:07:55

    I’ve also noticed that sometimes offering a book for free means people who wouldn’t normally read it just scoop it up without much thought to the blurb or the cover, and then later leave a bad review because the book had sex in it, was a m/m they’d object to, was a fantasy when they hate fantasy, etc., even though those elements might be very obvious from the sales page. I don’t think people are as careful with their shopping when something is free, and that can backfire on an author.
    On the other hand, I have discovered some great authors by getting a free book, so it’s not a complete waste. :)

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  17. KT Grant
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 14:44:03

    I’ve heard the $2.99 price point seems to work for most authors, specifically self published authors. But if a self published authors offer their books at close to traditionally prices books, like say $7.99, will readers but them? Or will they expect these books to be between .99 cent – $2.99?

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  18. Anthea Lawson/Sharp
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 15:42:10

    Here’s an interesting blog piece from indie author Edward Robertson, from early October, that makes the same argument: http://www.edwardwrobertson.com/2013/10/challenging-assumptions-pricing.html

    I’ll have a new release out next month in my YA Fantasy series, and am really going back and forth about pricing. One day I’m all “99 cents, yeah!” and then the next I’m “but won’t that send a signal to readers that I don’t value my work, and that it belongs in a dollar store bin?” And back and forth…

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  19. hapax
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 15:43:47

    Hmm. Well, I’ll be honest, I’ve been ambivalent about LAST HOUR OF GANN. On the one hand, fantastic reviews, terrific worldbuilding, serious treatment of religious faith in sf; on the other, rape, angst, horrible people, more rape.

    I suspect that if it had been priced at .99 or 1.99 or even 2.99 I would have been much more likely to buy it. I can’t honestly say that I would be much more likely to READ it.

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  20. Jenny
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 15:46:44

    The only time I will spend a lot on a book is if I’m going to read it right away. Otherwise I will wait until I can get it cheaper or I’m ready to read it. I do hoard a lot of books, especially the free ones, a lot of which I will never get to. I’ve cut back some, but I can’t seem to resist free.

    As for first in series books that go on sale when a new title comes out, that has actually moved me to buy the full price books on a few occasions because I loved the first one so much.

    For the most part, I don’t buy self published books anymore unless they are recommended to me by my book friends. I was burned too many times when I first got my Kindle.

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  21. E_bookpushers
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 18:36:26

    Interesting post. I never jumped on the $0.99 price for unknowns because my TBR is already extensive. I will say that as one who tried to buy books release week I don’t have that same mentality after being burnt by discounts within a month after publication. In fact I was so upset by the first one that I haven’t been able to finish reading it and am doubtful about purchasing the author again. Intellectually I know it isn’t the author’s fault, but emotionally the association has been made. As a result, I am no longer as eager about buying books during release week unless it is a handful of select authors and they are MMPB equivalent prices.

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  22. carmen webster buxton
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 19:21:47

    I am beginning to think marketing a book is a little like commuting. There is no one best route to take; it all depends on circumstances that change constantly. My full-length novels are all currently priced at $2.99 except for the first one, which is free. But even though I was able to give away 15,000 copies of the free book during a BookBup promotion, a few months later, the free book has now slid down a lot in the rankings. So maybe marketing is a lot like commuting– you have to do it every day!

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  23. Nikki
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 21:26:14

    I think for authors I love, I will suck up the price differential because I wanted to read it the day it came out. However, someone who is on the I like her but ehhhhhh. I am happy to wait and take advantage of pricing. I think the effect on the first weeks sales is something that authors will need to look at. But I don’t know how much control they have with the major publishers. But indie authors I think can take advantage of a free or 99 cent pricing on the first book. There are several authors who I would not have touched until I saw their first book on the free or 99 cent list. But after I book 1 was good and the second was also good, I was willing to pay regular price which at this point is 4.99 for some of them. Anything over that price is elective because we begin to hit my length/price ratio annoyance.

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  24. Beth Yarnall
    Nov 17, 2013 @ 22:21:51

    I’ve always disliked the idea of free and cheap books. I’m glad to see it coming back around. I recently self published a book I got the rights back to. It’s really difficult to not get sucked into the pricing game especially when I see books climbing charts and selling big numbers. I thought long and hard about the price of my book and finally settled on $4.99 for ebook and $11.99 for print. I’m not going to put it on sale. I think that’s a fair price for a single title length book. Amazon and Barnes & Noble have lowered the print price. If a retailer lowers the price, fine. But I’m not going to lower it and risk upsetting potential readers. My intent has always been to put out a good quality book and build a readership on that quality.

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  25. Will Entrekin
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 07:06:07

    Pricing strategy is very often a difficult thing to decide on, but the beauty of digital with regard to price is the same as with regard to publishing in general; one can easily make changes on the fly, experiment with what works, and what doesn’t, learn, adapt, and–hopefully–grow.

    I think Bookbub success depends on a lot of factors, including book and genre. Two months back I offered The Prodigal Hour free on the thrillers list, and it shot to number 1 overall. Given that different Bookbub newsletter have different audience sizes, it makes sense. Then again, I’ve only really had three novels to work with (two of mine and one by Nick Earls), so my sample size is admittedly limited.

    I have noticed the free promotions in general have been less effective. Last year, Exciting Press had about 40k downloads over the entirety of 2012. In 2013, we’ve at this point had more, but 48k of them occurred during the week of the Bookbub promotion for The Prodigal Hour. I’m not sure what’s changed–maybe the existence of email newsletters like Bookbub (and BookGorilla, and BookBlast) means readers can be more passive about discovery; now that I get all those daily emails in my inbox, I find I’m less likely to visit Amazon and browse the free lists there. When I do, I find I’ve already seen most of the deals.

    Your point about pricing over the long term is an interesting one. I admit I can see it either way. While I get the frustration of purchasing a book for $3.99 only to see it later listed for 99c, I think maybe I’ve been inured to this by the corporate model (and not just of books). Like, I’m thinking Blu-Rays. Some get a promotional price during release week (say, $17.99 for a list price of $19.99), but that usually is offered by the retailer (not the publisher or creator)–I’m thinking of BestBuy here. I’m also thinking of the BestBuy weekly circulars wherein you see a full page splash of, like, 30-some DVDs, some of which are listed at $9.99, others at $4.99, etc.

    I think there’s an argument to make that true fans–those who are likely to scoop up a book first, on the day it launches–might pay a premium to get it straightaway (although a more appropriate strategy might be to somehow offer a book privately to true fans that would allow them to purchase it–at a premium–before the general reading public). And maybe initially publishing at $3.99 and bumping to $4.99 is an interesting thought.

    I think it’s a bit naive, though, to think that promotional pricing and sales will never occur. That’s simply not how the market–any market–works. To eschew a book that’s priced at $3.99 because it may at some point be offered for 99c is a bit like avoiding buying a bunch of bananas for $1.79 per pound because next week they might be $1.49. Then again, maybe that’s a difference of shopping mindset; maybe people are more likely to shop for groceries (and plan their menus) based on what’s on sale (rather than what they want to eat), which would be the opposite of people buying books because it’s what they want to read (rather than what happens to be on sale at the moment).

    Me, I won’t pay more than $4.99 for a book–any book (well. Exception being the recent Calvin & Hobbes ebooks. But worth it. I just hope Watterson gets a heckuva cut of it). Books priced above that are most often from corporations I prefer not to support, and below that, I don’t consider the worry that maybe a book I bought for $4.99 will one day be available for 99c to be enough of a fear to warrant avoiding it.

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  26. Jane
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 08:28:34

    I think it’s a bit naive, though, to think that promotional pricing and sales will never occur. That’s simply not how the market–any market–works.

    I’m not sure where in my post I gave the impression that I think promotional pricing and sales won’t ever occur. I said that I wanted them to be conducted in a way that didn’t punish the avid fan, which is what I think that they are doing.

    And waiting for a 3.99 book to drop to .99 a) exhibits an understanding the promotional pricing and sales occur ALL the time and b) is nothing like waiting for bananas to drop at the grocery store. It’s more like thinking, hey those boots are nice, but all the other boots have been discounted dramatically before so if I just wait then I’ll get these boots at a discounted price. I don’t need those boots now. I have a hundred other pair in my closet waiting to be worn.

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  27. carmen webster buxton
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 08:43:21

    More on the “waiting for the price to drop” issue…. While I have a few “must have ASAP” authors I read, there are also a fair number of “I like them, but not at this price” authors. And occasionally, I’ll see a new book and think “I never read anything by this author but the story looks interesting. Too bad it’s so pricey.” Instead of merely adding the book to my wish list, I go to ereadiq.com (which, sadly, only works for Kindle books; I think so far they have the US, UK & Canadian stores) and use their tracking feature to enter the book and the price drop I am waiting for. If/when the book gets cheap enough, I get an email. It’s a great free service! It also works if you’re waiting for a book to become available on Kindle. Nice site to browse, too.

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  28. Kathlena Contreras
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 08:53:58

    When I released my latest book, I thought long and hard about pricing strategy. Maximize income by releasing at full price, when my readers quickly buy my new book? Or reward them for their enthusiasm and loyalty by releasing at a lower price? I decided on the reward route and released at $2.99 and left it there until sales slowed. I just raised the price to “regular” price and plan to leave it there unless I do a Countdown Deals promotion, which I find attractive because of the added visibility Amazon gives those books.

    Edward Robertson wrote a very interesting post about this very topic. You can read it here: http://www.edwardwrobertson.com/2013/10/challenging-assumptions-pricing.html. I was pleased to see that someone else came to the same conclusion about pricing and backed it up with some real numbers. It makes me feel a little more confident about my decision.

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  29. Will Entrekin
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 10:22:44

    @Jane:

    I hadn’t meant to imply that you had stated or implied sales will never occur. I was speaking more broadly to the discussion in general. And I see what you mean about boots, but do you hoard boots like you mention you hoard boots? (I also don’t think I’ve ever paid $3.99 for a pair of boots.)

    I said that I wanted them to be conducted in a way that didn’t punish the avid fan, which is what I think that they are doing.

    Right. You mention the idea of an author charging $3.99 at launch and then later upping price to $4.99. Counter: avid fans are the ones willing to pay a premium price for early access (or complementary, exclusive material), so why not charge them more? A lot of musical artists charge a premium for early access to music. (Provided, that access usually comes before the content is available to the general public, but I think there’s still some parallel.)

    Heck, maybe free and 99c encourages hoarders but $2.99 ~ $4.99 encourages readers. I know which group I’m after.

    ReplyReply

  30. Debra Di Blasi
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 10:31:41

    Writing from a publisher’s viewpoint on this intelligent post and discussion: The publishing industry changes weekly, it seems, and marketing gets increasingly complex. Our own experience in this regard is best exemplified with a recent BookBub offer. We published Dawn Raffel’s memoir, The Secret Life of Objects, as an ebook and paperback in 2012. We listed the print book for $12 and the ebook for $9.99. Because Dawn’s memoir was featured in Oprah’s magazine four times, it initially sold well both in print and ebook, with sales beginning to taper off after about 10 months. We reduced the print price to $10 and the ebook price to $4.99. After one year, we decided to revitalize publicity and sales through a BookBub offer of $0.99 for three days only. The Secret Life of Objects ebook sold well, putting it on the Wall Street Journal’s ebook bestseller list. (It probably should have also made NYTBR bestseller list but, as you may know, the editors make list decisions based not wholly on numbers; we’ll never know why they elected not to put it on their list.) Once the 3-day sale ended, we listed the ebook for $3.99, where it shall remain. Dawn’s memoir continues to sell daily, likely boosted by positive reviews from those who bought it on sale. The experience has been illuminating, to say the least. As a publisher who is also a writer, I try hard to make decisions that will best-serve our writers, artist and musicians. It is a daily, shifting, complex job, and discussions like these help tremendously. Thank you so much! —Debra Di Blasi, Publisher-in-Chief, Jaded Ibis Productions / Jaded Ibis Press

    ReplyReply

  31. Price Promotions | Edwin Downward
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 12:05:35

    […] recent article over at Dear author got me thinking about my book buying […]

  32. Lynne Silver
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 14:24:02

    This is a very interesting post, and gives me a lot of food for thought on pricing any future books I may self-publish.

    One of my publishers held a 2 week free giveaway for the first book in one of my series. I don’t have the royalty statement for that month yet, but I’ll be very curious how many downloads I garnered. I noticed my number of Goodreads reviews jumped for that book.

    I love the idea of setting the price and having it be cheaper the first month/two weeks to reward my loyal readers. I’ll also be reading “Predictably Irrational” to help me with a pricing strategy.

    ReplyReply

  33. persnickety
    Nov 18, 2013 @ 21:44:29

    This is interesting, and the comment discussion is providing more insight into why the prices are so varied.

    As an ebook reader I generally draw the line at an ebook that is more expensive than the physical copy. Living in Australia, this is not difficult as the standard prices for physical books are high. BUT, I also get pretty annoyed when the cost of an ebook for me, as an Australian reader, is significantly higher than an American one. I accept high prices for physical books, because I understand that there are generally high shipping costs, taxes and high business costs for the average bookstore. NONE of that applies when talking about an ebook sold by a US retailer. That’s just a publisher/author getting extra money because i live in a specific geographical area. That doesn’t make me want to buy your books. This is most evident with Amazon, because often the recommendations/other customers bought/bestseller lists display the american price- so I click through thinking oh, $2.99 I can try this new to me author. Surprise $8.99! Suddenly that author has landed on the no way I will buy list for the long term(probably through no fault of their own, this is a publisher decision).

    For older books- whether back list or out of print (oh but especially out of print)- those books are out there in used format. Yes, they may be hard copy, or so rare that they draw high prices on ebay. BUT they are still out. Don’t expect me to pay more because you can see that old copies are being auctioned for $50 on ebay (that would be the sequel to Miss Buncle’s Book). Those prices are because they were hard to find. You have just made it easy. Scarcity prices no longer apply.

    Generally ebooks under $3.99 by unknown authors will get a look in. But my husband and I buy a gift cert for ourselves each month on Amazon. when the money runs out on that , the book buying for that month ends. We buy the authors we know/love first, so promotional pricing may cause us to buy unknown authors with the leftover money.

    I am also a big fan of Humble bundle and the like, and I know that we will generally assess the cost of books through that as between 5-10 dollars each (you buy them as a bundle). If we feel not value for money, may not pay as much next time. I appreciate that the authors involved are willing to let their customers set the price.

    It’s all terribly inconsistent- but so are the prices.

    ReplyReply

  34. Of Apple and Amazon and e-book sales | madgeniusclub
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 08:23:02

    […] I came across this article from Dear Author and I thought that, for cone, I was going to have to disagree with them. But I can’t because […]

  35. Estara Swanberg
    Nov 19, 2013 @ 13:24:16

    @Miranda Kenneally: This ^^ – but only when it’s a trusted author. New to me authors I quite happily try at a low price point.
    Andrea Höst has said that one of her most successful ways of attracting new readers is keeping Stray, the first of the Touchstone trilogy, free or very cheap. If they like her voice, and many do, the story is so engaging that people want the second and third book right away and buy that as soon as they finish the first one – this is one long story with natural separations that still works best together.
    And if they’ve already liked her voice with another book and are happy to get all of Touchstone cheaper, then they can buy the one-volume edition which is cheaper overall. And there’s the totally free 150 page happy-end epilogue separate from the books for people who still don’t want to separate and know what happened to whom at the end (it covers two more years in the character’s lives, but in monthly chunks).
    She also said that getting more than one award nomination in reputable awards like the Aurealis or the Cybils has increased visibility.
    I so look forward to the sequel of Champion of the Rose at the end of the month ^^.

    ReplyReply

  36. pooks
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 08:10:06

    Jane, I agree with you. When my first backlist book came out and I decided to drop the price, I hated that a lot of people I knew had supported it and bought it immediately, and that a price drop was punishing them for that, so I put off the change until there was a good reason for it, not just me playing with pricing to see if I could boost sales.

    One thing that I have no control over–Amazon does drop my prices without even telling me, much less me giving permission. [ETA: I gave permission when I signed their contract, of course.] Right now Some Enchanted Season is dropped $2 [possibly because it's about football and it's the season? no idea, really]. Amazon did it, not me. So there’s the wild card that the author can’t control.

    Thanks for this article. Lots to chew on, as always.

    ReplyReply

  37. Kate McMurry
    Nov 20, 2013 @ 19:48:07

    I’m a voracious and jaded reader whose lust for fiction far outstrips what I can afford to spend on books. I’m currently signed up for 5 bargain-ebook mailing lists, and if I see more in the future which seem to be excellent at what they do, I will probably sign up for them, too. I also heavily rely on Twitter to learn about Amazon sales of Kindle books as I follow authors, bloggers and readers who share my reading interests, YA, NA and adult romance. All of the bargain-ebook mailing lisls I’ve joined allow readers to specify what genres they want to hear about, but within those genres I am not interested in every type of story an author chooses to tell. If a given book has a storyline that interests me, I follow the link to Amazon and use the “Look Inside the Book” function to see if I like that author’s writing style. If I do, I also look through a few reviews, both positive and negative, to confirm if the blurb about the book is an accurate assessment of what the focus of the book’s plot actually is, most especially, I am looking for a traditional romance happy ending (which is not a given in YA and NA). I am willing take a risk on buying bargain-priced books that sound really intriguing because Amazon allows you to return for full refund any ebook you try that you don’t like–much in the way that B&N and Borders used to (and maybe B&N still does) allow you to return print books that disappoint you to their brick-and-mortar stores for full refund within 30 days. Because of this return policy, with any ebook I pay for, even if priced as low as 99 cents, I make a habit of delving into that book within that 7-day window period to find out if it’s going to be a book that suits my personal tastes. If I find myself skimming or groaning at any point, I take that as clear evidence that I am not particularly interested in that book, and I immediately request a refund. If a book is free, I can take my time getting around to reading it, but I apply the same standard to a free book that I do to one that cost money, and if I decide it is not for me, I dump it from my Amazon Kindle library. I’ve tried out literally hundreds of ebooks by authors who are new to me in this manner. In order to keep track of my opinions about the types of stories authors tell, I make notes to myself on my computer about authors whose work I like, or don’t find to my taste, so I don’t waste time revisiting those whose style is not for me and so I can add the books of authors I liked to my Amazon Wish List. Price is definitely a factor for me in buying books. When the Big Five price pop fic novels over $3.99, I am unlikely to buy them unless they are “keepers” by a handful of authors whose work I collect because I love them and know I will re-read them at some point. The only way I am willing to try out books priced above $3.99 from Big Publishers is to go through my public library–which has been the case for me for the whole of my adult life. If my library does not have a particular book in its collection as either an ebook or print book, virtually every library requires that you wait until the book is one year old before you can request it as an interlibrary loan.

    ReplyReply

  38. Self-Publishing Roundtable: Episode 22 | Self-Publishing Round Table
    Nov 21, 2013 @ 20:34:37

    […] Promotional Backfire […]

  39. Our E-Book Pricing Policy | Pegasus Pulp
    Nov 24, 2013 @ 20:21:31

    […] Dear Author, Jane Litte goes into the ever contentious subject of e-book pricing and points out that limited time free or 99 cent promotional prices can backfire or are at least […]

  40. Track Kindle EBook Bargains with eReaderIQ
    Nov 27, 2013 @ 10:16:08

    […] agency pricing, the frequency and lure of ebook price discounts are stronger than ever; but so is readers’ fear of missing out on good deal. Fortunately a relatively new site, eReaderIQ, is available to help people make smarter buying […]

  41. Should Writers Give Their Work Away For Free? | Jessie Clever | Jessie Clever
    Dec 04, 2013 @ 10:57:37

    […] wonderful blog, Dear Author, recently put out a piece on this very subject, and I’m truly thankful they did, because it’s been so puzzling […]

  42. Indies Are Getting Clobbered by Big Name eBook Discounts - But Not For The Reason You Think - The Digital Reader
    Dec 10, 2013 @ 19:50:43

    […] I’m not sure that this is related, but Dear Author posted in mid-November that free and deep discounting is not as effective of a promotional tool as […]

  43. Is Bookbub Still An Effective Sales Tool? - The Digital Reader
    Dec 12, 2013 @ 08:31:44

    […] someone questioning the value of Bookbub or the service they offer. Jane Litte, writing over at Dear Author, noted about a month ago that discounted ebooks (like the ones that Bookbub often promotes) […]

  44. Why price promotions backfire | Split Tree Indie Services
    Jan 09, 2014 @ 07:42:40

    […] From DearAuthor.com: […]

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