The Price Of Art

Yesterday a commenter said something to the extent that while she loved to write but she didn’t know if anyone wanted to buy it.

This is, of course, where all of us start – pro, amateur, wanna be, and those who spend years writing novels and throwing them under the bed, never even telling their nearest and dearest that they’re writers.

In this way, I think (though correct me if I’m wrong ) writing is worse than music or art (though the reason my husband never pursued performance in music is that he freezes in front of an audience.  Or he used to.  Age cures a lot of that.) because it’s more interior and more part of who you are, in a way.

Don’t yell at me.  I do art too (at a very beginner level) and I know all about how it changes how you see things – most of art is teaching you to see.  Now I think about it, that’s also learning to write, only it’s learning to perceive the world in more ways than normal – but it’s still not the same thing.

If you’re the sort of person who will grow up to want to write, chances are you’ve been putting yourself to sleep, every night, with these little stories you told yourself.

If you’re like me, you were telling these stories to your little friends in elementary and possibly – with a stronger more “adult” edge to your teen friends.  Further, you were writing them in exercise books and passing each completed chapter back, so the class could read it.

Okay, you might not have been doing any of those things.  The fact that I was doing those things and they started so far back that I can’t remember how they started, probably helped make sure I wasn’t just putting books in the drawer for twenty years.  I knew some people liked my stuff.  I just didn’t know how many or if they would pay for it.

But I suspect more introverted people, or people who were introverted in a different way (I often used/use stories as a shield between me and the world) never showed these stories at all.  So when they started writing them…  They knew these were the stories they told themselves, the stories they liked to listen to, but not if anyone else would want to hear them, much less pay for them.  And unlike telling a story, you don’t get a reaction. Plus, in blogs or Amazon even, if you dare put it up, you’re always going to get the Obligatory Jerk Commenter TM.  It’s a fact of human nature that people are more likely to comment when they’re upset/irked than when they’re happy with what you did.  So you might have 100 devoted readers and never know it.  BUT the minute something goes up you’ll have the OJC.

Ric Locke was fond of saying that in this brave new world of publishing there are enough buyers with varied enough tastes that you can sell practically anything.  It doesn’t matter if your story is “bad” in the opinion of North American readers, it might catch the fancy of the French and take off like a rocket.  (The thing to understand is that there is no such thing as OBJECTIVELY bad.  There’s “objectively incomprehensible” – i.e. what I call “written in Martian” – and those don’t do too well.  But there’s very few of them.  Other than that what I consider horrible and would hate to be forced to read can and often does make money hand over fist.  To wit, Dan Brown.  And I’m sure some of my odder tastes would make a lot of you run screaming into the night [mostly because I like ingrown and involuted “literary” when I’m in a certain type of mood.])

So, given a large enough market Ric is bound to be right – and the emarket is very large indeed.  It sprawls all over the world and grows larger by the day, both in spread and in reach via cheaper and more ingenuous ereaders.

Because of that, if you’re sitting there, holding onto your “precious” and afraid no one will love it, chances are someone will love it.  As long as it’s not written in Martian.

Now, it might not take off right away, and if it does it might not make you millions, but a steady income every month.  Which is, of course, more than most of us ever got.

So if you put it out, don’t rush and take it back because “nobody loves it” – it takes time and opportunity for someone to find you.  And they’re more likely to do so the more you have out.  Dean Smith says you get a bump every thirty books (or shorts, or whatever) or so.

I know you’ve heard all this before, and I’m only repeating it as a sort of mea culpa.  I’ve told you guys this, over and over…

And I haven’t taken my own medicine.

Oh, sure, I have books out, though not many of them, mind.  “Books” in this case are short stories I’ve published before, and we all remember the charming moment when I was trying to figure out what to price them a few months ago and RES had to remind me they’re not sausage, you don’t sell them by the inch.

Which brings us to…  Which brings us to the fact that when I put them out, I thought in stupid terms.  Most of the stories I’m putting out have been published before.  I’ve been paid for them once.  (Often not much, as there was no pro market for space opera.)  It was, too, a time when people were putting up entire novels for 99c to 2.99.

So I thought… “Well, I’m a pro, 99c for a short is justified.”  And I put “shorts” up to about 7k up at 99c.  Stories above that went at 2.99, as did collections of five stories.

They did okay, though they didn’t make much money.  Hard to do at 33c a sale.  And it sort of made me slack off on putting them up, so months went by with nothing new, even though I have tons of shorts sitting in the drawer.

And I busied myself with the other writing.  Until recently the idea started filtering through the noise that the bottom of short stories was now 2.99.  You could sell a short at 99c as a loss leader, but if you wanted to be taken seriously, it was 2.99.

I also have bought a bunch of indie stuff lately, and realized that I was paying 3.99 and 4.99 for novellas of maybe 10k to 15k words.  And not grudging it.

I still thought you guys were all drinking your own ink and that no one would buy them at the new prices.

However, in a fit of daring, yesterday, I went over to Smashwords and changed all the prices, while at Office-ish.  I didn’t have the time/opportunity to do that for Amazon and Barnes and Noble until late at night, so those have only been up a few hours, particularly Amazon which takes almost 12 hours to process.

However, this morning, out of curiosity, I checked sales and… you could knock me down with a feather.

Look, take in account that Smashwords SITE – not the affiliates – is all you can see easily till you get the reports once a quarter.  It is also – for various reasons, including a sclerotic search engine – the worst selling of all the sites SW has access to.  Normally I sell – off the site — about 10 books a month, give or take.

Well, I sold 3 overnight, and of the more expensive ones.  And on Amazon I sold three copies of one of the short stories since it went up at a higher price, which was about an hour.  (And while my sales are usually larger there, that’s still very good.)

So… what have we learned from this?  It’s a lesson I’ve learned over and over again from more tangible things.  Like, we buy used furniture, I refinish it, we use it for a while, and when time comes to sell it, I’ll go with say double what I paid for it when it was a mess.  And we get no calls, or if we do people find all sorts of problems with it, and try to talk us down to what it was when we bought it, in bad shape.  BUT leave it to husband or son, who price it at five to ten times what we paid, and it will be gone within the day, and people just fork over the money and leave all happy.  Or look at the last house we sold.  We were getting extreme low-ball offers, and people found all sorts of things to bitch about.  For two years.  Then we raised the price 50k and it sold in three months at very close to asking, in one of the worst real estate markets we’d seen at the time (now it’s worse, but that’s something else.)

What does this mean?  I don’t know.  That we tend to undervalue that which is ours/we have.  That writers, in particular, are chronicle self doubters.  That most people are… er… more loose with their money than I am.  Or not, since I pay the inflated prices, too, provided it’s something I want to read and it gives me an hour of nice reading before bed.

It definitely tells me people value more that which they perceive as more expensive.

Of course, there is a ceiling to this, but where is it?  I hear people talking of a bottom of 4.99 for short stories and I go “That’s just crazy talk” – but given the price of an ice-cream cone or a coffee… well… maybe it isn’t.

For now, I’ll leave them at 2.99 to 4.99 with the really short “lighter than air” stories at 1.99.  But … well… we’ll see, right.

And for those of you who say “yeah, Sarah, but you have a name” – yes, but Sylvia Haute (my pen name for the juvenilia) doesn’t, and she too just sold a couple of shorts at Amazon.

I’ll keep you posted on how it does in a month or so, but for now it looks like a rousing success, and a lesson in not undervaluating yourself – in getting things out there and not being afraid to charge what the market will bear.

It shouldn’t be a hard lesson to learn, but it is, an one I must have beaten into my head very often, apparently.

 

 

223 thoughts on “The Price Of Art

      1. Not wanting to get into arguments over the publishing format (PF), but 6.99 is the price of a mass market paperback. Which suggests that readers of e-books are indifferent to PF.

        Not entirely unreasonable, when you consider that the cost of a dead tree book includes storage and disposal.

          1. Baen keeps its paperbacks more affordable, which is why they tend to do well for them, compared to the other houses. I stopped buying paperbacks new when they went over 6.99. What is interesting is that I’ve bought ebooks for more than that.

            And I’m not going to say I’m very confident of this pricing scheme, but THINK: 2.99 for something I can write in an afternoon. Add in research and editing, say 3 days, a week tops for the REALLY long ones. For one of the longer novels, like Witchfinder, with a cast of dozens, which is going to be a stone cold b*tch to edit and even JUST the editing will take me a month. Would it be fair to sell it at 5.99? Or even 6.99?

            Now shorter novels, like Shadow Gods which I hope to put up soon I could do at 5.99, although it will still take me a couple of weeks.

            But, otherwise, what will happen is that the production gets distorted. If I’m selling more in shorts at 2.99, easier to JUST write shorts. (Well, not for me, it might break me, but you know what I mean.)

            1. N.B. – by quoting a 6.99 price for mmpb I was figuring in the discounting commonly offered by sellers — Amazon’s “4-for-3” bargain and the typical “buy 4, get 5th free” sales at brick and mortar stores.

              1. uh. I haven’t seen those sales in local stores. I have balked at many an 8.99 pback. At any rate, as I do novel series (supposing I have that kind of time… ever) I intend to discount the older ones, to … prime the pump.

                1. I might buy an ebook for 6.99, but only if it was unavailable in deadtree, and if I already knew the author and knew I wanted the book. Of course I far prefer deadtree over ebooks, so I am naturally baised that way. But a lot of buyers look at what is put into the making of a product, and regardless of what the publishers claim, anybody with a lick of sense realizes that ebooks are cheaper to publish than paperbacks, so there is a natural aversion to paying the same price for an ebook.

              2. The only “buy 4 get 5th free” I’ve seen locally is on used books, specifically the low price used books (under $12.00). Novels and anthologies seem to get a discount upon first release, then bounce back up to the cover price, be they hardcover or paperback. YMMV.

                1. 5-for-4 Deals seem to have been common at my local Books-A-Million (although, as they closed that branch during a chain contraction last year …) and I am sure I have seen it on selected books at the local B&N. I have also noticed older inventory tagged with “but two, get a third free” stickers.

                  Mind, I actively try to eschew book stores the way a diabetic will avoid cupcake shoppes. Even when accompanying Beloved Spouse and Daughtorial Unit I have been known to prowl the sections other than those to which I am naturally attracted, seeking something interesting enough to browse without expectation I will want to buy … which merely expands the range of stuff I own and read. So I may be more than normally attentive to discounting.

                  1. That’s not a winning strategy RES — browsing different things — now I read almost everything, except sports stories. Yes, yes, even war memoirs.

                    1. Ah, I don’t read sports stories, but may I suggest Lawrence Ritter’s The Glory of Their Times: The Story Of The Early Days Of Baseball Told By Men Who Played It. Between 1962 and 66 Ritter traveled with a tape recorder and interviewed early players about their experiences. Yes, it is about baseball, but it is also a marvelous record of what America was like in the early nineteen hundreds.

                    2. Try The Year The Yankees Lost The Pennant, Douglas Wallop’s novel that was the basis for the hit Broadway musical Damn Yankees. Or any of the Henry Wiggen books of Mark Harris, most notably Bang The Drum Slowly (basis for film by same name) although the first one, The Southpaw is also notable. Or Malamud’s The Natural. These are stories set in the world of sports, but they are NOT sports stories.

                      Heck, many an American boy learned to love reading thanks to John R. Tunis. His books are Human Wave tales about boys’ dreams and the reality required to achieve them. Try The Kid From Tomkinsville and you will learn why Tunis’ stature in his field is as great as RAH’s in SF.

                      Tunis’ eight-book baseball series about the Brooklyn Dodgers began with The Kid from Tomkinsville, a book often cited by sports writers and commentators as inspiring childhood reading. Phillip Roth used The Kid from Tomkinsville and its main character Roy Tucker in his book American Pastoral. It is also considered an influence for Bernard Malamud’s The Natural and Mark Harris’ Bang the Drum Slowly.
                      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_R._Tunis

                    3. In looking up John R. Tunis I was interested to discover a few items that make it (in my never humble opinion) worth our attention and justifying expanding on my prior comment.

                      According to Wiki, Tunis was one of the pioneers of the YA genre:

                      He wrote [Iron Duke] for adults, but Alfred Harcourt wanted to publish and market it for juveniles. This initially dismayed Tunis, partly because at that time the separate field of young-adult fiction did not exist, and Tunis did not consider himself a children’s writer. He eventually agreed and in 1938 Harcourt, Brace published Iron Duke as a children’s book. The novel won the New York Herald Tribune Spring Book Festival Award for best juvenile novel and opened a new arena for Tunis. Tunis’ success with these books made him one of a handful of writers who helped establish the young-adult market as a separate field.

                      Working within the genre, Tunis explored some fairly important themes for his era:

                      All American centers on football star Ronald Perry, who in protest over anti-Semitic activity and guilt for his part in it, leaves his prep school to play football for the local public high school, which does not exactly welcome him. Perry ultimately adjusts and becomes accepted, leading his new team to a postseason playoff. However, the team is invited only if they agree not to bring their one African-American player. Initially Perry is the only one who objects to this, but his refusal eventually stirs other students and parents to protest as well. Kirkus Reviews said of Tunis’ only football novel, “This is one of the BIG books of the Fall, and should not be pigeonholed for junior reading.” It further praised the book for illustrating “the whole rounded picture of race and color problems facing young and old today”. … In a chapter titled “John R. Tunis: The Best of the Best”, Michelle Nolan’s 2010 book Ball Tales praises All American as “a perceptive novel of character, of morals, and it’s far ahead of its time”. Just how ahead of its time may be seen when Nolan points out that Hans Walleen’s illustrations “may be the first of an African American football player in action in an American sports novel.”

                      Most significantly, Tunis’s themes include a pretty good definition of Human Wave:

                      Leonard Marcus in Minders of Make-Believe: Idealists, Entrepreneurs, and the Shaping of American Children’s Literature, says “Tunis’s books were never only about sports”, noting “the author’s determination to offer his readers basic lessons about good citizenship and fair play, and a chance to reflect on such rarely discussed social issues as racial equality and anti-Semitism”. A doctoral study at Oklahoma State University in 1996 analyzed all of Tunis’ juvenile sports books. The predominant value found both in the books and their main characters was Courtesy/Fairness/Respect. The second most identified value was Compassion/Kindness. The study found that “the values are not portrayed didactically, as part of lessons, but rather as a natural part of the stories”. In his book What Would Frank Merriwell Do?, Ryan Anderson also pointed out the recurring theme of fairness and sportsmanship over winning in both Tunis’ fiction and non-fiction, saying “The common thread winding through all his writing became his dismay over the nation’s tendency to value winning above common decency.” In turning from primarily writing non-fiction for adults to juvenile fiction Tunis did not abandon his emphasis on values over victory, but it did give him an audience that seemed more willing to listen.

                      And most significantly:

                      Rather than emphasize winning, Tunis believed that values like hard work and perseverance could be taught through sports. The 1951 football brochure for the South Dakota School of Mines & Technology Athletic Scholarship committee cites Tunis, saying “The athletic department would like to feel that the existing program can do for the engineer what John Tunis had in mind when he said, ‘The deep objective of games really is to train one’s reflex of purpose to develop a habit of keeping steadily at something you want until it is done.'” Many of Tunis’ biggest heroes find themselves eventually brought low, like Roy Tucker in The Kid Comes Back, whose wartime service injury may have destroyed his career, or Iron Duke Jim Wellington at Harvard, ostracized and lonely, who perseveres by running track. The real victory is in the character’s refusal to give up against long odds. “My heroes are the losers” he once said. “All my books have been in that vein. Every book I’ve ever written.” In the Introduction to The Kid from Tomkinsville, Bruce Brooks writes “for Tunis a win was what happened at the ballpark some of the time, usually just before a loss. It didn’t make you a good person, anymore than a loss made you a jerk.”

                      Worth repeating as the essence of HW: “… to train one’s reflex of purpose to develop a habit of keeping steadily at something you want until it is done.”

                    4. Sigh. I loathe football, so I thought I was safe browsing through Carlisle vs. Army: Jim Thorpe, Dwight Eisenhower, Pop Warner, and the Forgotten Story of Football’s Greatest Battle. Nope. Fascinating portrayal of America less than 25 years after Wounded Knee and just over 35 since Custer.

                      Then there was the time I browsed the science section and walked away owning Why Things Break: Understanding the World by the Way It Comes Apart. The Philosophy section, with its “… and Philosophy” series is deadly, too. WHO can resist such titles as The Avengers and Philosophy: Earth’s Mightiest Thinkers, Spider-Man and Philosophy: The Web of Inquiry, The Hobbit and Philosophy: For When You’ve Lost Your Dwarves, Your Wizard, and Your Way, Game of Thrones and Philosophy: Logic Cuts Deeper Than Swords????

                      The only sections in a book store I can be confident of not finding anything readable are the loo, New Age and Literature. I leave the obvious punny conclusion for others.

                    5. Actually, at one time in my life, I read every sports story I could find on the shelves. Now it has to have a decent plot and interesting characters to get my attention. I haven’t found a fiction sports novel that could hold my attention for more than 30 minutes in the last ten years.

                    6. It occurred to me that the difference between a John Tunis novel and one by John Ringo is little more than that the action depicted in the first is set on a football field and in the latter on a battlefield. The action depicted is pretty much just the Maguffin around which character development and plot progress occur. If the novel centers solely on the action it is merely sport or combat porn; Larry Correia’s Monster Hunter books are about analysing and solving conondrums and facing up to problems; only incidentally are they about super-cool monster-slaying.

        1. $6.99 is a darn cheap paperback these days. I think that Epic Fantasy Bricks are part of a vicious cycle justifying the ever-increasing price of paperbacks, so we make it thicker, so of course it has to cost more, so of course readers expect bigger books. E-books ‘mongst their other blessings too numerous to measure break that cycle once and for all. Most e-book purchasers don’t even know where it says how long the book is on the Amazon page and the ones that do mostly don’t care.

          1. “The Brick” is a… varying mileage. When I was agent-hunting (with bait and camera!), the wisdom was 100K was tops, and maybe a bit over if you were really good. Which, since I’d hit my stride in Big Books — or trilogies, which are just Big Books Cut In Three (hi, Lord of the Rings!) — was downright painful. Bricks are for Established Authors Only right now, I believe. Everyone else has to squish small.

            (Which is why the first book of what’s gonna be a trilogy, I feel it in my bones, is 92K… And kinda suffers for it, the poor thing, but I was trying for a Story Concept That Was Short Enough To Fit.)

            1. Once upon a time, when mass printing was in its infancy, book lengths were limited by standard folds of paper. I think the ‘books’ in LOTR was meant to be referential. Heck each volumes gave you two books! My problem — I don’t like brick PBs as the spine gives out, the glue seems to give out sooner because of this and the pages start to fall out and I have to keep it in a baggie which makes shelving troublesome…)

              Anyway, as we face a post-paper publishing world we will hopefully see story drive lengths.

          2. Right underneath the price, and yes I look at it. Because frankly I very seldom like shorts, although novellas are something most authors can do well (well, if they can do anything well) whether they be a short writer, or novel writer. Because I generally don’t really like shorts, I won’t pay much for them, certainly not 2.99.

  1. Congrats! I didn’t have much luck earlier this year when I tried the prices Dean Wesley Smith suggested for 2012, but maybe the market has changed. Now I’m inspired by your post to try higher prices again. Wish me luck, please….

  2. I think it is a kind of psychological barrier to get over – realistically working out what your storytelling is worth – and even thinking it IS worth something. Way back in the mists of time, blogging-wise, it didn’t even occur to me that my writing might actually be worth something, until a fan of my then blog emailed me to say that he really wanted to read the entries about my wierd family when he was at home and didn’t have internet access… if he sent me a box of blank CD media, could I copy over my best posts and send him one? (the other blank cds to be used to make the same for other fans.) And that’s when it began to dawn on me that hey – I might be able to make at least a small living at writing.
    Of course, my favorite quote about writing professionally comes from Sharon McCrumb: “It’s a bit like hooking … before you start asking money for it, better be sure you’re pretty good.”

    1. I don’t want to speculate on Ms McCrumb’s knowledge of hooking, but can’t help but realize that in both instances the customer is typically pretty easy to satisfy.

      1. “Hooking” is a broad term for a broad field. I would say that advice was not bad for a high-priced call girl ($1,000/night or higher) or other modern hetaera, but for what most people call “hookers,” it’s actually bad business advice. Their pricing model relies on volume. So unless by “good at it” you mean “good at making it happen really, really fast,” being good at it is the last thing you want to be.

        1. I bow to your superior knowledge of that profession.

          I ordinarily tip for such joke set-ups, but find myself a little short this week; the other day I climbed out of bed and was too short to reach the floor.

              1. Only in that it is personally useful for anyone who plans to utilize their services. The three professions are prostitution, writing, and law enforcement.

        2. There is also the possibility; she was referring to the hooking that is commonly taught at the local library or church here in England . . .

          Crochet and knitting are both considered hooking, it’s a bit off putting the first time you hear such slang, especially as for me it was from the MiL lady pastor . . .about what she did while waiting for FiL at doctors appointments.

          1. *laugh* My UK friend and I have referred to Crochet/Knitting, collectively, as “yarn-bending.” We may have an extreme fondness for the Avatar: The Last Airbender series… 😉

    2. Whoever that reader was, bless him. I have joked to The Spouse and friends that this has become my year of reading according to Hoyt. And I have been enjoying it throughly. You are a varied lot, producing all sorts of good reading. Thank you all.

  3. I guess that answers my question from yesterday!

    Now for a follow-on question: does Naked Reader plan similar pricing? I’m kinda… curious… [Looks slyly at his inbox to see if there’s email from Amanda yet…]

    1. Martin, check your box tomorrow. Sorry, but I have spent much of the last two days either trying to ignore a raging toothache or getting over my phobia about dentists to go get it checked to sleeping after taking the meds the dentist gave me.

      As for pricing, yes, we will be updating our pricing. I’m not sure yet exactly where it will all fall out — we have an online conference set for later today/this evening to discuss it.

      1. Amanda, no worries. I’m just glad I didn’t lose it. For some reason on Friday, I had a batch of email that went to my phone but not to my PC; and then the next time my phone connected, it dumped them. So I’m not sure what I lost.

  4. When I was first buying books for myself a paperback ran $0.35 – 0.50; a kids hardback such as the Hardy Boys or Tom Swift, Jr. was $4.99 — I cringe at paying $7.99 for a ppb or $25.00 (thank Amazon for deep discounts) for clothbound. But I remind myself that gasoline was $0.20, a movie was $1.50 and a burger at McDonalds cost fifteen cents.

    It can be hard to keep up with prices (especially with Ben Banker spinning dollars out of straw. Which suggests a story about economic collapse resulting from Rumplestilskin’s work … maybe the Princesses first child was a metaphor …) Even harder is trying to equate price and value. Which is the beauty of letting free markets do it for you, eh?

    Years ago I read a tale of a hot dog shop that had developed a superbly tasty wiener, one truly deserving of the name gourmet. The owners carefully calculated their cost and put the dog on the market at a very fair price (buck an’ a half back when that was money) that allowed them to make a tidy little profit. And sales stank. Stank so badly they were unable to cover fixed costs (I have mentioned I am an accountant, haven’t I? We think of costs differently.) Finally, desperately, they raised the hot dog’s price to $2.50 and sales took off! Why? (Well, when you pause to think about what goes into a hot dog …) Nothing had changed except the consumer’s perception of value. At the lower price they perceived the product as being less valued.

    This aspect of psychology is frequently employed by marketers, the sort of “off Times Square” shops that are perpetually running going out of business sales, promising deep discounts. Heck, put a $25.00 book on Amazon and offer a 40% discount to $16.00 and I feel glad for the bargain, even though I might have been resistant to purchasing it if offered at $16.00 straight up. The human mind is a strange beast, and anybody thinking they have the wisdom to “set prices” without market feedback is demonstrating they lack the smarts to be allowed to carry their own lunch money.

    1. In “The Princess Bride” (book, not movie), we get the full story of Inigo Montoya’s father. He was an overworked sword smith who raised his prices to try to reduce demand and hence his workload. The higher he raised them, the more people wanted his swords. Even when he couldn’t keep up and the work got sloppy, they wouldn’t leave him alone. I always thought there was some truth to that.

      That all ended, of course, with the six-fingered man. “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

      1. I believe it was Yogi Bera who once said of a restaurant in New York, ‘Nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded.’

      2. Pedantic Note: It was actually Domingo’s (Inigo’s father) partner Yeste who was the one who was a famous swordsmith who kept raising his prices in vain. Domingo was an impoverished nobody who was an even better swordmaker and to whom Yeste would come for help when a request was too much for him. Yeste always implored Domingo to come and work with him in the city, but he always declined because he didn’t want to deal with the public. He wanted to be an artist for art’s sake. When he finally got the chance, he succeeded, but it killed him. Again the metaphor is left as an exercise for the student.

    2. I’m minded of a story of a grocery store having trouble selling a particular product (can’t remember what) for $.25, so the manager changed the price and put up a sign, “3 for a Dollar!” and couldn’t keep them on the shelf. The perception of urgency, as well as that of receiving a bargain, or else a higher quality, are very strong factors in people’s decision-making when it comes to buying things.

      1. It is OF COURSE entirely possible that these jumps are merely accidental. People were looking for me, and found me yesterday. If it doesn’t hold up, I”ll bring them down at the end of the month. BUT it’s worth trying 😉

        1. If that is the current market rate, maintain that price. Even if your sales are half those of the lower price, your cash flow will be greater (and your vendors will be happier, to the extent that they care — and that might be greater than you would expect, because it is common in business to manage by exceptions, and standing out as different is not always good.)

          OTOH, running special promotional discounts is a time-honored ruse to stimulate sales. Do your vendors permit you to package items into a “buy three shorts, get four” offers? Howabout a buy my deadtree novel and get a free digital short package? Are there limits to how often and how long you can run specials? Creative marketing/pricing should be used to stimulate purchases.

          1. Yeah. I can and will do that, as I add more merchandise. And as I said, if nothing else, this gives me the incentive to do more stories.

            I was thinking of a xmas nuns in space story and a xmas shifters story.

          2. I went browsing at a CD Warehouse and turned down the free extra CD. “But why? Everyone gets the free one.” I picked up my small pile and explained, “Because these are the only ones I want.” I’m not sure the clerks ever recovered. >:)

        2. I’d hold them longer than a month, in case you have a Weird Month for some reason, unless you start getting more negative feedback than positive. Not sure a month is sufficient time to really feel out the sales blips.

          Besides, if you lower it in December, you can claim it’s a Holiday Sale.

  5. About the third paragraph: yeah, Walker Percy said something like, the artist or musician is a Catholic priest in a cathedral with a choir and pipe organ and surrounded by great art. The writer is a Protestant minister in an empty room with a Bible.

  6. As a voracious reader(wife and I have >950 novels on our kindles) I find that we do not buy ebooks at 7.99-8.99. I will rather pass or buy the paperback and then throw it out. I will pay for Baen eArcs prior to publication. I suspect that the enovel pricing you are talking about comes from old line publishers who are trying to keep a price floor. Look to Baen bundles and pricing as the more realistic top enovel price. (I will pay Baen prices for their editorial choices, ie I know I will like them)

    1. Actually, no. Indies are now pricing it at that. The old-line publishers start at 10.99. Sorry, but it is the way it is. I won’t go over 9, but some indies do. Do take in account the inflation.

      Don’t underestimate the fact you can get a sample on kindle. It has tempted me to pay higher than I would have.

      As for Baen bundles, no, sorry. They WERE realistic in a world where you read your novels on your computer, not on a portable ereader. Now you’re looking at 8.99 for a paperback and $30 for a hardcover, and paperbacks are vanishing from the shelves. I think the ebooks are stepping in where the paperbacks were.

      I still find the prices shocking, but I would — anyway. I’m a skinflint. And yet, it’s surprising to find, as we go over our accounts for taxes, how often I succumbed even to 10 to 12 per novel, because the beginning was good, and it was what I needed for a long flight.

      I think it would take A LOT of inflation, though, for me to pay the $16 some publishers ask for the ebooks of bestsellers. I’ll buy the hardcover for that, my kids can also read it.

    2. Actually, Baen bundles are insanely cheap. Even Baen’s single-item prices are cheap. The prices were set back before viable e-readers when the main reading method was “on your monitor” and haven’t been updated.

      Of course, so many Baenites don’t buy from anywhere else that they’ve effectively insulated themselves from the screams of the major publishers over Amazon discounting ebooks to 9.99, and the agency price war that followed which puts ebooks at anything from 12 to 20 for fiction and way more than that for non-fiction. Often the big publishers will price their ebooks in line with their hardback pricing.

      This is why indie and small e-only presses have taken off so well. With Amazon’s 70% terms you can get $7 for every $10 ebook you sell, compared to much less from the majors – and have accurate stats on how many you’ve sold. The pricing is still settling as people work out what the market will stand – but there does seem to be a general feel that 8 – 10 is a decent price for an ebook novel.

      1. > but there does seem to be a general feel that 8 – 10 is a decent price for an ebook novel.

        For a new novel I think this is at least defensable.

        However, once a book has hit paperback, leaving the price this high will anger readers.

        1. A quick answer, and please don’t take this the wrong way — I’m not being combative, I’m just trying to explain everything that’s changed. Go on over to Dean Wesley Smith’s blog and read up on “The New World Of Publishing.” You’re thinking of this in terms of “the book as produce” — this was normal in traditional publishing till about three years ago. The fact they took it to an extreme is what caused the market to implode so badly. Right now, if you go traditional, books are “fresh” for about a month, if that. After that, they’re treated like spoiled produce and removed from the shelves. You can only hit the bestseller lists for instance, if you sell a certain amount VERY QUICKLY. After that you can sell massive amounts, you’ll never be a bestseller. In that model — which never made much sense for the vast midlist, where most most people didn’t even know it existed — the book has a ticking timer. It’s most valuable as hard cover, less valuable as paperback, and then almost worth nothing as back list. (It wasn’t always that way. Until the late seventies genre lived from backlist.) You’re thinking in those terms, when you say things like “after the book has hit paperback.”

          Okay, deep breath. I might or might not, eventually, publish my indie books in paper, but if I do, it’s likely to be TPB because… well… books printed on demand are cumbersome for mmpb. (I think part of the reason it’s disappearing.) In terms of cost, for one, though that might change. Most ebooks brought out by indies are never brought out in paper at all. They’re just ebooks. And though I have yet to release a novel, I hear from friends who’ve done this — and from people in this blog — you’re looking at an almost inverse produce model. Your book rises in value the more books you have out, and the more people discover it. Not that anyone is raising the price, of course. But it takes AT LEAST six months to find your book, during which you might have almost no sales, particularly if you’re doing it as a pen name. Then when your book has reviews, and with judiciously applied free give aways, your book has a chance of taking off and selling in respectable “traditional publishing numbers.”

          Now, I’ve never had that happen (I only have short stories out) and I can’t tell you how I’d react, but from where I am, it seems to be the rational response is “keep the price where it was at release unless the sales slacken. If the sales slacken, then go back and adjust.” Also, of course, do lower price promotions when the second book comes out, and then decide whether to keep it there or not, again depending on movement.

          What I’m trying to get across — and possibly failing — is that what you’re saying is PERFECTLY sensible for traditionally published books, (and btw, the traditional publishers other than Baen all fail to do this) but for indie, it’s a whole new ball game. For one, the concept of “out of print” is quite gone. So, basically, what I’m saying is that we’re in Terra Incognita.

          I’m not being a Scrooge and saying I’ll stick by the higher prices come h*ll or high water. I’m not even 100 % sure I”ll keep them on the shorts. What I’m saying is that there are no models and no predictions for where we are now, and no one can KNOW what to do or what would anger readers, in a year or so, or two (the way the books are going) when the books might be considered “old”. It will all have to be forged anew, a step at a time.

          1. actually, I’m not taking from the point of view of books being like produce.

            I’m taking it from the much more practical point of view. If it costs me the same (or more) to buy an e-book as it does a paper copy of the same book, I am going to be angry at the publisher for ripping me off. I KNOW that it costs more to get me the paper copy of the book than the electronic copy, and I expect to get some of the savings passed on to me.

            Once the paperback version is out for $8.99, expecting me to pay $9.99 for the electronic version angers me.

            1. Yes. But that’s traditional publishing. Again, it’s completely different with indie. And yes, the traditional publishers are handling it badly. But in indie, the price poitns, etc, is completely different.

              1. I don’t care if you are traditionally published, or indie published.

                When the price of an e-book is at or above the price of a paper copy of the book, it’s too high.

                For Indie books, I expect that price to be the paperback price, not the hardcover price (or even the ‘trade paperback’ price). So I don’t expect the “$8-10 for a Novel” to last for anything other than a short time after it’s available for the most eager readers (the market that Baen taps with their earc editions at $15)

                This is at it’s most obvious when a book is availabe both electronically and in paper, but even if you don’t offer your book in paper, if it’s more expensive than other similar books, you are going to have a hard time capturing new readers. your loyal following may stick with you, but people who don’t know who you are, or don’t know the series are going to pass you up if they think that you are gouging them.

                1. I don’t care if you are traditionally published, or indie published. When the price of an e-book is at or above the price of a paper copy of the book, it’s too high.

                  For you, cobber, for you. Possibly for others, but that has yet to be demonstrated. Unless you have a survey up your sleeve, all you’ve got is your opinion and no skin in the game.

                  In the terra incognita of digital book sales the author takes the risk you are right. The grand thing is, it is the author alone taking that risk — he isn’t being forced to accept a level of risk imposed by a publisher.

                  1. Ok, I get it. As a reader, my opinion doesn’t count. I’ll me sure to keep this in mind as I’m deciding what new authors to pick up.

                    I only spend a couple hundred a month on books, alienating people like me isn’t going to hurt anyone.

                    1. Okay — why in h*ll would it alienate you to be told that other people’s price points aren’t the same as yours. I completely understand yours. Cold, I’d say that’s what mine is too. COLD meaning I didn’t read a sample, and didn’t get tempted to buy the rest of the book. I found to my chagrin that I bought a lot closer to 12.

                      What we’re trying to say is your opinion has been registered — and when buying my stuff, if you should wish to, you’ll find it at that price point at times, and it will be announced here. What I’m saying is that your expectation of a general slow downgrade in prices is from traditional publishing, not indie, and in indie I’ll have to evaluate as i go. Right now I can’t tell you “yeah, I’ll lower it” — I DON’T know how it works. And probably few people do, if any, things are changing so fast.

                      Look, suppose I put Shadow Gods up, and for a while it does as most of my stuff does when it’s just out and has no reviews. Say, six months I sell MAYBE 100 copies. Meanwhile I’m writing other stuff. Suddenly — say, a book blog gets hold of it and talks it up — suddenly the book is selling 100 a month. The book has however been out for six months. The sales accelerate (when a book is discovered, they do) to 1000 a month. And the book is now a year old. It’s still gaining in sales every month, but it’s been out for a year. Should I cut the price to $5 or $6 because that’s when a traditional publisher would put out a paperback? Why? WHY would I do myself out of half the money or more as sales gather speed, because that’s what a traditional publisher would do?

                      Now, I bring out another book and want it to catch on big, so I decide it’s worth to lose that money on book one, to get it on book 2. So… I cut it to 5. But as both books are selling, I raise it again. Nothing prevents me. It’s all my decision.

                      Will this happen? Who the heck knows? It’s all new. But I can guarantee at various times, for various reasons, my books will be discounted and/or free, and I promise to announce those here and on FB, etc.

                    2. Even more, the Feds started imposing inventory taxes on those warehoused books, which (IIRC) was when the old-line publishing model began collapsing. (Not asserting any causation, merely noting correlation.)

                    3. Yes, it was a big part of keeping the midlisters to one-year-and-out-of=print, so you didn’t have time to find a readership. I got most of my fan letters on any given series, asking me if it would keep coming out AFTER the series collapsed.

                    4. No, David, as a book-buyer your opinion counts, but only as one (uninformed) opinion. You have no skin in the game and your view of what a product is worth does not determine the policies of those whose skin is on the line.

                      As merely one reader, even one who drops hundreds of dollars a month on books, your opinion should not determine pricing. You have not demonstrated any particular understanding of the market you are attempting to analyse, nor have you recognized the experience of those whose livelihoods depend on correctly analysing that market.

                      There is no interest by anyone here to alienate you, but there is no particular interest in slitting their own wrists to placate you, either.

                    5. No, just as your comment doesn’t mean our opinions don’t count. No one is forcing you to buy any of our books. But it might help if you tried to understand our point of view. After all, we’re the ones in the trenches and trying to make a living from writing and we are the ones who are doing our homework into the issue — at least I know Sarah, Kate and I are and assume the other authors who have responded to the thread are as well.

                    6. Okay, now that everybody has jumped on David, I’ll step in and defend him. I may pay as much for an ebook as a paperback costs, but only if that book is ONLY available in ebook, not in paperback; and ONLY if I already know the author. Now I also only have my opinion RES, no surveys or polls to back it up, but my opinion (and we all know the old saying about opinions) is that if indie is going to compete successfully against tradpubbed books they need to be priced competitively. Therefore ebooks shouldn’t be priced more than paperbacks if you expect to attract many new readers.

                      And no Sarah I don’t expect you to drop prices on books that have been out, unless you release something like Baen’s earc’s. A new paper copy of a book generally costs the same whether the book has just been released in paperback, or was first released twenty years ago (admittedly a limited number of authors books are being continuosly published for that long, but some are) I expect the same out of ebooks. If you want to run a promotion that’s fine, and may make great marketing sense, but I don’t expect the price to drop just because the book has been out for six months or a year.

            2. David, mainly I agree in principle, and I have been incensed to see a book with the same price for the eBook as the price for the printed book. However, the problem is apparently that the majority of consumers are innumerate, and also have no idea that printing actually costs money. As an example of the innumeracy of the consumer public: at the grocery store where I shop, packs of Ramen Noodles are normally $0.25. Then, they carry a 12-pack box, which I believe is just one of the boxes that the single packs normally come in, and they have it priced at $3.95.

              Obviously they make sales of the boxes, or they would have lowered the price, so the people are not paying attention to the fact that they are paying over 50% more simply for the convenience of the stock clerk not removing the plastic wrap from it before they buy it.

            3. Does it anger you that a soda is 50% more costly at 7/11 than at the grocery store? There is such a thing as a convenience premium. Also, cost of goods, most definitely including in publishing, is a small part of overall pricing. You are comparing two things which are not as similar as they first appear.

              1. I am willing to pay for convienence, but it’s my choice to do so. I have the option of going to the supermarket.

                but I don’t buy the logic that e-books are so much more convienient than paper books that it’s worth paying more for them. There are things that e-books are better for, and there are things that they are worse for.

                The entire issue of being able to loan or sell a book is a big one. The fact that the publishers are both charging more for an e-book, and trying to make it so you have less rights to the book is a bad combination.

                1. You’ve now gone from indie/small press e-books to what the major publishers are doing. If you look at what indies do, you’ll see that they aren’t charging more for their e-books than they are for the print version of the same book. Nor are they adding, in general, DRM, etc. Lending is something that is coming, slowly, but it will come.

                  As for convenience, that is determined by each person’s definition and need. I enjoy the convenience of being able to carry hundreds of books around at a time, especially if I’m traveling. I also enjoy the ability to instantly buy and download AND be able to read an e-book.

                  My only request is that you, and others who have been pounding the price point by talking about how you won’t pay as much for an e-book as you will for the print version, remember that much of what you are arguing about applies only to major publishers, not to indies and small presses.

            4. Books are a product. That product now comes in more differing forms than before. You see the issue as your convenience as a consumer who wishes to get the most produce for the least cost to you. That is not an unreasonable position to hold to as a buyer.

              People view the costs of owning hard, paper or e-formats in different ways. A friend who taught school in Afghanistan for two years found her e-book a marvel. The various costs involved in shipping books in and out was prohibitive. An e-reader allowed her to carry a library in her purse. Now I haven’t figured out how to hold a e-reader comfortably for any length of time that did not put stress on my hands which later interfered with my knitting and beading. But, as our little family has amassed so much precious printed matter it is overwhelming our space, I am beginning to think that for some purposes an e-reader would be practical.

              Would I pay as much for an e-copy of a book as a dead tree? Depends on what I am buying. My bug-a-boo with the traditional publishers regarding their e-book marketing? They are not selling me a book, but a limited usage lease. It is mine to use, but sharing is restricted and it cannot be passed on. I have heard of stories of e-books becoming altered (the publishers might call it ‘corrected’ or’ updated’). If I buy a book on paper I know it will be the same book I purchased, the family can share it, and I pass it on to The Daughter.

              This blog was not discussing if the pricing was ‘fair.’ Rather, that the market sees very low prices as an indication of poor quality. If the buyers have decided 99 cent short stories are not worth reading, so they did not even look at stories listed at that price, would the indie-author get more sales by raising the price?

              1. My kindle with a book-style leather cover works for me to hold it. I want a Fire — supposing I ever have the money. Doesn’t look like this year — but not for reading books.

                See, I have a problem. Used to be every morning I went down to breakfast and woke slowly with the Col. Springs paper, the Denver paper and the WSJ. Now I do my reading of news online, but I can’t drag my computer down to the kitchen table to do it over coffee so it bleeds into my working day. I’m one of those people who needs strict separation of tasks, so…

                1. I want a kindle Fire too… but it will have to be when I am doing better on the selling front. 😉 I learned a long time ago that if I separate tasks then I don’t get to do fun things. So I sprinkle the fun through the task. Unfortunately, I find that I am also a procrastinator.

          2. It also seems sensible to package books in a series as later volumes enter the marketplace. Thus, with publication of Thuvia, Maid of Mars as a $1000 ebook the author might offer it AND The Warlord of Mars at 17.50 the pair, adding The Gods of Mars bringing a package price of 25.00 while including A Princess of Mars to bring the package in at 32.50 — encouraging buyers purchase of the whole series.

            Easy enough to do with ebooks. Dead tree books suffer from earlier volumes being out of print or at least off the shelves. Publishers will try to sidestep this problem by combining those volumes in boxed sets or omnibus editions, but that entails significant risk and outlay — one reason publishers will take advantage of the media symmetry provided by a film or TV adaptation (e.g., Game of Thrones) to move back stock (and encourage vendors to stock the titles.)

            1. Amend above post as follows: the suggested sale price for the ebook of Thuvia, Maid of Mars should be $10.00, not $1000; I have no idea what happened to her period.

                1. I’m still waiting for the author that puts out a great eBook trilogy, priced at:
                  Book 1: Free
                  Book 2:
                  Book 3: $50

                  Not going to try it myself, but I’d be curious how things work once an author has people sucked in. 🙂

                  Might bee too much reader backlash on book 3, but who knows?

                  1. So don’t put < or > in posts when they aren’t real tags…. was supposed to be:
                    Book 2: <Normal.>

                    1. If you’re willing to bend the price-matching — as a bazillion people are — then you can get free in the US indefinitely, by pricing something free elsewhere.

                      Yeah, it makes me twitchy, too.

                1. I figured it was just some Martian biology thing. They are an ancient civilization and I have some vague impression they’ve gone through a couple of high-tech phases. T’wouldn’t surprise me at all to find that some benevolent soul gengineered that particular relic out of them long ago, assuming they ever had it.

                  Speaking of, I was stunned to find that almost an entire rack-section is taken up at the local comic shop by Burroughs-inspired “… of Mars” titles. And Dejah Thoris ain’t naked, but not for want of trying. Somewhere the old man smiles.

                  1. Further note: I was in the comic shop yesterday and started a new series of those Barsoom comics. I noted with Amusement that the series I was starting (“Dejah Thoris and the White Apes of Mars”) had, for the first few issues, variant covers upon which the protagonist was bare-chested. They were ten dollars more than the regular ones.

                    Ten dollars. To get a cover upon which nipple-sized pasties had been replaced by actual nipples. Don’t tell ME pricing between editions has to make sense. 🙂

                    And no, I did not pay the extra for the bare-chested covers. Naked covers, I might think about it.

                2. That would indicate that the title was a might off using the word Maid. That is unless she is a housekeeper or lady’s helper for the planet.

            2. Do Martian women even have periods? Oh, wait, others already got that one…

              Anyway, here’s something to think about, in trilogies-or-more — don’t neglect a second-and-third-book-only bundle! If I’ve bought Book 1 and liked it, then I don’t want to buy book-1-and-2, and if I see people bundling those, or the whole trilogy, for cheaper than the individual books, I start getting very crabby. I don’t want to buy book 1 again, but I do want that discount (possibly because the price of the individual books has gone above my expectation of enjoyment of them, but the discount is within my tolerances).

              There is a trilogy where I’ve only bought book 1, for that very reason. Don’t leave money on the table like that big publisher; if you’re willing to bundle 1+2+3 for a cheaper price, then bundle 2 and 3 alone. (Unless you’re doing the “discount that’s not a discount,” because you’re counting on people to re-buy 1 just to get the “discount” on 2 and 3. In which case you smell of elderberries.)

              1. Interesting question – how should two moons affect (Fantasy*) menstruation? For that matter, how would habitation of a moon (e.g., Ganymede) affect?

                *that which occurs in Fantasy novels, as opposed to SF.

                1. Now that would be horror for women. Menstruation thirty days out of a forty day month? Staying pregnant would be healthier for the woman? How about change it to seasons like other mammals? Woman’s body gets ready about two (more or less) months before the main event and then does a hibernation thingie.

                2. I have NO idea, but now I want to write this story called The Ganymede Effect, where women PMS three weeks out of the month, so no guys will go to space with them, and colonies have the HIGHEST murder rates ever. Um… I wonder if older boy can give me enough handwavium.

                    1. The station’s entire supply of Antihysteritonium has been mysteriously destroyed… now there’s a short window before every female crew member become a murderous demon. (I mean more of a… whoops, never mind.)

                3. Secondary question: Is gravity a factor in such effect? If so, the only Earth has a big enough moon (percentage of parent-planet masswise) to be affected by it.

                  1. Of course, being on one of the moons would induce similar effect, because of the gravity of the planet.

                  2. That is an interesting question.

                    It seems quite possible that the human menstrual cycle is at least tangentially related to the moon’s orbital characteristics (in a “The Space Shuttle’s maximum payload is related to the width of Roman carts” sense.) I don’t know if it *is,* but it seems possible.

                    However, I kinda doubt there’s much of a direct physical connection in the individual case. (La Wik says there have been studies showing a statistically significant connection, though. So I could be wrong.)

                    THAT being said, people’s “internal clocks” do weird things when they can’t see the sun and/or use artificial light extensively. (For a long time there was a misperception that the natural circadian rhythm was longer than the current length of the Earth’s day. Current research seems to indicate that this isn’t actually true. One of the things that messed up the first experiment was the use of artificial light.) And our sample of women exposed to non-Earth-normal gravity is way too small both in size and in time to know if that would affect the menstrual cycle. My guess would be no, but it’s just that – a guess.

                    1. I just looked up the orbital period of Ganymede. It’s 7.15 days. We’d better hope they synch with the 4-orbit cycle that is closest to normal for Earth!

        2. As a reader, consumer, and businessman I am unconvinced that about the market analysis in this thread. I do agree with the 0.99 vs 2.99 based on commission structure. 8.99-10 is based on the major publishers rearguard action to defend their printing operations. If raising prices caused people to buy more then Walmart would not be the largest retailer by volume of sales or profit. Writing is now a low barrier to entry field with a large number of possible competitors. Midlist writers are essentially interchangeable widgets to high volume readers, ie those who actual read and buy. As an interchangeable widget price will drive volume unless you can brand yourself to get higher a price. Sarah is branding herself within a certain segment of internet readers. Most midlist writers will not be able to become a brand. E-novels are also a long tail business. 10 sales at 7.99 over 3 months followed by 1/month, then less is less than 20 sales at 3.99 followed by 5-20/month going forward. Remember that almost all books in the future will always “be in print”. Right now I could read for the rest of my life on books out of copyright. Why should I pay 9-10 dollars for a “new” book. Baen was the only publisher making money on e books originally. The free library sold books. The pricing worked. I suspect the actual price break is $4-5/novel.

          1. What, and it doesn’t change AT ALL with new tech — i.e. ereaders? A book in an ebook reader is functionally a book (unless hampered.) On a computer… it’s something you read on the computer. You can’t take it out or on the plane with you. BUT you’re sticking by the price of… ten years ago. Mmmkay. This immediately makes you credible as a market analist.

            Me, I recognize I’m in new territory, so of course I’m not sure about the market analysis, but I can tell you what I see working out there.

            Then there are a number of statements you make which border on the MIND BOGGLING. First, may I ask where you decided it was a low-skill entry field? Or that “midlist” was interchangeable? These days ALL mid-list means is “didn’t get push” — it doesn’t mean anything else. So what you’re telling me is that mainstream publisher’s judgement is SO infallible that those they rejected or kept in midlist hell are “interchangeable.” Um… would you also trust them to pick your food? Why not? You are aware their prime picks have been losing readership for 20 years and reducing everyone’s printing volume because of that, right?

            Midlist simply doesn’t apply outside traditional publishing. All it meant was “someone you don’t push to the distributors, but who will sell well above beginner.” For a long time Heinlein was a midlister. So was Dave Drake. Clifford Simak was a midlister all his life. It’s just recently that the publishers decided to start picking winners and losers at the front gate, and leaving everyone else in “midlist.” Recently as in last ten years. As such it means nothing.

            As for low-entry to indie and price points. Part of the reason 99c is no longer tenable is that indie publishing is relatively low-entry, and most beginners price their stuff at 99c. And their novels at under 5. So, sensible people looking for stuff to read look above that price.

            1. As of this morning there are over 569,000 fiction books on kindle, SF has only 31,000. I did not say writing was a low skill market, just one that now has a low barrier to entry. That means more competitors in any specific niche. Each writer can think of themselves as a separate brand. Established brands with an established base can charge more but there is still a limit. The question is where. Writers of fiction are competing for a piece of the entertainment dollar. In fact as food/oil prices increase there are less dollars for discretionary purchase. Price discovery is still going on for enovels. Film and music are moving to a fixed price all you can eat model with live concerts being important for musicians. Not a model for writers. My contention is that the Baen pricing model is probably the sweet spot for a brand. Readers will pay for that from Baen since they are branding a certain quality and sensibility. Above that and as an independent it will not sell optimally. Remember I am writing from the reader/consumer point of view. I understand that as producers you wish to get all the market will bear. BTW buy the MBA or sales dweeb no one allows out in public a beer/coffee and ask them about branding/price points/sales strategy. You will get an earful/ free consulting. Read about long tail marketing. Also from a business POV the vast majority of writers are widgets. Sorry. (I sat through that talk in my industry in the early 90’s. Had the same thoughts you have. The SOB MBA was right. Those that adopted early to the thought did well. Those that didn’t…)

              1. Sigh. What everyone is forgetting about the Baen pricing model for e-books is that Baen only sells through, well, Baen. So there is no splitting of profits with an intermediary like Amazon or BN.com or Kobo. Talking from a business point of view, that means they can sell lower and still have a decent margin of profit for themselves and their authors. However, when and if Toni finally gets their e-books placed into these other markets, you can probably expect a higher price for their e-books. Why? So Baen isn’t taking a hit on the bottom line.

                Do we know where the sweet spot on e-book pricing will end up? No. But for folks to sit here and dig in their heels and say they won’t pay more than they do for a hard copy of the book makes an assumption that can’t be applied to a number of e-books any longer. It assumes there is a hard copy. For many e-books there isn’t. Either that book has been out of print so long that there are few, if any copies still on the market or that book is being published digitally first. That will impact the price.

                Now, will I pay more for an e-book than I will for a hard copy? It depends on the book and the author. It also depends on if that e-book has been out for awhile or if I am looking at the discounted price of the mmpb that hasn’t been issued yet. It also depends on if I like the author enough to want to make sure they get money from the sale.

                As for saying we are widgets, well, in one way, yes. But in another no. But it is too early to get into a debate on economics and accounting.

            2. It is a low-skill entry field. Have you LOOKED at the KDP samples? Jesus wept. It minds me of the time a friend of mine tried to sign up for a bank account and the clerk, obviously new, inexperienced, and more honest than diplomatic, said, “Do you not KNOW you have really bad credit and that means you can’t have a bank account?” (For reference, if she somehow ever sees this, she has turned her life around admirably and is both successful and happy.) Or how I just went to an athletics meeting at my daughter’s high school (which is in a fairly prosperous suburb of Chicago) and saw posters on the walls with simple words blatantly misspelled. Alas, Babylon.

              However, much like photography, another field in which I have some interest, it turns out that putting pro-level tools in the hands of untalented amateurs doesn’t produce professional artists. And at least in photography there’s Green-Square Mode. (AKA “Fully Automatic Settings.”) So far as I know Word does not have this feature as of yet. It could only be an improvement for some people.

          2. (sniffing) Hm… no brimstone… Not an editorial demon then, so must be delusional.

            Midlist writers are essentially interchangeable widgets to high volume readers.

            Not to put too fine a point on it, BULLSHIT! Dave Freer is a midlist author. So is Sarah. So are many others – but I will pay whatever price I have to to get copies of Sarah’s books or Dave’s books where I will do no such thing for many other midlist authors. Not to mention there are quite a few bestseller authors whose work I actively avoid, to the extent I refuse to by their collab works.

            Lest we forget, the midlist is a function of the way traditional publishing worked. It no longer exists in any meaningful form: trad has moved to a handful of bestsellers and a bunch of beginner churn. Meanwhile authors who were traditional midlist and have enough of a backlist are paying the mortgage by selling their backlist at something between 8 and 10 a book.

            On the business end, you, sir, are making the same mistake that traditional publishing makes. No two authors, whether beginner, midlist or bestseller are interchangeable. No matter how similar in style and genre they are, there will always be readers who prefer one over the other, and readers who will adore one and detest the other. No Walmart model can possibly account for that.

            1. Arguing by metaphor:
              In the traditional view of publishing, midlist authors were like McDonalds and Burger King, but in actuality they are Wendy’s and Taco Bell. Midlist writers are not interchangeable (no matter what the publishers say) they are merely writers who have yet to develop a significant following. An A-list author, like a Hollywood A-lister, can be counted on to “open big” — they will get display space and pre-orders because they already have established a market.

              Over time, a “midlister” may even outsell an A-lister, because the former is still building their market while the latter has essentially maxed-out. The “listing” is a function of projected sales volume and, in the days of dead trees, that determined print runs and how much “push” an author received.

              1. Actually, RES, these days, they pick A list up front. I.e. people who have NO following, but are made “big” so they’ll sell a lot. This is what’s happened in most publishing since I started and why there were books like “how to write a blockbuster” — the publisher either picked you upfront as a winner, or you were stuck forever. What you describe is the older, functional model.

                They were able to do that BECAUSE they had full control of what went on the shelves, and what sold/didn’t sell in actuality counted for little. THAT’s why the model is crumbling. (And Baen excepted. Baen is a “midlist house” with bestsellers that break out naturally or not at all.)

                1. Not to quibble, but these days the publishers are sinking, not swimming — as you know. I stand by my definition of a genuine A-lister while conceding your point that they publishers are now trying to manufacture synthetic A-listers, in large part because their business model has led them to crawl out on a long limb … and now they are sawing between themselves and the trunk. So, the collapse of publishing is all the fault of Chuck Jones?

          3. Tell me, are you an author? How about an editor? Do you have the vaguest idea about what it takes to write, much less prepare a manuscript for publication? Or do you just assume that you know all because you are a “reader, consumer, and businessman”?

            To compare writing and Walmart is comparing apples and oranges. I see the sales figures for NRP. I know what my work sales for — and how it sales. I also follow the different discussion boards, blogs and other forms of comment readers use when they discuss e-books and e-book pricing. Whether you want to admit it or not, most readers assume that if a writer doesn’t value her work enough to put a decent price on it, why should they.

            Just so you understand what the argument is, I’ll put it in simple terms. There are more titles out there than the average reader will ever be able to read. With the influx of self-published work now hitting the market, readers are looking for ways to weed the self-published out from the established authors and small press, etc. — ie, works that are considered “professional”. The easiest way to do that is pricing because new self-published authors tend to stick to the $0.99 – $3.99 range. Some of the more long-term e-book consumers won’t buy an e-book that costs less than $5.99.

            Now, add in my own experience, as well as information I’ve gleaned from such “pros” as Dean Wesley Smith, and with the growing number of people reading e-books and realizing that it is now the wave of the future, prices have to rise. They have to, from a writer’s point of view, simply because we want to make money, at least enough to pay the bills. Experience has shown me that my sales increased — and continued at a higher rate than your one per month — once I raised the price of my books to a more “pro” level.

            So, like it or not, what Sarah has suggested in today’s post isn’t something she pulled out of thin air. It is something that any number of us have seen. Until you walk in Sarah’s shoes, maybe you’d best leave off making broad assumptions that you know better than she where this profession is concerned.

  7. I think I resemble the person you were thinking of. Or is it, I think I resemble the person of which you were thinking? Ah heck, either way. Thanks for the advice and encouragement.

  8. The number of title you need to get up to get recognized, how long they need to stay up, what the right price is . . . I just asked my crystal ball (it’s black, with an infinity sign on it, or maybe an eight.) It said “Don’t count on it” which really wasn’t any less helpful than most of its answers.

    I’ve also raised my prices, so we can all compare notes and try to tell if it helped or hindered.

    1. Yes. Hold my hand. We’ll leap on the count of three.

      My, this ledge sure is high up, no?

        1. OK, officially weird. I raised the prices around noon, the books were back live on kindle about 5ish. In three and half hours I’ve sold three books. Which for me is very good.

          1. I’ve a question, when you change prices does that cause Amazon to but the book back on the New Releases list? The reason I ask the question is that having the book listed as a New Release again, could be causing some of the sudden jump in sales within hours of raising prices, because one of the common ways people look for new reading material is to browse a list of new releases. (If this is so it might be a good idea to change prices every few months to keep old titles in front of peoples eyes).

            By the way I do understand the phenomenon of raising prices selling better, because people think it is more valuable. I have seen it myself several times on things I am selling. I distinctly remember attempting to sell a dog, and after a month of no takers tripling the price, I promptly sold it to a guy I had offered it to a couple weeks before, who was uninterested at the cheaper price. He was very happy with it at the more expensive price, but it was the same dog, that should have satisfied him just as much at a third the price, but he wasn’t even interested in looking at it, because it was “to cheap to be any good.”

            1. The answer to your question is no: books go on the New Releases list only at the time they are first published. You could, if you wanted to game the system, publish new versions, but if Amazon catches you doing that they will yank your account.

              By “publish new versions,” I mean create a new electronic book for sale which has the same content as a previous one. You are not allowed to do that: you are required to upload a new edition under the same entry (which is very easy to do.) Smashwords has the same system with an interesting twist: if you buy a book, you can always download the edition you bought, even if the author later replaces it with a new edition. (You always have access to “your” version, and the newest version: you can select which one you want at download time and you can download the books as often as you want.)

              1. It may be a result of taking two of the books free, the first week of the month. But this last week I’ve sold about the same number of books I usually sell in a month. I’ve never seen a jump like that after a round of free books, before. We’ll see how long it lasts.

  9. What does it tell you?

    It tells you that I am always right.

    Just kidding. (Though I usually am.)

    On the subject of practicing your art in public, for whatever value of “public…”

    For any kind of artist, whether writer, poet, sculptor, photographer, you name it, I cannot recommend this book highly enough:

    Art and Fear: On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
    Available on Amazon in paperback and Kindle: http://amzn.com/0961454733

    It was from that book that I first read the quote, “Nihilism is a species of fear: the fear that our fate is in our own hands… but our hands are weak.” As well as the wise instructor who, when his gifted but inexperienced pupil complained, “But I can hear the music so much better in my head than what comes out of my fingers,” replied, “What makes you think that ever changes?”

    I suppose there are authors or other artists for whom it changes, but I certainly haven’t spoken to any (at least not any whose works I had any interest in reading.) In our heads the archetype of Story ranges free and proud: we can only do the best we can do to distil it into words. Can those who are blessed (or cursed) with visions of limitless possibility ever fail to despair that their hands can only create limited descriptions of it? Of course not. That’s no reason not to try: that’s the very best reason to try.

    1. This addresses a point I was considering; the artist is primarily aware of how far short of his/her* goal the art falls. The consumer is aware of how far above his mundane reality the work raises him. The artist prices according his disappointed aspiration, the consumer pays according to his exceeded expectation.

      *Use of the masculine pronoun is not intended as exclusionary of females and the ambiguous. One advantage of being a conservative is the right to adhere to old principles of linguistic usage rather than pursuing the latest fashions. The corresponding disadvantage is tedious typing of notes of this sort.

      1. Well said. I was just looking at some samples of books over lunch, and I was appalled at the quality of the samples. The writing and grammar were simply unacceptable. I’d be ashamed to ask for somebody to read that, much less pay for it.

        On the other hand, I’m a hypereducated polymath. (But modest.)

        The average person who was just looking for a story to read probably wouldn’t care as much as I do about stuff like that. Is the story exciting, to them? Is it fun to read, for them? Great. “Here’s my money. Got any more?” The reader is the measure of success, not the writer. And while I buy a lot of books, if you use me for your measure you’re going to have a hard row to hoe. Using the average person who just likes to read will get you much farther.

  10. This is the same argument hat the big publishers are making for pricing their e-books at $14+

    While it’s true that people assume that things are better if they cost more, it’s easy to get blinded by that and forget that people also have a limtied budget, and are also comparing the price that they are paying with what else they can get for the money

    with books, people know the price of paper books, and they know that printing costs money, so if you are not giving them some discount from the cost of the paper copy, they feel ripped off. This includes the heavily discounted prices on Amazon.

    How much of a discount from the paper price is an interesting question, and there is room for disagreement, but there needs to be some discount.

    The low end of the pricing is an interesting place. classic economic theory says that the cheaper it is the more people buy it, but the perception of value distorts that.

    I work in a large tech company, and I can’t tell you how many times management has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on software capabilities (and sometimes hardware) that they could have gotten _really_ cheap, on the basis that they assume that the cheap version must have some problem. Companies that do this too much eventually collapse when their upstart competition does take advantage of the cheap options and rakes in the profits (in spite of pricing their product cheaper than the established companies)

    moving to the $2.99 price is a obvious choice given Amazon’s royalty structure, the fact that this actually increases sales is a bonus

    1. I can’t tell you how many times management has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on … capabilities … that they could have gotten _really_ cheap, on the basis that they assume that the cheap version must have some problem. Companies that do this too much eventually collapse when their upstart competition does take advantage of the cheap options …

      Governments, on the other hand …

    2. No offense and your point is well taken, but I’m not here to make friends. I’m here to make money. (I mean “here” as in in the business of writing books and selling them. Not Ms. Hoyt’s blog. This is friendly.) If tripling my price increases my revenue by a factor of seven but costs me half my readers… well, I’ll miss them. But my bank account won’t.

      If the reader is not familiar with the mathematics of my claim, here’s how it works. Note that the numbers aren’t QUITE even multiples, but plenty close for government work.

      Amazon pays a royalty of 35% on sales of works at .99. I get… .35 per book sold.

      They pay a royalty of 70% on sales of works at 2.99. I get… 2.10 per book sold

      So if raising my price from .99 to 2.99 costs me half my readers, ceteris paribus the above I should IMMEDIATELY do it.

      Here is a portion of a comment I made on “Whatever” a while back regarding how to calculate prices:

      “[T]he costs of production are at best a secondary consideration when pricing ANYTHING. This is one of the things about economics that seems counter-intuitive and/or mercenary to non-econ-wonks.

      Most people, when they try to price something they individually do/make, either just charge something similar to what other people charge for the same service or good, or try to figure out their cost of production and add what they feel is a “reasonable” profit. This advice is extraordinarily common in “how to go into business” books. Its primary positive attributes are that it is simple, not too hard to do, and will, assuming reasonable arithmetic skills, produce a positive cash flow. Its primary negative attribute is that it’s entirely wrong.

      The way to price something is to charge as much as you possibly can without reducing demand so much that you lose enough sales to cancel out the higher price. Cost of goods can tell you whether you can find a price that enables you to establish a positive cash flow in the first place: if you can’t, and you’re not a horizontal marketer like Amazon or Gillette, don’t even start. But once you can, forget about cost of goods. It’s totally irrelevant at that point. (Though you should consider its potential effect in future if it goes up or down a lot.) Competition, over time, will tend to drive prices down to the point where cost of goods becomes a significant portion of the price, but only in commodities or other fairly fungible goods and services. A gallon of gas from BP costs roughly the same as a gallon of gas from Shell because most people, despite what they may say, don’t prefer one brand of gas over another to the point where they’ll pay a lot more for it. However, our esteemed host’s works and the works of Danielle Steele are not fungible. (At least not for me.) Even though they have the same rough cost of goods, you will note that their books are priced differently. That is because the cost of goods is a minor consideration in this market.”

      1. The sole advantage of lower pricing to reach a broader market is that the marginal cost of ticking off any single reader is reduced. At the other extreme, you only need a single reader, but if they demand you make Richard III gay …

        1. No. Edward II. Aka poor Ned.
          There’s other advantages, such as getting other readers for the series. Which is why I said (and romance writers do this A LOT) that I’ll do cheaper older books, so as to draw readers into the series.

          1. Richard III was a nod to The Goodbye Girl and Richard Dreyfuss’ King In Pink Tights.

            Please strike “sole” in prior comment and replace it with “primary”.

      2. Marc, you must have missed where I said that with Amazon’s royalty structure it’s a no-brainer to raise the price to $2.99

        on the other hand, I will point out that if you annoy your readers enough, they will find other authors to read, so while you are not trying to be their friend, you are also trying not to alienate them.

        This is a mistake that a lot of businesses seem to be making nowdays. Some of them survive, at least in the short term, but some of them don’t.

        There’s also the fact that if you price things as high as you think you can without destroying the demand, you may never find out how much demand you have already destroyed. This is something that we are seeing a lot of in electronic devices. People used to think that the threshold for demand dropping for a tablet was $700 or so. Until people started releasing devices in the <$200 range and found that demand skyrocketed, well above expectations.

        If you have a mature market, you can price things as 'high as the market will bear', but you need to at least experiment with the 'as cheap as you can afford to' pricing, you may find that there was a lot of demand that you will just loose.

        As for the idea that some authors are so good that their work is not interchangable with anyone else's, in the short term yes, but in the long run, no. Every author will stop writing at some point (if for no other reason than that they are not immortal 🙂 and readers _will_ go on to other authors. The "toxic" author that has been mentioned a few places in the last week are examples of people who forgot this fact.

          1. “Some pirates achieved immortality by great deeds of cruelty or derring-do. Some achieved immortality by amassing great wealth. But the captain had long ago decided that he would, on the whole, prefer to achieve immortality by not dying.”

      3. The other part of this is that 8.99 is most paperbacks these days IF YOU CAN FIND THEM. A lot of books are coming out Hard Cover only (Yes, Baen is an exception to this. For now at least.) If I believe I wrote the kind of book that would be hard cover (Witchfinder almost certainly would) then charging 8.99 for it is a price break of sorts. Consider the other side — I’m not a publisher. I’m a writer. The only reason at this point — No, the only economic reason, I have a debt of gratitude to Baen — to go traditional, and risk losing my copyright forever, potentially, particularly if any house I contract with crashes, is the money up front. When I go indie, I lose that. More, I have production costs. Witchfinder WILL have to go to a paid editor and a paid copyeditor and it will cost me about 1k. For paid cover art, probably 2k (And now you know why I cake advance donations for it, right?) on the cheap side, if I want a respected cover artist. Now, let’s look at the rate of return on investment. Uh… it’s a risk. A big one. I have friends with no name who put a novel out there and made 4k in a year. I also have friends — no name and professional — who are earning a solid 500 per year on their novels. Hitting the point I’m still below the big house price (generally 12 but sometimes up to 16 or for best sellers 30) and semi-affordable, but I’m maximizing income is a need for me as a small business woman with (TRUST ME ON THIS) very limited resources. The sooner I pay the investment on a given novel, the sooner I have the money (or hopefully more money) to do a pro job on the next novel.

        1. I notice with Amusement that the racks at the grocery store checkout now hold trade paperbacks, not mass market paperbacks. They still have a Mass Market rack back by the magazines, but it dwindles evermore.

          1. Gah, my mind is going. Remind me of the difference between trade paperbacks and mass market paperbacks, again? I’m pretty sure one is the smaller size that will fit (barely) into pants pockets (three guesses how I know this, and the first two don’t count), and one is the larger size that’s close to the size of a hardback… but I can’t remember which is which.

            1. Yes – mass market paperbacks are the standard fit-your-jeans-pocket (and its slightly taller, leaner cousin now being flogged) that we have long known and loved. Trade paperbacks are the larger — wider, taller — editions we’ve grown accustomed to these last several decades.

              trade paperback, n.
              A paperback book that is typically of better production quality, larger size, and higher price than a mass-market edition, intended for sale in bookstores.
              http://www.thefreedictionary.com/trade+paperback

              1. That is probably the single most common one but there is no one TPB size unlike MMPB, which is standardized on one (not counting the disastrous failure noted above of the extended-height MMPB which is either dying or dead.)

                1. (not counting the disastrous failure noted above of the extended-height MMPB which is either dying or dead.)

                  They are alive & well at my grocery store. I took a quick look yesterday and there were plenty of hard back, mmpb, and trades along with tall mmpb. I had actually never noticed the tall mmpbs before. The books on the checkout were mmpb romances with typical lurid covers and a few “Christian” drama options.

                  1. Seems to me that mmpb are thriving in places like grocery stores and WalMart/Target — mass market retailers, IOW. I dislike the tall ones but have yet in almost six decades to see evidence that marketers cared what I liked.

                    I do enjoy scanning the covers for trends and recurring themes. Apparently the shoppers at my most convenient grocery store are hot for firemen. I fear the contents of such books … the punnery, the punnery!

                    1. Cowboys are popular here in NC, as well, from what I have observed. Also rakes, rascals and rapscallions. Pirates, too, but then Edward Teach was a local boy.

                      Rakes and hos – who new gardening was such a big seller in Romance?

                    2. Well, yeah – given events of the last dozen years they probably give too many people the shakes.

          2. Yesterday, I found myself wandering into the airport bookstore – though not to look for reading material, as the kindle was fully stocked and the Elise Hyatt in my hot little hand didn’t even have to wait for cruising altitude to be enjoyed.

            Rather, it was pure curiosity to see what they were stocking, and how, in that most captive of markets. They were running 60% hardcover, 30% trade paper, and 8% magazine-size (including the kids coloring books, the brain puzzlers, sodoku books, and kids educational books – not just magazines). I had to search for a few minutes to find anything in mass market paperback size. Interestingly, the front of the store, walls, endcaps, and back of the store were full of books face-out, while the center shelf was almost pure spine-out.

            The prices, being full retail list, were atrocious. While inflation pushes the cost of everything ever higher, my sticker shock adjusts a lot more slowly than the repercussions of Keynesian economics. Without sampling, $2.99 is a bit rich for me for a short story – with sampling, I’ve been known to snarl in frustration that I’ve been sucked into paying $8.99 to find out what happens next in a novel.

        2. Just to try to make the risk a little less risky…

          Sarah Cloutier: http://melukilan.deviantart.com/ — Beautiful watercolors under $1,000. (So far!) I dunno if she’s a “respected cover artist” yet, but by all the gods and their little fishies, she should be. (http://scloutier.tumblr.com/ is her tumblr. It’s not all her art, of course, as that is the Way of Tumblr, but there’s a fair amount of hers in there.) I swear, my good sales on my duology are almost certainly in part because of the absolutely awesome covers.

          I also got a lovely commission from Aja, of http://www.true-magic.com, also under $1K. Obviously a style only for a certain kind of book (one of mine! 😀 ), but still marvelously affordable.

          http://haikujaguar.livejournal.com/999976.html has a mixed bag of artists responding (including Ms. Cloutier, which is how I found out about her) — might find a bargain on art, depending!

    3. Sigh. The thing is that Amazon programing has made it impossible to price stories at 99c. No one finds them if I do.
      And no, I have no intention of pricing above 8.99 — the price of an undiscounted paperback and I will bring prices down on the older stuff, to provide “entry” to a series (it’s called a loss leader.) But do consider that the price of everything has doubled — just about — in the last three years. Consider that yes, people are broke, but Starbucks is not closing. You buy a latte, it lasts you 20 minutes if you husband it. Charging the price of a latte for a short is reasonable. For a novel, I’ll charge the price of a roaster (Heinlein’s model.)

      1. It’s not Amazon’s fault. People will drop a dollar on crap, but if you ask for more, they’ll actually look at your sample and/or read your blurb attentively. So people who have nothing but crap to offer price at .99. Such is the way of things.

        1. Actually, I have found some REALLY good stories in the Amazon stacks for 99 cents to 3.99. I will NOT pay more than six bucks for a book, no matter the format. So I go to the used bookstore a lot. Still, I read through the summaries, and blurbs on all the books I download before I decide to spend the money.

          1. The first novella I published on Amazon was .99 for more than a year before I heard the Gospel of Saint Dean. So sure, you CAN find good stories… 🙂

              1. The defense would adduce the reviews the novella has received (all good) and its return ratio (zero) but that would require producing evidence the defense is both unable and unwilling to certify. The court will, admittedly, have no choice but to interpret the defense’s failure to produce admissible evidence as evidence that the defense’s claims are unsupportable. Such is life.

                1. They’re being insufferably intellectual. Let’s take them outside and dunk their heads in the horse trough

    4. No, it isn’t the same argument publishers are making. Publishers are trying to convince the buying public that it costs the same amount to prepare an e-book as it does a print book. They want you to believe that the same editing, copy reading, proofreading, art design, etc., costs apply to both. They are, in short, double dipping and assuming the buying public isn’t smart enough to realize what they are doing.

      But it goes further. If you’ve followed this blog — or Kris Rusch’s blog or Wesley Dean Smith or Mad Genius Club — you would know that publishers are also pricing e-books this way in order to save their hard cover market. Some of the publishers have actually admitted this.

      I am one of the hard liners on e-book pricing. I have for a long while held firm to the belief that an e-book shouldn’t cost more than $5.99 or so. At least when it is a self-published e-book. However, watching the market, listening to what readers say on other fora — and not those who have been spoiled by Baen with low costs and bundles — I have had to reconsider.

      If you are willing to pay $7.99 for a mmpb, why shouldn’t you be willing to pay as much for an e-book, especially if there is no hard copy version? If you are willing to pay $25 for a hard cover, why aren’t you willing to pay $8.99 for the e-book, especially if you buy it from a company like NRP — or Baen — that doesn’t apply DRM?

      And, btw, using your own argument, I guess you aren’t willing to pay the $6.99 for an e-book from Baen (assuming you read sf/f).

      1. I actually tend to buy everything that Baen publishes each month. They charge $6 for the e-book at the time the hardcover is released.

        If Baen sells the paperback at $6.99, I would not be willing to pay $6.99 for the e-book once the paperback is out.

        While my choice is $8.99 for an e-book, or $14.99 for a hardcover, I’ll seriously consider buying the e-book. If it’s not an author I know about, I’ll probably skip the book and go looking elsewhere (or decide that I’ll wait, at which point I may or may not remember about tht book when the price finally does drop. A couple of Pratchet’s books have fallen into this trap)

        I actually paid more (including shipping) for a USED hardcover last year than it would have cost me for a new hardcover, because that publisher wanted to charge me more for the e-book than I could get the hardcover for.

        I realize most people won’t go to that extreme, but I do hear a lot of people grumble about the fact that the publishers expect them to spend the money for an e-reader and then pay as much, if not more for the e-book as for a paper copy.

        1. You absolutely SHOULD punish publishers that charge more for the ebook than the hardcover. THEY’RE IDIOTS and we need to beat them with cudgels. I do the same thing you do. Even if it means some of the damn big idiots go under and take my copyright with them. It’s a matter of principle. They’re trying to stampede us into buying new hardcovers. It’s like the media stampeding us where they want us to go. I say NO and show them my middle fingers.

          1. I have quit reading some of my favorite authors for that same reason (wanting us to buy hardcovers). But I have found new and better writers that have written exciting new stories … and are not boring me too tears.

        2. And that used book you bought put no money into the author’s hands. Sorry, but that is the truth of the matter.

          It basically comes down to what sort of reading experience you want. For those who still prefer hard copies, they aren’t going to pay as much for an e-book if they can get the hard copy. However, for those who prefer e-books, they are going to pay a reasonable price for works by an author they like.

          As Sarah said, savvy e-book buyers use the preview function, especially if they are interested in buying an e-book that costs more than a couple of dollars. No one has suggested a brand new author price his e-book at $9.99 or higher. However, Sarah charging what she suggested for her novels is not out of line, at least not in my opinion.

        3. A couple of minor points:

          The publisher didn’t sell you the e-reader and should not factor that (sunk) expense into their pricing decisions. Nor should a reader expect publishers to subsidize their e-reader purchase.

          I don’t know about others, but when I buy a book through Amazon or other service, one factor I look at is what alternative editions are available. If a HB copy is available as a remaindered book for $5.99 I probably won’t pay $8.99 for a paperback edition. Although, because I am somewhat OCD I very well might buy the ppb because I already have the first three books in the series that way. Or I might buy HB because the book is a goat-gagger (I’m looking at you, George Martin) and I detest reading any ppb of 700 pages or more because the spines can’t stand up to the stress.

          All this goes out the window for people selling their books in e-format only. There isn’t a dead tree alternative to choose. Sadly, because I really like dead tree books (leather-binding, embossed covers, gilt-edging — yum!), I doubt any books will be in that format by the time I die, and I’m getting on in years.

        4. David – I do understand your concerns as a reader and prices. I have quit reading my favorite writers until the ebooks drop to 6.99-7.99 or thereabouts. I refuse to pay 9.99 for an ebook.

          I am also a writer. If I put my short stories and novels up at .99 to 2.99 I find that I have a smaller readership than if I go between 2.99 to 5.99. Plus I am doing all my own covers, copy-editing, writing, etc. etc. I can’t afford to spend 1K for each of the services. I do ask my beta readers to tell me of any egregious errors. Both of my readers are working in the writing field too.

          You might think we write just for the joy of it. Yes, it is great to have a book published. It is fun sometimes to write every day. However it is a job. If I sell a story for .99 cents with Amazon, I make .33 cents per book. If I sell the same story for 2.99, I get 70 percent of the book price. I am telling you that I will keep writing if I can afford to keep writing. Other authors are the same. If we can only be hobbyists then you will see one book every five to ten years. If we are professionals we might be able to do 2-3 books a year (others one a year). Time counts. The only reason I can write is that I am not allowed to work with other people. (I have a disease that will flare if I am around people who carry germs or sicknesses.) Thankfully my husband pays for the household items so that I can write, stay home, and stay well.

          If you want to make me or other writers, don’t start comparing us as interchangeable midlisters. We work hard to be where we are. As has been pointed out, we each write differently and have a different emphasis on our writings. I have been writing for many years. I have only been indie-published about a year and a half.

          I am an avid reader. I read mostly indie writers now because they have something in their writings that has been lost in the traditional books we see today. I used to read some top of the field fantasy writers until I found indie writers, who were writing what they wanted to write instead of what the editors wanted them to write. It shows. It sparkles (hey, not like that sparkling vampire I keep saying bad things about).

          So if you want to see new writers reach for the gold handle, you’ll have to realize that when they begin to get better, they will want to at least get paid for the time and energy that they put in their books.

          A workman is worthy of his hire.

          1. oops– if you want to make us mad, then say we are interchangeable. I warn you that my family heritage is mostly berserkers… it can get pretty berserking hellish if you start on that road. We are NOT interchangeable. If we are allowed to write with our own twists, you will see the beauty of diversity instead of the same story told over and over.

                1. So I wasn’t the one who said it, but for voracious readers, to a certain extent, it absolutely is true. I have probably a dozen authors or so who I buy everything they produce. There are probably another two dozen whose works will get a close look when they come out. Those two categories of authors? Not interchangeable, even though a good chunk of them are absolutely midlist. But that probably gets me 30 or so of hundred books I’ll read each year. The rest? I’m looking for action/sci-fi/space opera or mil-sf mostly, or airport fiction, something to fill the time, and possibly find authors that go into my follows list. If you charge too much for the book, you won’t have any chance of making it past the filter. If you charge $2.99 for a short story without a warning label, you’ll go on my ‘avoid at all costs in the future’ filter.

                  Now that’s just me, but based on what David Lang was saying, i’m not the only one. Whether or not folks like me are prevalent enough to make a difference, who knows?

                  1. Mine all say short story or are tagged short story (and I’ll verify tonight.) Though these days at 2.99 I expect short, though not short-short.

                    And yeah, when I’m looking for filler-reads, I’m likely to go cheap — but I’ve learned, as anyone who surfs kindle learns, to avoid the VERY cheap because they’re awful… not all of them, but the vast majority.

                    1. Mine are tagged short story– my collections are tagged and have collections on it. Ummm… I’ll have to check the descriptions of the other short stories too.

                    2. AGAIN, I stress the importance of clear identification of product as to length, DRM status, inclusion in collections, any other factor that might affect a buyer’s decision. Such factors will often be more significant than price to many a buyer.

                      Compiling such a list might prove a useful exercise for a blog post, although the post itself would probably be briefer than usual.

                    3. I’m studying tags and product description right now. As with everything, including covers, it’s a learning curve and a lot of the old ones MUST be updated.

                    4. I’ve also learned to look at the size of the file. That will tell you a lot about how long the story is, as will the preview. If you don’t get to see anything beyond the front material, you know you have a short short.

                  2. When I go into a bookstore, I check for a half dozen or so authors, then I go to the Sci-Fi section at start at the A’s and go through the entire section, looking for anything that strikes me as ‘interesting’. I find a convienient shelf and start stacking the books there (and keep an eye on them so that the staff doesn’t start re-stocking the pile, it’s happened to me more than once 🙂

                    Some authors I will buy anything they produce (although that one pricing fiasco I mentioned was for one of these authors), but for the rest, I don’t pay any attention to who the author is, at least unless I find later that I really like their books, but even as much as I read, most Authors are interchangeable. None of them write fast enough for me 😉

                    1. Ugh please don’t use that word interchangeable– it my Viking horns start to redden and then I want to charge… Yes, I grew up around bulls– not a pretty sight when they get overly excited…

            1. @Cyn, so if the word interchangeable offends you, tell me what word to use instead. Pre-kindle days, I’m browsing an airport bookstore to pick up 2-3 books for a trip. I explicitly don’t want something from one of my regular authors, because my plan is to leave the books in the hotel room for the next guest, to make room for one to read on the plane on the way home. I’m looking for something action-adventure-ish, maybe with spies or a conspiracy theory, maybe sci-fi, but honestly all I’m going by is an interesting cover/blurb, and something not too expensive. I use the word interchangeable here, what would you suggest?

                1. That’s about it. I mean, I often look for “regency romance, not much explicit sex” but it doesn’t mean the writers are interchangeable. They might be unknown to me (most were when I started reading these three years ago) but some make me remember them at the first, second, or sometimes fourth book. Others get thrown against the wall while I yell “buy a research book, would you?”

  11. This is probably the most nerve wracking question I have in the process of self publishing my first ebook, and this post really spoke to the feelings of doubt I had to overcome just to get this far. Thanks to all of you and your great advice.

  12. The auto industry has the same problem with “low-cost product” — no auto maker has ever been able to make a successful go of an “economy” car line; inevitably, the maker either has to add content (and raise prices to cover it), or go out of business,

    It’s the “dirty little secret” of the business — back in the late ’70s/early ’80s, a GM exec actually said straight-out “Our ‘economy line’ is a two-year-old Buick”; he was crucified for it. And yet, his remark was based on actual sales figures….

  13. Thank you for this entry. I’m a newbie to Kindle publishing and agonized over pricing too high. Since I’ve had similar experiences selling other things (like houses and used furniture) I should know better, but… This confirms a lot of my own thinking.

  14. I kept my shorts at 99 cents, but my short story sales have fallen off dramatically in the last few months. I just haven’t had time to bundle them as “doubles,” the way Dean recommends. Has everyone done the doubles, or just jacked up the prices? Thanks for any advice!

      1. When you bundle them be very careful to keep those shorts very neat and very tidy; you don’t want to bunch your shorts in a wad.

  15. Word Press has yet to ask me to confirm my following of this blog. Damn WP, like Churchill’s observation about Democracy — it is a poor way, but the best we have ….

  16. Sarah, this made a fascinating read. Chromosphere Press has now bumped up the prices of some of their books at Smashwords, BN.com, and Amazon. I have also recommended same to Twilight Times. We shall see what comes of it. You and I will experiment together and compare notes.

    1. Somewhere, someone’s trying to keep track of short story and ebook prices online for Amazon or a publisher and saying, “Suddenly on 10/10, a bunch of people increased their prices. I wonder why?”

      The answer of course, “Sarah made a post.” 🙂

  17. I’ve priced all my books at $2.99 to begin with. I have about 10 sales a quarter. Part of my problem is that I have no idea how other people view my work. I have gotten so darned LITTLE feedback, I don’t know what my material is worth. Frankly, I’d be quite happy to sell some of my longer works for more. Maybe I’ll change my pricing when I remove DRM. DRM-enabled books cannot be loaned by the local library.

    1. Offer a free short story in response to any reader review emailed to you; if nothing else, the % of readers wanting a free short should indicate something.

  18. My grandfather conducted the Navy Band. They did free concerts, and nobody showed; they charged admission, and sold out almost instantly.

    Humans are weird, and THERE is a short-story for you!

    1. Oh drat, you gave me a story idea and I’m supposed to be working on something else. Arrrrrgh! 🙂

      1. There’s the old story about the early medieval Irish missionaries, that they set up a stall at the Franks’ marketplace and said they were selling wisdom. (And charged to give talks.)

        Of course, a lot of the Irish monks came from poet families, and Irish poets were very insistent that they get a suitable reward (ie, paid but nicely) for their poetry visits….

  19. Since it has gone two days with everyone else whistling past it: titling a discussion of the art of pricing as The Price Of Art — I see what you did there.

    1. It is an art. Interestingly, btw, yesterday night I went in and changed all the descriptions to say “short story” or “novella” and … I sold three SHORT STORIES overnight. I think honestly people were staying away from some of these because they thought they were short novels.

      Look, like the rest of you I’m frugal [a polite word for skinflint?– Ed] [Shuddup. I’m broke — SAH] and the idea of going off and paying 2.99 for a short story reels the mind. I did pay $1.99 for a short in a world I was reading, but… Even that hurt. BUT apparently people do it. Looking at my prices now, I’d buy collections, which are an excellent buy — but the shorts are selling better. Again, GO FIGURE. Not that I complain about people giving me cash, natch.

      Next up, changing covers and studying tags/descriptions.

      1. 1. Correlation is not causation.

        2. Until a causal relationship is discerned, if replicable it will suffice.

        1. I read that as “a replicant will suffice” and was amused and a little worried. I’m now a little disappointed that it wasn’t random geekery, though.

          1. You are a STRANGE person. Oh, wait. Of course you are. You’re here.

            Replicants ALWAYS suffice…

  20. One feature I wish Amazon would add which would, I think, be beneficial to vendor and vendee alike, is a bid option. This would allow buyers to request an Amazon notification when the price on an item drops to or below a particular price.

    Probably more useful with such commodities as DVDs which have demonstrated a progressive price diminution, this would allow buyers to signal interest in an item “but not at that price.” Beloved Spouse and I frequently note DVDs at WalMart (frequently starring Sean Bean, whose work we enjoy but whom we have found is no guarantee of a “quality” movie) which we agree would be something we’d like to buy when the price drops, perhaps at the $12.50 level, perhaps $10.00 or only when it reaches the $5.00 bin. The point is, we are interested in purchasing the product but in no hurry to do so. A bid system on Amazon would convey this information to sellers and remind potential buyers that an item in which they’d had interest has reached their purchasing point.

    A publisher (old-line or indie) would be able to see that there is a significant (or not) body of people willing to pay $6.99 (or whatever) for their e-book but not willing to pay $8.99 and act (or not) accordingly.

    I can see arguments against Amazon installing such an option, but cannot help but think it would offer advantages.

    1. You can KIND of do this now in that if you put something in your shopping cart and save it for later, it will tell you the price has changed next time you look at your shopping cart.

      I personally think this is a HORRIBLE idea, as a content provider. As a customer it sounds okay.

      The reason I don’t like it from the sellside is that suppose I give in and lower the price… I still have no commitment to buy, unless you mean to “lock in” those bids, which absolutely will not work for at least three reasons I can think of right off the top of my head. But if I lower the price, I lower it for everybody, even those who would have bought at the higher price. It’s inducing me to do something stupid, in an economic sense, in hopes that it will turn out not to have been stupid.

      Now, granted, if fifty thousand people all say they’d buy the book if I lowered the price a dollar, that’s a pretty strong signal – even assuming half of them are liars and half of the rest change their minds, that’s a pretty good audience. But I don’t see that happening, to be blunt. I see a bunch of people saying they’d buy it if I lowered the price to a dollar. I could be wrong. It’s happened before.

      1. Dude, if fifty thousand people even glanced at my book I’d be thrilled. If they’d buy it for a dollar, I’d be delighted. I could live on $16.5K a book. On the other hand, at $5.99 I could sell less than 10% that number, and still make more money.

  21. One thing that I have seen when working with non-profit orgs and various volunteer orgs, if you hold an event that’s free, signups will be poor and attendence even worse.

    if you charge even a token amount ($5), signups tend to be much better and attendence closely matches signups.

    One of the orginaztions that this holds true for consists largely of pilots, who think nothing of flying out to some remote airport to grab lunch (jokingly referred to as getting a $50 hamburger), so the amounts of money involved really are trivial to these people, but somehow even a trivial amount of money makes a huge difference

    This remains true even if you collect the $5 when they show up, so you can’t even say it’s related to not wanting to loose money they have already paid.

  22. After reading this, thinking about it, and talking it over with my wife (like I do EVERYTHING that’s even remotely important), I’ve decided I will raise my prices the end of October. My longer works will be raised to $4.99 each, shorter works to $3.99, and my shortest book to $2.99 (currently on sale for $.99 as a tickler). “Greenfields” will go up for $4.99, as will the “Mastodon party” book, but I’ll offer a free copy in either .epub or .pdf format for all the people that made that night such an enjoyment (and such a fabulous book idea).

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