Why I am against the .99 cent price 5


It simply won’t go away. At least not until we indie writers find that ideal sweat spot that keeps consumers coming back. It’s an incredibly frustrating issue among the indie community for a number of reasons, but primarily because the consumer community seems to want to keep the price of indie books at that dreaded .99 cent spot. What can we do about or should we do anything about it? I have a couple of suggestions.

I want to begin this with this statement: I honestly believe this issue would not be smacking us in our collective faces had it not been for the iPhone. It was the iPhone that drove the price of downloadables to the $.99 cent mark. I will also drop this on you – none of us want to sell our work for less than the price of a soda at a movie.

But how can we solve this seemingly unsolvable problem? Here’s my take on it.

As you know, many of the “big 6” are starting to demand higher prices for ebooks. Stephen King’s next book is rumored to have an ebook price of over $15.00. How can he do that? He’s Stephen King and we’re not (at least not yet.) But since the “big 6” can demand a higher price, why can’t we? Seriously? Why should we be relegated to the bargain bin before we’ve even had a chance to prove to anyone we are worth their change?

Let me put this into a bit of perspective.

If I go to either the UbuntuOne Music Store or the Amazon MP3 store (I don’t use any Apple products and never will) I can purchase an entire CD for around $9.99 cents. That CD will hold anywhere from 8-15 songs on it. Now, I can buy those songs individually for, say it with me, $.99. A single song is NOT the entire CD. You don’t purchase just one song from Rush’s 2112 and say you’ve had the entire 2112 experience. It’s the same with a book — you can’t read a single chapter and say you’ve read the book. Of course, I realize books and CDs are very different animals and you can enjoy a single song from a CD, whereas enjoying a single chapter from a book leaves the reader completely unfulfilled.

But you get where this is going.

If musicians sold their entire CD for $.99, there’d be a lot less musicians out there. So why, as artists, are we willing to sell our precious works at such a low price? The answer to that is simple as well. We do this hoping that word will spread and we’ll sell enough product to make it rich. Very few have ever made it rich selling anything at $.99.

I understand why so many indie writers sell their books at this too-low price…they want to sell. Those daily sales equate to success and as those numbers increase, the¬†likelihood¬† of continued increase seems much more probable. Why? It’s only $.99. Most consumers are willing to risk a bad book if it’s only $.99! But at $2.99…whoa! Let’s not go crazy. Seriously, do you know what you can buy for $2.99?

  • A toothbrush
  • A medium Blizzard from Dairy Queen
  • A pack of Magic The Gathering cards
  • A ream of paper for your printer
  • About 3/4s of a gallon of gas

You get the picture. There are plenty of things out there we can purchase, but few of those things will bring as much pleasure as a book.

Writers spend an incredible amount of time and energy creating their works. It’s a labor of love and dedication. And consumers will spend $2.99 for a book. It’s been proven over and over. And that is why I believe, very strongly, that if indie writers take a stand and not lower their price to the dreaded $.99 cent price the consumers will, as the Dude does, abide.

Instead of dropping your precious work to under a buck, why not get word of mouth out with giveaways, pre-sale copies, and review copies. This is easily done with Smashwords. That way you get people to read and review your book, but are not undermining or devaluing your work by slapping that bargain bin price on it.

Here’s what I am considering when my first book finally comes back on to the ebookstores:

  • Get as many pre-sale copies in the hands of readers (free).
  • Do giveaways on Facebook and Twitter during the first week of release.
  • Release the book at $2.99 and leave it there.
  • Lather, rinse, and repeat for all other books.

Remember, it’s only $2.99. If you look at the impulse bins at Target you will find costlier items that consumers fall for. No one ever said that the magic “impulse” price was $.99, and I don’t believe it to be.

Our work has value and we should not be reduced to selling at such a silly price because we have been told $.99 cents sells. Sure it sells. But Stephen King will sell ebooks at $16.00.

If I can make one more analogy. If you go to see a Broadway show, you can easily drop $300.00 dollars for a single ticket. Some times that ticket price pays for a big name (either an actor or writer). Some times that ticket price does not pay for a big name…but the price is still just as insane. You pay whether there is a known “brand” or not (even though “Broadway” is often considered a brand.) And yes, you can go to off-Broadway, but you’re still paying a premium. It’s not until you get to the non-union, unknown theatres that the prices finally become reasonable. But that “reasonable” is not 99 pennies away from free.

If every indie writer takes a stand against devaluing our products we can all stop worrying whether or not we are going to make any money selling at $.99. I know it seems like a scary proposition, but readers are still going to be willing to take a chance on $2.99. Right? What do you think?


5 thoughts on “Why I am against the .99 cent price

  • Ali Cooper

    I agree with you that pricing a full length novel at 99c is damaging for indie publishing as a whole. I think it’s come about as a result of authors competing with one another, all wanting to boast the highest sales figures each month, combined with a kind of mass hysteria. If mainstream were also publishing their new, quality books at that price as standard then it would be different. But they’re not.

    Everyone who prices their book at 99c has justified to themselves why they should do it. And everyone pricing higher is supposed to reassure them that it’s fine and doesn’t harm the market. That’s rubbish. Of course it does. If you do any job for less than a living wage then you devalue it and will likely put other people out of business. I teach guitar. If I give lessons for half the price of other teachers ‘because I just love doing it’ then, on my own it probably wouldn’t have much impact. But if lots of other teachers did the same then those charging full price would end up with no work.

    What is worse, I know lots of indie authors being pressured by others to drop their price to 99c.

    As far as I’m concerned, if my full length book(s) aren’t worth the price of a pint of beer then I shouldn’t be publishing them.

  • Jenny

    I started out at $2.99 with full intent to stay there, and then when I raised my price back up after a short $.99 sale, Smashwords did not update the premium market catalog for several weeks. Amazon auto-slashed the price back down to $.99. After the fiasco was over and I could finally raise my price back up, my sales came to a screeching halt and crashed completely. It’s frustrating because as much as I would love to reach more readers, I was actually selling about the same number at the $2.99 price before the sale. The number spiked at the start of the sale, absolutely, but just as with all other promotions, it petered out after time.

  • David Michael

    I’m not convinced consumers care about the $.99 debate. They may take advantage of it, but they aren’t forcing anyone to do anything, and they seem willing to pay more (see the bestseller list).

    I wrote a $.99 semi-rant on my blog the other day:
    “You Might be Pricing Your Ebooks at $.99 for the Wrong Reason(s)”
    http://www.gunsandmagic.com/?p=1414

    There are some valid reasons to use the price point (like temporary sales), but there are some reasons that are just *wrong*.

    I’m also not convinced that authors who price their novels at $.99 are eroding the market for anyone else. They’re just establishing themselves in the “discount” market, which will become increasingly separate from the “regular” ebook market.

    -David

  • Bully

    @David, I think we should all just stay clear of the 99 cents and be done with it. End of story. Consumers are starting to act like 99 cents is our calling-card and they are NOT tearing into those 99 cent ebooks; for the most part they forget they’ve even downloaded them once they’ve finished bargain-hunting. No. What Kindle consumers rush to read are the ebooks they’ve PAID standard prices for. $5 and up, probably (and $5 is still a great bargain for a book fo any kind).

    I know self published writers have Amanda Hocking on the brain when they upload their ebooks to Kindle & gleefully type 99 cents in the price box, but she was one of the 1st self published authors to charge that. It was NEW when she did it and it worked for her. A lot has happened in a year or more since she started, and SP authors need to leave 99 cents alone & get a new song to sing, a new horn to blow, whatever.

    Also, a lot of consumers are starting to really second-guess books at that price point because it’s telling them that:
    A. This work isn’t valuable.
    B. The author doesn’t value their own work. If they don’t value it, why should I?

    And that ‘self-perception’ has an effect how SP authors are perceived by consumers. Consumers who’ve spent $300-$400 on a Kindle device and $16 on a Stephen King novel. They have the money for items they value. When it’s something they ‘want’ suddenly there’s money for it. You see?

    The key is to convince people that they need or want the product, in my humble opinion. But I also think it’s easier for a lot of self published authors to price their work at 99 cents and call it a day.

    Great post, Jack! Thank you for sharing!

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