Why I am against the .99 cent price

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?