Self Publishing? What’s Your Pricing Plan? — Part Two

by Jami Gold on January 7, 2016

in Writing Stuff

Stick figure at a chalkboard with text: What's Your Pricing Plan?

It’s time once again for my monthly guest post over at Janice Hardy’s Fiction University. We’ve been walking through the process of making choices for what path we want for our indie publishing career.

My series about Indie Publishing Paths at Fiction University has been highlighting some of the choices we have to make and giving us a few guidelines for figuring out how to make the best decisions for us.

We started off talking about knowing our goals. There’s no end to the conflicting advice out there about self-publishing, and to add confusion, the “rules” from retailers and others change frequently. So we need to have an understanding of why we’re choosing certain paths so that we can adapt as the industry changes.

Once we know our priorities, we might make different choices about distribution, release schedules, or pricing. I’ve been focusing on each of those areas in the next segment of the series, calling them the where, when, and how much of our decision process.

Janice Hardy's Fiction University banner

Last month, we identified three options for the pricing strategy of our books—the how much. We can…:

  • price high,
  • price in the middle, or
  • price low.

The most common (and yet controversial) advice about pricing is that we should price low—possibly even free. But it’s important to remember there are no right or wrong answers when it comes to the pricing strategy that will work best for us.

Yes, there are many good reasons we might want to price our books below the typical $2.99-$4.99 “sweet spot” (for novels). However, there are also many reasons why we might not.

Before blindly following any advice, we’d want to understand more about how or why the advice is supposed to work so we can see if it applies to our situation. Same thing when it comes to pricing advice.

Any strategy applied to an incompatible situation would likely cause problems. So we’d want to dig deeper into our pricing plans to ensure that a low-price strategy wouldn’t end up being short-sighted.

This month’s post helps us through that digging process. Have we thought about what we want to accomplish with our pricing strategy? Will our pricing strategy actually work to accomplish that? *smile*

In the post, I cover the three main strategies for why we might want to price low and delve into when/why/how each one might work—or not work—for us.

I hope you’ll join me at Fiction University for this month’s post!

Have you seen advice for authors to price their books low? Do you think that’s always the best strategy? Have you thought about what would make the most sense for your situation? And most importantly, have you thought about how pricing low would accomplish your goals?

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14 Comments below - Time to Add your own.

Carradee January 7, 2016 at 1:50 pm

Yes, I’ve seen advice for authors to price their books low, and no, it isn’t always the best strategy. Low attracts “taker” types, plus it isn’t suitable to some situations, genres, or target market..

Personally, I’m actually planning on raising my e-book prices soon, by taking my free novel off free—in part because I’m offering some of it free on Wattpad, so cash-strapped folks can get it there—and by lifting the price on at least some of my nonfiction, for which a “low” price suggests negative things about the quality thereof.

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Jami Gold January 7, 2016 at 2:42 pm

Hi Carradee,

Agreed, In next month’s guest post at Fiction University, I’ll be rehashing my “risks of freebies” information from here. As you said, free or low price can attract takers and indicate (to some readers) low quality–especially in certain markets, like the non-fiction you mentioned.

Good luck with your plans to raise prices, and thanks for the comment! 🙂

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Eve Anderson January 7, 2016 at 3:58 pm

I know that Indie Authors are the future. And as well as other authors had the need to gain $$ from their work. The opportunity to put prices on your books or gave some free is a special. I can do this or that, is my prerrogative. So it isn’t me who stop no one to honestly find their way of do what they like

Although and example, I live from a Social Security, so I made a list of what I had to pay & how much I can use to buy books. So, I check: it’s standalone or series (the series is good enough to be aware that may buy the rest for the money they ask), It’s something I very important for me.

So a book that I paid .99, then 2.99 (i think), 3.99 (huuu not).

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Jami Gold January 7, 2016 at 4:02 pm

Hi Eve,

Yes, it’s good that authors and readers are both seeing new choices and options. 🙂 Thanks for stopping by!

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Stephen Tremp January 7, 2016 at 9:11 pm

Shah, I price low to get reviews and ratings, then raise to $1.99 – $2.99 as the momentum increases. I’ll be raising my prices incrementally until Memorial day weekend then cap it at $2.99.

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Jami Gold January 7, 2016 at 9:15 pm

Hi Stephen,

That makes sense–I like the idea of raising prices while taking advantage of momentum. The point is that you have a plan. 🙂 Thanks for sharing!

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Serena Yung January 8, 2016 at 3:22 pm

(Posting here, because Janice Hardy’s blog posting system seems to not accept this comment as this is over 4000 something characters long…)

So far, I’ve only made the plan to give a freebie for the first book of my series, as a “loss leader” strategy. But hey, I actually didn’t think of the point that with a very low price rather than a freebie, one could perhaps make a little bit of money at the same time as getting more exposure for this book and our other linked books.

Yet, in the Smashwords 2015 survey (important to me since Smashwords will be one of my main venues): https://www.slideshare.net/mobile/Smashwords/2015-smashwords-survey-how-to-sell-more-ebooks

For both the 2014 and 2015 surveys, it seems that prices below $2 don’t get the most downloads, nor do they make the most money. In 2015, the price point with the most downloads was $3-3.99, then $2-2.99, $0.99, and $4-4.99, in order from highest to lowest. (Other prices were lower or much lower in the number of downloads than these four.)

For 2014, the price points with the most downloads were $2-2.99 and $3-3.99 (they look equally high from the bar chart.)

This perhaps counter-intuitive result, might be because of the issue we talked about before, that many readers (including myself) avoid very cheap books because they fear very cheap quality as well.

As for actual income earned, in 2015, the price point yielding the highest earnings was $3-3.99, followed by $9-9.99, $4-4.99, $10+, and $2-2.99. (This graph mixed fiction and nonfiction, and I remember that nonfiction tends to sell most at higher price ranges like $9+ on Smashwords.)

In 2014, the price point yielding the highest earnings was $3-3.99, next is $4-4.99, then &2-2.99.

What had the most number of downloads, though, was of course the free books, which had 41 times more downloads than priced books in 2015. (It was only 39 times in 2014, but for some previous years, it was 100 times. So the success of the frees seemed to have gone way down and then a bit up again.)

Of course, I’m not saying that the Smashwords market represents the entire eBook market, but the stats are interesting, especially as SW will be my main distributor aside from Amazon. (For my Chinese eBooks, I will be relying completely on Smashwords, haha, since Amazon doesn’t support Chinese yet.)

Anyway, my plan for now will still be to price my first book of my series free, but for the other books, I’ll price them at maybe $3.99, since $3-3.99 seems to yield both the most downloads and the highest earnings for both the 2014 and 2015 Smashwords surveys. Also, my books tend to be rather long. The one I’m editing is about 121 K words, though I’m gradually shortening it. My Chinese series at the moment will be about 185-190K words per book, unless I change my mind; but many more Chinese words fit on a single page than do English words, so I guess it’s different, lol.

I’m assuming that the SW surveys covered non-English language books too, but from experience, I know the word counter for Chinese words on SW is completely off the mark, lol. For instance, it made this novel-length book that I loved look like a short story or a long essay in its wordcount inaccuracy!

Also, I know these survey results are just averages, but…to keep things simple, that will be my plan. For later books in the series (e.g. from the third or fourth book), I could possibly raise it to e.g. $4.99, because the word count of each book IS quite high for my Chinese story! Wow, I realized my author self-esteem has really increased now. Many months ago, I wanted to price lower or even have them all for free, but you pointed out to me that I shouldn’t sell myself short, as the readers are getting a LOT of words. So I wouldn’t be shy to perhaps use $4.99 for the later books in my Chinese series. Especially as $4-4.99 still seems pretty lucrative in terms of both earnings and number of downloads.

But again, these are all just tentative plans, as I have no idea how long I’ll take to finally be ready to publish again, lol. My editing of my current book is slow because I’m writing three other stories at the same time, haha. Hurray, multi-tasking! =_= Lol. And who knows? Market trends may vastly change, (and Amazon might finally sell Chinese Indie ebooks, and maybe Amazon.cn will help too…), so my current pricing plans and other plans may need to change accordingly.

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Jami Gold January 8, 2016 at 8:50 pm

Hi Serena,

LOL! You and your long comments… 😉

(I shouldn’t talk. *snicker* Many of my posts for Janice are turning into multi-parters simply because I’m doing a brain dump of All. The. Things. in my head. 😀 )

Yes, $1.99 has been a “no man’s land” for several years. I don’t know why that is, but it’s interesting to witness.

Yay! for higher author self-esteem. It’s so fun to watch your growth as a writer. 😀 Your plan sounds pretty solid, and as you said, you can always adjust. Our prices aren’t set in stone by any means. Let me know if you have other questions, and thanks for the comment!

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Serena Yung January 9, 2016 at 8:46 am

Hee Hee long comments! XD Long blog posts are good, though, since there’s more food for thought and more to “chew on”. (Lol all those food words.) Sometimes I wish that more people write very long comments like mine, so that I would feel a little better about the length of mine, haha; but on the other hand, that would give you even more to do, so maybe not!

Hmm maybe $1.99 is at the worst point where it’s too expensive for people who don’t want to pay much to buy, but also too cheap for those who are willing to pay more to respect and take seriously. So the opposite of the sweet spot. :/ (The bitter spot or sour spot? Lol!)

Oh I actually realized later on that I forgot to mention my possible box set plan! So assuming I’ll end up with six books in my Chinese series, I could charge my first three books for $6.99 (originally it would have been 3.99 X 2 = 7.98), and my last three books for e.g. $12.99 (originally 4.99 X 3 = 14.97). I’m a bit dubious about the latter, however, as it would look like to readers that my last three books are almost double the price of my first three books, even though the discount amount for my last three ($1.98) is actually larger than for my first three ($0.99). This “almost doubling in price for the final three books” might look weird and suspicious to readers.

But if I make it $7.99 or $8.99 instead of $12.99, then that seems to be a BIG price reduction ($5.98 to $6.98) compared to for the first three books ($0.99). Of course, I don’t even have to make box sets at all. But I thought it would be an advantage for readers who want them to be in sets so it’s more convenient for them to read and buy (so it’s not just about the money). Who knows? There might be readers who would be less motivated to read my whole series because they have to buy 5 separate books (the first is free, so they are buying 5), whereas buying only 2 times (the two box sets) requires less hassle and time, lol. What do you think of this?

Yeah I’ve been under low-ish author self-esteem for I don’t know how long. So once again, I’m thankful that our discussions on author self-esteem on your blog finally raised my self-confidence and belief in myself as a competent (or at least decent) writer!

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Jami Gold January 13, 2016 at 8:00 am

Hi Serena,

LOL! “sour spot”–I like that. And yes, I suspect it’s something along those lines.

That’s a good question about box sets. I’ve been thinking through that same question for my own work. 🙂 If your set was going to be on Amazon, I’d suggest $9.99 vs $12.99, just because the royalty rate for Amazon drops above $9.99, but I know your Chinese set is different.

Anyway, you’d want to do the math of balancing a price drop for the reader (so they might be tempted to buy it) and the profit hit for you (after royalty rates are taken into account). An author at Amazon might look at your situation and decide to do 3 sets of two books each so they didn’t have to take a big hit to avoid going over $9.99. Or an author might include a “bonus” epilogue short story in the second set to make it look more worthwhile for the price increase. Etc., etc.

There are many ways of handling the situation, in other words, depending on our goals. 🙂 Thanks for the comment, and yay for better author self-esteem!

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Serena Yung January 13, 2016 at 1:12 pm

Oh, nice ideas, thanks! I’ll note these down. I also thought of another possibility: of having the first one free, as I mentioned already, and then grouping the rest of the series in a box set with books 2-4 (i.e. three books) at $9.99 and books 5-6 (i.e. two books) at $6.99. Or something like that; the last two books are only a bit more expensive each than the 2nd-4th books. But for the Chinese versions, the price could be a bit higher, since I’ll be relying on Smashwords.

Anyhow, it’s very exciting to think about these things even though I’m still miles away from being ready to publish this long story. XD

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Jami Gold January 13, 2016 at 6:40 pm

Hi Serena,

It’s good to think about this stuff in advance so we can pay attention to other advice and know whether it applies to our situation or not. 🙂 Have fun!

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Kitt Crescendo January 10, 2016 at 7:54 pm

I’ve heard all sorts of theories on the matter. At the end of the day, though, I don’t think pricing low is a very good idea. People tend to draw conclusions about quality, expect to always get the low price on any future releases you might get (regardless of how much popularity or fan base you might develop–because you’ve set that expectation FOR them), and you can often do your peers a disservice because you’re right…there is a sweet spot, and the more people that low ball pricing, the lower that sweet spot becomes.

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Jami Gold January 13, 2016 at 8:08 am

Hi Kitt,

I’ve wondered about whether that sweet spot would decrease as well, so I don’t disagree with anything you say. 🙂 As my tangentially related posts on “takers” illustrate, people can start to expect more and more from us without giving enough in return. Thanks for chiming in!

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