I’ve been buying and reading a number of self published books of late, primarily because of the price point of $.99. I find that the $.99 price point overcomes a lot of reservations I might have about a book. One thing I did notice, as I was going through my purchases, is that I don’t have a lot of repetitive authors I’ve purchased at $.99.
I wondered what other readers were doing and what kind of stickiness these self published authors were having for readers. The $.99 price point is a “try me” price point and because none of the $.99 self published books I’ve read, except from established writers, have encouraged me to go back and buy more of their books. I find myself more curious about other books at $.99.
Over in my “other life”, I find myself talking to developers about pricing on a regular basis. Apps on a device and ebooks share a lot of common aspects, and one of them is that pricing is still very much a black art being guessed at by people more skilled at the craft of creating the product than marketing it. I said about this time last year that app developers and authors have a lot in common and can learn from each other, if only we could figure out how to make the right connections. I still think so, and I’m still looking for those connections. As I’ve been exploring getting back into writing and what it means to self-publish my writing, I really see those similarities with what the app developers I support are going through.
I still have more questions than answers, though.
But one thing I continue to be convinced of is that the $.99 price point is poison. Here are some of the reasons why:
Right off the bat, you remove any opportunity to use pricing for promotion. Since you can’t go below $.99 without going free (if your platform lets you do that at all), you can’t do any kind of reduced price promotion. Even if you price at $1.99, you leave yourself an option do to a temporary price cut and use that in some marketing. If you start priced at the bottom, you lose any opportunity for pricing flexibility or “half price, this weekend only!” promotions.
I think the $.99 price point sets an initial expectation that the value proposition of your product is that it’s cheap. It’s very hard to convince customers to value something you don’t value. Again, even a small price bump to $1.99 is an indication you think it is worth something more than the generic stuff being schlepped out of the bargain bin.
One of the long term promotional keys here is cross promotion; your new works promote your older works and drive fresh sales of your backlist. I’m a believer that the backlist should be priced at some discount to your current work. Look at the video game console market. Hot apps come out at $50, five months later are re-released at $20. It gives you a chance to remarket at the new price point and create new promotions, and attract a new audience with fresh marketing. It also helps differentiate the new work from the older. You can’t do any of this if you start pricing at the discount price.
So my recommendation is to always avoid bottom fishing. Give yourself some flexibility on pricing. It’s effectively impossible to raise prices, so if you start at the lowest possible price, you’ve killed any flexibility. You give birth to it in the bargain bin, you’ll die in it.
That MAY be an effective technique in some cases; if you are, for instance, writing “generic” genre fiction in a field like romance where you’re trying for the “just looking for the next story” crowd, that may be the only way to get noticed. In that case, though, I’d wonder if you could ever create a name recognition or brand that would make any of that audience look for your next book, unless it happens to be the next book when they happen to be looking for something. It might be worth experimenting with a bargain bin piece to see if you can cross promote them onto a more expensive work, but my gut says that’s unlikely.
But I’m not sure I want to play in that mosh pit. If you look at what happened to the photo stock industry when microstock hit it, it seems to me that playing that game is living on the razor edge of the margin waiting for someone to change the game out from under you. Not how I’d want to build my career (and one reason why I’m not interested in the microstock market for photos, either).
I have trouble believing that the $.99 price point ever lends itself to being the place where you maximize revenue; unit sales, maybe, but not revenue. and unit sales doesn’t pay the rent.
So that’s what I tell my developers. Start at a higher price point, and work on the marketing to help customers understand the value. it gives you pricing flexibility for promotion, and it gives a perception that you see value in your work. If the primary reason someone buys your work is because it’s cheap, I find it hard to believe you’ll ever find an audience that values your work enough to turn into a repeating customer, or that you’ll ever build enough of a backlist sale to make a revenue stream that’s viable to support your time investment in creating your works.