Monday, January 26, 2015

Price Wars


Are Self-Publishers pricing themselves properly? Or are we as a collective setting the bar so low we are pricing ourselves out of the market?

I've been around for quite some time, though my name is not among the best sellers.  I’ve quietly rumbled along the self-publishing path through the years selling my books, giving away some, and often seeing a few end up on pirating sites. I’ll get into pirating at a later time.

Through those years though, I have seen the average price of an ebook drop so dramatically, I’ve often felt writing has lost it’s worth. Not that I want to give up, but that the hours spent honing your craft are lost when the book you've just toiled over has to be priced at $0.99 or even free to gain the attention of readers.  At $0.99, earning only 35% royalty minus any delivery fees, an author might make $0.30 per copy on each book sold. When you factor in the cost of time spent writing, editing, cover art, formatting, and any marketing cost you plan to tack on to the book, you’re left with quite the hole to dig yourself out of if you hope to make any money from that book.

So, how did we get ourselves into this mess?

Back when I started self-publishing, the average price for a standard-length ebook was between $3.99-$4.99. Earning the author a comfortable 70% royalty on each book sold.

Soon after that, the $1.99 sale groups started popping up. For a short time, authors would put their books on sale while still earning a small percent back at 35%. While not very profitable, those short term sales helped get authors attention from readers and possibly develop a fan base.

$1.99 soon became $0.99 for sale prices. Not much of a difference, but when this happened, the average price of a full length novel dropped as well. Authors wanting to cash in on the 75% royalty price while undercutting the average $3.99 priced books were a hit! So the overall average dropped and with that so did the sale price.

As the market grew, so did the need to get a book into the spotlight. Again the average price of a book dropped and the sale price with it. We saw first in a series books being sold at $0.99, and then Free became catch-you-eye sale price. One-clickers snagged up books left and right, padding their TBR piles with more books than they could possibly read. But, what that did was hit the sweet spot on the Amazon algorithms. An author might have 20k downloads on their free book and it would snowball down to their other books. Click through sales were through the roof on second and third books in a series. This was truly the sweet spot.

Until the market became flooded with free and $0.99 books.

So, what was the next pricing strategy? Anthologies and Boxed sets.

Now you can get 10 or more first-in-a-series books for only. $0.99. Each author in the series goes into it expecting to not make money, but hopes that the readers will look at their first book an buy the others in their series. It’s a gamble, for sure. I’ve been in quite a few and have seen mixed results.

So, what does that leave us with?

The average price for a new author to list their book and make a sale or two is $0.99. If an author has a series, they are almost required to make the first book free if they hope to get reader attention with any subsequent books priced at $2.99-$3.99.

And with the flood of books on the market, it is almost essential that you buy some ad space to get the ball rolling on any of your books.

What do you think? Have we in the self-publishing marketplace priced ourselves out? Or, do you feel there is still hope?  


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