Game Marketing Tips, Analysis, and News

Friday, November 5, 2010

E-Book Pricing Excites Discussion

E-book pricing is a hot issue among authors and publishers, because prices are all over the map. New York publishers would like you to pay somewhere between $7.99 and $15.99 for an e-book, the difference being in how new it is or how much in demand it is. Joe Konrath, a midlist mystery/horror writer, prices his e-books at $2.99. Who's right?

Many discussion revolve around "value", as in the proper value of an e-book should reflect the author's time and skill level. I think the more practical way to look at it is "How much will a customer pay for it?" Some publishers (and authors) think the pricing should be related to the length of an e-book. That certainly seems reasonable; the price I pay for a short story should be less than I pay for a long novel. But what should those prices be?

I don't think there is an easy answer. Some of the authors weighing in on the question feel the same way. Some take issue with the idea that their books should be $2.99, and argue for a higher price point. Author Dean Wesley Smith lays out a price structure that puts long novels at a higher price point of $4.99 to $5.99. One thing they all seem to agree on is that there isn't enough hard data to really answer the question of pricing.

A few things seem pretty obvious to me. New York publishers have their offices in Manhattan to pay for, an extensive staff, all sorts of expenses... while authors putting their own e-books online don't have to worry about those things. So prices those New York publishers choose for their e-books are rooted in their past, and their current situations... and should not be taken as gospel for an independent author.

Another good point is that a low price won't rescue a bad novel. The first thing an author has to do is make sure their work is good, because pricing and marketing won't transform it into a hit. Especially since, as barriers to entry lower, we're going to be seeing a lot more writing coming onto the market.

I think the most important thing about e-book (and other digital product) pricing is that you can easily experiment with pricing. There's no need to price-protect retailers, somehow notify all retail channels about the price change, make stickers to put over the price that's printed on the covers... you just change the price online. And change it back after a week and see if the sales have changed. Then see if it's made a difference after a month, or two. If you only sold 10 more copies by lowering the price $1, and you normally sell 100 copies, lowering the price doesn't help you enough. If you suddenly sold 500 more copies by lowering the price $1, then you should probably stick to the lower price point.

You can hold sales for any reason, and make the time period brief or long. The data you get will be invaluable. Especially because your data may not transfer to some other author. I would guess that Stephen King could charge more for a novel than I could because of his enormous brand value. But even King might want to have at least one book at a low price point in order to attract new readers.

The e-book market is still developing and changing, so don't look for a hard and fast answer on pricing. Look at the data; look at the deal you can land; take your best guess. Then, if you have control over pricing, experiment. See what works best for you. Don't just pick a price and never change it, because then you'll never know whether you were right or wrong.

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