Friday, November 4, 2011

eBook Experiment Update - Prices Prices Prices

Okay, it's probably time to stop calling it an "experiment" but IMHO, life is an experiment that never ends, so there.

I am continuing my hiatus from any real marketing efforts while I concentrate on writing. However, the layoff itself has made it easier to look at my stats and understand them. Besides, I get bored and like poke at business things now and then.

Free Books

I've been downloading all the weekly numbers from Amazon to keep in a spreadsheet. Amazon gives you figures for "Prior Six Weeks' Royalties" (love that they use the apostrophe right!) but the old numbers expire as new ones come in. I use a little Firefox plugin called Table Tools to copy the data into a spreadsheet every couple of weeks.

Just the other day I decided to put my stats geek hat on and look at those numbers. Oh, boy, was that interesting. I like to make sure I have at least one free book all the time now. I rotate among the 99 cent collections and novelettes.

Most of the time, free gives a particular book a boost in profile, and it sells better for a while after you raise the price back up. Related books also might get a temporary boost... but this seriously depends on the book.

But here's something that I never would have noticed if I hadn't had all that weekly data: When Waiter, There's a Clue In My Soup! is free, ALL of my other books do a little better. My numbers are low enough and the difference is slight enough, that it's invisible in monthly data, and in data which doesn't cover a long period of time.

Here's the interesting thing -- it is not my most well-recieved book. If you look on Goodreads in particular (but to a lesser extent elsewhere) some people are pretty upset that it's a collection of short stories, or that some of the mystery stories are westerns. Furthermore, I never had returns until I offered free books. (Who returns a free book?)

As Kris Rusch noted in her blog recently, free and low-priced books tend to bring out a higher proportion of disgruntled customers. People's tastes differ. The more exposure you get, the more people who don't like your work will be exposed to it -- and will react to it.

But if you have work, like mine, which people aren't sure if they're going to like or not (like a mystery western), then broader exposure means you also hit more people who DO like your work. And free short stories are a VERY low threshold for people who are on the fence about whether they might or might not like to try it.

But why does Waiter work better than the other shorts?

Well, I think the secret is the title. It's a very accessible title - everybody is attracted to it. This is partly a downside in that it attracts people who have a narrow taste range as well as those with broader interests. So if they don't read the description, they think it's a themed anthology about funny food mysteries.

But the people who DO read the description think "hmm, maybe... oh what the heck it's free." And among them are people who like my writing, even though they might have a bit of resistance to the idea of how I mix genres.

Higher Priced Books

Dean Wesley Smith has finally convinced me to try the 4.99 price point for full length novels -- and a part of me wonders if I shouldn't play around with 6.99.

(Actually, I've already raised Have Gun, Will Play and The Adventure of Anna the Great to $4.95 but Amazon takes a while to raise price raises, so I don't expect the change to take effect until after my Thanksgiving sale -- during which they will be priced at 99 cents.)

Maybe it's time to go into my theory on how to price an ebook:

First: pricing your book wrong will not cause the horrible screaming deaths of thousands of puppies. And pricing it right will NOT make you a bazillionaire. So if the subject of pricing raises your blood pressure, find a way to get over that. It's damaging your health for no good reason whatsoever. Channel that energy into something else.

Why I'm raising the price

A price isn't just a value thing -- it's also information. And when I say that, I don't mean the old chestnut about perception of value. A low price doesn't always communicate "low quality" or a high price "high quality." Forget value for a minute and think about identity.

At first glance the customer sees cover, title and price, when they are shopping online. They don't see the blurb, they don't even see the category much of the time. So when they don't know anything else about the product, they will use the information they've got.

If you see a dragon on the cover, and the title is "The Mythos of Aatuarnia" and the price is $6.99, your brain not only signals "High Fantasy" it also signals "New Mass Market Paperback."

That is, unconsciously, 6.99 isn't just a value, it's like the smell of popcorn in relation to the movies -- it triggers associations. For books, sense memory associates price with format. It helps answer the question "What is it?"

And that is critical online, because people have so much information coming at them so fast ALL THE TIME, that they have unconscious filters that cause them to not even focus on things that don't fit their preconcieved notions. That's why it's important for a book cover to have that approximate 6x9 size/shape ratio. You do a search on Amazon, and odds are a few non-book products will appear in the results, and so your brain automatically filters everything out that doesn't look like a book. You might not even see those other products.

Price is not as extreme as that -- but it is one more thing that goes into those automatic visual filters.

Now, here's my conundrum: 6.99 looks like a midlist paperback. A number of indie writers have used that price point to blend in with commercial books in their genre -- with success.

By my not at all scientific polling, the mystery genre seems to be particularly rigid in the pricing structure of commercial mysteries, even back list classics are 6.99 for novels. Indies seem to cluster at 2.99 or 99 cents, even more so than other genres.

I picked 3.95 as my price because it feels right as the price of a used paperback -- it's what people like me are used to paying for a treasured book. (I.e. a used book is a classic, and that makes it better than new.) But mainly I picked it because, economically, it makes sense. I suspect my audience is made up of people like me -- heavy users of libraries and used book stores, who can't afford to buy a lot of new books.

I'm wondering, though, if that means I'm losing the advantage of a price that means something. Is it just sending a mixed message, or no message, about what kind of book it is? Might I be better off to price at commercial prices, and then have periodic sales for people like me?

I just don't like the 6.99 price point. It's too high for casual reading and it doesn't give the added value of a keepsake paper book. It's much better than those $14.99 prices publishers used to set, but I still think it's too high.

So that brings me back to the 4.99 price point. It's a fair price, discounted from premium but not such a discount that it feels like a different kind of item. It's generally not used by people who are trying to build their success on price (which is one group I want to avoid -- there are good writers in the group, but it's also where the junk tends to accumulate).

It's also the price that Dean Wesley Smith is pushing, and a lot of authors like him -- well established midlist authors self-publishing their backlists, and small publishers -- are starting to use that price. It may not mean anything to the audience now, but if that group holds, it will. It will mean something very much like "use book" means -- classic, maybe esoteric, but a good read.

So ultimately, that's likely the price I'll want. The question is only whether I want to experiment with 6.99 to see what comes of it. This seems like the best time to do it, while that is still the standard price among so many commercial mystery publishers. (And all of Agatha Christie.)

In the meantime, the book sale will start approximately November 23 and end approximately December 7. I will announce with greater fanfare and detail closer to the event.

See you in the funny papers.


jnfr said...

I've been picking up the Kindle versions of a bunch of old favorites that I have in MMPs which are slowly falling apart, mostly fantasy and science fiction. And they are generally going for $5.50 to 7.99. That's high enough that I won't buy a bunch at once, but low enough that I do pick them up over time and will continue to do so.

I bought a few books today that my husband wanted (we share an Amazon account on both our Kindles so that we don't have to buy books twice). And he commented on how low the prices were (again fantasies, two under $6 and another at $7.50).

We have thousands of books in the house that we've bought over the last couple decades, most of which cost at least what we're paying for these and often more.

Which is my long-winded way of saying that your thinking about price seems spot-on to me, and maybe even a touch on the low side still. I'd give the 6.99 a try. Why not?

The Daring Novelist said...

Yes, I'm very very close to being convinced that this could at least be a decent three month experiment for the 6.99 price point.

The down side, I think, is the very thing I was talking about -- price as identity.

I'm working to build a quirky brand. I'd even say a "homemade" brand.

Now, homemade means artisan, and can be even more valuable than commercial -- but if we're not talking about value, but rather about identity, the question is whether the commercial price works with it.

For my mysteries, I think the answer is yes. For the other stuff, maybe not. Stay tuned.

ModWitch said...

Hmm. Very similar to what's been kicking around my head lately. In my genre, $3.99 used to be no-man's land between indie and trad-pubbed (at $7.99). So I seemed to catch a lot of readers from both worlds. Now $3.99 pools with the <$3 books - I have very few books more expensive than mine in my also boughts any more.

However, comtemp fantasy may not be my most relevant benchmark, since my books have no darkness and no fangs. Lighthearted witch books have a neighborhood of their own, and there is quite a group of us at $3.99. Then a gulf until $7.99, and very few of those are selling as well as the $3.99 crowd. Given the group of writers at $3.99, we may be creating a bit of our own price brand...

The Daring Novelist said...

Yes, the "also bought" algorithms are another element -- although I'm not paying attention to that while I'm staying away from marketing.

The main reason for doing this right now, for me, is that I'm not doing anything else, so I can see more about the results in a vacuum. At the same time, I won't really be able to tell much about what that price can do in conjunction with a good plan.

On Monday I'm going to talk a little about my covers -- and how I'm thinking of doing a new retro cover for Have Gun, Will Play. Eventually. IMHO the price experiment would be best if done in conjunction with a revamp of covers and blurbs to look more commercial.... but I'm not doing htat right now.