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How much for the liddle book?

Or the mathematics of selling your literary children for a living.
There may be authors out there to whom writing is just a job, and the book or story, once done, is no more than any other production line item. But for the vast majority of us, those words are precious. So precious and perfect in our eyes that it is hard to accept edits at times, but that is another subject. We value them, want them to flourish, want them to be read and enjoyed.

And then we sell them.

So: how much for liddle book?

“Let the free market decide!” I hear the chorus.

Now, that’d be a great idea… if there was one.

Let’s just take a moment to consider what a free market is and how it works, and why. Take swords, which are useful, desirable objects in some societies. In a free market, swordsmiths sell willingly to willing buyers. The swordsmith will sell for what the buyer is prepared to pay. If there are lots of swordsmiths, with more swords than customers, the price dives, and swordsmiths go broke or go do something else. In the nature of things there will then be somewhat more customers than swords. So the price will rise, which means that would-be or ex-swordsmiths get into the business, and the number of swords rises… and after a while it more or less stabilizes at a level which allows the average swordsmith to earn enough to live on to the point where he would not be better off making plowshares. It gets a bit more complex because not all swords are alike, and for any industry to thrive in a free market, even new entrants have to earn enough to live on ramen and in leaky attics while they learn their trade, but in a nutshell, that’s it. Great swordsmiths survive the downturns, because their swords are in demand, even when demand exceeds supply, and the system gets rid of the less successful. Gradually, the swords made improve, because the system gives wide opportunity… and keeps the best on merit. Supply balances more or less with demand, and long term average price is set by the point at which the creator/grower can make a living doing that.

The minute it becomes ‘swordsmithing is an honorable trade, brings pride and honor and power to me and my family, I love doing it more than anything else’ and family, partner, the second job or the state provide so that Joe-the-swordsmith can go on producing swords even when supply exceeds demand, and the price is too low to pay for materials and to live on… the free market is in the toilet. Joe has just screwed it for everyone. The price of swords then has nothing to do with the free market, and neither does the price of books. And it is lose-lose equations for swordsmiths and sword-buyers. The good swordsmith who doesn’t have the supportive rich family/trust fund/ spouse/state dole system… can’t survive in an environment where Joe-the-Swordsmith can sell swords for less than he can live on. And no matter how good they are, Fred-newbie can’t really survive without the same. So the sword business is taken over by those who can get subsidized. Yes, a handful of really good swordsmiths do emerge who produce great blades, but the average sword is worse quality, and a huge number of great swordsmiths never even get started. And when it comes to war the customers find they’ve lost big time… In fact a lot take to axes or guns instead, which doesn’t help swordsmithing business one bit.

Most of this holds good for writing (except we added middlemen in). Let’s take a few figures to start working out what in a real free market without that subsidy, your words are worth. Now I believe the average author produces around a book a year. More or less 100K words. Exceptions like Sarah can do much more. I have slowed down – battle fatigue — and now do more or less 1K a day on average (actually it bobs around, from 5K to 0 when editing or researching), and now I do take days off. But let’s work on that 100K figure, figure that they’re in general not working more than 8 hours a day and 250 days a year. Yes, I would dream of those work conditions, and so would Sarah, and a number of authors who make superhuman efforts, but it is where 90% of the people calling themselves authors today are. The poverty line $11344 (not that these figures are absolutes and that someone in urban California has the same costs as someone in rural Texas – but merely as a point of calculation.) So they’d have to be earning – or charging 11.4 cents a word not be in absolute poverty. That’s a pretty tough life, so working on federal minimum wage (which yes, I know doesn’t apply universally) they’d need to earn 15 cents a word. Or if they lived in Australia like me where Cost of Living reflects a much higher wages average, and AU $17.50 is the minimum wage – 35 cents a word for the writer to not need some kind of subsidy (either from a second job or spouse, or the dole) to make those bare minimums. In effect that subsidy with books has gone to publishing and retail, as they have been able to swell their margins and costs on the back of it. It has not necessarily ‘saved’ the consumer a cent.

Advances for new authors tend to be, on average 3-5K. They will rarely earn out, and we don’t know if this is real or not. It could be. Of course there are the darlings that picked up and given huge advances and all the bells and whistles – and they too are subsidized, but by publishers (who bleed it from that second job Joe-5K-advance has to hold down, and the readers who pay more.) But that means they’re earning 5 cents a word at best. Oddly that is what Baen are paying for shorts from the likes of me.

But you’re an independent author. What has the price of word-slaves got to do with you? You’re putting your work up on Amazon, where hopefully, it will do well for you. But what to price it at? You can’t go lower than 99 cents, and if you price it lower than $2.99 – 65% of the sale price goes to Amazon – which is still a lot better than you got from your traditional publisher. Over $2.99, you get 70%
Or in figures – just under 35 cents on the cheapest or $2.09 as the cheapest high rate.

Or to assume you’re still writing 100K words – and selling 20 5K word shorts… on which you make 35 cents each – you need to sell 1620 copies of each story to make that.

Trust me on this – 10 copies of each story a month isn’t bad. It does peak and tail off, but you could see that in 13 and half years. Which means if you keep this up year after year for 14 years – living on heaven knows what in the meanwhile, would have the current average author earning the poverty level. After that you start to creep up.

From the free-market point of view, the 99 cent short is promo tool. If 100 K worth of shorts is to get you to an annual poverty level wage in 5 years (which is pretty big ask for most people to survive) – you need to make 94 cents a story, or charge $2.70 a short. At which point you might as well add another 29 cents, and you’d get to poverty line a lot faster (2. 26 years) – if you can still sell 10 copies a month of each story.

Experience says you’d have to keep adding stories, as the old ones sell less.

Oh and the equation for novels is different, as you may sell more copies, but NOT if you hope realize the same per word – You’d have to charge $26.85 a book – hardcover rates for an e-book.

Of course that is one way around of looking at it. The other is my preferred approach: what is a book worth to the reader? What is a short worth to a reader? Now here is one take on that – I’ve excised the name but it was from Bolg, PI: Away with the Fairies… where the reviewer was kind enough to give the novella 2 stars because of the price…

$2.99 for 60 pages? January 18, 2013
By XYZ

I enjoy this author but not at this cost. I have noticed several HB authors that think a short story is worth real money. Is 60 pages a novella? There are a lot of competent complete books at this price range and my money will go to them.

Or to quote another of the same reviewer –

I am reading the series because the price point is right. It is a page turner and does a fair job of setting life as it really was but the authors ability to create complete and deep charaters is limited

Now obviously this is someone deciding on price-point what he is prepared to read. He’s buying cheap swords IMO.

Hmm. Now a coffee – depending on where you buy it, and how good it is – you’re going to be lucky to get away with $1.35 and you could pay $5 and think you’re being ripped unless it very good. And it lasts at best 10 minutes you have some caffeine buzz which may last you an hour, and some urine which usually not much value. Any short (3-5K words) that last longer than a cup of coffee, and leaves you feeling good for as long, and can be enjoyed again later – unlike the urine, is surely worth at least as much?
A novella – in this case 20K words – is surely worth a little more?

And then a novel – I’ve had this ‘valued’ at two comparative points – a movie ticket or a couple of beers (presumably in a bar) – that was back when books averaged 50-60K words – and a paperback was literally competing for beer money. Maybe badly edited amateurish novels are best compared to bottle-store takeaways and $2 is a fair price point, and probably a comparable entertainment value. It seems like it would have to be a short novel or at least 4 beers to take the same time and possibly pleasure, if less diuretic effect, to me. So I’d vote for at least $4 for a cheap takeaway 60K book by a name I knew, if not one I loved. But a ‘bar price’ … well doesn’t that depend on the quality of the beer and the quality of the bar? Very like books IMO, which would probably have me price a novel at $6.00 – just to say this is not rubbish beer… reading. Of course if you want to get p*ssed cheap for entertainment and don’t care what it tastes like or what the place is like, it won’t have much appeal, and can I recommend the homebrew? Some of it is good. Some may make you puke on your boots… the same as some books.
Movies – hey, I did see one once. Really. I believe $7.40 is the US average. Is it worth more than a book to you?

So what is your take – what is a price point that will support authors, and be acceptable to readers? And just how much can we afford to give the middleman?

38 Comments
  1. The main problem is that everyone will have a different opinion about what a book is worth. Some won’t pay .99c because it’s too cheap and can’t possibly be any good. Others live on all the free books available and wouldn’t dream of paying a cent.

    The first book in my series is normally priced at .99 cents to get people into the series. The rest are $2.99, $3.99 and 2.99. I figure if they buy book 2 and like it they will pay the bit extra for book 3. Book 4 is only 70k words so I put the price of that one back down.

    Would I like to raise the price? Yes. Do I think people will pay? Hmmm… People who buy book 1 seem to get the rest, but would they even buy book 1 if the others were all $6? No idea.

    April 8, 2013
    • Scott, what I said was 99 cents was effective for promotion, but not much else. Part of the problem is the internet – and Amazon – have become a very big slush-pile. Worse, a slush pile you’re expected to pay to read, instead of the other way around.

      April 8, 2013
  2. I’m a very heavy SF reader, one of those who had 800 paperbacks on his bookshelf by age 21. But as the price of the books kept creeping up, my consumption dropped off to less than 4-8 per year. I experimented with e-books, both on a Palm and reading on the computer with Baen’s library – but the early experience was weak – and hard to justify paying a price only slightly below the paper price without getting the paper.

    I went Kindle a year and half ago, which quickly expanded with a 2nd Kindle, iPad, and then Kindle apps on smartphones (and my now teenager’s smartphones).

    We’re picking up around 4-8 new titles a month, and I’m probably up to around 150 Kindle titles. I’ve experimented with various authors and price points. Here’s my take and what I’m buying:

    – Free is great to get me started on a series for the first book. I’ve probably gotten onto about 8 series that way. The former Baen Free Library effectively got me started on about 10 author as well, and has introduced me to a number of authors in the Kindle world.

    – I’ll try a $0.99 – $1.99 book if it seems even slightly interesting. Correspondingly, at this price point I don’t mind editing problems or weak research, I’ll overlook them and go with the flow if the story remains interesting. And a good short story is fine at this price. Similarly if my teens come and say they want to pick up a title at this price, they get an automatic “ok”. 20% of my e-library.

    – At $2.99 I expect a decent product, and for a time I tried to target my purchases primarily here. The reasoning is simple – I like to read a lot, and naturally I’d prefer to purchase 2 or 3 “books” for the former price of 1. Still, at this price point I’m easily willing to take a chance on a book that seems interesting or an author I haven’t read before. You can price at $2.99 to get me on your works or series, and I’ll continue a series that’s getting weak at this price. I will, however, glance at the ratings and aren’t going to buy it if it has less than 3 1/2 stars at this price. If my teens ask for a title at this price, I do a brief glance at the ratings before giving the ok. 47% of my e-library.

    – $3.99 seems to have become the lowest price point for a professional product (that’s not an intro or priced to get me in). I accept that and find this a reasonable price that will not slow down my purchasing. At this price point I will look at the ratings and take a Preview before I buy, especially if I don’t know the author. I won’t pay $3.99 for a short story or something with less than 180 effective paperback pages. If my teens ask for a title at this price, I want a brief explanation and to be sure they’re actually going to read it (not a passing fancy). 20% of my e-library.

    – $4.99 to $6.99. An author I’ve read, a title I’ve heard reviewed or recommended to me, a topic I particularly like. This price moves the purchase from quick and trivial to a considered purchase. Now I’m reading a few reviews, I’m definitely taking a preview. I expect a fully edited professional publication. If my teens asked for one in this price range, I’m sending a preview to them and making them come back and ask again or to help pay for it themselves. 10% of my library though growing as $5.99 seems to be settling in as the professionally edited known author operating price – and I’m ok with that though would definitely be buying more volume at $4.99.

    – $7.99 to $9.99. Rare purchases, probably not in the SF / Fantasy genre or even the fiction genre (examples I’ve purchased in this range include Freakenomics, Where the West Ends, Start Up Nation). If the teens come wanting a book in this category, they have to pay for it themselves. 3% of my library.

    That’s my feedback. Keep on writing, if you can make a living at it!

    April 8, 2013
    • Thank you for such a detailed bit of feedback. In a way it parrallels my own reading and value-setting. I used to trawl the second-hand book shops, the book exchanges, the library for NEW authors and reads. I wasn’t prepared to pay much (or anything) for an unproved product. Once an author had their hooks in me… it was a different matter. There are a handful of authors I still buy in hardback. Some -very few – I would pay even more for certain very special books. But actually, each author had _their_ price. There is no such thing as a one size fits all price.

      April 8, 2013
  3. I’m a very heavy SF reader, one of those who had 800 paperbacks on his bookshelf by age 21. But as the price of the books kept creeping up, my consumption dropped off to less than 4-8 per year. I experimented with e-books, both on a Palm and reading on the computer with Baen’s library – but the early experience was weak – and hard to justify paying a price only slightly below the paper price without getting the paper.

    I went Kindle a year and half ago, which quickly expanded with a 2nd Kindle, iPad, and then Kindle apps on smartphones (and my now teenager’s smartphones).

    We’re picking up around 4-8 new titles a month, and I’m probably up to around 150 Kindle titles. I’ve experimented with various authors and price points. Here’s my take and what I’m buying:

    – Free is great to get me started on a series for the first book. I’ve probably gotten onto about 8 series that way. The former Baen Free Library effectively got me started on about 10 author as well, and has introduced me to a number of authors in the Kindle world.

    – I’ll try a $0.99 – $1.99 book if it seems even slightly interesting. Correspondingly, at this price point I don’t mind editing problems or weak research, I’ll overlook them and go with the flow if the story remains interesting. And a good short story is fine at this price. Similarly if my teens come and say they want to pick up a title at this price, they get an automatic “ok”. 20% of my e-library.

    – At $2.99 I expect a decent product, and for a time I tried to target my purchases primarily here. The reasoning is simple – I like to read a lot, and naturally I’d prefer to purchase 2 or 3 “books” for the former price of 1. Still, at this price point I’m easily willing to take a chance on a book that seems interesting or an author I haven’t read before. You can price at $2.99 to get me on your works or series, and I’ll continue a series that’s getting weak at this price. I will, however, glance at the ratings and aren’t going to buy it if it has less than 3 1/2 stars at this price. If my teens ask for a title at this price, I do a brief glance at the ratings before giving the ok. 47% of my e-library.

    – $3.99 seems to have become the lowest price point for a professional product (that’s not an intro or priced to get me in). I accept that and find this a reasonable price that will not slow down my purchasing. At this price point I will look at the ratings and take a Preview before I buy, especially if I don’t know the author. I won’t pay $3.99 for a short story or something with less than 180 effective paperback pages. If my teens ask for a title at this price, I want a brief explanation and to be sure they’re actually going to read it (not a passing fancy). 20% of my e-library.

    – $4.99 to $6.99. An author I’ve read, a title I’ve heard reviewed or recommended to me, a topic I particularly like. This price moves the purchase from quick and trivial to a considered purchase. Now I’m reading a few reviews, I’m definitely taking a preview. I expect a fully edited professional publication. If my teens asked for one in this price range, I’m sending a preview to them and making them come back and ask again or to help pay for it themselves. 10% of my library though growing as $5.99 seems to be settling in as the professionally edited known author operating price – and I’m ok with that though would definitely be buying more volume at $4.99.

    – $7.99 to $9.99. Rare purchases, probably not in the SF / Fantasy genre or even the fiction genre (examples I’ve purchased in this range include Freakenomics, Where the West Ends, Start Up Nation). If the teens come wanting a book in this category, they have to pay for it themselves. 3% of my library.

    That’s my feedback. Keep on writing, if you can make a living at it! Sadly not every profession continues to get the support for that to be the case. The key question becomes, can you turn out the professional product, get the readership (buyers) without having to pay all the middle men (which are providing less and less value for their take)?

    April 8, 2013
  4. masgramondou #

    I think there’s a decent case to be made for a $4.99 or $5.99 price point for a 100k+ word novel. Sure I can see that you want to have book 1 in a series cheaper ($2.99) but $5.99 is significantly less than a paperback and I agree shows that you have confidence in the value of what you are selling – something that you don’t necessarily get at a $2.99 price point.

    April 8, 2013
    • true. Part of this is a shill game, based on making the reader confident. Ergo, a good cover, good blurbs, a number of reviews, and a reasonable price.

      April 8, 2013
  5. Ori Pomerantz #

    From the buyer’s perspective, there are two big issues:

    1. Competition.
    1.A. Competition with other authors. I don’t care how much you supplement your income by hunting and gathering, you will never be able to compete with the ghost of Kipling on price.

    1.B. Competition with other entertainment choices. Going to the movies is relatively expensive. But I can get for $1.06 a tablet game that lets me be a plague and attempt to wipe out humanity. Or I can go on youtube and find pretty good videos for free.

    2. Lack of differentiation. I’d be willing to pay more for a Dave Freer book than J “I heard about this guy once” Random Reader would. But you need to give me some token so I won’t feel like a sucker. This is like adding 1 cent worth of whipped cream to a cup of coffee and selling it for $0.50 more.

    What I would suggest is a Kickstarter (http://www.kickstarter.com/) campaign, with these premium levels:

    Reader – $2.99. You get the book when it is finally published, and the good feeling you gave the author an interest free loan during the time he worked on it.

    Snerker – $5.99. You get the book 2 months ahead of publication, and know all the snerks in advance. You can act superior to people who haven’t read it yet.

    Line editor – $11.99. The above, plus you get access to a message board where the author publishes snippets of the book as they are written. You get to read them, discuss them with the author, and offer minor edits.

    Editor – $23.99. The above, plus you get to see the outline, and discuss it with the author. Especially useful for people who want to learn to become authors, to see structural editing in action

    Sweet spot – $47.99. The above, plus you get a packet of Madagascar Chocolate.

    Tucker – $95.99. The above, plus you get tuckerized (limited number of spots).

    April 8, 2013
    • Sarah’s trying this out. It’ll be interesting to see how she does.

      April 8, 2013
    • Answer: ONLY AMERICANS NEED APPLY. Kickstarter is US residents only.

      April 8, 2013
      • So? I am a US resident. Do you want me to do it, by subcontracting to you? You’ll just have to pay me 0% plus expenses (wiring fees, I assume).

        April 8, 2013
        • hmm. Thank you. I may yet end up coming to you with a proposal 🙂

          April 8, 2013
      • http://www.indiegogo.com/
        My son in Taiwan is looking into this for his music.

        April 8, 2013
  6. The good thing about Indie is that there’s no gatekeeper imposing their preferences on what is available.

    The bad thing about Indie is that there’s no gatekeeper saying “Nice professional work, charge $7.99 for this piece.” “Bah, call this a story? Throw it on the trash heap and try again.” “Well, I’ll approve it as an apprentice work, you can charge $.99 for it.”

    Everyone is judging their own stuff.

    But you can find anything, if you’re willing to dig.

    Never mind the clumps of hair. They’re a result of the writers running in circles, screaming that they don’t know how to find their potential fans.

    April 8, 2013
    • I think either better algorythms (“you may like”) or commendation sites are going to arrive in the next while. The trouble with digging is its like slush reading.

      April 8, 2013
  7. This is an interesting question. Now I have one for you. How many people are like me? I own a Nook (STOP ROLLING YOUR EYES!!! I like it.) but the main reason I bought one was to get really cheap books and because I wanted a tablet PC. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a Barnes and Noble member and the discount they were offering at the time was equivalent to what I had paid for my membership.

    At any rate…

    My point, which I have effectively avoid thus far, is that I only buy books at $2.99 or less. If I’m going to pay $4-6 dollars I may as well buy the book in DTF and have it to show off on my bookshelf. I’m not doing that to be mean or cheap. I own quite a few of yours, Dave, and one of my favorites (at least so far) is the series that started with Dragon’s Ring, but I’d rather have the DTF if I’m going to spend money. Maybe that’s just me, but that’s the way I see it.

    April 8, 2013
    • You make a good, valuable point there, Jim. E-book should never exceed or equal the physical. so noted.

      April 8, 2013
  8. Okay. First, I know Akiva is outside the US — this might seem like a small point, but I think it skews price-points. I’m not sure about Jim McCoy — but here is my experience.

    I started out throwing all my short stories (well, the less than 1/4 of them I’ve put up so far. I need to get myself on a schedule!) up for 99c and for a while was making decent money — 20 shorts bringing in around 50 a month. Not bad. And then it crashed. I mean, crashed big time. I started making around 10 a month or sometimes as much as twenty. The boards were full of “amazon is stealing our money” and I didn’t know what to think.

    And then people started telling me to raise my short stories to 2.99. I thought this was crazy. Look, I’m frugal to the point of pain — partly because Dan works in computers aka “this job might go away tomorrow” (the industry has been a mess since 2001 and was none to stable before) and I work in writing, aka “may I starve a little slower?”

    Of course, if everyone lived like me, there would be no new clothing stores, (we buy used) only a very few new bookstores other than Amazon (we’re getting that way) and there would probably only be bottom-line restaurants (we go to good ones once a year or so, but not enough to keep it going.)

    So I thought “The rest of the world is not me, and tons of people pay $4.99 for a coffee every day. Fine. I’ll try. I can always put the price back.”

    I did. and… well, a miracle occurred. All of a sudden I was making $100 a month. And I was selling more copies PER STORY.

    I’m told this is because people filter out “utter dreck” as being under 2.99. I also then realized that if I knew the author I WOULD pay 2.99 to 3.99 without blinking for something I read in under an hour (I got upset if I read it under ten minutes!)

    So, it’s now been six months at higher prices. How does it stack up? Earnings have just taken another spike up — but that’s something else — but for now, here’s what I learned:
    -2.99 short stories sell better than 99c short stories. (Caveat here is that VERY FEW of my short stories are under 6k words. I tend to write long, being a natural novelist.)
    – the more I have out there, the better it sells. While I haven’t noticed older stories selling less — it helps to have something new to call attention to your corpus.
    – having something free every other week helps. It doesn’t matter if it’s something that’s been free before.

    April 8, 2013
    • – Some stories CONSISTENTLY sell better than others. Weirdly — not? — these are stories without the benefit of editorial blessing. I.e., for me what sells REALLY well are the space opera shorts I couldn’t give away. Is this because they’re in a future history and the novels from Baen are doing well? Likely.
      – relating to “I figured out I was buying stories for 2.99 even though I’d have sworn I wasn’t.” There is an effect to the 2.99 short story that is like he candybar in the grocery isle. You know it’s overpriced. You know you shouldn’t. But it’s been a long day, you’re tired, and it’s less than 5 dollars, which seems to be the breaking point for that in the US. You succumb.
      For that effect to be effective, it needs to be a “neat” candybar — well and professionally wrapped, etc. and in the isle of a reputable store. If you charge .99c it puts you in the discount bin of the reject store where things go that didn’t sell originally. And you end up not selling at 99c because people know it’s stale.
      Also, it needs to be clearly marked. I put “short story” everywhere on that thing. Because if people think they’re buying a novel, you’re lost.
      – there is a peculiar disorientation that sets in with the kindle. They’ve determined people read slower on the kindle, and this seems to be true for me. Which means you’ll think a story/book is longer than it is. Dan and I ended up calculating this and figuring out this helps you price things higher on the kindle.
      This seems to be true as “novels” are becoming around 60k again. (I was shocked to find some of my favorites from the golden age were about 40k words long. The creep up was caused by printing/distribution margins.)
      – I haven’t tried this, but I’ve run into authors MAKING A LIVING — new authors — off … well… I still haven’t had the NERVE to try it. They’ll write a novel whose plot lends itself to installments (like, say, the old saint novels) some as long at 10k or as short as 2k per installment. Put each installment out at 2.99, once a week. Then put out the full novel for 9.99. People buy both the installments and the compilation. From what they tell me. It seems so much like daylight robbery, I haven’t tried it.
      -relating to “the revenue seems headed up, though the paint isn’t dry.” I’ve recently got back ALL of my copyrights except Baen and started by putting up my Shakespeare trilogy. Because it’s over ten years old and has been published by both Ace and Baen in webscriptions, I put it up for $4.99 for individual books, and 9.99 for the omnibus. (the 4.99 is what I’ve seen for old books, but Dan tells me to try 3.99.) The individual books aren’t doing very well, but that might be because I biased the purchase price heavily towards the Omnibus. the Omnibus –otoh — is selling very well. How well? About 30 copies since it went up at the end of April. Setting the world on fire? No. but it’s making me more than those books have made me in YEARS.

      April 8, 2013
      • I will be putting up other older books and some new ones — including all of the musketeer mystery series, which I will then continue, as well as my old fantasy, etc. The prices will vary. I intend to charge 9.99 for witchfinder because it’s a large book, and because I intend to pay a professional editor and cover artist. I’ll let you know how that goes. (The sixth musketeer mystery will likely be 6.99 because that’s what I think a paperback of normal size should be.)
        Anyway, sorry for the gargantuan comments but — I think I’m the person with most experience/properties out, so I thought I’d tell what I’ve found and heard. I will do a post on it once the novels are up and I’ve seen what they do.
        One thing I DO KNOW and it is that the more stuff you have up there, the more each piece sells. It seems the only effective means of self promotion.

        April 8, 2013
    • Just a point on being outside the US, I buy off Amazon’s US site for ebooks and thebookdepository (UK site) for paper books. My local stores are selling English SF paperbacks for $17. Which is another reason ebooks are such a boon for me.

      There is something to be said for ‘if it’s priced too low it must be low quality and not worth my time’ mentality.

      April 8, 2013
      • Yes, but I know the price points will be different outside the country. And I know all about excessive price for books. US paperbacks cost about $30 in Portugal when I was growing up, due to import duties, etc. So… I started trolling hotel lobbies. Lots of US tourists abandoned the books they brought to read on vacation, in favor of local artifacts, etc. The NICE ones would set them near the trashcan but not in the trash. Foreign language students treated it like a free book depot. (I SAID I was cheap.) All the same, I think books in the US then ran around $5 a paperback, which was not a lot, BUT for me was a week’s earnings. If I’d had access to ebooks at that price, I’d have bought but very few, because… well… differential in cost of living.

        April 8, 2013
    • Well, part it is that readers started realizing that a lot was unreadable slush. Buy on price get your money’s worth sort of thing. I do agree that 1)you need new stuff up often. 2) people believe price = quality.

      While there is no such thing as a free lunch, people keep hoping and trying – and good authors found in the free bin do add to that quest.

      April 8, 2013
    • masgramondou #

      So, it’s now been six months at higher prices. How does it stack up? Earnings have just taken another spike up — but that’s something else — but for now, here’s what I learned:
      -2.99 short stories sell better than 99c short stories. (Caveat here is that VERY FEW of my short stories are under 6k words. I tend to write long, being a natural novelist.)

      It seems to me that a (20k+ ) short story (is that a Novella? ) is perfectly fine at $2.99. The one thing that would probably help people who may wish to piss and moan about being shortchanged is that the length is clearly shown in the description (“This 25,000 word story tells us how Bolg PI handles a split personality…”) because people frequently don’t read the tabular details about the book, author, publisher etc.

      Oh and I think Bolg would be a good example of a situation where you could bundle 3 stories together and sell them at 5.99 so skinflints can decide to buy 3 stories for the price of 2

      April 8, 2013
      • No. Short stories 6k. if it’s more than that it’s 3.99. I will confess that because I love my fans I slam the shorts into collections where they work out to 99c a piece. And those sell VERY well.

        April 8, 2013
      • Francis – the plan with Bolg is that I will write another two stories, bundle them with some linking text, and have a picaresque novel for sale. I will release one of the stories as a short, and sell the whole bundle at 5.99 – or you can pay more and buy each short, bar 1. I don’t know how that will work, but that’s the idea.

        April 8, 2013
      • Oh – a Novella -as defined by SFWA Nebula categories…
        less than 7500 words — Short Story
        7500-17500 — Novelette
        17500-40 000 — Novella
        40 000 + Novel.

        April 8, 2013
  9. TXRed #

    I went with $3.00 for a stand alone short story, $5.00 for an 80k word short story collection, and will go with $4.00 for a shorter (45k word) story collection. The next volume will go out at $5.00 because it is another 80k word collection. I took the numbers from Dean Wesley Smith’s discussions about under-priced books.

    April 8, 2013
    • Yes. I wonder about the 99 cent thing. Any opinions out there?

      April 8, 2013
      • pancakeloach #

        I vaguely recall that retailers have studied the psychology of shopping quite intensively, and found that although $3.99 and $4.00 are virtually the same, customers FEEL that the (n-1 + .99) price is lower than the (n.00) price… when really, it’s not significantly lower at all. That effect is probably even more pronounced in the “impulse buy” category, which I expect short stories would fall into.

        Americans, at least, are probably habituated into expecting all standard prices to be some fraction of a dollar, so an integer price may not be in the seller’s best interest. (connotations of bargain bin items) Interestingly enough, the one major retailer I worked for never priced anything ending in 99 cents; it was always something like $4.95 or $7.89.

        April 8, 2013
        • Sounds like more customer psychology to me – ‘everyone knows .99 is a trick, so…’ and mightwork, methinks.

          April 8, 2013
    • Laura M #

      I’m going to be the random experiment here. I’m an unknown putting up a first novel, hopefully by summer, and I plan to charge $5.99. My thinking is this. First, I, too, am following Smith’s advice about not under-pricing, and, also, I’m remembering how Sarah started selling more short stories after she raised the prices. (Ok, ok, I was one of the people buying them after she raised the price, and I knew why she did it from her blog and still I went and bought more. The fact that it made no sense was very persuasive to me.) Also, my novel is over 120,000 words, and I’m told I’ll have a niche audience of lawyers and/or space policy wonks. I figure the people who might find it interesting can spend $6. I’ve proofed it many times, and I’ve gotten copy edits from someone else. Admittedly, I’d like to have a larger audience, of course. So, I’ll put it on sale after a few months. If dropping the price makes the volume go up, I’ll stay there.

      I’ll let you all know how it goes.

      April 10, 2013
  10. Chris L #

    Hey Dave, If you had ever watched Bear Grylls attempt to survive in the desert, you would know that urine is both a great tasting beverage on a hot day, and fantastic for evaporative cooling.

    April 8, 2013
    • yes, I am told Ghandi fond a value in drinking it. You first, Chris.

      April 8, 2013
  11. Dawn H #

    I bought Sharon Lee and Steve Miller’s newer Liaden Chapbooks, after Baen had brought out many of the older ones in two large omnibuses on Websubscriptions, for $2.99 on Amazon. I was in a big enough Liaden kick at the time that I went and paid it, but I also thought that even for two well written stories in a bundle (I don’t know if they technically count as short stories or novelettes) that I’d _rather_ pay less, probably $1.99 or $2.50.

    I did buy a couple of Baen monthly bundles recently, including the one that had Sarah’s A Few Good Men and paid the bundle price when I was really only interested in one of the new titles. On the other hand, I figured that many of the books also in the bundle as paperback releases I’d be happy to have as e-copies and decided that while the price was a bit more than I like to pay for sight unseen, it wasn’t unreasonable.

    In summation, I’m not willing to pay more than paper for an e-book. I won’t impulse buy over $5. Give me a book at $5.99, especially an e-book, and I’ll agonize over it for days before I decide to buy if I don’t talk myself out of it first. I’m much more likely to buy the $6 e-book directly from Baen or NRP than I am from Amazon or B&N because of their customer service and accessibility.

    I think for e-book pricing a novel or short story anthology (~6 to 10 stories depending on length) should be around $5 US, a single short story around $1.99, two together $2.50 or $2.99, a novelette/novella/short novel in the $2.99-$4.50 range. $1.00 is a deal that I’m willing to take a gamble on or will spend to get a book as an e-copy that I already have in paper.

    Dawn

    April 8, 2013
  12. bearcat #

    I’m probably not your typical ebook customer, so my opinion my not be worth as much because a) I don’t particularly like ebooks and b) I’m tighter than bark on a tree. Now don’t get me wrong, I read more ebooks now than I do deadtree, but I prefer deadtree, and if I can get them for the same price I am going to go deadtree every time. To be perfectly honest I don’t usually buy shorts, because I don’t particularly like most of them, so you can price them at whatever, unless it is free or something special in a series I am already reading I’m probably not going to buy it. Novelletes, well maybe, if it sounds interesting, and again if it is related to a series I am reading. Novellas I like, and am perfectly willing to pay 2.99 for but not much more unless it is something special. Novels I am willing to pay up to $5 or so for, over that and I am probably just going to buy a used paper copy if I can find one, it’ll probably be cheaper, and like I said I prefer paper. If you want $6 for it, and it costs $8 new in paper, I’m probably going to buy paper, if it isn’t available in paper and I really want it I might go $6-7, but you better be an author I already know, and a book I am looking forward to, or you aren’t going to get my money. There are a few authors I will buy in hardback, but they can be counted on one hand, and even them I not willing to pay that kind of price for a ebook.

    A question, how do the authors make out on the paper books through Createspace? I ask because if an author is someone I like and expect to reread the book a few times I will pay significantly more for a paper copy, because I prefer reading on paper, (*clears throat* Sabrina, you still haven’t got your newest out in paper) but sometimes wonder how the authors make out on this.

    April 9, 2013
    • Unless we’re pricing them really high, Authors make a lot more from the ebook than the createspace print books.

      For example, ideally I’d like to price the Sharper Security trade paperback in the $6.99 range, but at $8, I make $1 via Amazon and $0 via any other the other distribution channel.

      As a result, I have it at $12.97 for someone who really wants a physical copy, while the ebook is $4.99. (100K words, ~200 pages). Hopefully that makes the ebook look like a much better deal, because I make just as much on it.

      I’ve had a little success getting Amazon to discount it when B&N puts it on sale, because when they do, I still get my full cut of the sale.

      On the other hand, I can buy authors copies from createspace for about $3, so anything I can sell personally, at a signing, or direct to a local bookstore, actually makes me a good profit, even if I discount it heavily.

      However, as more books in the Sharper Security series are published later in the year, I’ll drop the ebook price to entice folks into the series, probably to $2.99. I have a couple of short stories in the same series, so cross-selling those helps the books as well as the books helping those.

      I’ll eventually drop the trade paperback edition price, but as you can see above, I can’t really drop it very far. It has to be priced at $10.50 just to earn me $1 from sales via B&N and other “extended” distributions beyond Amazon.com.

      April 12, 2013

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