BRANDING AND PRICE POINTS
I’m running a fever at present, and I’ve spent most of the preceding 24 hours in bed or doped-up in a chair, so please forgive any slower-than-usual mental processes that may express themselves in my contribution this month.
My wife and I have been analyzing price points in the author-published market in my genres (Military Science Fiction and Space Opera), as we do every six months or so. We’re trying to price my books in the ‘sweet spot’ that maximizes income, but doesn’t cost more than other books competing for the same readership. It’s always an interesting exercise.
It’s been made even more interesting this week by the release of the latest Author Earnings report. Hugh Howey and ‘Data Guy’ have found that the Big 5 publishers have increased the price of their e-books across the board – but because they’re now dictating agency terms to Amazon, the latter is no longer discounting their books, so consumers have to pay the full charge. As a result, not surprisingly, the sales of their now-more-expensive e-books have taken a plunge – and independent author-publishers have taken full advantage, increasing their lower-priced sales accordingly.
I think this has been reflected in Amazon’s KDP Pricing Support tool for authors using its services. You can use it to analyze books similar to yours and see the way market prices are trending. Here, for example, is how the tool analyzes my book ‘Stand Against The Storm’, published in February this year and currently priced at $3.99 for the e-book version.
As you can see, if we adopted Amazon’s recommended price point of $5.99, the tool projects we’d sell 30% fewer books, but make 10% more money. A compromise price point of $4.99, according to the tool, would give us 5% more income but 15% fewer sales. Quite frankly, I’m of two minds as to whether the small increase in income is worth the loss in sales. I regard sales volume as an essential part of building my base of ‘1,000 True Fans’ (and hopefully many more) for the longer term. I’m really not so sure it’s worth damaging the expansion of that base in the long term (by restricting sales volume) in the interests of a short-term (and not very high) income gain. I’d be interested to hear what other Mad Genius Club authors and readers have to say about that. Please let us hear your views in Comments.
The other aspect of this, of course, is the question of branding. If you haven’t considered your brand before, Wikipedia has a useful introduction to the subject, as does About.com. As authors we want to persuade readers to buy our brand, not just one of our books. We want to develop a following that will look for a book with our name on the cover and buy it sight unseen, because they know we’ll deliver what they like, and they don’t mind paying their hard-earned dollars to us because they expect to get value for money.
The trouble is, a genre develops its own generic rules and styles that must inevitably affect our personal brand as authors. We daren’t position ourselves too far out of the mainstream, or we risk being overlooked by readers who are searching for reading material that meets the norms of the field. (The exception, of course, is the author who’s become so successful and developed so strong a fan base that he can go off at a tangent and take his loyal followers with him. They like him enough to tolerate, or even embrace, deviation from the norms of the genre. I’m sure we all aspire to that, but I doubt whether there’s more than a dozen authors in military science fiction and space opera who’ve developed that level of support.)
Having said that, I must also admit that there are exceptions that appear to prove the rule. For example, I’ve come across several crossover books from the romance or erotica genres that intrude into science fiction bestseller lists. (To name but two, see the works of Erin Tate or Anna Hackett.) Their covers are obviously designed more from the perspective of the first two genres than the last – so much so that the covers alone make me absolutely sure that I’m never going to spend my money on them. However, their success in the sales charts indicates that they certainly are having an impact. The question is, why? I suspect the answer is that their primary customers are readers of romance and erotica, who are ‘judging a book by its cover’ and buying what’s familiar to them. In the process, they’re driving the books up the SF sales charts at the same time. Of course, the authors aren’t concerned about details like that – they just want to sell their books, and clearly they’re doing pretty well at it. (I think my wife would laugh so hard at the thought of me trying to write a romantic or erotic SF novel, she’d have a hernia!)
Be that as it may, I suggest that the price point for one’s books depends as much on one’s brand as it does on one’s genre. If the top 20, or top 40, bestsellers in a genre show a pattern where a third to a half of them are clustered around a particular price point, that’s a pretty good guide to where to price your own book – unless, of course, you’re a new author trying to build your fan base from scratch. You’ll probably have to start at a lower price point to do that. (I started at $2.99, and waited until my fourth book before moving to $3.99.) If your personal brand is well-established, with a loyal fan base, you can probably price your books above that popular price point and get away with it; but it’s risky. If you allow your readers to get the idea that you’re greedy, or no longer offering value for their money, I suspect your sales will fall off very quickly indeed.
I’m still considering my options price-wise. My next book comes out within the next two weeks. Do I want to price it at $4.99, and move the prices of my other books accordingly? Or do I want to leave it at $3.99 and go for volume over short-term income? Decisions, decisions…