The 99-cents Dilemma

Independent author Derek Blass (whom I thank in the acknowledgements of State of Grace and whose Enemy is Blue is worth your time to read) retweeted today a blog he wrote back in December regarding eBook pricing for indie authors. It got me thinking again about the issue of pricing for my own books and the tricky nature of trying to find that sweet spot of the right asking price.

I’ll call this the 99-cents Dilemma. Simply put, should I price State of Grace (and other novels I write) at 99 cents?

Pros: First, the book isn’t rocketing up Amazon’s bestseller list at the moment. Asking less for it might help convince people to take a chance.

Second, I am an indie author. I’m not especially well known, although in the last couple months I have been able to raise my visibility through some author interviews and attention-gathering tweets. But those haven’t translated into huge sales, so, going back to the first point, maybe this indie author needs to lower the price to get people to take a chance.

Now for the cons — the things that make this such a dilemma:

Perceived Value: There’s a twofold argument here. The fiscal theory is that, the less you charge for something, the less it is worth. If you devalue your merchandise by charging very little for it, you send the message it isn’t worth buying.

I’m less concerned about that, since numerous indie authors have priced at 99 cents and been successful. Blass notes that pricing Enemy in Blue at 99 cents increased his number of sales considerably. Shannon Mayer’s excellent Sundered is priced at 99 cents, while she has the next book in the series at $2.99. Her strategy is pretty simple to see — let you in on the series cheaply, then charge more once you’re hooked.

So I think the 99-cent pricing strategy works for independent authors without devaluing their books.

But the other aspect of the perceived-value argument is how much you’re getting for your money. I have a short story available on Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords — “The Coronation of King Charles III” — for 99 cents. There’s a lot less content (words) for “Coronation” than for State of Grace. It therefore doesn’t seem right to charge the same price for both. The logical thing to do would be to lower the price of the short story, but Amazon and B&N don’t let you charge less than 99 cents.

(I discovered this when I published a free Wolf Dasher short story, “The Darkline Protocol.” My intent was to use it as a loss-leader for State of Grace, and Smashwords allowed me to publish it for free. But, when I published it on Amazon and B&N to increase its profile, I discovered I could not publish for less than 99 cents. Amazon allegedly price matches, but, to date, they have not discovered it is cheaper somewhere else and adjusted the price to $0.00.)

So what is there to be done? Do I risk charging the same price for a novel as for a short story and thereby angering consumers? Would they understand? It’s hard to know.

Been There; Done That: Another consideration in the 99-cents Dilemma is that I’ve tried it unsuccessfully. A few months back, I lowered the price of State of Grace to 99 cents in an effort to raise sales. It had zero effect. My sales didn’t change at all. I therefore raised it back to $2.99 when I published “Coronation” for the reasons I stated above.

However, my profile wasn’t as broad then. I’ve got access to a broader platform now (more Twitter followers, Facebook groups, interviews), so maybe it would make a difference.

Maybe. But is three bucks really too much to ask for people to pay for a debut novel by a new author? I mean, I’m poor and I could afford that. Is $2.99 a barrier to entry? Perhaps it is.

On the Horns: I haven’t made any decisions one way or the other, but this pricing dilemma illustrates pretty clearly that we are still on the frontier of this Brave New World of indie e-publishing. I will continue to contemplate the horns of this dilemma, and, when I come up with a solution, I’ll post it here.

In the meantime, I’m interested in your thoughts, particularly if you’re an independent author. Leave a comment discussing your pricing strategy and how you think it’s working.

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