Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Write by Wednesday-- Supply and Demand

I am not arrogant enough to believe that I have some kind of hidden insight into what is happening in the world of fiction publishing that has not already been hashed out, mused over, and discussed ad nauseum on the blogosphere. However, some thoughts have been rolling around in my head, and I am curious for feedback.

A couple of weeks ago, the dynamic and talented Jessica Bell started a discussion on whether free eBook promotions on Kindle were detrimental to writing. I'm a marketer, so to me, price promotions are just part of the game. What I wonder/worry/ponder about is this new model in which prices on our work are so low that the only way to discount enough to get attention is to go free. Now, before I dive in and make myself seem greedy and very unpopular, please let me be heard on this: I do not write to make money. I don't. I go to work to make money. I write because I love it, and I publish my books because I want people to read my stuff.

That said, I do think there is value in what  we all do. It may be a perspective I have only because I have the unique balance of writer and MBA, but I think that the pervasiveness of the 99 cent pricing model for self-published Kindle eBooks may be devaluing what we do.

Part of the need for and popularity of this price point is all about supply and demand. Now that we can all self-publish so easily, we face a potential (and perhaps already existing) glut of available reading material. And, consumers have the perception that they paid $200 for the device, so the content should cost about as much as the Angry Birds app or one song from iTunes unless it carries a celebrity author's name. And because there are so many of us clamoring for a piece of the pie, we're happy to price our books this way.

And some books should be priced low. My short story collection is $1.49 on Kindle, because it is the equivalent of about 80 pages, can be read in about an hour, and that is really all I think it should cost. But my novels? Those are hundreds of hours of my time and hundreds of pages, and will take a reader several hours to consumer. You know what, though? Time is one of the least important variables-- It is about my heart, which I pour into my books. Is 99 cents all that is worth?

Maybe it is. In some cases, it definitely is, but here is the inherent problem: the pricing model for eBook (particularly self-published eBooks) is being set in consumer's minds right now. I'm not talking about the price on the Amazon product listing, I am talking about percieved value. Consumers are being trained right now to think that they should only have to pay for a novel that they will spent several hours reading (and you spent hundreds of hours writing) what they pay for a song on iTunes that they will listen to for about 4 minutes. Hell, even if they listen to it 50 times, it likely does not constitute the same length of time engaged as a novel does.

To be clear, I am not sure I am saying this is inevitably bad. This is a new paradigm, and who knows, maybe in the future all books will be 99 cents, and we'll have a level playing field to compete for reader attention.

What I am saying is this is happening now. Right now, eBook customers are being taught that they shouldn't pay a lot for self-published work, while writers are being driven to self-publish by an ever shrinking pool of agents and publishers. Are we doing the right thing, here? We live in a world where knocking a price back to 99 cents isn't enough to garner attention-- we have to give our work away to make a blip because everyone else sells theirs so cheaply.

I want to talk about quality next week, because that is also a huge piece of this self-publishing puzzle, but I am interested in what you all think? Am I the evil capitalist for thinking these thoughts? Or is this something the writing community should be talking about?


  1. I have a podcast on a similar topic ready to go for next Monday (and I've linked back to this topic). This is definitely something that we should be talking about, but I think it will even out eventually. As quality controls get put in place and people start to recognize the difference between quality and quantity the prices for good books will start to creep back up. Just as they did for the printed novel (which is my topic next week).

  2. Shauna - this is so prescient! We are facing the same struggle right now. The War Master's Daughter has moved from $3.99, down to $2.99, down to $0.99--and due to a promotion I'm participating in at Smashwords, it's free for the month of July. My "sales" have increase 33% in the last DAY over the past 6 months, because the book is free.

    I have so many thoughts on this subject, I will probably do an entire post to respond to you. But I have heard two pieces of advice that make sense to me: 1) The most important thing a new author can do is give their book away for free, because reviews and word-of-mouth sell more books than anything. And 2) If a book won't sell at $0.99, it's certainly not going to sell at $3.99. Sell your book at a low price point to get traction (as well as reviews and word-of-mouth), then increase the price point as sales increase. Selling gets easier because you have the ink to back you up; therefore, the price point can go higher until you reach a threshold that works.

    I want to explore this more, but you raise some great points in this post!!

  3. Very thought provoking post. The balance can swing both ways. In one sense, the eBooks are easy to access and cheap to buy. But on the other hand, how do authors feel about selling their work they spent hours and hours writing?

  4. Honestly, I have no idea how the traditional vs self-pub war will work out. Unless you're lucky enough to spark a trend, neither way gives you much money. But at least one gives you prestige.

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