One of the hardest choices to make as an indie author is how to price your books, at least it was (and is) for me. Why? Because it is so hard to see whether your pricing strategy is helping or hurting you amongst the many other variables that might be impacting sales. I’ve read tons of advice from luminaries in the field, and most of it conflicts. Price your books at 99 cents. Price your books at their level of quality. Price your books to undercut major house but high enough to keep 70% margins.
I tried all of it, and I tried my best to figure out the correlation between the prices of my indie books and their sales. Here’s what I have for you as a result, after a year of experimentation.
First, my original strategy: I priced my print and ebooks too high. I wanted to send a message of quality, while still undercutting the major houses in acknowledgement that they had many layers of middlemen (and women) to be paid from their results.
For my print books, I priced my 40,000-word nonfiction books at $12.95 and my 83,000-word debut “women’s fiction mystery” (my own made-up genre, which is your prerogative in indie publishing) novel at $18.95. My thinking was that I wanted to leave room for a decent margin for myself and for booksellers, as we not only do consignment at SkipJack Publishing, but we also have chain distribution through Hastings Entertainment at its 130+ stores nationwide, and regional chain distribution with Barnes & Noble. We publish on both CreateSpace/Amazon and on Lightning Source/Ingram for print on demand (LSI gets us in with the brick and mortar stores, CS is optimal for Amazon sales).
To get specific, this left me a margin of about $3 per book through distribution on LSI and of $4 to $5 per book through CS. Those are great margins, as long as you can achieve volume.
Here’s where attributing correlation is difficult. My sales were really pretty darn good for an indie, especially at brick and mortar stores. However, we felt like our assertive promotion and marketing strategy pushed people into the stores who were primed to buy. We did not feel like we were getting the “browser” buyer who was looking for cheaper books.
So we changed strategy for print book pricing, and we’ll see in six months how that works out for us. We’ve moved or prices down to the point where our margins on our print books will be $2 on CS and $1 on LSI. Specifically, we reduced our nonfiction to $10.95 and our seasoned fiction to $12.95. We still plan to debut novels at a minimum of $14.95. However, in e-commerce, all of the books will now be less than $10. It’s our educated guess that $10 is an important price point online. The prices will be over $10 in bookstores, but we can’t do anything about that with print on demand (if someone knows differently, I’m all ears) because our print cost won’t allow us to break even, otherwise.
We are watching for a significant impact on the volume of print books sales. Wish us luck!
For my ebooks, I priced my 40,000-word nonfiction books at $3.99 and my 83,000-word debut “women’s fiction mystery” at $7.99. It was quickly clear that, even with an uber-successful KDP Select Free run at number one and 33,000+ downloads (and the resulting time I spent after on the bestsellers rankings), $7.99 was too much for debut indie fiction. I marked it down to $5.99. Then $4.99. Finally, $3.99. And I think at $3.99 I’ve found the right cost for our strategy, which is to earn the 70% Amazon margin and take a stand on quality. I think $2.99 or $3.99 is good pricing for this strategy, depending on the length of your book and genre. When my new novel comes out, however, I’ll price the old release at 99 cents, and I’ll price the 2nd book/new release at $3.99. This way I can work both volume and quality strategies at once.
The nonfiction, while never high volume sellers, seemed less impacted by price than the novel. Their sales seemed steady whether I priced them at $3.99, $2.99, or $1.99, all of which I tried. I ultimately settled on $2.99, mostly because they are half the length of my fiction. I will be leaving them at this price.
One concern we have is that our ebook pricing not be so low that it negatively impacts brick and mortar book sellers. This is the other key factor (in addition to pricing at a perceived “quality” price and taking advantage of 70% royalties) that led us to stick with $3.99 for the novel. While it is still significantly less than the print book price, it’s not a “steal,” and, for people that prefer print, they can still justify spending more. We find that there is a real divide between those that prefer print versus those that prefer ebook, although of course there are those in the middle who buy both. If you’re not worrying about brick and mortar stores, you may be more inclined to pursue the 99 cent strategy.
A few additional things to keep in mind: Amazon will always match the lowest price on the web, so be careful. Also, this price matching results in some complex strategy when you’re publishing print on demand on both CS and LSI. For a good article on this, click here.
Stay tuned over the next six months as we toggle our prices further and share the results, especially as we look to see what impact our 60-city Saving Grace summer book tour and the release of my next book in the Katie & Annalise series and my (shh, don’t tell yet) book on indie publishing will have on sales.
Pamela Fagan Hutchins is an employment attorney and workplace investigator by day who writes award-winning and bestselling mysterious women’s fiction (Saving Grace) and relationship humor (How to Screw Up Your Kids) by night. She also leaps medium-tall buildings in a single bound, if she gets a good running start.