Monday, September 12, 2011


My uncle phoned me recently to tell me of a friend of his who'd read both my books and absolutely loved them. This friend is retired from the movie industry and an avid reader, yet it took him a year of my uncle's nagging to finally get to my books. Why did it take so long for him to read them? The price. He told my uncle, "How good could they be if he's selling them for .99 cents?” He also told him, as many other people have, that I'm doing myself a disservice by pricing my book so low. Serious readers will be turned off.

There's some validity to his comment. The perception of a cheap product is that's it's . . . well . . . cheap. Let's face it, if it sounds too good to be true, then it is—right? I mean if a stranger calls you at home and congratulates you for winning a free vacation you'd never entered to win, you hang up as quickly as possible—right? I do anyway. So it's understandable for readers to be suspicious.

Now it's hard to have a serious conversation about .99 cent e-books without bringing up John Locke. Just in the past year John decided to direct his focus on the publishing world and made no bones about the fact he wanted to be the most successful .99 cent author on the planet. Mission accomplished. It's easy to point fingers here, I mean if you live in a neighborhood of $250,000 homes and someone starts selling their investment houses on your street for $99,000—guess what? You now live in a $99,000 home.

But this isn't John's fault and he bears no responsibility for this situation. On the contrary, without John's success, hundreds of Indie authors would never get their books read without his rise to the top of the charts and subsequent media attention. It's not his fault we don't have his marketing skills. Remember, the guy was an extremely successful businessman before he ever laid eyes on the publishing world and set his goals.

So how do we break these preconceived notions? How do we convince readers to take a chance on an unproven commodity like a cheap e-book from an unknown author? Become a known author! That's right, you sell your books for .99 cents or $2.99 or $4.99 because you want to develop fans. There are hoards of readers out there just looking for new talent and when they find it, boy they'll latch on to you for life. You can't compete with James Patterson's name, but you can undercut his price to lure potential readers to your writing. And remember, the strongest marketing tool is word of mouth. People who do buy those inexpensive e-books will tell their friends about it and so on and so on.

Now here's the important part of this entire conversation: don't rush out there and throw garbage onto Amazon just because John Locke made millions selling these things and why can't you? If you're serious about developing a fan base, then write quality books, then write more quality books, then repeat. You may need to write 20 novels before you can make a nice little income from your sales, but it will be a result of your hard work and passion. And after all, isn't that why we began writing in the first place, because we had a passion to write? At least that's why I started and I think there's many of you out there who began the same way. Never lose sight of that fact.


  1. You give a viable perception example at one end of the pricing spectrum...

    ...but there are some viable phenomena pushing from the opposite end as well.

    For example, I've heard some readers take the position: "If I can get tons of eBooks for $0.99, why should I ever pay more?"

    Which will win in the end?

    Time will tell.

    But for now, Amazon and Kindle Direct Publishing help make it a no-brainer for me: 70% royalties start at $2.99.

    So $2.99 it is.


  2. $2.99 is still a remarkably inexpensive price for a book. That's what paperbacks sold for in 1969. It's good to be a reader these days.

  3. Honestly, the $0.99 price does not scare me away. Cover art does. I'm sure I'm missing out on a lot of great books because of that though.

    I think any book under $5.00 is a bonus. :)

  4. Great post, Gary. Here's what I can say about $0.99 books. On August 19th, I lowered the price of Vigilante to $0.99. In the 25 days since, I've sold more copies of it on Kindle than I had in the previous seven months. Worked out on a monthly basis, my Vigilante sales are ten times what they were before. I should add that sales of my other five novels at $2.99 have also picked up and I know some of those were 99 cent Vigilante buyers who moved on in my series because they told me.

  5. It's also important to remember that a $0.99 book will be $2.99 to most people outside the US because of the Whispernet charge that Amazon imposes, so it's not such a bargain to overseas readers.

  6. Possibly a better question for an author is "Why would you want to change this perception?" Price your book relative to its true value and the problem goes away.

  7. Larry, that's a good point, but if you look at Claude's post, there seems to be a direct correlation between price and sales. As an author, do you want more people reading your work, or more revenue per sale? Personally, I'd rather have readers, because readers become fans and stay with you. However, there may come a time in my career when I decide to go the other direction. It's more of a personal decision per writer.

  8. I did a lot of mulling about this before setting the price of my debut crime thriller, HUNTER, at $3.99. At the time (June), it seemed most indie pricing was at either 99 cents or $2.99. My considerations:

    * I thought 99-cent pricing, even $2.99, was becoming a billboard blaring "SELF-PUBLISHED BOOK!" Like it or not, there's still a stigma attached to indie books.

    * $3.99 was a distinctive price, and it would make the book stand out from other self-pubbed titles.

    * $3.99 would not be an buying impediment to 90%+ of purchasers already willing to spend $2.99, while it would give me an extra $1.00 of profit per sale.

    * $3.99 is still an "impulse purchase" for most devout book readers, and "bargain pricing" for those readers willing to spend $9.99 or more for titles by big-name authors. The latter are having no trouble topping the Kindle bestseller lists even at those high prices. Their sales prove that many readers will pay $10 or more for a good story.

    * $3.99 at Amazon's 70% royalty rate gives me a much better profit-per-sale than does even $9.99 at 14.9%, which is what most big-name authors are earning.

    * I already had a bit of name recognition in certain circles, and something of a platform, so I wouldn't be a complete "unknown" to a core group of readers willing to "impulse buy" my book at $3.99.

    The results? This debut thriller by an indie author is doing pretty well: hovering in the Top 50 Bestsellers in the Kindle "Spy Stories & Tales of Intrigue" category. So my pricing hasn't killed sales. Sure, maybe I would be selling many more copies of HUNTER at 99 cents -- perhaps enough to offset the lost income per sale -- and maybe those additional sales would be enough to propel the book to the top tier on the charts.

    But I'm betting on the book and word of mouth. And if it does go viral in sales at $3.99, I stand to do very well indeed.

    I don't recommend this pricing for all indie authors, but the lesson should be: One price doesn't fit all titles. Think carefully about how you wish to position your title in the marketplace, and set its price accordingly.

  9. As a Kindle reader, if I find a good author, I will buy everything he/she has written and leave good feedback, then tell my friends! The price is the door opener to authors like you Gary, and John. I agree with the comment about the covers can be detracting. Maybe a first book at .99 then the 2nd at 1.99 until would also be a way to generate a little more for a new author. Something in the listing that gives the publishing order number could help that as well. I love the fact that I can try an author at .99 and would be glad to pay a little more for the next book. I am a fan of your more!

  10. My first thought when I read your blog post title was "almost". I initially dismissed John's books due to the price; who knew I was a closet elitist. Not me that's for sure, but I read the reviews and said what did I have to lose, a buck. What a difference that decision has made. We are conditioned to believe that cheap is "cheap" and now have to retrain our minds to be open to ideas outside our norm. Twenty years ago no one would believe that we would be reading books on portable devices, riding the internet highway and working and living in a connected community. So I say let's throw away our antiquated habits cause there's a new sheriff in town.

  11. Thank you Gary, for yet another entertaining, thought-provoking post. The comments from the writing community are very interesting too.

    I agree with the overall consensus that the world of publishing has changed dramatically. Personally, if I am interested in a book, anything under $5.00 is an absolute bargain, and I wouldn't hesitate to purchase.

  12. Thanks for a great post and I've really enjoyed the resulting conversation. Helps me figure out how to handle future pricing of my own books.

  13. I've tried different pricing scenarios all summer. For the rest of September, I'm holding at $4.99. I've discovered that the 99 cent level doesn't seem to sway sales one way or the other. Sales are steady and building slowly every month. My novels are 100K+ words. I'm beginning to believe that my core readers, as a demographic, don't care as much about the price; they want the story. We'll see how it goes. Thanks for the post.

  14. You make a good point. But lots of authors use a 99 cent or even free book as a lost leader to boost their ratings and/or attract readers to their more expensive books.

  15. As a reader who goes through up to 3 books a week, I was automatically drawn to the low-priced books as the first books to purchase for my ereader, not really convinced that I would prefer these over holding a "real" book in my hands. It did not take long for me to realize that I would not be putting down my ereader very often. Realistically when I am reading that many books, I have a price limit of 2.99. I do make exceptions for authors that I have really fallen for. I have been so thrilled with the lower priced books that I have discovered and when I find an author I like, I find I buy everything they have written, from 99 cents on up. And after I find these treasured writers, I spread the word and make sure I leave the appropriate reviews. I see the 99 cent books always having their own special niche in the ebook industry.

  16. I will buy a book if I think I might like it. But then it doesn't matter to me if it is 0.99 or 4.99.

    I think you are quite right, 0.99 is so cheap that I will mentally think of it as "not being much".

    So yeah, I think 0.99 is rather robbing the author of 4.00 and not improving sales. Rather do a Coelho and self-pirate your book...!?

    That 0.99 might be an appropriate price for a shor story is a problem. It makes them look CHEAP. And yeah, we reader are that dumb. Sorry, but IMO it's true. :P

    This is probably one of the reason why short stories are often sold by the dozen sharing a certain topic together as a larger book.

  17. Gary's point that "(John Locke)...was an extremely successful businessman before he ever laid eyes on the publishing world and set his goals" is, IMO the most important point. Price is one variable. What John did was unique, which was part of the splash, and only part of the strategy.

    Claude Bouchard's book Vigilante (which I am half way finished reading...and love = ) is selling for $0.99 to introduce himself/his other books. His other $2.99 sales have increased as well. Promotional pricing works.

    That said, pricing for Merciful Law (my novel)is $19.95 for hardcover, $15.95 for paperback and $9.95 for e-version. We have promotional codes offering discounts (for e-version), but final pricing has not been less than $4.95...and it is selling. Could I net more profits with a different price point? Yes, but not now. We'll use a lower price point (3.95/4.95/2.99) to promote my next release. Will it work? Wish I had a crystal ball!

  18. Considering the limitations of Electronic Books; can't give them to friends or family to read, can't resell them, can't return them, can have them pulled without notice, the price is way too high.

    I've purchased a few novels at the too high price since I got my iPad but so far only the ones I already have in paperback and really love to read. I have picked up a few 99 cent books at recommendation from others and generally they're an ok read.

  19. "Maybe a first book at .99 then the 2nd at 1.99 until would also be a way to generate a little more for a new author...."- Phyllis Knox

    You'll pay $1.99 for the 2nd FULL BOOK in a series? Well, how generous of you. Writers better get right on that then. Don't want to miss out on that extra change for 400 pages of work. After all, writers aim to please. They work for YOU, Madame. Maybe they can throw in a shoe-shine with that for an extra few pennies. You never know unless you ask. (Sarcasm)