Sunday, April 18, 2010

How Much Are You Worth?

Yesterday, I told someone I was thinking about indie publishing a novel.  They asked me how much I was going to price it for.  I said, "Oh, just like the others I think - 99c."  Their response was to look at me like I was insane.  "Is that all you think you're worth?"  I found myself defending the 99c price point which felt ridiculous and got me nowhere.  This person doesn't read ebooks for one, and for another, they have a completely different view on value than I do.  They value a dvd collection based on the number of minutes viewing, a book on the number of pages - that isn't how I see it at all.

People are constantly discussing price.  Between the agency deal and indies undercutting the very lowest prices possible, there is a huge disparity and thus huge debate on the value of ebooks.  Content is valuable and yet not as valuable as it once was.  I used to earn a living writing non-fiction and web content.  In the beginning my prices were low so I could prove myself.  I quickly worked up the scale because I was reliable and good at what I did.  But it's hard to enjoy that sort of work when there are fantasy worlds being created in your head on a daily basis.

I ended up leaving "the business" because my family was growing - still is - and because I was spending so much time on something that would never make me happy.  It's not all about the Benjamins baby.  Now, most of the companies I worked for have gone bust and I'm glad I got out when I did or I would probably be owed a lot of money like so many others.  I started off with a low price point, raised my prices when I had proved myself a bit and then the market was flooded with like minded people, all cutting each other's prices and essentially devaluing the entire thing.  At certain points, many writers tried to establish a certain price point but many more writers simply wanted to get paid.  Something.  Anything.  So the control on pricing could never work.

Now, I see ebooks in the same way.  You don't charge a fortune for your first book.  You set a low price point to prove yourself.  You gain some readers and inevitably you will be able to charge a higher price because now there are some people out there who know you are worth it.  Trouble is, a million other people come along with the same ideas.  They saturate the market and some are more than willing to keep charging at the lowest price points possible and in effect devaluing what you do.  Then Amazon add their piece with their higher royalty rates for those who charge a little extra and thus change the whole game.  They are big enough and influential enough to keep things on track with a smart business model that benefits them and indies.

Nothing lasts forever.  The sales of today are not a guarantee of the sales of tomorrow.  Part of the problem in other writing industries arose when writers undercut each other so much that clients expected low prices and their expectations of value changed.  There were a lot more writers than jobs and the recession didn't help at all.  Compare it to fiction.  In the bad times, I truly believe that people turn to fiction as a form of escape.  What easier way to escape than to read a cheap ebook?  Buy enough cheap ebooks and you might begin to falter on the price points once they raise a little.  You get used to a certain price and anything higher becomes a conscious decision.  Is it worth the value? 

Eventually things will settle down and there will be a new low price point but don't be surprised if, come the summer, the 99c books are kicking the arses of the $2.99 offerings.  After all, you can buy three 99c books for instead of just one that is priced at $2.99.  99c is an impulse buy, $2.99 might not be.  99c is a bargain (actually so is $2.99 but that's for another post) and as such is also a throw away book.  A lot of people buy 99c books and never end up reading them.  They buy a number of cheap books at the same time and let them languish away on their ereaders, forgetting all about them and probably never bothering to review them.  Compare that to a more expensive book.  Instantly, it is more valuable.  Not comparing the quality here, we're comparing the price.  A more expensive book is more likely to be put at the top of TBR piles.  People want to get what they paid for so they are more likely to finish a more expensive book.  They are also more likely to care about their feelings for that book and thus more likely to review. 

Of course, I'm generalising.  But as the ebook market grows so will the amount of books and new writers.  So will the readers who have different ideas on what constitutes value.  There will still be plenty of people willing to offer the lowest prices in order to get sales and jump ahead of the more expensive books.  I am pretty confident that it will balance out in the end but I am also prepared for a rocky road in the meantime no matter what price point I choose.  Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to pricing.  You are the only one who can decide what you feel you are worth - be it whatever the masses are willing to pay or whatever the true fans are willing to pay.  The best thing about being indie is the control and the fact that you can change your mind so less stressing on the price issue.  Nobody can really predict the future, we can only try to assess the possibilities. 

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