A Model for Pricing Books

Pick two.

If you want to go out to eat, the best you can hope for is two out of three.

The three options are:

  • Quality
  • Service
  • Price

If you want top quality – i.e. excellent taste, fresh food, amazing cleanliness, incredible ambiance, superb view – and awesome service – i.e. friendly greeting, quick seating, fantastic personality, everything you want just when you want it – then you should expect to pay for it.

It’s not reasonable to expect perfect quality, perfect service, and super low prices.

So if you want low prices, you should expect to sacrifice either quality or service to some extent.

Pick two. If you can get two of the three, that’s very good.

Sometimes you only get one. When it’s really bad, you strike out.

The ‘pick two’ idea has been around for some time. It’s worth considering when pricing books.

The first step regarding price is to try to find other books that are very similar to what you’re selling. Customers will be comparing your book to other books like yours when they shop.

Now the question is whether you should be at the high end or low end of this price range – or somewhere in between.

Don’t assume that you need to be at the bottom end of this price range in order to sell books. Don’t assume that you can’t compete with top selling authors or big publishers.

It’s intuitive to most people that a lower price should lead to more sales. It seems like a basic law of economics, right? But it often doesn’t work out that way.

One major reason is that so many people believe that you get what you pay for. Another issue is that several buyers have some experience with poor quality.

Thus, there are cases of authors selling fewer books after lowering the price or actually selling more books after raising the price. It doesn’t always work out this way, but sometimes it does.

Price doesn’t drive sales.

Look at it as two out of three. Price is only one factor.

Quality and service are two other factors.

If you have a high-quality book, setting the price at the low end of the range for similar books may be a problem. People who are looking for better quality may not be browsing the low end of the price range. Where are the readers who are thinking, “Nah, I don’t want quality”? Readers who’ve had a poor experience at the low end of the price range may be exploring somewhat higher prices, hoping to get something better.

Quality doesn’t just mean one thing. It includes good editing, good writing style, good formatting, good characterization, good plot, ease of understanding, entertaining, creativity, professional touches, evoking strong feelings, etc. It also includes a great cover, great blurb, and great Look Inside – since these features help readers judge quality when they’re about to make a purchase.

Then there is also service. For authors, this comes through marketing.

Marketing drives sales. Price doesn’t drive sales. Price may deter sales, if too low or too high. But price doesn’t create sales. Quality and service (i.e. marketing) help to stimulate book sales.

Marketing can be a service. For one, marketing helps bring the book to the customer, whereas it’s such a challenge to find the right book through a search.

A good review online or at a blog from a credible source helps customers find a book in a genre that they read, which may potentially be high in quality. That’s two out of three already, so the price shouldn’t be at the bottom end of the spectrum.

Personal interaction helps to sell books. Interact with the target audience in person. That’s a service that the author provides to the reader.

Readings and signings are services, too.

If you have a quality book and you market effectively, your book shouldn’t be at the bottom end of the price range.

If your book is at the bottom end of the price range, shoppers may be wondering what the book may be lacking. If it’s not lacking anything, it should be worth paying for.

If a cup of coffee made in less than a minute can sell for three bucks, a book that reflects months of hard work should be worth more than that. 🙂

One last word about price. Just having a low price doesn’t suggest a great deal. It suggests that quality is lacking.

But having a sale may stimulate sales. If the price is normally higher, a temporary reduction in price may have this effect. Not from the random customer who just discovered the book – this customer doesn’t know that the price is usually higher. You have to promote a sale for this to work.

Promotion is a form of marketing. As long as you’re going to the trouble to spread the word about your book, you might want to earn a higher royalty for your effort.

A sale can be useful if the copies sold at the promotional price are likely to draw in additional sales. Promoting the first book in a series or discounting an omnibus may have such an effect, especially when the first book is very good at compelling readers to want more (this isn’t the case with all series).

A sale is also more effective when it’s not too frequent. Otherwise, people will just wait for the sale, and it will be hard to sell books in between sales.

Finally, you want your promotion to be targeted at new customers. If you’re advertising your sale to people who’ve already bought your book, you’re not reaching new customers – instead, you might be frustrating buyers who’ve paid more.

Chris McMullen, self-published author of A Detailed Guide to Self-Publishing with Amazon

5 comments on “A Model for Pricing Books

  1. I started a thread on Amazon in the Making Connections Group regarding book pricing and was amazed at the difference in how readers view pricing relative to how authors/writers view pricing. The methods for pricing are also diverse with no real standards or with arbitrary standards. The general consensus is that, if you are an unknown, your eversion should be under five dollars. Most new authors are setting at $3.99 or lower. They don’t say fiction, non fiction, any particular genre (some even price by page number), but it seems, at least on Goodreads, readers will pass by an unknown author without a second glance if they price higher than $5.00. Also, many of their readers have come to expect indie authors set at 99 cents or free…or they will wait until the author is that desperate. I think it is time to rethink the ceiling. Surely it could be set higher than that.

    • Many readers may be unlikely to invest much in an ebook by an unknown author that they discover in search results. But discoverability in search results isn’t moving many books for most new, unknown authors either.

      If I interact with an author online, discover the author’s books that way, and become interested in one of those books, I’m easily willing to spend $5.99 for the ebook. Marketing doesn’t just help greatly in getting noticed, it can also command higher prices… to a point. (It also depends on the audience.)

  2. As with anything else, authors need to value their product. And, as you wrote, it all comes back to establishing relationships. I, too, am willing to pay more for a book written by an author I know than one I don’t.

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