Five Years is Forever in Indie Publishing

From Dean Wesley Smith:

Well, I spent the last two nights going back and trying to update and then even fisk my own post from five years ago about pricing. What a fool’s errand.

The post was so out of date, I just kept shaking my head in amazement and wondering who wrote it.

I was looking at it through 2017 glasses and a ton of new knowledge. Stunning, just stunning how many changes in this business have happened.

. . . .

Electronic Pricing… Novels

Genre matters. Range from $3.99 to $6.99, with romance being on the lower side, mystery on the upper side.

Length does not seem to matter at all.

All the studies have shown that you get above $6.99 and you start hitting price resistance for electronic books unless the book is something really special.

You go below $3.99 and you leave yourself no room for discounting or short-term sales.

You get down into the 99 cent area and you are in a trash ghetto.

And yes, I do know about the stupidity of ever-free. Just say no. However, doing a deep discount on a first novel of a series will get you readers. But make sure those readers pay something otherwise you attract the wrong kinds of readers. And secondly, you have to have the rest of the series priced decently for genre to make the first book discount look worthwhile.

. . . .

Paper Pricing… Novels

The old general rule of $2.00 profit in extended distribution in CreateSpace has become meaningless. Get your price down as much as you can. Under $10 is the best for trade paper. $12.99 is fine as well. Above that you hit resistance unless the book is longer.

Length not only matters, it causes the price to go up. You have no choice, but try to keep the cost down as low as possible.

If you want to try to do some bookstore distribution (a folly in 2017 because as Author Earnings have reported, almost 80% of paper books are sold online these days. But if you want to try, go to IngramSpark to get into the Ingram Catalog. (Yes, you can do two editions, one on CreateSpace just for Amazon and the other at Ingram for larger distribution.

Link to the rest at Dean Wesley Smith

Here’s a link to Dean Smith’s books. If you like an author’s post, you can show your appreciation by checking out their books.

26 thoughts on “Five Years is Forever in Indie Publishing”

  1. I was bored (muse was hiding) and did a TPV search on that ‘veteran publishing consultant’ guy, not to see how wrong he’s been, but to read the comments of years ago.

    As DWS discovered, we were wrong about a lot of stuff, but what’s even more amazing is some of the stuff we got right that trad-pub is still doing wrong.

    If you thought the last five years were a hoot, the next five will blow your minds! 😉

  2. But make sure those readers pay something otherwise you attract the wrong kinds of readers.

    What kind is that? In econ terms, any reader is non rivalrous. Consumption by one user does not diminish the availabliity for any other consulkers.

    • You get a *lot* of weird, negative reviews with free readers. “There were no sailing ships in your book, ‘Galactic Marines’.” “‘Death at 29,000 feet’ was the worst romance I’ve ever read.”

      Just bizarre stuff sometimes. It’s like they started out reviewing one book, but accidently landed on the wrong page. But these nearly all disappear when you put a price on the book.

      • Agreed Chong Go

        Targeted is best
        and often ‘free’ is sort of like open bar at a wedding. Suddenly you have 500 people nobody ever saw before, staggering around drunken and vomiting.

    • I have no idea if his observations and advice are sound from a publisher’s perspective, but from *this* reader’s perspective, he’s spot on.

      I buy a lot of ebooks. Any book priced under $5.99 by a favorite author is an auto-buy, no hesitation. I’m willing to try new authors for $3.99 or less. But I no longer pick up free books for any reason–in my experience, they aren’t worth the price–and I automatically ignore freebies. I’ll grit my teeth and pay up to $9.99 for a book I really want, but more than that, forget about it.

      • Yeah, I generally only download free books by writers whose books I’d otherwise have bought. So they’re nice to have, but a lost sale for the writer. Got thousands of them on my iPad and have probably started a hundred at most and finished a handful.

        I’ve been buying a few trade-published ebooks in the $10 range, mostly to study their writing, but I have to grit my teeth and swear before I hit ‘buy’. Otherwise, $5.99’s about my limit.

        Which is actually more than I used to be willing to pay for an ebook. These days I’d rather pay $5.99 for something I know I’ll want to read than waste time hunting for a cheaper book that looks promising.

        • I’ll download free books from authors I’ve bought in the past, especially if it’s a book that I already have in dead-tree form. Otherwise I wait for their ebooks to cost less than the mass market paperback version I already own. The $5.99 ore less range works for me.

  3. Dang. I just learned that $2 rule for extended distribution last week. Every time I catch up they change the game.

    • I’ve been using the $2 rule all along, but I didn’t know it was no longer a good guideline. Dang! I just approved 4 proof copies today. They all have the price printed on the back cover. Grrr!

      • Me too! I just went through and changed a bunch of prices. I just confirmed with Dean that it’s because so many sales of paper books (80%) happen online, that a more competitive online price will be worth more than any losses of bookstore sales (ie, expanded distribution.)

        I wouldn’t worry about the price being printed on the cover. Everyone knows Amazon never sells for the actual price, and anyway, if they paid less than the suggested price, no one will complain!

        • How did you determine what the price should be? Dean gives general suggestions: under $10 or else $12.99, unless your book is longer.

          I can easily price my shorter books at $9.99. But I have three doorstopper novels: The Tally Master (466 pages), Fate’s Door (490 pages), and Troll-magic (444 pages). Do I price them so that Expanded Distribution at least does not get me a negative? Say one cent of profit for me? Or do I turn off expanded distribution altogether and price them lower still? Did Dean give you any guidance?

          I have an omnibus, Sarvet & Livli, that’s 306 pages. I just visited the CreateSpace royalty calculator and see that if I price it at $12.99, I’ll get $0.67 for a copy sold into expanded distribution. So I wouldn’t lose money at that rate.

          And my shorter novel, Livli’s Gift, at 232 pages, would yield me $0.36 for an expanded distribution sale.

          Maybe I’m beginning to see how this works. But I’d still love more guidance!

          • Lol! No, nothing that specific. 🙂 My take is basically just don’t worry about the expanded distribution (not negative money, of course, and stay signed up for it), and get your print price down as far as you reasonably can. It used to be a sense that “books in my genre sell for around X, so I need to have my prices up there if I want to be taken seriously.”

            What I took away is that lower prices (for print) trumps all when it comes to maximizing online sales and profit. Before, there was the desire to be as b&m friendly as possible, because historically that’s where all the books were sold. But these days, those are only 20% of sales, and not particularly indie friendly in the first place.

            Dean did say that if you really want to pursue the bookstore sales path, then on Amazon go with only the Createspace channel, and upload your book to Ingram, and use them for your expanded distribution channels. He said they give much better discounts. (Leaving you with more profit, or at least making the book more appealing to bookstores. I wasn’t sure who benefitted from those, now that I think about it.)

              • Great follow up question! (JM asked Dean about pricing long books, where printing costs alone reach nearly $16, and Dean said just go with $17.99,because at that point, $16.99 has no real competitive advantage. Both look about the same in consumer’s minds.)

  4. As a reader, prices do matter. I get two ebook newsletters each day, and regularly hunt for sales. I’ll try the free books (so long as they sound interesting). Freebies are usually romances, and there’s just a few authors that I’ve hunted down on AZM to by more normally-priced ebooks.

    [Note that I just finished a freebie this morning, checked the author’s listing on AZM, and was turned off by the prices.]

    I’d agree with DWS about the prices — I’m willing to try an unknown (or not well known) author around the $2.99/$3.99 level; once I’m looking at $6.99, I’m thinking about how many *other* books I could get for that same price.

    For the TradPubs, I’m usually waiting for sales. Prices don’t have to drop to $1.99, but I do wait for a significant discount.

  5. If you have access to any Overdrive portal via a library system, they are good for many TradPub titles. If you haven’t used this, you are really missing out.

    • Thirded.

      I was waiting for 18 months for the next installment in a series, saw the price $11-and-change, (the first book was under $5)and went, ‘nope, I’ll wait until my library has it’. I’d much rather support my library which has to pay an exorbitant ‘rental fee’ or whatever they’re called, than an author/publisher who got greedy.

    • I love using Overdrive… sometimes.

      Most popular books I want to borrow have very long wait lists at my library. There can be 20 or 30 people ahead of me in the queue. (To be fair, sometimes there are only one or two. On really lucky days, I can borrow the book immediately.)

      Then, no matter how many people were ahead of me for the various books I’ve reserved, it somehow works out that several of them become available all at the same time. Since the borrow period is three weeks with no renewals, I can’t possibly read them all before they return themselves.

      They do have the ability to put a reserve on hold to avoid this, but I can’t seem to manage that well enough to avoid the problem.

    • I love Overdrive too – only I belong to a very small library system. Most of what I want to read can’t be accessed. I wish traditional publishing didn’t charge libraries so much money for their digital books.

      • @ Sariah

        “I wish traditional publishing didn’t charge libraries so much money for their digital books.”

        Sounds like a great opportunity for indies to put their ebooks — and pbooks, too — into libraries. But the bugaboo is that many libraries only stock Trad Pub books, and/or they don’t know how to “discover” indie books and acquire them.

  6. I’m glad to see that about 3.99. That’s what my novels are priced at. I hesitate to go higher, because they’re under 60K words. And I feel that’s a fair and reasonable price for readers.

    That stuff about the POD? New to me, so something to keep in mind when I finally get my print files done.

  7. as reader, I’ll pay most any price if it’s research volume in ebk form. It is often from a uni press and is priced absurdly high, in the 202 , 30s and 40s. Serious.

    for other Im happy to pay 10-12 if I want to read it. Life is very short from my perspective, far more years behind than ahead, and I love to read across genres, and also support the author whether indie or not, even though I know as an author trad pub’s and indie pub’d few of the dollars go to the trad pubd author. I would not any longer ‘wait’ for a thing to be avail at library as I did in the small town I grew up in, not for ebk, nor for print on paper.

    As a writer my pricing follows Dean’s advice. He has always been insightful about these matters, as a mega multipublished writer and publisher

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