The Price We Pay

authorLet me qualify right now – my perspective is not going to be popular today.

I think most writers underprice their books.

There…I said it out loud. Feel free to disagree, that makes for a better argument, but don’t expect me to change my mind. I’m willing to shovel out the big bucks for a book. Writers rejoice!

Am I the only one? Hopefully not. I’ve seen lots of promotional efforts on the internet, and I understand the many reasons WHY people do such things. The trade-offs work for some authors and readers…happy campers set up tents on both sides of the river.

That’s good when it happens, we trade smiles, pinky swear to buy the sequel and skip on down the road. Except for the read that starts out great and then stumbles through a couple potholes and maybe stalls. On a dark country road. Half a mile from the axe-murder’s house…and he’s out for a walk.
I’ve had that happen too. Some books are filled with promise and start strong, only to falter and slide off into the ditch. Bummer. Chuck it into the digital corner and start a new one. I’ve bought stinkers at the bookstore too, even when I held the weighty little block of paper in my hand and had every opportunity to inspect the interior before purchase. 
failed book
As a reader, I wanted to tell anyone who’s interested, that I’m in the other camp. Mine may be the solitary voice shouting into the chasm, but I can’t be the only one willing to plunk down moola for a nice read. Call me weird but I like to support authors by purchasing their books. I don’t mind investing in people, and that’s what I feel like I’m doing every time I BUY a book. It isn’t just the words on the page, it’s the mind behind their placement. Each book has the potential to get better.
buy booksBeing part of that is cool. If I want to support you as an author and read your work – I buy your words in the package provided.
There are arguments for and against the $0.00-$2.99 pricepoint, but I believe you’re worth more. I’m willing to pay. The format I select depends on how I plan to read (and re-read) the book. If I want your story, I’ll pay the same amount I would for a nice new hard-bound release.

Authors use price to create motion, notoriety, sales, and discussion. Does it work? Sure, for some. Others pursue different marketing routes. For me it’s simple. I choose to support other authors by purchasing their work.

The format I choose depends primarily on how I’ll read the work. Over the years I’ve purchased multiple copies of my favorite authors cause the paperbacks have fallen apart through re-reading. I still acquire a fair number of press books because I love the tactile pleasure of printed material.Yes, print books are more expensive to produce – which means the author gets less profit. I don’t believe the author of an ebook should receive reduced remuneration simply because it cost the writer less money to produce their finished product. Hello? Cheap much?

profit for authorsFellow writers know birthing a book is a lengthy process, fraught with potholes and setbacks, and a multitude of potential complications. For the reading public who are not also writers, perhaps they’ve never considered the challenges inherent in the work. Maybe they don’t care. I’m like that at the grocery store. I don’t care why the strawberries are so expensive, just that I don’t want to pay that much, but I do. Because I want strawberry lusciousness.

Novels are filled with fruity goodness or depending on the genre, murderous badness that is worth laying down the greenbacks. Don’t be trained to expect the worst – trust that writers are doing their damned best to bring you an excellent story. You get what you sow, right?

blue question markWe enjoy different POV’s, so I don’t expect everyone to share my perspective but do you differentiate pricepoint for format? What’s your preference: print v. ebook? Do you balk at paying comparable price for ebook v. printed? Let the verbiage fly.

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  1. #1 by Vivien Weaver on October 5, 2011 - 10:35 pm

    THANK YOU a thousand times for this. I've said exactly the same things many times and I often feel insane because it seems so many people are in support of undercutting their own work by under-pricing their books. I've debated the price of my own books many times and I think the 100,000 words I spent years writing are worth more than $3. I want to support other authors, too, and I want them to realize their work is worth something. Readers will pay what writers regularly charge. If we ask them to care about our stories as much as we do, they will. A 99 cent e-book, to me, says "I don't care enough about what I'm doing" or "I don't think I'm good enough." It doesn't inspire confidence.Overall, I think of it this way. If I'm still giving an author eight bucks, but s/he gets to put MORE of that eight bucks in his/her pocket, great! Pay the light bill so you can keep writing the stories I love.

  2. #2 by on October 5, 2011 - 11:06 pm

    This is absolutely a hot topic in the indie world and one I'm some what acquainted with given that I have a book out at the $2.99 price point. Do I think I'm worth $10 a book? Sure. How about $100 a book? Absolutely. The thing is, it doesn't matter what I think. It matters what the buying public thinks. The biggest misconception about pricing is that people think they should price their product (book or otherwise) at the price they think it's 'worth' when ultimately the price should always be set at what the public will pay. If the public will pay $50 for an e-book, that should be the price. Ultimately, the pricing decision is a personal one and the beauty of the indie world is you can play with it. A lot of people find success at the 4.99 point while others succeed at .99. I chose $2.99 for many reasons. The first is that I'm unknown, I need people to take a risk on me. At $2.99, a lot of people will. Also, I get the 70% royalty rate at this price. Could I make more money if I bumped up the price? Maybe. Sure, I would need to sell fewer books to make the same money I make now, but the pool of people taking a chance on me would likely be less. Also, I'm not focusing on only one book. I have more books that are coming down the pipe soon. The more people I sell to, the more potential fans I have that will buy my next book (price yet to be determined)For sure, you've hit on an interesting topic, but for writers who are looking at this as a way to make some money, you have to look at it from a business perspective and take out the feelings. I too have put years and years into my books. Sweat, tears, you name it. But you can't make business decisions with emotions. I may 'feel' my book is worth more. But at the end of the day, what I 'feel' doesn't hold much water. The dream of course is that one day it won't matter what the price, people will love my books so much they'll pay anything! ha ha

  3. #3 by Lesann Berry on October 6, 2011 - 6:24 am

    Thanks Vivien, for visiting and taking the time to comment. I know this is a tough topic because writers have a multitude of goals driving their decisions, but I'm all for supporting authors by paying a reasonable price for their efforts. In some instances, cheaper pricing makes sense depending on what kind of market is being targeted, and I'm a big fan of having a large variety of works available at various prices (appealing to multiple budgets).I'm not slamming people who price their work low, I'm just bemoaning the loss they experience from doing so. Now…I know authors who move 10,000 books a month and at .99 each, that's not a shabby earning. The trick is to do that indefinately.I've read inexpensive books (both print and e-format) and been impressed, and the opposite too. Regardless of the format, if it's a story I want to read, I'll pay. People in finance can argue over whether demand or supply sets the price of any fair market item, but if a story is good – it will sell. At the .99 pricepoint I'm less likely to try out an unknown unless they come recommended because a lot of newish authors underprice themselves in order to get noticed.It's a tough cycle. Independent publishing now allows for a lot of opportunity that traditional publishing has historically controlled – in each, the author faces challenges.

  4. #4 by Lesann Berry on October 6, 2011 - 6:37 am

    Thanks for joining the discussion Elena! Getting input from someone who's personally faced this issue is invaluable, I appreciate your weighing in on the topic.I take your point about what we value our work at v. what the public is willing to pay. It's a tough call. I've had friends and colleagues who work as professional artists struggle with this subject (albeit not with written works) during their careers. Like you, they've had to weigh options, exposure and pricing in order to move forward.Writing is a business – if you're hoping to create some manner of income, and like any entrepreneurial effort, a plan and strategic marketing is essential. I would argue though that emotion is always involved in our decisions, business or otherwise, sometimes to our detriment.I've seen people market their books at just about every pricepoint – and seen them sell consistently for prices in excess of $25 a volume (like you say, what the public is willing to pay). In part it depends on the potential market and the desirability of the work. I think fiction provides steep competition and that drives pricepoint as well.I'm voting for the partyline of "people will love my books so much they'll pay anything", but I'd be happy to see e-publications inch up the price-scale for the benefit of the authors AND the reading public. Call me crazy – I want you to be able to make a living doing what you love so I can enjoy reading a good story when I'm not writing.

  5. #5 by Deborah Walker on October 6, 2011 - 9:19 am

    Interesting. I do know that I have bought books at 99 cents to support a writer friend, even if I've had no intention of reading. It's a throwaway price for me, and if it gives them a boost– I'm happy to do it.

  6. #6 by Lesann Berry on October 6, 2011 - 3:01 pm

    Deborah I think, makes an equally interesting point, that the .99 pricepoint is so inexpensive that you really can buy with little impunity as a reader, support writer efforts (in a smallish way), but most of all – give authors that charge of "OMG, I sold a book!"It IS a boost and I'm also happy to do it – I'd just like to see market trend tip slightly in favor of the author. I know this is part of a larger discussion about quality of writing, but there's a lot floating around out in the word sea and hopefully the better the quality, the more buoyant the book.Thanks for visiting!

  7. #7 by Alica McKenna Johnson on October 6, 2011 - 9:38 pm

    Well said! I want to charge 4.99 for my ebook- it's 98,000 words, I've been working on it for years. But I felt bad because everyone else is charging .99 Whatever, I feel like my book and the love, tears, and time i put into it is worth at least 4.99

  8. #8 by Lesann Berry on October 8, 2011 - 4:44 am

    Thanks for joining the discussion Alica! I think 4.99 is a nice mid-range pricepoint. It's enough money for me to really want to like the book but not too much for me to plunk down on an unknown. I know this topic has made the rounds but it's worth revisiting periodically because things seem so fluid.I keep reminding myself that books don't have as strong an expiration date as some forms of entertainment, so we can expect interest to ebb and low along with our production.

  9. #9 by joeh on October 8, 2011 - 6:35 am

    I am looking into the .99 route, if only to get readers. Currently i am self published and the charge is $15, pretty steep for an unknown writting a humor satire opinion type "bathroom" bookThe Cranky Old Man

  10. #10 by Lesann Berry on October 10, 2011 - 4:16 am

    Hi Joeh – I dunno….$15 for bathroom humor could be a bargain! I totally "get" the idea of a break-in price, but I wonder if it really makes a difference? I don't know if there's any way to tell. It feels like the more I learn about the entire process of publishing, the less certain any of the specific details are.I attended a publishing-fest sort of event today and listened to a lot of discussion about this v. that – but nobody was able to provide hard data when asked. Maybe nobody can.

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