Books Aren’t Cars

Huh?  What the hell do I mean by that?

I mean that a person buys a car and they drive it off the lot and it starts to lose value and continues to lose value.  And that, with rare exceptions, a car built in 1970 isn’t going to be as valuable as a car built in 2015 no matter how much usage it has or hasn’t seen.  Cars depreciate in value over time.

Books aren’t like that.  For a new reader, a book, regardless of when it was published, has the same value as when it was first published.  Maybe even more as it builds up a reputation and following.

The reason I’m writing about this today is because I got into a bit of a tiff with someone recently who was basically saying that older books should be priced cheap.  This person didn’t understand how a book, a classic of the genre, could still be priced at $9.99 in ebook.  They assumed the book should be priced cheap because it was old.

My reply was why price it cheap if it’s still selling at $9.99.  For new readers that book still has value as a new book.  (I should note that I just went and looked that book up on Amazon US and it’s ranked at 13,000 so it’s doing just fine with its $9.99 price tag.)

I only discovered Robin Hobb’s books last year.  I read all of them.  I didn’t even stop for a moment to say, “Wait, when did these books come out?  They shouldn’t cost that much.”  What I instead said was, “Oh, thank God I’ve found a good author that I haven’t already read.  Give me.”

What this person was failing to grasp is that readers are not one monolithic group that all behave exactly the same.  There are bargain hunters who will only buy books on sale or used or will borrow from the library.  There are trend chasers who probably aren’t going to ever buy a cheap book because it somehow implies low quality.  There are new release buyers (like my mom) who buy a book by a favorite author the day it comes out without even looking at the price.  And many other types of readers on top of that.  Different price points expose you to different readers.

I’m currently in the midst of an experiment on my pen name fantasy novels.  They were priced at $4.99 which when I released them felt bold and daring for an indie author putting out their first book with no following.  But you know what? I just bumped them up to $6.99.  Why?  Because the cover can compete with trade published books and that’s who I’m putting it up against with my advertising.  I’m running AMS ads on the books and every single author I chose has books priced $6.99, $7.99, or more.  By upping my price, I’m showing that my book sits alongside those books.  Pricing cheaper actually might cause a reader to pause and dig in and wonder why my book is cheaper instead of simply one-clicking.

The results so far are promising.  I don’t knock it out of the park, but I have seven sales of book 1 at $6.99 for the month so far on Amazon.  In the nine days before that I’d had two sales at $4.99.  I don’t think I was running ads, though, so that’s not really apples to apples.  A better comparison might be the first nine days of January where I had 9 sales at $4.99.  So, basically, I’m netting the same.  $32.  But if my sellthrough to book 2 stays steady, then I’ll be making more long-term.

One of the benefits to being a no-name author that isn’t being watched like a hawk is that you can do these experiments.  If I’d raised the price of the book to $6.99 and hadn’t been able to sell a copy, then I’d drop it again.  Being higher priced also gives me more wiggle room with promos.  It’s much sexier to advertise a price reduction from $6.99 to 99 cents than $2.99 to 99 cents.  Or to be sitting at 99 cents and have nowhere to go but free.

Price is an individual choice.  All I’m saying is don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to price cheap because you’re an indie or because the book is older.  To new readers it’s a new book.  And most aren’t going to think about who published it unless you give them a reason to.  (Or unless a bunch of others have given them a reason to because they’ve been burned far too many times.  Something far more like to happen at the lower price points.)


About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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3 Responses to Books Aren’t Cars

  1. kataar says:

    I never actually thought about it like this. Kinda makes me want to try a similar experiment, since my sales are pretty much dead right now. Just to see what happens…

    • M. H. Lee says:

      Exactly. I figure I’m four months out from my next release and wasn’t expecting a lot of sales until then so why not give it a shot. BUT…I will say from past experiments with price changes that without advertising they don’t do anything.

      Have you tried Amazon’s ads? They’re under Reports – Ad Campaigns. A lot of people are having success with the Sponsored Products ones. Choose to select your own keywords and then list authors who are in your also-boughts or who write something similar to what you write for your keywords. Bid something like 25 cents per keyword to start but up it if you have some successful keywords. Keep keywords that get you at least one click per 1,500 impressions or so, pause ones that don’t get clicks or sales and see what happens.

      It’s driven a large part of my sales the past few months even thought it’s gotten a lot more competitive now that more folks know about them.

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