Is FREE Fair to Everyone?
This self-publishing gig is tough. From hiring an editor and cover artist to deciding whether or not to format books yourself or hire a formatter. (I wouldn’t have thought that necessary until I saw the really pretty formats of some ebooks I’ve purchased. All lovely scroll work at chapter headings and figuring out how to put title and author name on each page of an ereader … but I digress.) You get the idea, there are a lot of decisions to make.
And one of the hardest decisions an author has to make is pricing.
That’s right. Pricing. There are a lot of articles being written on the $.99 phenomenon. This POST offers an hypothesis as to why returns go up when the price goes down. Many authors are also discouraged because they feel pushed into scandalously low prices for their books. It’s not so much about feeling bullied by readers’ expectations that cause me to experiment with pricing … it’s sales.
I’m in this business for readers to find and (hopefully) enjoy my books. I’m not interested in putting in all kinds of time creating characters and weaving stories only to have my books sit in the dark, lonely nether regions of the internet, never to be downloaded to an e-reading device. Nope. I want them out in the world running wild and playing with all kinds of new readers.
This is one pricing list I’ve seen and it makes so much sense:
$0.99 Books less 10,000 words
$1.99 Books 10,001 to 20,000 words
$2.99 Books 20,001 to 50,000 words
$3.99 Books 50,001 to 75,000 words
$4.99 Books 75,001 to 100,000 words
$5.99 Books 100,001 words to ???
Now this might not make sense for everyone or for every book, but it’s a nice starting point. So then the question comes in … Where does FREE fit into this equation? According to some … it shouldn’t. Offering free books gives readers expectations that if they wait long enough a book will eventually be offered free and they will never have to buy another book. I don’t completely agree with that theory. The fact is, any reader has always been able to feed their literary addiction with free (libraries and convention giveaways) and drastically discounted books (garage sales and library book overstocks). Why wouldn’t the savvy digital reader expect the same thing?
For me personally, offering BLIND HER WITH BLISS, the first book in my sexy romantic suspense series for free was the best thing I could have done for sales. In February I reported my self-publishing numbers BEFORE my book went free. In March, I updated my sales figures. Sales continued strong through April … UNTIL I took the first book off the FREE promotion.
As in, I went from selling 20 books a day across all venues to selling 2. (I do realize that early spring is a slow time in general for digital book sales, but I’m sure this isn’t just that flux.) I suspect it has more to do with offering BLIND HER WITH BLISS as a loss leader which is bringing readers to my books. By the end of this month I will be offering it free again. Probably permanently. Yes, I’ve had 11,500 free downloads, but I know authors who have had four times that many downloads in a 2 day FREE promotion. So there are still plenty of readers who haven’t gotten my books.
I won’t do this with all my self-published books. But when a reader emails to tell me that she loved the free book so much she bought the whole series AND three of my traditionally published books … well, that makes me all warm and fuzzy inside. Some argue that free may be good for the individual, but not good for the publishing industry as a whole. I’m not sure. I only know it’s working to build my readership and therefore it’s growing my business.
And in the spirit of full disclosure my APRIL sales:
Free Downloads: 1666
Blind Her With Bliss: 40 books = $39.88
Deceive Her With Desire: 56 books = $110.31
Cheat Her With Charm: 38 books = $76.26
(Avg 35% drop in sales)
Barnes & Noble
Blind Her With Bliss: 177 books = $106.20 (through Smashwords)
Deceive Her With Desire: 51 books = $98.94
Cheat Her With Charm: 36 = $69.84
(Avg 40% drop in sales)
The month of May is dismal. I’ve sold a total of 30 books at Barnes & Noble, 36 at Smashwords and 35 at Amazon. The numbers speak for themselves.