Step Three: Decide on a Price

piggy-bank-850607_1920.jpgEBooks are a relatively new phenomenon and pricing can be notoriously difficult. Browsing the shelves of Amazon or Smashwords reveals alarming variability, from bestselling self-published authors listing at 99c/99p to eye watering figures of £9.99 and upwards.

It’s a thorny issue for many self-publishers. More than once I’ve read words to the effect:

I charge £9.99 for my eBooks and if people aren’t prepared to pay that, it’s their loss!

It really isn’t. Your potential readers will happily move on and find another book that’s reasonably priced. It’s you who’ll be sitting there, increasingly embittered, with pitiful sales.

As authors, we put hundreds, even thousands, of hours into each book. To be successful, though, you need to consciously forget that, put on a cool business head and focus on the market and what people are willing to pay. It isn’t easy but if you get it right, your chances of success improve dramatically.

Firstly, let’s start with a couple of don’ts:

  • Don’t equate your eBook to the print edition. Bear in mind you won’t have any printing or postage costs and retailer commissions tend to be considerably lower. This means you get to keep a much higher proportion of the list price.
  • Don’t price match bestselling mainstream authors. A novel by the likes of JK Rowling or Dan Brown might retail at £4 – £6 but this is because they have huge reputations. Their new releases are eagerly anticipated. Readers visit Amazon specifically to buy their eBooks and are more than willing to pay £5 or so to do so. The self-publishing market is very different. Readers don’t know you and are taking a chance buying your work. For a novel, they may be willing to risk a couple of quid. Much more than that and they’ll simply download Dan Brown’s latest instead.

Now for the good news: eBooks do much better than their printed counterparts in the self-publishing sector. This is due to two factors: price and immediacy. If you’re making yourself and your book visible in all the right places online, your potential customers will see a review for your book, a comment you’ve left on a blog or a tweet, be intrigued, click on a link and arrive at your book’s listing. At that point, you want the price to be at a level where they feel they have nothing (or very little) to lose by giving it a go.

The 99p Bracket
Many self-published authors with sales in the millions list their work at 99p/99c. And yes, I know £0.99 is more than $0.99 but something to do with exchange rates, VAT or just plain bad maths makes the two prices equivalent according to Kindle.

There is, however, a major disadvantage to setting a very low price on Amazon. Kindle has two author royalty rates: 35% and 70%. In order to qualify for 70%, you must price your eBook at £1.99-£9.99 on Amazon.co.uk and $2.99-$9.99 on Amazon.com. Anything above or below that sees your royalty drop to 35%. In short, if you list a book at 99p, you’ll only see 23p of that but for a £1.99 sale, you’ll receive a more impressive £1.13.

Pricing for Fiction
I’d recommend listing a full length novel at £1.99/$2.99.

This, for me, is a comfortable price that looks temptingly inexpensive to readers but will still gain you a decent royalty. You could try slightly higher at the £2.49/$3.99 mark, but I wouldn’t go above £2.99/$4.49, at least not until you gain a fan base and your work takes off.

If your book is very short, this should be reflected in the price. For a novellas, of under 120 pages or so, it’s generally unwise to charge much more than 99p/99c.

Pricing for Nonfiction
Nonfiction eBooks tend to be slightly more expensive. There is a theory that a very low price here could make the customer question the quality of the product. Having seen low-priced bestsellers in a multitude of genres, I remain unconvinced that 99p is the kiss of death for a nonfiction book. However, a more usual price tends to be between £2.49/$3.99 and £5.99/$8.99.

In the nonfiction world, price varies widely depending on category. To get a better idea of the price you should set, check other books in your genre. Look at both the price they’re listed at and how well they’re selling.

To check out Amazon’s bestsellers eBooks in your genre, select Shop by Department -> Kindle E-readers & Books -> Kindle Books:

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Click on Bestsellers:

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In the central panel, you’ll see the top one hundred eBooks across all genres. To the left of this, book categories are listed:

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Select a category and gradually get more specific until you find the exact one that corresponds to your work. You should then see a list of books in your genre in order of how well they’re selling. Have a look at the prices and see where your book might fit in.

If you’re utterly bewildered by the array of pricing and sales ranks, try starting your book at the £2.49. You can alter the price up or down at any point, depending on how sales are going.

Be Flexible
However you price your book, keep an eye on sales figures and be prepared to change the price if necessary, preferably without developing a chip on your shoulder about how the world doesn’t appreciate your genius.

If your book fails to sell, don’t discount the 99p bracket, even if it means accepting KDP’s 35% royalty rate. Remember, 23p profit on a hundred sales will earn more than £1.13 on five.

Pricing down not only gives a flagging book a much needed boost but can also do wonders to build up a fan base. Fans will buy your next book and the one after and tell their friends all about your work. Many self-published authors with multiple books have at least one of their works listed for free in order to gain these fans.

Self-publishing is all about persuading readers to take that initial step and invest their time (and money) into getting to know you as an author. If you price your book high, you’re making this process unnecessarily hard and doing yourself and your book a disservice. Always remain flexible and think about the long game.

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