99 Cent E-Books: Four Reasons Why

19 Apr

Lately there’s been more and more hullabaloo about the 99 cent price point for e-books. I’d like to present a short list of the reasons I use this price point:

1) Because I Can
It’s amazing that I can sell books for 99 cents and still earn money for each sale, and I’d like this to be more widely acknowledged. Some form of disclosure is perhaps necessary here; I don’t really care about money. I live modestly, I don’t smoke or drink or have expensive hobbies, my family has takeaways about once a month and go out for dinner about four times a year, we shop sensibly and never spend beyond our means. I’m debt-free and I’ve never once paid interest on my credit card. I don’t have much money; consequently, I’m careful with what I’ve got. The things I mostly buy are games, when they’re six months to a year old and down in price, or books, or DVDs. I saved up for months to buy a Kindle (money well spent!). My primary interests are spending time with my family and writing, both of which are as close to free as makes no odds. To put it simply, I’m poor but I’m happy.

So money isn’t important to me, and it’s not the main reason I’m doing this whole indie author adventure thing. Yes, one of my goals is to become financially independent, but that’s a very long-term thing. For now, certainly, it’s not the money I get from each sale that’s important, but simply having (possibly) connected with another reader. The reason I’m so happy when I sell a copy of Miya Black II isn’t that it’s priced at $2.99, but that someone liked the first one enough to want to read the second one.

That I can price my books at 99 cents and still make money from each sale is fantastic. It’s almost unbelievable. To be quite honest I don’t understand why people are so negative about it–except that perhaps, just maybe, they’re threatened. Because this represents a change, a shift, a progression, dare I say it? This represents a revolution in publishing, and in reading. The existence of “books for 99 cents” isn’t scary, it’s exciting, and I think that given time this fact is going to gain mainstream tolerance, and then acceptance, and then celebration.

2) It Removes A Barrier
I’ve said a couple of times about how, as indie authors, part of our job is removing barriers between our books and potential readers. The reason having a good cover is important is because a bad cover presents a barrier–an excuse, of sorts, for someone to pass your book over. The same with blurb, formatting, editing and so on, all of these are things that could stand between someone giving your book a try and them thinking “Hmm, maybe not”.

Price is, I think, a big barrier. Maybe for some people there’s no difference between 99 cents and $2.99. For me, there is. Again, I’m not rich! I have to think about where that $2 is going to come from. I have about $40NZ a week (about $30US). This is for anything I buy myself–chips, biscuits, DVDs, e-books. Well, actually I tend to put at least half of this into savings, so cut that down to $15US. Again, I don’t spend much money on myself and if I want something I save up for it (Portal 2, for example, I’ve pre-ordered, which means over the last few weeks I’ve bought almost nothing).

I think even a $2.99 price point will make most people stop and think. I think that a 99 cent price point will make most people think “If I want this book I can have it”–or maybe not even that, just a glance at the price, an “Okay, good” reaction, and then they’ll move on to the blurb or the sample. With that barrier removed, it’s down to your book to make the sale. As an unknown indie author, I don’t think you can afford to ignore the value of this. Actually, even if you’re a famous author, pricing a book at 99 cents is going to get you thousands of new readers.

3) Good Vibes
Corporations are profit-driven and it’s rare that you get something for less than what the market will support. What I’m talking about is when someone chooses to sell something at a cheaper rate than what they know/suspect they could get. Rare, right?

So, a small part of my decision to keep my prices at 99 cents is just because, well, it’s nice to be able to do that.

4) Price Does Not Equate To Worth
It doesn’t. It just doesn’t. It used to be that price was calculated more fairly–cost of materials, an agreed-upon standard of the craftsman’s time and so forth. That was in the olden days when things were more solid. These days we have economics mucking everything up, and when you enter into the realms of digital, essentially free reproduction things get really fuzzy. Let’s gain some perspective with an example:

Snooki’s book, A Shore Thing, is $10.99 on Kindle.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s classic, The Little Prince, is $1.99 on Kindle.

If price equates to worth, that means Snooki’s book is five times better than The Little Prince.

Just writing that sentence made me shudder.

Look, even if you don’t like The Little Prince (you odd person), then there IS a book in the Kindle store priced at less than $10.99 that you would value more highly than … that other book.

Why is that book priced at $10.99? Because the publisher thinks that’s what people will pay (well, there are other reasons too, but that’s not what this post is about). Is it an indication of the book’s quality? I doubt even the publisher values the book as anything more than ‘potential profit’ (although whoever thought that Jersey Shore fans read probably needs to do some serious thinking about themselves and their life).

Still not convinced? Imagine this, then. There’s a book you want, a fancy book, a lovely book, and it’s $50. That’s too expensive for you. But then there’s a sale, and it comes down to $10. Is the book worth less because it’s cheaper? Arguably, its worth has increased because you can now easily afford it, and you’ll feel better about buying it because now it’s a bargain.

Price does not equate to worth, repeat it with me, burn it into your mind, sing it from the highest heights, price does not equate to worth. Pricing your book at 99 cents is not some way of saying “It’s not worth any more than this”, it’s not ‘devaluing’ yourself as an author, you have to put that notion right out of your head, your worth as an author is not based on how much people are willing to pay for your work. If you’re judging yourself by that then … then I don’t know what to say, except don’t. Don’t do that.

The 99 cent price point isn’t about the worth of your book. It’s about lots of things, and I think some of the arguments against using it are valid, but it’s not about that. Authors understand this, and I think most readers understand this. Those that don’t, well, eventually I think they’ll come around. For now, I believe that pricing a book at 99 cents will do a lot more good than bad, and I think that sooner, rather than later, this price point will come to be more commonly accepted.

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Posted by on April 19, 2011 in Of Writing


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