Books written by Ray Sullivan

Monday, 17 February 2014

Amazon Price Madness

Anyone who self publishes through Amazon or Smashwords will know that the responsibility of setting the selling price is theirs.  It's a challenge for us Joe Averages who have managed to write a story from one end to the other correctly formatted for multiple reading devices, create a cover that looks professional and write a descriptive blurb (probably harder than the actual book for many of us) before we get to this stage.

Marketing is a black art, in my opinion.  I've worked with marketers in the past and I can confirm that science has no place in their deliberations.  However they must know something, must apply some formulaic process to their craft because when they get it right, they get it very right.  Of course, when they get it wrong their products sink without trace so we don't see that side too often.  Their failures are hidden.  Like I said, art, not science.

However, unlike the big six publishers and the shrinking number of small independent publishers, pricing is one of those things the self publisher has to sort out him or herself.  Opinions are freely available, I'm probably about to impart a few of my own at no cost in a few lines.  Mark Coker, the CEO of Smashwords, is a marketer from another age and imparts his analysis on eBook pricing.  He notes, and to be fair he is in a good position to analyse trends, that free books are good sellers, if lacking in revenue, $0.99 tend to do OK but it isn't until you price above $2.99 that sales take place.  Actually, from how I read his figures, $0.99 might need to sell more to make the same money as higher priced offerings but are more readily bought anyway.

The big insight Mark brings to the table is that the $1.00 - $2.98 range is in essence the ebook dead zone. Now, against my better instincts, I pitched my books above $2.99 for a while and sales plummeted.  My take is that I am not a well enough known writer for people to invest $2.99 in speculatively - and to be fair I rarely pay more than £0.99 (about $1.30) for books myself.  In fact I don't think the absolute value is the important bit, it's the fact that 0.99 in whatever currency you deal in that is psychologically relevant.  It's a candy bar price, a cup of coffee in a coffee shop that pays its fair share of taxes (excludes Starbucks and their fancy priced lattés, then).  The way I look at it, I'm more than happy to take a chance at £0.99 on a book as long as I get good vibes from the blurb but I'm reluctant to spend much more unless it's a book I really want to read.

So after trying Mark's advice for an extended period I reverted to my instinct and priced my books at 0.99 in whatever currency they were sold in where possible.  In fact this is one area that Amazon should have an advantage in as they allow me to price my books individually for each region with the exception of a couple of areas that have to be linked to the US dollar price.  In contrast Smashwords only allows one price, so that is set at $0.99 and is converted locally - such as in the UK - to the exchange rate, sort of.  I say sort of because if you peek at the Kobo UK pages for my books you will find they vary from £0.62 to £0.75, despite all being listed at $0.99 on Smashwords.  I suspect they were converted at different exchange rates on different days, then frozen.  Whatever, I'm not too hung up on the price, I have a wish to make it affordable and accessible to anyone who wants to buy my books.  If I sell small quantities then the price isn't going to make that much of a difference to my lifestyle, and if I do sell a lot then, well, a lot of $0.99 sales equates to that change anyway.  Hence I'm keen to keep my prices keen, if you get my drift.

So what's my beef?  Well, I've had a reasonably good week this week, for reasons I don't understand.  It's not like I've been promoting or even blogging and my blog hit rate has been OK but subdued due to the lack of entries.  On Smashwords I've seen a lot of activity across all the seven books and a reasonable number of 20% downloads.  I can't tell where the interest comes from, whether the downloads are unique individuals or even if they convert to a sale later - I suspect some people surf Smashwords for potential purchases but buy from Apple or B&N later.  On Amazon I've experienced sales across the planet, from home in the UK, across the US and even in the Far East.  Even paperbacks have sold, and I really cannot keep a lid on those costs, much as I'd like to.

Anyway, I took a stroll on Amazon to see how my books looked and to see if any new reviews had been loaded.  In the UK they are listing my books for £1.02 - it seems a ridiculous price to pitch at, but I suspect the notorious UK Value Added Tax, which is applicable to eBooks but not printed matter, is to blame for the £0.03 increase from the price I stipulated.  But in the US I note that my books are listed at $1.68.  I can't see any reason for this price - it's not the price I stipulated, it doesn't really net me much in the way of extra royalties when a book is sold and it pitches my books smack bang into the dead zone.

I've never found Amazon responsive to enquiries about how they price my books, so I haven't chased them on this. However I have had experience of how they react when they find out that a book is being sold elsewhere cheaper from when I ran a limited free ebook promotion.  They won't let me list for free (unless I sell my soul to them), but Smashwords does, which means Apple, B&N and Kobo do by default.  When I ran that promotion the word got out and Amazon started to give my books away as a price challenge for at least a month longer than the promotion ran - thanks, guys.  If you've been looking at my books but think $1.68 is a little steep, then I agree.  Challenge Amazon to price match their competitors.  Or buy your Kindle compatible version from Smashwords.  It saves on emails but unfortunately adds an extra step in the loading process.

For those in the UK, you can shave a quarter off the price by going through Smashwords, and don't worry about my royalties - a much larger slice of anything you pay in the UK ends up in the author's pockets, so generally we're happier anyway.  I would recommend shopping around for any book you fancy unless it is already discounted - don't assume ebook prices are fixed.  They are, but not in the traditional meaning of the word.

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