There’s been a lot of discussion lately about the price of ebooks; whether it’s wrong for independent authors/self-publishers to use the agency model (setting your own prices) to undercut mainstream publishing, or whether, like the music industry, its providing good value to the consumer.
There are also arguments that suggest it’s morally wrong to price a piece of art so low, and such low prices devalue literature. I’ve read convincing arguments on both sides and have thought about how I feel about it, and here’s what I think.
1. Competitive Pricing
Personally, I have no problem with the current agency model of the publisher setting their own prices. Much like capitalism and democracy, it’s not perfect, but for me personally, it’s the best current system. Now, I come to that opinion mostly as a publisher. For authors tied to contracts with traditional publishing, they might lose out. But, I think the agility of moving prices to reflect or influence a market is a good thing for publishers in general. Although we’ll see how that pans out after the court case with regards to price-fixing and collusion.
2. Bargain Bucket Pricing
To begin with I didn’t have much of an opinion on this, so for the last six months I’ve experimented, and I can now say for certain that pricing books low doesn’t always equate to more sales or more income, and can actually damage the long term reputation of the author/publisher.
Sales for my books and those of my publishing arm ‘Anachron Press’ have not changed since upping the price beyond the bargain bin.
However, that’s not to say I’m against short-term sales, or low introductory prices for books at the beginning of a series. A loss leader is a well seasoned retailing method, and making your work/series accessible is not a bad thing.
What I don’t agree with is the John Locke model of selling absolutely everything for the lowest price to game the sales rankings. It’s also come to light recently that John Locke purchased paid reviews to artificially place his books higher in Amazon’s ranking system, and coupled with Stephen Leather’s admission of using fake accounts to promote/review/pimp his low-priced works, the whole pot of low-priced books has been spoiled by a scummy after-taste.
I think it’s now important to price our books above that level. And apparently Amazon thinks the same with its recently algorithm change, which benefits higher priced books.
Low Price, Low Value, Low Priority
Secondly, I personally don’t believe that the majority of super-low-priced books are even read. I’ve done it myself; bought a whole bunch of $0.99 ebooks, or even downloaded a bunch of free ones, and they sit languishing in my kindle/ipad always being put to the bottom of the pile until I finish the regular priced books first. The regular priced ones feel like ‘proper’ books, not something cheaply produced and cheaply sold. This might not always be the case. There are genuinely good books that are sold low for a sale period. I bought some China Mieville and James Herbert books that were dropped below a quid. But those are different; they are established authors and you know you’re going to get a degree of quality.
Quality isn’t always the case with bargain basement books; there’s a risk factor there. Not financially of course, but time wise. Am I prepared to invest 8-10 hours reading time on an unknown author selling their books for less than a quid? My experience has told me no. I’m not willing to risk it. And with reviews easily purchased, I can’t rely on them either. So it’s either try the sample, waste some time in an effort to find a gem, or shop in the more expensive isles. I still might buy a stinker, but I know that I’m cutting out a certain degree of those who look to emulate the ‘make it cheap, sell it cheap’ ethos of Locke/Leather et al.
So, going forward, I’ll be pricing my books competitively but not bargain-bin levels. I will only buy books that are fair priced, and/or in a sale. I will only buy books that I intend to read. That last one for me is the most important. Even from a publisher point of view. It’s nice to have the sales, but I’d rather have readers actually reading my books and not just collecting them for the sake of it.
What’s your view on pricing? Do you collect cheap books, or do you read them? I would love to hear what you think.