I took a bunch of flack for my previous posts on self-publishing in which I criticized the business model. I think most self publishing authors thought I was hiding a derision for the industry behind a business-minded opinion piece.
They were wrong.
Self publishing has been on my radar for years and I think it can be done, when it's done well. But I also think it's (currently) difficult and costly to do well. Also, rife with potential hiccups that could have far-reaching consequences for an author's career.
But just to prove that I have actually seriously considered the issue, and to maybe help out anyone with the gonads to give it a shot , I'll tell you one of the things I would do, if I were going to do it.
Assuming you can overcome the obstacles I see in the process to self-publication, there's a very, very big business decision to be made:
$$ Price $$
I see a lot of hubbub out there right now about the $1 e-book. I can see why authors would do it, and I can see why readers would buy it. It's really a no-risk purchase for a reader - which in turn equates to more sales for the writer.
Hmmm... I'm thinking that depends on what you want out of your writing career.
Quick Marketing Lesson
I'm not going to get into the intricacies here, but I want to put a concept in front of you:
When a reader pays a price for a product, their perception is that the product is worth that much. That means:
1. If they want something and it costs too much, their perception is that they're being screwed over and they will look for other ways to find the product cheaper or a cheaper alternative.
2. If they need something and it's cheaper than expected, their perception is that they got a bargain.
But here's the problem:
Last Tuesday, Joe Bookbuyer purchased Ty Roth's So Shelly in hardcover for $29.95. He read the book and liked it. Feels like he got himself value for money.... Until he found out that Neighbor Jane also bought So Shelly in hardcover last Tuesday. But she only paid $22.95.
Suddenly, Joe's perception of value is under attack. Now, if he loved the book, maybe he'd be philosophical. But regardless, what do you think Joe's going to do next time he hears about a book coming out? Chances are, he'll be headed for the outlet Neighbor Jane used - or looking for a supplier who'll give him the product at the reduced price.
And if he can't find it at the reduced price, he's going to perceive that he's paying more than necessary for the product.
(NOTE: I'm simplifying to illustrate the point. Value is based on more variables than price-point alone - With books it would including timing, hard / soft / digital cover, extras, special editions, etc).
We can debate the big box stores vs. indepedent or online retailers, but that's not my point. My point is: when you price a product, you create an expectation.
Now, let's apply the Value Pricing equation to e-books:
Hypothetical Pricepoint Dilemma-Slash-Unexpected-Consequence
Author Shelly Noname has written a book and decides to release it herself via Indiepub. Because no one knows who she is and she's happy to build a readership over time, she prices her book at $1.
She sells a few, starts to get some good reviews. Sales take off. Her first book sells 1,300 copies and nets her $1,000.
Author Shelly Noname is laughing all the way to the bank, right?
She writes the sequel and it sells 1,200 copies (along with an extra 500 for the first book). Author Shelly Noname is stoked.
She's starting to get some buzz on Twitter, a few author interviews and fans cropping up. After a few months of this (with steady, though not significant sales), she gets yet another comment from a fan about how the book is worth so much more than $1.
So, figuring she's got a good base at this piont, she puts the price up to $9.99. Sales slow dramatically, but on numbers she's still making the same, or maybe even a little bit more money, so she leaves it there.
But a week or two later the reviews start coming in and Author Shelly Noname notices something...
Where the vast majority of her reviews before were 4 or 5 stars, now she's got a buttload of 3 stars and a healthy sprinkling of 1's and 2's.
Figuring it's just a blip, she presses on, releasing the third book in the trilogy at the new $9.99 pricepoint.
Sales are downright low. Reviews - when they come - are average across the board. And those 'average' reviews are gaining momentum on the first two books which used to get raved about.
Q: What happened?
A:The customer's perception of value was impinged.
Let's cut to the chase: In these days and times, anything you can get for $1 is a nothing. There's no risk. There's no perceived value. If you can get something for $1 that is even marginally good, you're going to rave about it. It's a bargain! It might as well have been free.
Now apply that to a book and you've got a recipe for fandom. If you give people any amount of pleasure for a buck, they're going to (figuratively) kiss you on both cheeks and tell everyone you're a demigod.
Because the perception is that you gave them something for (virtually) nothing.
But as soon as the price goes up, the customer's expectations changes. Perceptions of value on $10 are significantly different. For $10 the customer can buy their favorite author's backlist paperbacks or go to the movies. If your book doesn't at least punch at a similar weight (i.e. a long, enjoyable reading experience, or a couple of hours of good, pure entertainment), perception is that it wasn't value for money.
Simply put: If your book cost $5, it needs to be at least half as good as the customer's favorite to break even.
You can pretend this isn't true, but you won't be doing yourself any favors. Go find some reviews on Goodreads for books sold at that pricepoint (or books offered on special for a short time). You'll see comments like "A bargain at $1" or "I wouldn't have bought it for $15, but at $1.99 I thought it was really good...)
I'm not making this up.
So, my advice (for what it's worth) is this: If you are happy to sell your product at $0.99 or $1.99 for the rest of your days, and you have the means to market it, go for it. It's your very best chance for success. If you can drum up some word-of-mouth publicity at that price, you'll go global.
But your book has to be good. Not just 'pretty good for a buck'. It needs to be Something-Incredible-For-Virtually-Nothing good. That's what will get people excited so they tell their friends to buy it.
A five star review on a $1 book is not created equal to a five star review on a $15 book.
The audiences are different. The expectations are different. The equation is different.
If you're self-pubbing, you've either got to punch above your weight, or price below your value. And don't put your price up until that fanbase is fanatical.
The good news? Word on the street is that if you can achieve that, Traditional Publishing is listening.
Your Turn: How does pricepoint affect your buying? What's the difference between a book you wait for paperback release, and one you shell out for in hardcover?