A Self-Publisher’s Success is Tied to the Economy

It’s easy to ignore the connection between our ability to earn from our writing and our country’s economic situation. But it’s there, and it’s important. Is your impression of the “$.99 ghetto that it exists only because readers are too cheap to pay more? You’re right–and you’re wrong. For people who consume books the way they consume TV, slurping up entertainment that’s finished and immediately forgotten, $.99 is where they live. If you produce that kind of fiction, this is your market, and you’d better take it seriously.

There are also people who, for one reason or another, simply can’t afford to pay much for books. For them, the library is often their best source of reading material. They wait for the hardcover book to come out in paperback, or for the paperback to be available second-hand. They might hear about your book, read the reviews, download a sample and put it on their TBR list. But the higher the price, the less likely it is that they will ever buy it. In an economy that is steadily trending downward, the number of people in this category is growing very quickly.

Even if your book is outstanding (by someone’s opinion other than your own or your mother or best friend), the sheer volume of books being published means that you will have to work hard for sales. And every dollar that you tack on to the price means that much more work. There’s never likely to be any agreement among self-publishers about the price that will maximize sales. But the number that shakes out most often is $2.99 for a full-length novel. Perceptions vary, so there’s no agreement among readers about what constitutes too cheap to be worth buying. But it’s part of the mix. At every dollar below $2.99, you will lose readers who judge value by cost. At every dollar above, you will lose readers. They can’t afford the book. They’ve never heard of you and aren’t willing to take much of a financial risk. They consider that particular genre throwaway entertainment and won’t pay much for it.

No matter what category your potential readers fall into, the likelihood is that their choices are going to be dictated by the current economy, and their fears for the future. In the U.S., unemployment is in the double digits and rising. Unemployment benefits are being cut back. Jobs are scarce, and most that are available for the average worker don’t pay a living wage. It’s something to think about when you’re pricing your book.

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2 thoughts on “A Self-Publisher’s Success is Tied to the Economy

  1. I had always heard the $3.99 USD figure, not $2.99 (for e-books). Are you giving this amount for a new and self-pubbed or a number that one should keep indefinitely over the course of her career?

    Would you be skeptical of an author who started pricing cheaply and then after earning respect in the literary world, begins to charge an extra dollar for an ebook? I hadn’t thought of this before, but your post got me thinking of the reputation of a newly established indie author.

  2. I see many more books priced at $2.99 than $3.99, and that’s the figure that most of the bloggers I read generally stick with. That would be for an average-length novel.

    Personally, I judge books by their quality, not their price, so if someone started out selling cheap or even giving their books away and then charged a reasonable amount, it wouldn’t bother me. Pricing should be flexible. Authors who write in popular genres can get away with charging more, especially as they become better known. I can see someone gradually upping their prices as they develop a backlist and a readership. But it’s probably a good idea to always have some books at a lower price to entice new readers.

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