The arguments go on — is charging $.99 for your work a clever marketing technique or is it a way to dig yourself into the bargain basement. I wasn’t planning to come back to the subject because it’s been so well-flogged in so many places, but reading the following quote gave me a lot to think about. It was in response to a discussion on the blog of a well-known writer from whom I’ve learned a lot, but don’t always agree with. The commenter was outraged by some one-star reviews.
“…Those idiots considered $2.99 for a 5000-word short story to be a rip-off and that pisses me off because I think charging 99-cents is a rip-off for me. Given that the short story ebook market is a small market as it is, I’d rather put up with the occasional 1-star reviewer asshole who rips me for selling my work for a fair price than to half-assed give my work away in charging 99-cents. If those readers don’t think I’m worthy of earning more than 35-cents on a short story then they can go purchase all the 99-cent novels that their heart desires until those particular authors get tired of being the best-selling authors still working at Wal*Mart.”
I don’t know who this person is, but the question of whether a 5k story is worth three bucks depends very largely on your name recognition. An established author with a devoted fan base can charge that much and make his readers happy. But for most of us more obscure writers trying to build a fan base, that price is probably suicidal. Like it or not, people do make judgments about price/value. Five thousands words is a very short read, probably 15 to 20 minutes or less for the average reader. That makes it a pretty damned expensive read in terms of what the reader gains. As a general rule, that length isn’t going to allow for much substance, which is what gives the story its value.
Aside from perceived value, that price can become a problem for the writer. If you start out with such a short story at such a high price, where do you go from there? Do you charge exactly the same for all your stories, regardless of length? If so, readers can say they’re being cheated by having to pay the same amount for the shortest stories.
$2.99 has become the de facto sweet spot for first novels, and for novellas. It doesn’t hit the pocket-book too hard, and can provide a satisfying read. It’s also widely accepted that charging less for anything shorter than novel-length gives the author wiggle room to see what price point works best. Once you set a base of $2.99, you’ve destroyed that wiggle room, because moving higher for your novel means that you may be pricing yourself out of the market. And you have to keep in mind that most of this doesn’t apply to authors with a big fan base. That’s why people will shell out $25.00 for a hard cover edition. What applies to the established and popular author doesn’t apply to those of us just starting out.
This may be moving into snark territory, but there’s a couple more points to make. It doesn’t make sense to say that you’re entitled to more than $.35 for your hard work. If you were only going to sell one copy, I can see it. But a story that’s priced attractively is going to sell a lot more copies than one that’s priced according to what the writer thinks he’s worth. Another way to look at it is that it’s the book that’s being offered and judged, and your ego has nothing to do with it.
Last, the commenter goes from whinging over his short story to making an illogical and baseless jump. He assumes that everyone who prefers to pay $.99 for a short story will also buy novels only at that price. Apples and oranges.
By the way, unless you’re a master story teller, yes, your $2.99 story is a ripoff. But I wouldn’t pay that much for it, in the first place.