Saturday, August 18, 2012

Can You Get Rich On 99 Cents?

On this fine Saturday evening, I thought I'd weigh in with my thoughts on the 99 cent price point. This has been the subject of considerable back-and-forth among the indie author community, but I have, so far, stayed out of it. Well, after having been "in business" for a little over a year and experimented with a wide range of marketing techniques, I'm ready to share my experiences.

When I wrote my first two novels, Weaver and Atticus for the Undead, I initially priced each at 99 cents. Having read that now-famous indie authors like Amanda Hocking and Darcie Chan skyrocketed to stardom after pricing their books at 99 cents, I thought that this might be a good way to encourage people to give my novels a try. I was an indie author, after all, who was launching his career during a recession, when people were going to be naturally hesitant to spend money. 99 cents made sense. So, with a deep breath, I gave it a shot.

It was a failure. A rather miserable failure, actually.

The 99 cent price drew few readers, and, what's more, since Amazon only lets you keep 35% of the royalties for books at that price, my profits on the books I did sell were beyond anemic--they were pathetic. I went months and months without a single royalty check to show for my efforts. So what was I doing wrong that Hocking, Chan, and the rest were doing right?

Of course I can't answer that question with certainty. I have no idea what's in the minds of potential readers, and even the most experienced writers and publishers say that there's simply no predicting which books will take off and which won't. Part of the answer may be that my genre (urban-fantasy novels which tend toward the thriller side of things) is simply less popular than the genres embraced by my more successful counterparts. Or it may simply be that I'm just not a very good writer (though for the sake of my ego, I try not to believe this).

But I believe that part of the answer is that there is actually a stigma associated with 99 cent pricing now, related to the stigma that accompanies indie authorship. I think many readers realize that big publishing houses wouldn't charge such a low price for their books--indeed, many traditionally published e-books are, in my opinion, now badly overpriced. Therefore, when potential buyers see a book at that price, they assume it can only be an indie novel, and the aversion to indies kicks in.

So I changed tactics. I marked Atticus for the Undead up to $2.99 (which is still probably cheaper than traditional publishers would charge, but I hoped the price increase would at least eliminate some of the "you get what you pay for" mentality). When The Void (Book 2 in The Weaver Saga) went live, I made Weaver itself free. The results of this move were dramatic--especially this month, now that Amazon has gotten around to price-matching. Copies of Weaver flew off the e-shelves, and The Void has delivered me my single best month of sales yet. It has even outsold Atticus during the months that Atticus was available on KDP Select. (If you're wondering why the "you get what you pay for" mentality kicks in for a book at 99 cents but not a book that's free, don't ask me.)

The lesson I learned? If you want to use low prices to encourage readers to try out your work, just go ahead and make it free. You don't make much money on 99 cent books anyway, and the heightened potential for exposure more than makes up for any losses you do incur--especially if, like me, you write series. I still hope to one day get rich as an indie author--but I won't be doing it at 99 cents.


  1. I found the same thing with pricing at 99 cents. I didn't have any luck with it, so I decided to write a handful of short stories and offer them for free. I figured that way people could get a taste of my writing and hopefully take a closer look at my other books.

  2. You are right, there is lots of back and forth on this topic and everyone has their opinion. ;o) I tend to stay out of it too, but I am compelled to offer my two cents.

    My first book, Laiden's Daughter, (published December 2011) is priced at 99cents. It's been at that price for months now. Since February, it has sold more than 35,000 copies. I keep it at the 99 cent mark for a few reasons 1. It is my first book and I'm trying to get my name out there. 2. Its the first in my series (there will be at least 6 books in the series.) 3. I'm trying to build a reader base.

    My second book, Findley's Lass, is priced at $2.99 and it is having great sales too, so much in fact, that I was able to give up my day job just a few weeks ago. Book one has been on Amazon's top 100 best sellers list since February. Book two was released September 2 and was on same list by September 8. ;o) I'm working on book 3 right now and it will be at the $2.99 mark as well.

    I think the 99 cent mark does have its place. Should all books be priced so low? Nope. But I figured it was worth it to get my name out there and a great way develop my reader base. ;o)

    Thanks for letting me share my opinion! ;o)