Monday, November 11, 2013

Thoughts On a 99 Cent Sale

    by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

    It’s been a very long time since I’ve sold anything at 99 cents.  I’d read some blog posts that advised against it.  I’d heard readers say that it was tough finding anything good at 99 cents.
    Then I started reading those same things…but it was now arguing against a $1.99 price point.  The best, most recent examination I’ve got on the subject is this post by writer Molly Greene: “Ebook Pricing: What’s The Perfect Number?”  
    The entire post is worth a read.  Here is an excerpt where Molly quotes Smashwords CEO and founder Mark Coker on various price points:

    Per Coker, “I see untapped opportunity [at the $3.99 price point], where indies may be able to raise prices but not suffer unit decline.” He concludes “some authors are underpricing.” Smashwords data also reveals …
    • $.99 remains popular, but shows a big drop compared to their 2012 study.
    • $.99 to $1.99 underperforms in terms of earnings. (Per Coker, $1.99 is “a black hole.”)
    • $2.99 is the most common price point with indies.
    • $2.99 to $6.99 is the sweet spot for maximum earnings.
    • Indies have virtually abandoned the $9.99 price point compared to 2012’s study.
    I totally agree about the problems surrounding the $1.99 pricing.  I may have listed a book at that price once, briefly, but I yanked it out of there quickly.
    Personally, I’ve found that keeping one of my books free is helpful.  I currently have the two most recently self-published books at $3.99, where they tend to still sell well, and an older title at $2.99.  (And yes, one of my books is currently free, as usual.)
    I can’t really even remember the last time I ran a book at $.99, which must mean it was a couple of years ago.  Since I have a book for free, I didn’t really see the point of running another book so low.
    But I decided I’d run a very, very short 99 cent experiment.  It was, actually, fewer than 24 hours long. I figured January was always a nice time to have a small spike of income (January being the month I’d receive income from November sales).  If there was a spike.  Sales have been steady for me this fall and I’ve not really seen that slump I’ve been hearing about, so I decided to give it a go and run it for my latest title.
    The nice thing, though, about running a 99 cent sale is that you have a degree of control over the start and end of the sale.  When I make a book free, for instance, I’m listing it as free on Smashwords, then allowing Amazon to price match that price.  Sometimes, it takes days for Amazon to catch on.  Then, when I’m ready to shift the free sale to another book, I raise the price on Smashwords.  Sometimes it takes the various retailers days to get the message to raise the price (Sony, I’m looking at you).  So Amazon continues to match the free price while it’s still getting the message that some retailer out there continues to list it at $0.  I don’t have complete control over the start and stop of that promotion.
    For a $.99 sale, I just click over to my book’s Kindle Direct Publishing bookshelf and adjust the price to $.99.  Amazon has a pop-up window with a disclaimer that it may take as many as twelve hours for the change to take effect.  It only took a couple of hours. 
    I ran the sale on a newer title and watched as it cracked the top 2,000 of the Amazon bestseller list—before the sale, it was bouncing between the top 8,000—12,000.  Then I went back into the bookshelf and raised the price to $3.99 again.
    “Bait and switch?” asked my husband, eyebrows raised and trying to figure out what I'd done, when I told him that the books were selling like hotcakes at $3.99.
    “Not a bit.  I didn’t falsely advertise one price and make the reader pay a higher one. I just paid for brief visibility.”
    And that’s what it feels like to me—that I’ve sacrificed income for visibility.  And the sales for the other titles also increased. 
    This sale occurred on Friday night through Saturday afternoon.  Writing this on Sunday afternoon, the book is still in the top 4,000.  This type of thing is clearly good for a spike in sales instead of a long-term strategy.  Regardless, I’m sure I’ll be glad to get the proceeds when the Christmas bills arrive in January. :)
    Now, of course, this won’t work out as well for everyone.  And not everyone will want to list a book that they’ve invested a lot of time and energy in at $.99, even temporarily.  But for someone who might have several self-published books out (I have four right now) and who wants the ability to control the dates of a sale—this might be a good experiment to try.
    Have you experimented with the price points for your books?  What is your comfort zone, in terms of pricing? 
    Image: MorgueFile: imelenchon