The $0.99 Sale: Results Are In

Cat-Bird Banner: Irregular Creatures

So, as you may know, over the Valentine’s Day weekend I went ahead and slapped IRREGULAR CREATURES up on Amazon for a wee widdle dollar (or, rather, a penny shy).

How’d it do? Was it worth it?

Numbers-wise, here’s the poop:

Between Friday and Monday, I sold 124 copies. Numerically, not bad. I mean, considering that after the first explosive week of sales I’ve been doing 40 sales a week, seeing a four-day jump that equals thrice that number is pretty good. Of course, that’s just in copies sold.

Money made is fine enough, but nowhere near what I would’ve earned had the price been $2.99 — earning thirty cents per sale as opposed to two bucks per sale is a significant drop. Then again, would I have sold 124 copies at $2.99? No. No way.

Ranking-wise, looks like the book got into the top 2000 at Amazon Kindle store. It did better on its first day of sales, when it made it up to #824. It was a good leap, but I was hoping for better.

Here are some larger conclusions — do with them as you will:

Ninety-Nine Cent E-Books Are The Same Kind Of “Problem” As Pirated Books

Piracy is viewed as a problem because it represents lost revenue, except the problem with that, erm, problem is that it avoids the reality: those pirates were probably never going to be real customers. The $0.99 book issue has a similar throughline: those who bought at $0.99 but not at $2.99 could be viewed as lost revenue. Except, smart money says most of them were never going to buy at the higher price. In this way, they represent exactly the revenue they should represent, and further, ideally represent “new readers.” And that leads to this next point right here…

Low Cost Is About New Readers

I just want to sequester that thought away from the others — stick it in a cage, zap it with cattle-prods, and make it dance.You put something out there at that $$, it’s about gaining eyes and, ideally, fans.

In a perfect world, you’re then training those fans that your work has value, regardless of what that value is. A buck is a dirt-floor price for fiction, but free is a lot worse. This isn’t scientific thinking, but my feeling is this: you give something away for free, readers understand its value, which is essentially nothing. You sell something for any price, even a low price, they at least understand that the value of the work is in cash and coin. It isn’t garbage. It isn’t floor-sweepings. I think any money given is meaningful in this regard.

Whatever the case, new readers — if your work engages and connects — are likely to stick around for future releases. I don’t say this having any evidence beyond my own known patterns, but I suspect it’s true.

I also suspect that ghosts are real, and that UFOs sometimes steal our Bigfeet.

So, I might not be the guy you want to listen to.

Always Let People Give You More

A few people bought the book at the Amazon price, and then wanted to ensure I got more $$ out of the deal. Further, some eschewed the Kindle purchase and just went to buy the (full-price) PDF. Feels like you should always leave room for fans to support you in ways beyond funneling money through a distributor.

Self-Promotion Is Still Hard

It’s a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s irritating (to myself and surely to others) becoming my own mouthpiece again and again. It’s bad enough I’m trying to generate energy for this blog and for Flickr photos and whatever else — suddenly I’m like, “Now you buy my shit!” And, for better or for worse it feels all the more salacious because I’m asking for your filthy wonderful lucre. On the other hand, shit doggity-damn, it works. Whenever I tweeted (which usually resulted in a number of retweets from followers, which was awesome and deserves a bucket of thanks), I got a spike in sales. I mean, a visible, sudden spike. So, it sucks being a whore, but being a whore also works.

The Amazon Sales Ranking Is Still Determined By A Crazy Robot

I’m sure there’s some kind of logic or sanity in there somewhere, in much the same way SkyNet had a “plan” when it nuked all of mankind and invented Terminators. But my mushy human brain just doesn’t understand it. Sometimes a leap in sales would register — other times a leap in sales would hamper the ranking. Beware Amazon’s crazy ranking robot. Best to ignore it because, uhhh, it’s gone insane.

What If You Stop Looking At E-Books As Individual Items?

If I have seven I Dream Of Jeannie-themed buttplugs, and they cost me $10 a pop and I sell ’em at $20, then I make $10 a pop. If I reduce my costs, I may sell more, but once they’re gone, they’re gone — I cannot sell anymore, and my sales potential is squandered. (Or something — let me remind you that I am a writer with middling math and/or business skills.)

The same cannot be said of e-books. My audience is theoretically limitless. Each e-book sold does not represent an e-book lost out of my inventory. I’m selling the equivalent of an imaginary friend.

Let’s look at my overall sales in the past month, right? I made around $5 – $15 a day in sales every day, earning $2 or so on each sale. Fine. Easy enough.

When I started the V-Day sale, on the first day I earned almost $30, and on subsequent days went back to the $5-15 range. I sold a lot more “copies,” but (for the most part) made the same amount of money.

If you stop looking at each sale as a lost e-book and instead look at the collective sales, the $0.99 is easier to swallow. I’m increasing my readership and, frankly, still making the same money. Now, again, in what I will crassly refer to as Normal Business Practices, that ain’t great — “increased consumer base” should translate to “bigger money.” Here, it doesn’t, but I’m also not losing anything, really. I don’t have overhead costs, I don’t have inventory, I don’t have a dwindling supply.

Forgive me if this makes no sense — I’m merely saying that if you look at e-book sales as a collective process with rewards that go beyond the individual sale, then a reduced price feels more valuable.

On The Other Hand

A buck is still too damn cheap for the book. For any book, really.

It’s why I don’t know if I’d recommend that price consistently. Feels like a good sale price. Besides, you start at ninety-nine cents, you can never incentivize by reducing the price temporarily or permanently.

Then again, what the fuck do I know?

The Apple Eats Amazon Kerfuffle

I don’t have much to say right now about the “Apple Shanks The Kindle App In The Prison Shower” situation, because Tobias Buckell says them for me. Go there and read his wisdom.

Only thing I will say: if you’re planning on self-publishing, may be either a good time to hurry up and do it or sit back and wait for the two giant Godzilla monsters to fight it the fuck out.


  • Re: Self Promotion Is Hard…

    You’re worried about your consent becoming too advertorial? Don’t worry, here’s why:

    Currently I am looking at your feed in my RSS each day – usually because there is something there every day. Something entertaining as well. So on the odd occasion where I click in and, sadly, it is you plugging your short story again, only a little good will is burnt – because tomorrow I know there will be the kind of content I like there.

    It is the accepted trade off we accept when we visit a free site covered in adverts – if the adverts weren’t there, the site wouldn’t be free. We accept that you’ve got to do this in between pushing the word “buttplug” up your top keyword list in Google Webmaster Tools.

    All the best.

  • Self-promotion is hard – It’s such a fine line, and most writers I now are uncomfortable tooting their own horn. I have several friends on facebook who are merchants of one kind or another and they’re on two or three times a day hawking their stuff. I’ve contemplated blocking them because it’s always “But this! Buy this! BUY THIS!” And these are friends! People I actually know and like. So as I gear up for my own bout of self-promotion, I’m trying to keep that in mind. And you actually provide an excellent example. In the time I’ve been following you, yeah, sure there’s some plugging. But there’s content! The trick I guess is it make it sound like, “Oh, by the way, got this book for sale you might like,” rather than “BUY MY FREAKIN’ BOOK!”

  • “Low cost is about new readers” makes a lot of sense. Its kind of an introductory price, and I think you are right that the folks who like what you did will hang around for the next one. But will your next offering also be at that introductory price? If it goes up to the more expensive price will you have fewer new readers for the new book? Maybe only your established fans buying it?

    when I have found a new author I love to read I go back and get everything they have published, and price is no longer an issue because I trust the quality of what I am buying. Would it make sense to offer each new book at that lower price to help draw in new readers, but then after sales have run their course raise them up a bit? I don’t know if that makes sense, but for every new reader you hook with your new work you probably have someone willing to pay a better price for your older offerings. The thing I would be worried about is keeping everything at the lower price and training readers that your work is only worth that much, or bumping the price on the new offerings and losing the ability to draw more readers in. It seems like a tough issue to make everything work in your favor. New readers/training expectations/proper price for your work. Have you considered what you will do for your next one? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Thanks for all your wisdom Chuck!

    • @Carter:

      First, not sure what I’ll do for my next trick, or even if there will be one. The future remains unknown. 🙂

      Second, well, on the one hand, readers will arguably recommend you to others, which is one axis for gaining new readers. But sale prices are valuable, still. Next time, presuming I publish something more robust than a 45k short story collection, I’d move the original price up some and then maybe make $2.99 the sale price. Feels to me that $2.99 is a great intro price for a novel. Mostly, I’ll just try stuff and jiggle the price the way you jiggle levers and buttons, hope for a promising result.

      — c.

  • As a writer who’s looking to start pushing himself and getting more work done and actually sold somehow, self-publishing certainly holds some appeal, so this article helped shed some light on that. Thanks for the insight.

  • I’m pretty new to your blog, but if I’m following well, the primary purpose of this collection wasn’t money, but rather exposure. Well, you’re getting there. It sure reached to me and I don’t even have a kindle. That’s the hard part about self-promotion I guess, the door-to-door process.

    Keep going though.

  • I just have trouble whoring my 50K novel out for a buck, or even three. I know, I know – selling it through a publisher means I get less in royalties (depending on the deal you have – my books with Samhain get me a very nice royalty on ebooks and they cost less than five dollars!) but I can’t see myself putting original work up for a buck and not feel like I’m selling myself on the corner with a “hey, sailor!” tune.

    I’ve no problem putting up reprints of short stories I’ve already sold. Did so and no sales yet, but since it’s already been sold once I see everything else as gravy. And I’ll gladly put that up for $0.99 with a clear conscience.

    I just can’t help but feel that Amazon is pushing the race to the bottom with their ebook prices. While I can’t see paying as much or more for the digital copy compared to the paper, I feel that authors are really de-valuing their work when they give it away for pennies, or even less.

    But what do I know…

    Again, faboo post!

  • What confuses me about the Apple v. Amazon story is why this is such a big problem for Amazon and Kindle users. It’s as though everyone is forgetting that Amazon is primarily a website where people buy ebooks, among other things. Anyone who is reading a Kindle book on an Apple device also has a web browser installed on that device. If a reader wants a new Kindle book, they just leave the Kindle app, fire up the browser, go to Amazon’s website, and buy the new book. Once that’s done, they can go back to the Kindle app and read.

    I almost never buy Kindle books through my actual Kindle or through the Kindle app on my iPod. Maybe that skews my perspective. If the pro-Amazon argument is that users don’t want to leave the Kindle app and start a browser to buy a book, then that’s weak. If you’re interrupting your reading experience to browse the Kindle store, you’re effectively using the app as a web browser anyway. You’re not reading, you’re shopping. It’s not as though Amazon’s website is difficult to navigate on an iPhone/iPod/iPad. It’s very user friendly and, if I remember correctly, somewhat optimized for mobile devices.

    Am I missing something in this debate? Why doesn’t Amazon just rip outthe commerce portion of the Kindle app and carry on?

  • While it seems you to tend towards reading fiction, given the nature of this post you might want to check out a non-fiction book by Dan Ariely called “Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions” He’s a behavioral economist who has worked out of MIT and more recently Duke University and his book has several chapters you might want to look into. Most notably he has chapters on the “power of free” and the cost of ownership. In those chapters he outlines how human behavior changes when costs are reduced vs. costs are eliminated, and how once we own something we value it more highly. Seems appropriate given your Valentine’s day sale and the readership gain vs. revenue loss conundrum.

    His book is insightful, funny, and also counterintuitive if you work from the assumption that people/consumers/readers are rational actors. Check it out… even if it doesn’t provide some insight into pricing future e-books you release, you definitely learn something interesting.

  • I think you’re spot on about the low price = new readers thing, but I’m also interested in the free = no value assertion.

    Here’s where my head’s at with that: right now, I think you’re (essentially) correct that a complete work of fiction (as opposed to a here’s-a-taste preview) given away for free has less value in the mind of the consumer. Me, I’m even less likely to read something I downloaded for free (I grabbed it, stuffed it in an archive, probably won’t ever get back to it), because, hey, I’m not losing any investment by not reading it.

    I’m less certain that other works given away for free land as a no-value item for the consumer. Because I’m me, I’m thinking games, here, at least; and the difference for me is kind of like the difference between getting a free story and getting a free paintbrush. I’m not sure I’m getting a tool to create further things of value, myself, when I get that free story, but when I get a free tool (a game, a paintbrush) that can be used to create more things, then I still perceive the value there. Can that property be conveyed onto a free work of fiction, somehow? Maybe. Probably another reason that transmedia is a hot thing.

    The contrast between the free preview and the free complete story is interesting, too, when you think about music. Certainly a free song has value, because it’s a representative of a greater whole, and if I like the free song there’s a chance it’ll point me to that whole, one which hopefully can be purchased. A free complete story that lives within that greater-whole context will likely have value, too, so long as there’s something purchasable living alongside and within easy reach of that free item.

  • I’m with Fred on the perceived value assertion. I’ll take it a step further. Speaking strictly as a reader, not someone who works in the industry, because that undoubtedly plays into my biases—I am shying AWAY from the low, low prices on books.

    I have to read a lot in my job. I read for information, and lastly for pleasure. It’s the pleasure reading I’m talking about here. I have read a fair number of $2.99 books in recent months. Or I should ‘fess up to having read parts of those books. On most of them I had to stop somewhere short of the end—because gah! they were not good. I am over hill, and I don’t have time or braincells to waste on bad books.

    If the book is priced that low, I have to wonder about the quality, and the lack of confidence of the writer (since most are self-published). $5.99+ seems like a sweet spot for better e-books, and if after reading the sample it isn’t bad enough to stop me, I’ll buy it. For authors I know, I buy at that price without a sample. At $2.99 I would buy without sampling because gee that’s less than a cup of coffee. Except, now that I’ve done that a few times and been disappointed, I tend to stay away. My time is worth something—way more than $2.99.

    If 99¢ gets you “new readers” (more than $2.99??) how valuable are those new readers? Sometimes the price of the book reflects not only the quality of the read, but the quality of the reader. Just my 2¢. (But I think it’s worth a lot more!)

  • Kinda echoing Fred and Sue. I’m not sure you’ve discovered what your effective minimum price is. Given that the numbers you moved weren’t significantly greater than what you were moving before, I think you may have priced the book too low to begin with. $2.99 is probably still in the “diminishing returns” zone in terms of perceived value. Like you said, $0.99 is not enough to spend on a book, as is $2.99. My suggestion is to try pricing it at $10 for a week. If you’re seeing better numbers, push it up again. Find how far you can push things.

    It’s a weird truth in marketing that people have a number in their heads for what they want to pay for something, and if you’re charging less, they’ll assume there’s a reason it’s cheaper, and that reason is usually negative.

    The beauty of self publishing like this is you can tinker, but you gotta be your own product manager here.

    (Free has a way different psychological effect than a lower price, but that’s a whole different can of worms.)

    • @Joe —

      I’m on board with Fred, but I’m not sure that upping the price to $10 is really going to do me any good at all — given that the newest, shiniest e-books are $9-12, it seems odd to put my short story collection at the same range.

      And actually, I do feel that the numbers I moved were significantly different. I went from selling 40 copies a week to selling 60 copies on the first day of the sale, and 124 copies total over 4 days. I’d call that pretty significant.

      — c.

  • @Fred, @Sue, & @Joe (and maybe Lord Chuckles too)…

    Really consider taking a look at the book I mentioned above. It plays into many of the things you’re discussing regarding perceived vs. actual value and how willing we are as human beings to part with our money and our time when it comes to consuming products. What the research shows us is that while we can think our way through to a decision that makes sense in the abstract, that’s not how people actually behave in the moment. Humans are irrational consumers, and we are all similarly irrational.

    In regard to the price point discussion… I highly suspect there would be a jump in sales if Chuck re-bundled his collection of short stories into two e-books sold at the same price. One with the first 6 short stories (say for $3.99) and another e-book consisting of the same six short stories plus three additional short stories for FREE. It’s the same content at a similar price point, but when the magic word FREE is aded, Chuck will likely see a sales jump, both in numbers of sales and profit per sale.

    It’s like Joe said… cheaper price often equates with cheaper product. But the same product coupled with the word FREE and our brains stop acting quite as rationally as we might like to think they will. We’ve all seen it and been influenced by it in the past. How many times have you purchased something you weren’t sure you wanted but bought it anyway because you got something for nothing as a result of the transaction?

    In the above scenario Chuck’s “6+3 FREE e-book” will be bringing in more revenue while at the same time luring in more new readers. Of course, this approach really only works because the work in question is a collection of short stories. I doubt this would work quite as well for a full length novel, as is supported by some of the comments above regarding free samples of novels. We get them and move on quickly enough if we don’t like what we’re reading. And of course not too many writers are able to bundle a “Buy 2 Novels, Get 1 Free” sort of deal. It seems like simply too much of an investment of effort on the author’s part in the first place.

  • Yup. Dropping your price increases your reader base – it’s a marketing expense. I buy all kinds of books in the “bargain bins” that I otherwise would not. I don’t mind dropping a small amount of money to take a reading risk. Your regular readers will not mind paying full price (unless they simply can’t afford to). For example – that excellent book I lent you (months and months and months ago) was procured in a discount bin online. Now that I’ve read it, I will gladly pay full price for his next book…..if he ever writes one. By the way, he and his wife opened up an ice cream shop that sells at the stockton farmers market. We should go. And you should bring my book so I can have him sign it. And so I can return it to my book shelf 🙂

  • I’m really interested in this topic, too. I hope to have a novel and short story collection e-published by Christmas of this year (provided revisions and beta readings go well), and price is one of those things I’ve been trying to research and get some solid numbers. Sure, .99 sells more copies, but unless you’re able to sell over 7x more at .99, then 2.99 still earns you the most money.

    However, if you have multiple books up, and you price one or two at .99 and everything else 2.99 and up (provided you have multiple books e-pubbed, which most people will who are trying to make a living wage in that manner), the .99 books can be used as a “testing the waters” book that leads into the more expensive books that may one day pay the bills.

    I think one of the most interesting pricing schemes I’ve read comes from having an extended series 3+ books, where the first one is .99 with good reviews, and the successive novels in the series are all 2.99 or 3.99. That way, new readers get hooked on the series at the cheap price, and then have to come back and pay the actual price to finish the story they became invested in. If I can get any of my own series going the way I want over the next couple of years, I expect this will be the method I use.

    I don’t see .99 as devaluing the novel or the work I put into it. I see it as a marketing strategy and nothing more. I’ll buy nearly anything for a buck. I’ll read part of it, and if I don’t like it, hey, what am I out? (I won’t do that for iPhone apps, though. I will for books. What does that say about me?) But if I pay 2.99 and hate a book, I feel worse because that was a lunch I could have bought. .99 works great, but it’s even better if the author is actually worth his or her salt and can make sure that I go back and buy the rest of their books.

    I feel that way about free books, too. I don’t like them to be free on Amazon, as I rarely ever download a free Kindle book. However, if an author is giving away free ebooks on their site for any reason, I’ll typically nab them. Or if the Kindle edition is free as a sale for new readers, I’ll grab it that way off Amazon. But a book that’s 100% free all the time? I’m more wary of than others.

  • So, this is a complete YMMV situation, but…

    I love free and 99 cent offerings on Kindle. I don’t have an actual Kindle, I have the apps loaded onto my iPhone, iPad and desktops (yes, plural). I was curious about e-readers but waaay to cheap to jump directly into those waters by buying an actual device. As such I loaded a crap ton of free content after I first installed the app on my phone. I picked up things that caught my eye in genres I haven’t touched in years (SF/F most notably). Some of it was crap. But some of it was GENIUS and I’m now a frothy fan-girl stalking, er… following those authors all over the interwebs, happily dipping into my kids’ college/therapy fund to pay full price when they release something new. That would never have happened if not for those free or nearly free downloads (caveat: I’m not even sure I knew there was a “sample” option back in the early days or if it was even offered on those particular items).

    In the interest of full disclosure, I just downloaded Irregular Creatures at the 2.99 price point and I… paused before I did it. I’ve been burned by unknown (to me) authors before and 2.99 is… more than .99. Two weeks ago, a friend sent me a link to a free download for a novella she thoroughly enjoyed and I found it and a sequel on Kindle for .99 each and I blindly one-clicked those puppies into my archive because, seriously, at .99 what did I have to lose? And it was easier to just download it directly through Kindle than to jump through the hoops for the free version. That may be a lame argument, but there you go. Having said that, I’m wildly curious about Irregular Creatures now and I’ve spent more for less so… que sera sera.

    I don’t think there is anything wrong with running an introductory offer or a sale. In fact, I think it’s plain solid business sense. The market is in such huge kerfluffle over how to price e-books anyway that it all seems like a crap shoot to me. FWIW, I like the iBooks model of brand new books being a higher price point than the backlists. Not only does it help me quickly identify the backlist from the current release, but i also understand that current releases have a higher threshold to cross initially for the publisher and (eventually) the author to make any money. While I think authors are entitled to a much larger piece of the e-book pie than they’ve been treated to at this point, the publisher also needs to get paid for the work they put in – editing, “packaging”, distributing, promoting (although I hear that last one’s kind of a joke…) and I’m happy to pay a fair price for the product I am about to consume. Of course, my fair price may not line up with the next guy’s… hence the kerfluffle.

    Good luck!

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