Increasing Your Kindle Rank: Pricing

Yeah, I don’t like to talk about money. Like politics and religion, it can ugly. That’s why this post is longer and rantier than usual. But it’s part of this whole series I’m taking you through this week, and it’s my opinion. I’m keeping it. If you don’t like it, just go do your own thing, ok?

Ok, so the series, if you’re just joining us… Last Saturday I talked about reaching the Kindle top 1000 and some things I think were helpful,  and now I’m going through and expanding on those ideas.

When most of my friends put out their first books, everyone was all about 99 cents. It’s the lowest price an indie can set on Amazon. And there were a lot of 99 cent ebooks out there, competing for space. At the time, it was even harder for the 99 cent books to get found because, when searching by price, you had to start with the freebies that the trad publishers are allowed to run, pages and pages of freebies, many of which were merely excerpts from books.

The two things happened: first, Amazon broke the freebies away from the rest of the Kindle store so that they could be searched and ranked separately (yay!), and they went to the 70% royalty rate for books priced between $2.99 and $9.99.

Since that time, $2.99 has been on its way to becoming the new 99 cents, possibly in the same way it seems that just yesterday a regular sized Milky Way bar was under 50 cents and the “fun size” was a whole lot funner. /accidental chocolatey tangent.

And I’ve certainly got no beef with anyone who wants to make $2 off their book instead of 35 cents. What I do have a problem with is people implying that I am doing something wrong by pricing my book at 99 cents. That I am undercutting other authors, devaluing my own work and books as a whole, and somehow behaving as a bad citizen of the indie author community. In a sense, reading (SOME and not all of) these articles on why we should all move on up to $2.99, feels a lot like reading some of the not so nice things the trad authors have said about the indies.

Last month I sold over 300 books through all channels. This month I’m on target to sell that many by halfway through the month. But I’m making 35 cents per book, or a bit over $100 when I could, in theory, be making $600. OMG, why don’t I raise that price.

Because there is no way on this Earth that you are going to convince me that, as an 8 week old, baby author with NO name, NO ad budget, and one title, that many people are going to buy my book at $2.99.

But Susan, it doesn’t matter if 300 people buy your book. At that rate, fewer people can buy your book and you’ll still be making more money. Great. If making money were the most important thing to me right now, I’d be all over that. Would I like to be able to make back what I paid my cover artist, the copyright registration, the paper copies I’ve sent out? Would I love to be able to give away more paper books, t-shirts and other swag, do the Kindle Nation sponsorship thing, have contests that give away Kindles? Hell yes! Am I there yet? No. I haven’t earned that yet. Would I love to be able to pay some bills, figure out what’s wrong with my car, and not have to roll down the window to open the door from the outside? Yes. But I haven’t earned that yet either.

I’m pretty sure I once read where Holly Lisle (who has many smart and helpful things to say to writers) said that you shouldn’t quit your day job until you have 11 books published. Because that’s the point at which your royalties may be stable enough to support you writing full time. Now that was a few years back, and the industry has changed boatloads in that time. I have no idea what she’d say about that now. But that has really stuck with me.

So what do I think I’m getting at the 99 cent level? Sales and rank. Rank comes from sales. Once I started to push up from the middle of the category lists I was on, sales increased. See, I had trouble figuring this out because, remember all those reviews I had? Well, things had a been really quiet on that front. And then sales, like, doubled. Not that that was totally crazy, because it wasn’t a huge number either way. But I’d Google myself and no one was really talking about the book. I wouldn’t be able to put my finger on what prompted someone to check me out. But the thing that had changed was my placement in the Kindle rankings, which was moving me up those category lists.

The biggest hurdle is visibility, the second is credibility.

There are some people out there saying that people who buy books for 99 cents are then not motivated to read them. That’s their loss. It’s a fun book. I believe that plenty of people do read it and are then unmotivated to tell others about it. So in that way, as far as sales of this book are concerned, non-reader and reader have done me the exact same service. They’ve registered a sale that has increased my rank, and therefore also my visibility. When they come across another blogger talking about it, maybe they’ll move it to the top of the TBR list.

I know people are searching me by price, and I’m pretty sure some are choosing free reads over mine. And this is because, on my Kindle page, I can see What Do Customers Ultimately Do After Viewing This Item? Most of them are still buying me. That percentage, often referred to as “conversion rate” has gone down a lot since I started. That’s because, in the beginning, people were going to my page via direct link because of me, a tweet, a review, etc. They went with the purpose of buying my book. As I got out of that, and browsers became a bigger part of my sales, that rate goes down, because some browsers by you, and some pass you by. The browsers who do not buy Hush Money generally buy other free reads or other 99 cent ebooks. So far, I don’t have a lot of people looking at my book and walking away to buy a $5 ebook instead. Because I’m only 99 cents, so why not try it?

When people come across me, unknown, under-vetted, baby indie author, it’s a lot easier for them to throw 99 cents at Amazon than it is $2.99. It just is. It may very well be that $2.99 is no big loss for lots of people if the book doesn’t suit them, but it’s still more than 99 cents, and any increase in price has the potential to increase customer resistance of the Buy button.

Yes, there is more to marketing than just a low price point. We need to learn to market effectively, build a brand, build a readership. But it has to start somewhere, and I think new authors who start higher are denying themselves some perks of the 99 cent slot.

I said on the Indie Reader blog recently that I don’t devalue my work. That makes no sense to me. I don’t have an ad budget, so a discounted price for the work is what I have to trade with right now in order to develop an audience for my future work. If my work had no value, that wouldn’t work. It wouldn’t net me anything. I’d get no word of mouth, and no one would come back for the next book. If I didn’t believe my book was going to earn me some loyal readers, and if I didn’t believe in my ability to produce good work in the future, I’d set a higher price, take the money and run. Wouldn’t I?

Authors talk about all the work they put in. The years they spent honing their craft, the months they put into this book, the planning, the writing, the editing, money they put into producing and marketing. They deserve to get paid for that. Well yeah. And so do all the artists selling over at Etsy who have done the same thing. And a lot of them realize that they have to sell at a break-even point for a while to build a brand and a business.

That’s all I’m saying. I believe in my future work. Hush Money is an introduction to my writing and my world, and it comes at a discounted rate. I earn very little on it in cash terms, but that gets made up to me in other ways that I hope will help me in the long run.

Will it be 99 cents forever? I don’t know. I’m still feeling my way through. What I do know is that the first books in Amanda Hocking’s My Blood Approves series and Imogen Rose’s Portal Chronicles series are both currently priced at 99 cents and both have been very high on their category lists for quite some time. I’ve also seen new printings of first books of some series, like Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth series, reprinted with $2.99 on the cover as an incentive to draw new readers into the series.

To review:

  • Your share of your 99 cent price is more than 35 cents. It’s just not all in cash.
  • Despite what others are saying, a low price does not mean “lack of faith in the work” to all people. Don’t be bullied. Do what’s right for you.
  • Biggest hurdles? Visibility and credibility. Think of those when thinking about pricing.
  • Remember that, in many professions, it can take years to begin to earn what your work is really worth. We may do it faster, but maybe not right of the gate.

My recommendation to other new indies is to price at 99 cents. I feel it’s been very beneficial for me, and plan to leave the price at this level at least until after the release of Heroes ‘Til Curfew, if not longer.

No matter how much I really want to buy six seasons of Supernatural on DVD.


Filed under books, Hush Money, Increasing Kindle Rank, self-publishing, Talent Chronicles, tips, writing

19 responses to “Increasing Your Kindle Rank: Pricing

  1. Stacey Wallace Benefiel

    .99 is really workin’ for ya. I believe that people currently buy Hush Money 18% of the time instead of Glimpse. 🙂 I tried pricing at $3.99, $1.99, and now $2.99 (most of the time it’s discounted to $1.99). My rankings are definitely not as good yours, but they’ve gotten much better since I moved the price to $2.99. I think this might support your $2.99 is the new .99 theory. I think your suggestion to start at .99 is a great one and I wish I’d done that, but now I’ve got people thinking getting it for $1.99 is awesome, so there it will stay. 🙂

    • And I actually followed that! Sounds good, Stacey. My current thinking is that I will probably release Heroes ‘Til Curfew at $2.99 and leave Hush Money at $0.99 as an entry into my work for a while yet. But I wouldn’t say I’m tied to that either.

      • Stacey Wallace Benefiel

        What’s so hard to follow about a sentence with 7 commas and the phrase thinking getting in it? I don’t thinking getting it.

        • I think it was more following all the 99s, which nearly ceased to make sense after a bit, that made me proud of myself. You know, because I often have trouble keeping up. Because, you know, mostly I think I’m pretty fluent in Staceyse these days.

  2. Lauralynn Elliott

    Thank you, Susan. This post is exactly how I feel, and I’ve been made to feel guilty about “undercutting” other people’s work by pricing mine lower. I can’t price my work higher just because other people want me to. I saw a definite increase in sales when I lowered my two novels from $1.99 to $ .99. I briefly considered raising my prices before Christmas to take advantage of a higher royalty during the rush. But that somehow didn’t seem fair to the readers. When they get their new Kindles and Amazon gift cards, they can buy so many more books if they are priced lower. And they may actually be looking for those bargains so they CAN buy more. That’s the mentality of people right now, especially in this economy. We had a brief scare when my husband was out of work a few weeks, and I really knew what it could be like to be poor. But I wanted to support authors by buying their work. So, during that period of time, I ONLY bought $ .99 books. Now that he’s back at work, I’ll pay more, but some people just can’t. I understand that.

    Also, I have a good friend who published a SciFi book and he’s sold about 5 copies. Before he gets too discouraged, I’m going to suggest he lower his price from $1.99 to
    $.99. And then we’ll see.

    I think it’s great that some authors are raising their prices, getting better royalties, and selling well. I support them fully. But don’t tell me what my price should be. That’s my business.

    • Rah rah, LL! Thanks for that, because yeah, some of the wording that’s being used out there in the indie scene has been very peer pressurey. Setting our own price was supposed to be part of the point.

      Email me about your sci fi friend. I don’t know much about that audience, but maybe we can brainstorm some stuff or something. Your friend needs to sell at least 150 copies in order to stick it to Brad of Zoe Who? This is my minimum goal for all indies who can string words together with any reasonable level of competence.

  3. I don’t think anyone should be bothered by what other people are doing, price it whatever way you feel comfortable with. For me, I think it is sensible to have at least one book at 99c, that way people can try you out even if they hesitate at $2.99.

    For a while, I wasn’t paying anything over 99c. Then I started noticing people, maybe liking things they said on forums or thought their book sounded interesting. I’ll pay higher now but only if I’ve seen the author around a good bit or if I like them personally (I know, I’m so shallow) or if their book was recommended by people whose opinions I respect (which in fairness is probably a freakishly low number). If I have the choice, I’ll look at their cheapest priced work.

    So, erm, my long, drawn out point is most newbies cannot afford to price at $2.99 or higher and expect to sell much. You have to ask yourself why would someone buy this book? Especially when more well known writers are moving books at the same price. At first, getting your name out there is way more important than getting paid. And (as long as you have a good book which should be a given) selling low leads to bigger things in the long run. It’s a business, you have to build up credibility and a reputation. That’s why social networking is so important, it speeds up the process. As long as you’re better at it than me, that is. 😉

    I can completely understand the need to avoid undervaluing yourself though. The thoughts of the hard work that went into my y/a baby being repaid 35c a time is a little disheartening but, you know, why would anyone buy that book if they don’t know who I am? That’s partly why I’d like to bring a long novella out first, well, that and the fact I can’t afford an 80k edit right now. But no matter what I do, it’ll be part of the long haul because there are no shortcuts in this. You have to put in the grunt work first.

    So sorry for the length of this. I’m getting worse!

  4. Andrew Mocete

    After all the stuff I’ve read the past few months who knows what’s the best pricing strategy? So many factors besides that have to line up that you almost want to throw your hands up in the air before you start. At least I do. But I really think working with other authors, as you’ve talked about in previous posts, is where it’s at.

    • Aw, Andrew, be not disheartened and whatever. It’ll be ok! Part of what’s cool about being indie is that you can make changes whenever you want. So if you decide to go with the $2.99 wisdom and then you feel that’s not working for you, bring the price down. If you decide to start at $0.99 and feel like you’re being completely taken or not getting respect or whatever, you can always kick it up. No worries.

      • Andrew Mocete

        “be not disheartened and whatever”

        This is why your blog kicks booty 🙂 Your speaking english cracks me up.

        And I agree, the power is mine and all that, but every once in a while I go on information overload. I’ve only decided to do this a few months ago and I’ve put the pressure on to learn everything I can muy rapido. Basically I knew how to google and that self-publishing was the word I wanted to use. But I’ll never get discouraged enough to totally quit, it’s too much on my mind.

  5. You have an excellent strategy, and it’s one that I would opt to do again. I started out with this price on all of my books, along with some free ebooks on several sites, including my own. When you’re starting out, I think the key is exposure, and you’re right about $0.99 being an ideal price for that. I have no regrets in going the $0.99 route. My author friends who asked more aren’t doing as well as I am today because they didn’t build up the fan base. But when you have established your fan base, I’m sure you can up the price on a future book and still be ahead of the game.

    This is a great post, and I love how well you presented your case. 😀

  6. Honestly, I didn’t even noticed your book was priced at $0.99. I read the sample on my Kindle last night and bought the book today. $0.99 or $2.99 or $10.99. If it’s a good read, people will buy it.

    Good luck! I hope to read more of your books soon.

  7. Pingback: Special (Guest) Post: Susan Bischoff ~ Never Too Late To Change » Reena's Blog

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