I’ve been wondering about book pricing for a long time. Specifically, whether making your book free makes me bothered about reading it or not.
And I’ve come to the conclusion that I’m not. Bothered, that is.
But before you start weeping and wailing (yes – you in the back, there) this has to be taken in the context of the market demographic to which I belong. And the fact that a clunky, unsophisticated and downright annoying scatter-gun approach to book marketing, which I keep ranting and raving about even though nobody is bloody listening, is yet again way off target.
I said before that books were decreasing in value – and they are, on two levels: both in sales and production.
Firstly, it stands to reason that if you charge me 99c for your book, or make it free, it’s not as valuable to me as something which cost me more.
Secondly, there isn’t as much investment in books at the production end, which makes them feel like lighter, less prized possessions. Indie publishers usually don’t spend as much on editing, packaging, and marketing as traditional publishers, and the end product can very often look cheap. (Actually, even traditional publishers don’t spend half as much on these elements as they once did. For instance, many traditionally-published authors are having to do all their own marketing if they want to sell any books at all. But anyhoo.)
A decrease in value means we don’t respect these books as much. We may not finish them. We may not even start them. They become wordy flotsam: we wade through them to get to what we hope is the good stuff.
So what is this doing to your readership? Your potential future sales? And your writing career? I’ve been forming some not at all hasty and tenuous conclusions, based on my own reading and buying habits.
What’s Wrong With Free Books?
1. If you make your book free, I am more likely to download it, but less likely to read it.
2. If your book is temporarily on sale at a heavily discounted rate, and I download it, there is an increased likelihood that I’ll forget I have it because I put off reading it indefinitely in favour of something I prize more.
3. If I download one of your books and end up a) not reading it or b) not finishing it, it’s a safe bet to assume I will never download anything of yours again.
What Price Should A Book Be, Then?
Some research has been done on the so-called “sweet spot” for e-book pricing. A couple of years ago, it was suggested that the pricing floor, beneath which a book was considered to be of poorer quality and thus rendered less attractive (to an adult market), was 2.99 (dollars, euros or pounds, apparently). I would say that floor is around 2.50 for me, and odd prices also work (i.e. if your book is 2.67 it looks better to me than a flat 2.50, for reasons not entirely clear to me, but probably something to do with coming across more like a sale percentage discount to a more conventional RRP).
But free? No. In 95% of cases, for me, it’s a turn-off.
Ask Yourself – Is There Really A Strategic Benefit To Discounting Your Novel?
STRATEGY A. It’s the first title in a series.
I’m less likely to dismiss your free book if it’s the first in a series and you’re charging for subsequent titles, because then I can see a good reason for what you’re doing: you’re trying to hook me with a freebie, only to charge me for the sequel. But making single or standalone titles free just makes me think that they’re lame ducks that nobody wants.
STRATEGY B. Your target market pretty much only responds to free or discounted stuff.
You must know your audience. A professional marketer would segment their target market and tailor their promotions accordingly. Why aren’t authors doing this?
Lookit: I am over 30. What I pay for things has a significant psychological effect upon my valuation of them. Young adults, on the other hand, may feel differently. An entire generation is now used to getting things for free (just ask the music industry). So, whilst making your book free to me does you no favours whatsoever, making your book free to an 18-year-old may conversely prove the secret to your success and fame (leading ultimately to a legendary and gloriously blind abuse of power).
So if you think your target market is more 18-year-old, and less Irish cynic of an unpublished quantum over 30, for Blog’s sake, don’t treat us as the same market with a One-Size-Fits-All strategy.
STRATEGY C. Your discount comes at a cost. Sort of.
Perhaps those of us more likely to judge a book by its price should be made jump through a few more hoops in order for us to value your free or discounted book more highly. Give us a special promotional code. A clue in another book. A question which must be answered. A special discount to fans or previous readers. Special offer bundles. Make us make some sort of effort. Because otherwise, why would we bother?
What’s your view on free books? Do you have a cut-off price for discounted books (outside of sales promotions in actual bookshops), beyond which you think the book’s going to be a bit pants? Or is anyone out there a massive fan of the free e-book, and willing to fight me til tea-time about it?