There are all sorts of things that are bad for authors. There are other things that are bad for readers. One thing that’s bad for both? 99 cent ebooks.
“But wait!” you say. “I love 99 cent ebooks. That’s cheaper than a cup of coffee! Hell, if I go to Starbucks, that’s like a third the price of a tall…er small…cafe mocha AND I get hours of entertainment from it!”
Believe me, I feel you. As a single mother on limited income, I enjoy seeing a book I really want go on sale for 99 cents or $1.99. It makes me giddy. And I don’t have a beef with the price point as a sale price. The problem is, it’s unsustainable as a long term pricing strategy, and that’s bad for everyone.
Let me explain that I’m getting ready to dive into the wild world of self-publishing, and I’m terrified. I just saw a statistic that said over half of self-published authors made less than $500. Now, when you’re an author who is looking at having paid for cover art and editing and promotion…that $500 is basically gone. It’s pretty freaking sobering.
I write because I love it, but I also write because it’s my career. At $500 a book…I can’t feed or house me and my kids. That’s a problem. So, let’s look at a little math.
(It is possible Amazon has changed these cut-offs. I tried looking it up and got a headache reading through all their nonsense. So please bear with me. Also, I’m using Amazon since that’s where people sell the most books.)
On any ebook priced 2.99 or over (I believe there’s an upper limit, but I’m really not sure what it is), the author gets 70% of the cover price (minus a minimal “delivery charge”). On any book below 2.99, the author only gets 35% of the price. That right there–the difference of a penny on the cover price–cuts an author’s pay in half. As you lower the price, it cuts even more. To couch this in simpler terms, let’s say an author wants to make that $500 that more than half don’t even reach. Let’s see how many sales that would take at different prices…
|How many books does an author have to sell to make $500|
|Price per book||% earned||$ earned/book||# books sold|
At 99 cents, an author has to sell roughly six TIMES as many books as they do at $2.99 to make the same amount of money. Now, if every person was an avid reader, this might not be such a problem. However, a sad fact is that most people just don’t read, and many who do read, even regularly, don’t read copious amounts of books. That means the likelihood of an author to regularly sell enough to make a living when pricing books at 99 cents…is really fucking unlikely.
If we put $25,000 as a livable wage, an author has to sell over 72,000 99cent books in a year. Not impossible, but as someone who has been in this business a few years (with a variety of digital first presses)…it’d be pretty fucking impressive. You want to know the number of copies I’ve sold of my best-selling book to date? Just under 5500. By the time a year is up on that book, I’m hoping it’ll be up to 7000. That’s with a publisher’s backing and a lot of advertising on my part.
“Sure”, you say, “but that’s one book. You have all year to put out more.”
Again, this is true. However, let’s pretend I can sell 7,000 copies of every book I put out over the course of a year. No more, no less. That means I have to put out TEN BOOKS A YEAR to make a livable wage. Do you know how much time I put into a full length novel? At a rate of 1000 words per hour, it takes 80 hours to write a full-length novel like Kiss of Life. That is two full 40-hour work weeks. Editing (including self-edits, beta edits, and for hire edits) depending on the depth of editing necessary, probably runs another 40-80 hours. Then there are proofing and galleys and blog tours and etc etc etc. In the end, for each book, we’re easily at 6-8 weeks of full-time work. So yes, ten books is possible, however, this is where what the reader isn’t going to like comes in.
Quality is likely to suffer.
Think about it. You’re working a full time job, and once you cut expenses (of which there are a lot) you’re basically making minimum wage, maybe a little better. Only with no health benefits or paid vacation time or any of that.
Cry me a river. I know I know. But you know how an author can keep a little bigger piece of that 25,000 pie that their ten moderately performing books earned them?
They skimp on cover art.
They forgo editing.
They produce product that is less.
They produce product that is worth closer to 99 cents.
We’ve all read books that we wondered why we paid for. That is the end result of all books being 99 cents. There is not a significant enough pay out for the author, so they put in less effort. They make an inferior product.
99 cents as a permanent pricing strategy diminishes the worth of the work.
Now, having said that, I’m not against 99 cents (or even free) as a short-term marketing strategy.
Book sales dwindled to nothing? Sure, put that baby up for cheap and try to gain new readers
Book 2 is coming out and you want to stir up interest in the series? Mark down book 1!
Short story? Definitely make that cheap. Not sure I’ve ever read a 20-40 page story worth more than $1.
Putting stuff you gave away on your blog into a collection for download? Okay. (Though I’d still argue higher as a base price.)
New author no one has ever heard of? Put your first book out there cheap to grab as many readers as you can. Some might not like you, but you might grab some diehard fans.
The trick is (with the exception of the short stories)…you don’t leave the price there. You don’t cheapen your work. A wise person recently said to me that we really need to get all the self-published authors together and agree to not use the 99 cent model as a permanent pricing method because it’s hurting all of us. Authors and readers.
I mean, for crying out loud, if people are willing to spend $2.99 on a cafe mocha that took less than five minutes to make, surely they should be willing to spend that much on a novel that will give them hours of pleasure. And if we, as authors, make them think our work isn’t worth that much…why would they?