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Author Resource Round Table > The Great Free Book Debate

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message 1: by A.L. (new)

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 848 comments This might be of interest to some - I am running a couple of articles about the merits (or not) of free books. I have interviewed some authors and readers whose views vary and it is a really interesting article. The first, linked here is from the readers' perspective.

message 2: by Gregor (new)

Gregor Xane (gregorxane) | 274 comments Thanks for posting this.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

Great article! Thanks for sharing!

message 4: by A.L. (new)

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 848 comments There will be one from the point of view of the authors in a few weeks.

message 5: by A.L. (new)

A.L. Butcher (alb2012) | 848 comments Here is the second half of the debate - authors.

message 6: by Amber (new)

Amber Foxx (amberfoxx) | 246 comments A Philosophical and Practical Inquiry into the 99 Cent E-book
I would enjoy reading responses to any part of this collection of reflections and questions. The focus groups in the Great Free Book debate were interesting small samples. I’d like a much broader range of responses on this topic.

1. McDonald’s dollar menu vs. fresh cooked sit-down meal with service. Dollar store vs. department store. Used clunker vs. new car. There are many cases where low prices equal low expectations. Do 99 cent prices lead readers to assume a hasty or unprofessional product, or do people see e-books differently?

2. I’d love to see solid data on the income and sales from 99 cent books, and readers’ perception of them. Does anyone know of a source that’s not just anecdote and opinions, and not solely from one distributor or retailer?

3. I’ve researched the question from limited sources so far, and found that not everyone agrees. I read an article in which a Smashwords exec said that indie authors should go with 99 cents, but that buyers might not necessarily read the books at that price. It was not the only price point he suggested, but he supported it as a good strategy for authors. However, “tragedy of the commons” is how one critic described the 99 cent e-book phenomenon. Everyone competing against 99 cents feels pressured to go down to 99 cents. If everything is 99 cents, how can you have a sale other than to devalue your work even more and give it away? (I am not denigrating the Goodreads Giveaway. I am paraphrasing another writer.)For low-price success there’s Amanda Hocking. One book at 99 cents, followed by two at 2.99, all of them actually novellas at about 150 pages. Buy all three and you’ve paid 6.97 for approximately 450 pages of her work. A full length book for full price. Great marketing strategy on her part. I read the post of a nonfiction author who tried a 99 cent experiment and found he sold more books but not that many more, and made a lot less money, than at his usual $7.99 price. He went back to $7.99. Another professional writer says $6.99 makes the most money.

4. An indie author is running a small business. Indie authors invest not only their time in writing, research and revising, but their money in professional editing, professional formatting for e-pub and mobi (if they do not have the technical skill), and cover art. They do their own marketing, which takes time and money (ads, bookmarks, professional photos or Facebook banners, whatever they choose to do). Much of the price of a traditionally published book goes to the publisher for doing all that work, and a little goes to the author. The perception that e-books do not cost much to produce may be uninformed. It takes a few hundred sales for an author simply to break even on a book in the $4.99 to 6.99 range, but several thousand at 99 cents.

5. Reviews promote sales. Does price affect a reader’s willingness to review a book, and also the way they judge it?

6. When I ran a yoga and personal training studio I found that the free introductory lesson never paid off. People who were serious signed up for a month’s class pass, or a series of private sessions. People who took the freebie never came back. They took the same classes as my paying clients, so it wasn’t the quality. The free-class takers apparently had no real interest, and made no investment in it. A course I just reviewed for personal trainers running their own businesses pointed out that potential new customers perceive quality from qualifications and referrals, but also price. Underpricing is not, in that business, a smart move. It doesn’t attract clients. I know an artist who prices his paintings by the square inch. He put more work into a large canvas. No one thinks they should pay low prices for his larger works.

7. Do female authors predominate in the 99 cent market? Is this a case of women being afraid to ask for what they are worth? Or do as many male authors go with the lowest price?

8. An author would have to sell thousands and thousands of books to realize any meaningful income from a 99 cent book, but if he or she could be sure of selling many thousands that way then it would be a good move. However, if there is fixed amount of read-time and mind-space allotted to his her books, a certain maximum readership over the lifetime of the book, then he or she will sell X number of books once people like the work and know about it, regardless of .99, 2.99, 4.99 or 6.99.

9. I expect to pay 7.99 or more for a book, and if I want the book, I buy it because of the book, not the price. Is this odd?

You might use a number to identify which part of this post you are responding to. I look forward to an interesting discussion.

message 7: by John (new)

John Blumenthal (goodreadscomjohn_blumenthal) | 12 comments I think women predominate in all aspects of book publishing because the female market is so much bigger than the male market. They're predominant in mainstream publishing too -- more female editors and agents than male at this point,

I'm doing a 99 cent thing now and sales have picked up but, as you say, I'd have to sell hundreds of thousands. As for freebies, I won't be doing that again -- I got diminishing returns. 8000 units the first time; 2000 the second' 700 the third.

message 8: by Amber (last edited Dec 26, 2013 03:58PM) (new)

Amber Foxx (amberfoxx) | 246 comments What results do you hope for from the 99 cent sale? How will you measure it's success?

I have not tried it yet and am reluctant until I know if it works. My inner professor insists on doing research and gathering data.

My book is currently 4.99 and that seems reasonable to me.
The Calling by Amber Foxx

message 9: by Earl (new)

Earl McGill (jetageman) | 5 comments From that broader range you asked about: Philosophically, the determining factor on whether or not a person would be more apt to buy a .99 book has more to do with income than anything a book might offer. I've purchased a few 99 centers that have been, without exception, of poor quality--meaning virtually unreadable. My own books available for Kindle range from 99 cents to $12. My two twelve dollar books have outsold all other eight combined. Why? I can only guess it's because they were originally hardcovers from a traditional publisher that cost $35-$50. They are also better written (especially my latest, JET AGE MAN). The last book I bought for my Kindle cost over eleven dollars. It is first rate & well worth it. As a society we have grown to expect that higher prices mean higher quality. I believe most of us feel the same about books.

message 10: by Amber (new)

Amber Foxx (amberfoxx) | 246 comments I looked up things that cost 99 cents. They include an adjustable dog bandana, a highlighter pen, any number of plastic items at a 99 cent store, a single banana, a chocolate bar (but NOT the good kind, the 85% dark Sweet Riot bars that I like), and canned goods close their expiration date. And e-books.
I am not ready to throw my professionally edited, peer-critiqued, much-revised and labored-over work of several years in with the expiring canned corn.
I'd rather see a slow take-off for my book than devalue it.
I think--though I could be wrong--that people who are paying a more book-worthy price may shop thoughtfully before they spend the money, take the time to read the preview and the reviews, and see if this is the book they want. 99 cent shoppers may, unless they are income constrained as you suggest, be impulse buyers. I am not a 99 cent book buyer because I expect exactly what you found.

message 11: by Elvie (new)

Elvie Richter (elvie_richter) | 2 comments Really good question about the 99 cent price point. I started out the book with a $4.99 price point, then lowered it to .99 to see if sales picked up. When I lowered the price, sales increased marginally, but not 5x-- meaning not enough to make up for the diminished revenue.

I was considering raising the price to $1.99 to see what happens.

I wonder whether a really low price gets people who otherwise might not have purchased a book because they're not ready to read it right exactly now to just buy it anyway.

message 12: by Lauryn (new)

Lauryn April (laurynapril) | 43 comments I don't think you can keep your book at 99cents and earn a profit, but running 99cent sales, and free sales, can get your book out to readers who may not have given it a try otherwise. When you're a new author you should be less concerned about profit and more concerned about building a reputation and audience. The more books you get out to readers (paid or free), the more reviews you get, and the more people there are to talk about and recommend your book.

I personally have had a lot of luck with KDP free days, and 99cent sales. Both of which only work if you advertise and promote them. I always see a bump in sales after running one of these promotions, and now that I'm at least a little less unknown than I was with my first two books I'm planning to release my third at a higher price point.

I blogged about the last Free promotion I ran here ( if anyone is interested.

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