On why my work is worth more than two pints of Guinness

Adrian White, bookseller and author, discusses why he’s pricing his novel at $9.99 in digital form.

Pricing my ebook at $9.99? Am I crazy? Maybe so, but here’s why:
I have three novels published as ebooks. Two have been published previously by Penguin Books but the third is published exclusively as an ebook. When I came to set the prices, I took the opportunity to try out the three different price points of €2.99, $4.99 and $9.99. I’m well aware of the power of $0.99 as an attention-grabbing price, particularly on Amazon, but it seems to me that a lot of that attention is on established writers such as Stephen Leather – writers making the most of an extensive backlist and an established readership to storm the Amazon sales chart. Or writers of serial genre novels, paranormal romance etc. And good luck to Stephen Leather and the others who manage to pull this off but, although my paperbacks have sold reasonably well in Ireland, I don’t believe I possess the reach to do the same. Also, there’s something in me that says this is my work and if I don’t value it correctly then who will?

Harry Potter and the Half-Price Book
I’ve worked extensively as a bookseller over the years and no other industry manages to devalue the potential of their bestselling product quite like the book industry. Dan Brown, Harry Potter, Stieg Larsson- booksellers can’t wait to give away margin and to price premium-selling product as low as they possibly can. Sure, they point to the price in Tesco or on Amazon and there’s wailing and gnashing of teeth but boo-hoo, I think. Any sales matching that low price represent a complete waste of time, effort and expense when it comes to making money for the retailer. And don’t talk to me about loss-leaders – if you need to half-price Harry Potter to get customers into your shop, perhaps it’s time you took a long hard look at who you are as a bookseller and what you’re trying to do. Those customers won’t stay with you once something cheaper comes along whereas your real customers, the customers that you should value and that will value you in return, well, maybe they’d pay a little extra for Harry Potter because shopping in a proper book store makes them feel good about themselves. Half-price Harry Potter books are not your business; your customers are. The fact that millions of ebooks are being bought for $0.99 doesn’t necessarily mean those ebooks are being read; some customers are buying them simply because they can, now, at that price. And, if these ebooks are not being read, there’s ultimately no future in this market model.

The sweet spot
It seems to me, as pointed out by Catherine Ryan Howard and others, that the sweet price for a novel published as an ebook is currently $2.99; sweet as in a decent return for the author, a cheap offer for the customer and not demeaning to the work. It’s obvious that customers are prepared to pay a higher price for works of non-fiction because they place a higher value on the information containd inside. The fiction e-publishing industry is still in its relative infancy as regards persuading a whole new potential market to switch from paper, or at least to get over the hurdle of reading on a screen, so a low price point makes sense. Is there a danger this will affect future price expectations? Yes. Is the print publishing industry all-at-sea in their approach to pricing, author royalty and distribution of ebooks? Yes. Will things change quickly over the next year or so? Most definitely yes, but the beauty of ebook publishing for an author is that we can adapt and respond – we can roll with the changes.

Going for a song
$0.99 is the price you can expect to pay for a single song on iTunes (although in true Apple fashion this isn’t always the case). So which is worth more – a novel or a song? Depends on the novel and depends on the song, I hear you say. A song can be written in an afternoon and yet last a lifetime – if you’re Lennon and McCartney – and a novel might take a lifetime to write and still be better off left unpublished. I priced my first novel, An Accident Waiting to Happen, at $4.99 because readers have told me it’s a strong story that they couldn’t put down, that they had to find out what happened in the end. (On Smashwords, readers can sample a substantial portion of my books for free so I’m hoping this is true.) Where the Rain Gets In, my second novel, is a harder sell in that it deals extensively with self-harm and so wouldn’t be to everybody’s taste; I priced this at $2.99. But when it comes to my third novel, Dancing to the End of Love, there’s just no way I can bring myself to give it away for a song. I value it too highly; it’s worth more to me than that.

Okay, I lied
Okay, I lied. I’ve been giving Dancing to the End of Love away for free for a limited time period because I want to get readers reviewing the book online. I also gave Accident away for free as part of Read an E-Book Week, my reasoning being that if I could hook a few readers with that book then they might move on to the other two. I believe in the power of free but it’s a marketing tool and not necessarily a sales tool. When it comes to sales and using price to help create those sales, I’m going to use my common sense and price my first two books at $2.99 from the end of this month. I also think my books are ready-made to run a 3 for 2 offer, perhaps with the added twist of giving the most expensive book away for free. Or I might even run a Buy One Get One Free. But I’m going to keep the price of Dancing to the End of Love at $9.99.

Why my work is worth more than two pints of Guinness
I like drinking Guinness. When I’ve drunk one pint of Guinness I like to drink another and two pints of Guinness cost about the same as Dancing to the End of Love. So too does a single fancy cocktail but my work is not some Cosmopolitan or a Mojito – it’s sweet on the tongue but full of body, beautiful to look at and even nicer to savour. My work – like Guinness – is the product of a long gestation period, brewed to a careful recipe and presented with loving care. But here’s the thing: although I can remember certain pints of Guinness at certain periods in my life – and there have been many, many beautiful and memorable pints – my work will last longer than any pint of Guinness. And I’m prepared to back this up by holding my nerve to price my novel – under price my novel – at $9.99.