Writing a book is hard work. Despite what most people think, not everyone can do it. Like singing. Never believe someone that says, "Anyone can learn to sing," because it's just not true. Sure, anyone can learn to sing better than they already do, but that doesn't mean they can actually learn to sing. And, sure, anyone can learn to construct better sentences, but that doesn't mean they can learn to write.
For the writer, though, despite the amount of hard work that goes into writing a book, writing the book is the easy part. It's everything after where it gets hard. Really hard. Amongst all the hard stuff, like finding an agent, a publisher, or marketing your work yourself, there's one thing that can fall through the cracks. Sure, if you're fixated on traditional publishing, this is something that doesn't concern you, because the publisher will make these decisions, but, for those of us going it alone, pricing is something that can end up being overlooked.
I was reminded of how important this aspect of self-publishing is just the other day, but let me give some background, first.
When I first published The House on the Corner, I didn't know anything about pricing other than what I pay for books. It seemed reasonable to me at the time that people should be willing to pay for my book what anyone would pay for a book from a bookstore. Or from Amazon. I knew that wasn't really true, but it bothered me because, darn it, I'd written a book, a good book, and people should value that. Idealism often doesn't fare well when it comes up against reality.
At any rate, I ended up pricing House at $18.00 mostly because I had to. Amazon gives you a minimum price you have to charge based on the number of pages in your book, so I went $1 and change over what they said, which is my part of the profit. If you set it at the minimum, you don't make anything. This, of course, was for the physical copy of my book. You do a little bit better with the Kindle. But there was a wrinkle.
Because I'm an instruction reading kind of guy, I read all the "terms of agreement" stuff. One of the things it said was that I was not allowed to sell my book for a lower price anywhere else or they could choose to not allow you to use CreateSpace anymore. Although, this seemed reasonable to me, I also didn't want to risk having my book pulled, so I set my Kindle price at $18.00, also. See, in my mind, my book was my book.
But I was wrong.
To Amazon, your book through CreateSpace and your book on the Kindle are two completely separate things. Also, if I order copies of my book, the physical book, I'm allowed to sell them for whatever I want to, because I've already paid CreateSpace for them. In a lot of ways, it's all ridiculous, and it took me some months to work out the kinks. And, really, this is a much longer story, but my issues are not what this post is about; they're just to let you know that pricing is complicated. If you look up at my box for The House on the Corner, you'll see what the current prices are which took me months to get to.
And, before I go on, let me just say that I don't believe in $0.99 e-books. I think they are devaluing to the author. Writing a book is hard work, and a book should be valued at more than $0.99. Not that $2.99 is much better, but, hey, at $2.99 on the Kindle, I make more per book than I make for a physical copy through Amazon, so, yeah... $2.99 it is. Let me stress my distinction here: $0.99 is devaluing to the author for a book. An actual novel. It's a perfectly fine price for shorter works.
Which brings us up to the event that brought all this up. The other day, I set off to buy the next book on my list for my Unexpected Applause posts, but I didn't buy it. When I got over to Amazon to do it, I found that the author actually has the book priced at above $2.99. This wouldn't really have been an issue except that he has the physical book priced probably as low as he can price it which made me think, "If I'm going to pay that much for a virtual copy, I should just by the actual book." Not owning a Kindle (I use the app on my computer), I still much prefer actual books to e-books, because it's difficult to drag my desktop to bed if I want to some reading at night before sleeping. And I would hate to drop the monitor on my face if I fell asleep while reading like I did in college with a text book. Let me just say that that will wake you up in a hurry.
After staring indecisively for several minutes, I put the physical book in my cart, huffed, and went on to the next book on my list (because I'm not actually placing an Amazon order, yet). I get over to the next book, and it's priced at the expected price of $2.99, but, when I look at it, it's hardly a book. When I say that it's hardly a book, I mean that the page count on the physical book is less than 100 pages. I huffed again. It's just $3, right, but I couldn't bring myself to pay that for a short story. Especially after reading the sample, seeing that it's poorly formatted, and full of punctuation errors. I don't know if the story's any good, but I couldn't bring myself to pay the $2.99 the author wanted. I would have paid $0.99 for it without a problem, but I balked at the additional $2.
Honestly, I really don't know. I've been thinking about this question for days, and I don't have a good answer. What I do know, though, is how you price your book is important. Perceived value is important. When I perceive something to be worth $1, yet I'm being asked to pay $3 for it, I won't do it. I totally understand wanting to hit the $2.99 pricing mark for the Kindle, because, frankly, you get pretty screwed by Amazon pricing at $0.99. However, if you want to price at $2.99, you better have a product that says "this is worth $2.99." And that's entirely subjective. Which is the problem.
I mean, it's so subjective that The House on the Corner sold almost as well when I had it priced at $9.99 as it does, now, at $2.99, and I made a heck of a lot more per sale that way.
I guess what I'm getting at is this: you have to decide how much you think you're worth. You also have to decide how much you're comfortable with selling. Then, you have to balance those two things out. For me, the price of my physical book is pretty much what Amazon says it has to be. I mean, I could lower the price, but, then, it would be priced at something scewy like $14.23, so I figure $14.99 works. Because I believe that the price of the e-book should be low enough to make it worth buying instead of ordering the physical book, $2.99 works. And, like I said, I make more per unit than I do when someone goes to Amazon and buys a physical copy of the book.
As a buyer, the real issue for me is paying for something that isn't real. Isn't tangible. But, maybe, if I actually had a Kindle, I wouldn't feel that way about spending more for books on it. At any rate, all of this has made me start thinking from teh buyer's perspective again, which is what you have to do if you want to sell your book. You can't just decide "people should be willing to pay this, so this is what I'm pricing this at." You'll always price too high (a recent study actually proved this: people tend overestimate what other people will be willing to pay for something even though they themselves are not willing to pay that much). So... am I willing to pay $2.99 for an e-book? Yes, I am. So I feel comfortable pricing my e-book at that. Am I willing to pay $2.99 for something that is not book length? No, I'm not, so I will know to never price short stories or whatnot in that price range. Am I willing to pay more than $2.99 for an e-book? I don't think so. If I'm going to pay more than that, I'd rather own the physical book. Yes, I'd rather pay $10, $12, or $15 for a physical book that I can hold in my hand than pay $5 for an e-book. Maybe that's just me, but I do know that it is me, so I have to keep that in my mind, too. Maybe I'd be willing to pay $5 for an e-book if there was no physical book available. That's something I've yet to discover.
What I do know for certain, though, is that I don't want someone paying $15 for my book and feeling like they got ripped off. In the end, that's probably why $0.99 works for so many people. Even if it sucks, it was only a buck, so no big deal. I'm willing to run that risk at $3, but I'm not really willing to go beyond that. I suppose that's why Amazon has those price points set.
Yeah, I know I didn't answer any questions in this post. I don't have those answers. Hopefully, though, I've pointed out that there is a question. Don't just slap a price on yourself because that's the price that seems good or what everyone else is doing. Look at what you're offering and balance out the variables. When I go to buy your book, don't make me second guess myself because of your pricing. Hesitation is a killer.