The craft and business of writing and self publishing

A Dead Price Point

By Mark Lefebvre, Director of Self-Publishing & Author Relations, Kobo

“I see dead prices!”  Yes, I know, I’m riffing on a line from M. Night Shymalan’s The Sixth Sense. But if it gets your attention and helps you earn more money as an author, I’m okay with that.

I had the pleasure of being on a 2013 Romance Writers of America Conference panel called Self-Publishing for the Professional Author in Atlanta in July.

On the panel with me were Julia Coblentz from Barnes and Noble, Mark Coker from Smashwords and Jon Fine from Amazon.  The four of us discussed trends we had recognized through each of our businesses. Among them was an interesting trend: a universal dead price point for eBooks.

You see, when I first encountered this, I thought it might be unique to Kobo.

Then, the results of a survey that Mark Coker released back in May began to confirm what I had been seeing.

Here are a few points from that wonderful survey:

  • “Note how books priced between $1.00 and $1.99 significantly underperform books priced at $2.99 and $3.99.   $1.99 appears to be a black hole.”
  • “….books priced at $3.99 will earn about 55% more than the average book at any price.  Books priced at $1.99 are likely to earn 67% less than the average.”

(New Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More eBooks)

smashwords pricing chart

And in a paidcontent.org article by Laura Hazard Owen , Mark Coker was quoted as saying:  “$1.99 performs especially poorly. It’s a black hole. I’d avoid that price point if you can.”

Interesting.

During a presentation focusing on Kobo, I shared data related to what sold well on Kobo with the audience there.

KWL pricing chart

You’ll note that, for Romance titles published out of the Kobo Writing Life part of our catalog, the $1.99 price point underperforms – whereas, the price points of $0.99 and $2.99 through $4.99 perform quite well. In fact, though there are far fewer romance titles priced at $3.99 and $4.99, they are performing significantly better volume wise.

Also to note, the market itself (i.e. what is selling in general across the entire catalog of romance titles) demonstrates that the market will bear pricing up to $7.99 and very few indie-published titles are set at that price.  It leads to the question of whether or not there is room for indie authors to test the waters at higher price points and earn a bit more margin per unit sold.

Then, as mentioned, on the Kobo/Kindle/Nook/Smashwords panel, all four of us announced to the RWA audience that $1.99 was the weakest performing price point in all of our retail environments.

Is $1.99, then, a true dead zone for pricing? A price point that fails to do well no matter what eRetail environment you consider? I’m curious to continue to explore this further.

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About the Author

Mark Leslie Lefebvre with Jewels of Historical Romance authors Brenda Hiatt (left) and Cheryl Bolen (right).

Mark Leslie Lefebvre with Jewels of Historical Romance authors Brenda Hiatt (left) and Cheryl Bolen (right).

Mark Leslie Lefebvre is a writer, editor and bookseller. He prefers to refer to himself as a book nerd. Mark has been writing (under the name Mark Leslie) since he was thirteen years old when he pounded out his first novel on an Underwood typewriter. He has since written several stories and books, some of which actually made their way through slush piles and into publisher’s catalogs and bookstore shelves.

Mark’s recent books include the non-fiction tales of ghost stories Haunted Hamilton: The Ghosts of Dundurn Castle and Other Steeltown Shivers (Dundurn Press, August 2012), the science fiction anthology Tesseracts Sixteen: Parnassus Unbound (Edge Publishing, September 2012) and Spooky Sudbury (Sept 2013).

Check out Mark’s books on Kobo here!

(He would also like you check out the Jewels of Historical Romance sampler, if you haven’t already.)

10 Responses to “A Dead Price Point”

  1. eranamage

    Reblogged this on Library of Erana and commented:
    Some readers equate low prices with low quality, which of course is not always the case. Pricing is a tricky conundrum – how high is too high for an e-book and an unknown or little-known author? Personally I wouldn’t pay more than about 4.99 for an e-book unless I was really keen on the author or the book was large. I suppose it is buyer confidence – why is this book cheap? Why is this book that expensive? However it might well depend on genre and audience.

    Reply
  2. Jacqueline Diamond

    After revising and posting about 25 of my backlist mysteries and romances, I was considering pricing a short, zany comedy at $1.99. After hearing about this, though, I’m wondering if that’s a bad idea. I have posted one Regency romance at 99 cents to introduce my half-dozen books in that genre, and that seems to be working well, but mostly I go with $2.99 and offer monthly 99-cent specials.

    Reply
  3. lilysea

    Interesting. In my own head, I see 1.99 and think it’s too much to be a bargain and too little to be a good book. Maybe that’s how others are thinking too. It should be .99 or 2.99-4.99. I often pay much more than 4.99 for ebooks–but those are not self-published. I do wish the big publishers would drop ebook prices to below 6.00 for most titles, but who knows if that will ever happen?
    I think of e- as the new mass market paperback (which isn’t actually all that affordable anymore). I wish the publishers would see it that way too.

    Reply
  4. pattyjansen

    I have books at various prices. I almost never sell anything below $2.99 at Kobo. My bestsellers are all $4.99 or over. My bestseller this month is $6.99. If I look at the price points of books in my genres, SF and fantasy, in the top 100, virtually none are priced below $7, so it’s my decision if I want to fit in, I have to price slightly cheaper, but not much cheaper.

    I think it’s very genre-specific. Romance probably requires a slightly lower price point.

    Reply

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