Saturday, August 7, 2010

99 Cent EBooks--You can't judge a book by its price

I remember growing up hearing over and over again, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” I realized even as a child that they weren’t really talking about books, however, being a voracious reader it didn’t take me long to realize that statement wasn’t entirely false. Many book covers do little to promote the actual content of the book. Book covers are chosen for “market appeal”. Bright colors or dramatics to encourage the reader to pick up the book and at least read the back blurb. Which at times can be a total disappointment.

Since becoming an author and publishing my first work I’ve also learned you can’t judge a book by its price. Prices are set once again based on what the market will bear, as well as the type of publisher. Large publishers who print millions of trade paperbacks and hardbacks get a much cheaper print price which allows them to offer bestselling books at a much lower price than those offered by small publishers. My first book, The Gifts, A Jacody Ives Mystery was published by Echelon Press and priced at $12.99. I hated the cover, which said little to nothing about the actual content of the book. I personally felt the price was a little high, but at the time it was what the market would bear for the size and type of books being published by small publishers. The problem for me was my book was placed on the same paperback shelf as the bestselling authors whose books were selling for seven to $8.00 less than my book. So, as a reader, who are you going to buy? Are you going to spend $5.00 to $10.00 more to try an unknown author, or are you going to stick with the known authors? The answer to that question for me, a book buyer, was—I’m going to stick with the known author. If that was the answer for me, then wouldn’t it naturally follow that the majority of book buyers felt the same way?

When I finished the second Jacody Ives Mystery I was still debating these questions in my mind. How does a relatively new author who hasn’t landed that big publishing contract compete in the book market? I toyed with the idea of self-publishing, but found that the prices set for self-published books were actually higher than those set by small publishing companies. This would only compound the problem, not resolve it.

In 2009 I started researching digital publishing. It wasn’t my preference as I love books. I love the feel of turning the pages, placing that special bookmark at my stopping point. I love libraries. As a child who grew up relatively poor libraries were my escape. I could find a good book and lose myself in the world of my imagination forgetting for just a moment the reality of my life. What effect would digital publishing have on libraries? They’re struggling to survive now with budget cuts across the board. Would digital publishing be the “straw that broke the camel’s back”, finally taking them under? Further research alleviated some of those fears as I found that libraries were also preparing for the digital world, setting up to offer eBooks for their patrons.

In 2010 I joined the ranks of indie publishers and published both my first book and second book through Amazon’s Digital Text Platform. Which once again brought me back to the question of price. As a reader I still felt some eBooks were priced too high. And some appeared to be priced really low, or even free. What was the difference? Name recognition? Publisher? Size of book? I was amazed to find that none of the normal questions fit the answer. What I did find was basically a price war by promoters of digital books and publishers who wanted to keep the prices high. Bear in mind that authors are rarely, if ever, involved in the actual publishing world of publishing companies. We assume that our publishers are aware of the value of our work, as well as “what the market will bear”. And authors rarely, if ever, have any say in the actual price of the book. Self-publishing and digital publishing changed all that. Suddenly authors had the opportunity to compete. And publishing companies immediately jumped on this. If you research publishing companies now you’ll find that the majority of them have a self-publishing unit, or at least a self-publishing digital unit. They could care less about the content of the work, offer no editing services, no layout services and no graphics services unless paid for by the author. The same deal a self-published author has on their own. The only difference is you have that “publisher’s name” on your book. Which for some readers still places a sort of “validation” on an author’s work. Not true. What it actually does is once again places the “price” of those books in the hands of the publisher.

I haven’t bought an e-reader yet. I did download the Amazon Kindle PC download for eBooks. I immediately fell in love with eBooks. I then started looking at the books for sale, and found that I could now sample a large variety of work prior to buying the actual product. As a reader—I’m thrilled. And I found that many formerly published authors were concerned about the same thing I had pondered for three years, and were also joining the ranks of indie authors publishing their own work. And they were succeeding. Slowly but surely, they were accomplishing what every author wants to accomplish—getting their work into the hands of readers and making a modest return on their investment. And yes, authors do have an investment in their work. Days, weeks, months of writing and then most authors, even indie authors, pay for professional editing and graphic design of their covers. We don’t simply hit a button and publish our work, regardless of whether we place it on sale for 99 cents or $4.99. We, in fact, place a higher value on our content and appearance that the publishing companies that are allowing authors to self-publish through their digital services. Why? Because our product is our “validation”. We don’t have the big publisher name. We only have our name, and what we publish today will either validate our work or destroy our career.

When it came time to type in the price of my eBooks I had already made up my mind. The Gifts, A Jacody Ives Mystery was priced at 99 cents. And Sacred Secrets, A Jacody Ives Mystery was priced at $2.99. This is the accepted price for eBooks by indie authors although for promotional purposes those prices go up and down sometimes. I recently received a comment on one of sites that “You have to believe your book is worth more than $.99.” As an author, of course I do. As a reader, looking for new authors to buy that I haven’t sampled before, I always preview the 99cent works. And The Gifts was four years old and had already sold in paperback.

So even when prices increased in July I left it at 99 cents. As an author trying to build author recognition and “validation” that to me was a good marketing decision.

You can’t judge a book by its cover, nor can you judge a book by its price. I recently paid $25.00 for the hardback copy of one of favorite authors from the past. I’d gotten no farther than the third chapter when I wanted my money back. Of course, I couldn’t return it for a refund. I still buy my favorite authors at times, but I’m also finding a wealth of new, fantastic authors located in the 99 cent to $2.99 market on eBooks. Is every book good? Good Lord, no. But then not every paperback or hardback I’ve purchased was any good either. In fact, gave away a bunch recently that I bought on my last visit to the bookstore. Covers were great, blurb was good, and even the first page seemed to be a book I would love—but after that first page I found that I just couldn’t get into them.

Bottom line summary—the fact that an author has priced their book at 99 cents doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the value of the book, it means they’re trying like every other author out there to build their reader base and gain name recognition. Some will make it, some will fail. The same holds true for all books regardless of the price.

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