September 2nd, 2016

When Everyone Is Special, No One Is

Ella Joy Olsen

(The Psychology Behind Books Sold Cheap)


I started thinking about the pricing of books about four months before my debut novel was due to be published. It started with a conversation at a party when my friend’s father cornered me, so he could speak without others overhearing.

Him (in a conspiratorial whisper): So…you know…I pre-ordered your book.

Me (enthusiastically nodding): Great!

Him: Today I got an email telling me the price has been reduced so they returned the difference.

Me: That’s lucky!

Him (with a sympathetic hand on my shoulder): So I guess it’s not selling well?

Me (stuttering): I don’t know. It’s not even published yet. I think it’s just this game publishers play. I don’t think it means anything.

Him (disbelieving eyebrows and apologetic shrugged shoulders): Well, don’t worry. I’m still excited.

Me (wilting smile): So am I.

That same day at my computer, my Facebook feed was spinning like a slot machine. No less than three of my writer friends had posted a cute meme advertising that their book was on sale for $1.99 and they hoped for shares or likes so the world would know.

I shared the posts, honestly praising the ones I’d read and loved and letting my acquaintances know an awesome book sold at this price was a great opportunity. I’ll also admit that I bought a few more to add to my ever-expanding virtual stack. But the whole time, I was torn. I subscribe to BookBub and Riffle, and I’ve fallen prey to many a good deal (too many a good deal). I’ve purchased well beyond my ability to read. My Kindle is bloated with cheap books, most of them fantastic, many of which I’ll never begin.

It got me thinking about the psychology of sales pricing. I’m an admitted sales rack shopper. The picked-over sales rack at the back of my favorite store is the best place to find an awesome deal, and I always beeline it for that corner. But what if everything in the store is on sale, even before it becomes shelf-worn? Or what happens when I know full-priced items will go on sale almost immediately after being placed on the rack? Of course, I would never buy an item at full price. Think about Old Navy. I don’t buy anything full tag in that store, because I know that, in two short days, my desired item will be 40% off. By continually lowering their prices, Old Navy has diminished the value of everything they sell.

Is that what’s being done to our books?

Since there’s no scarcity of sale-priced books, especially with the ever expanding array of self-published titles dumped into the marketplace, there’s flagging demand for anything not on sale. To counteract the trend, publishing houses play with the pricing, bouncing it up and down. But will you ever pay full price for an e-book? Not if you’re a savvy reader.

I have to wonder, is there a point at which the price becomes so low, or the item goes on sale so quickly, that it sends poor signals to the customer? That this book is barely worth paying for? I’m going to say yes. Here’s an example from recent personal experience. There was this book, which shall remain nameless, because we’ve all seen it on Book Movement, in pop-culture magazines, everywhere. Let’s just say it was one of those books the publishers thought would fly. I took the bait. I wanted to read it. I put it on my Want to Read shelf so I wouldn’t forget it, but I also knew I wouldn’t buy it until I was ready to read. Then, not even a month after publication, I received a notice from Goodreads (aka Amazon) that the electronic copy was on a one-day sale. My eagerly anticipated read was only $4.99. My first thought was not, “Yahoo!” with my finger already pressing the Buy button. No, my immediate reaction was, “This is on sale already? Maybe it’s not as good as they’ve made it out to be.”

Here’s the real question: Did I buy it? No. Not even for $4.99. Because a book isn’t like a new shirt. There’s a time commitment involved when you buy a book. This price drop said to me, too cheap, too soon. Something is wrong. Even at $4.99 I wasn’t going to invest nine hours of my time.

In my post today I hope to spark a conversation. So please comment! I’m not telling you I know the right or the wrong, but I’m hoping the topic will make you think. I have my opinion and I’ve polled some of the savviest writers I know to get their take on this subject.

The question I want you all to ponder is this: In an effort to get our books into the hands of readers, are we diminishing our worth in their eyes?

I’m not even going to mention the mere pocketful of nickels earned by any author whose book is sold for $1.99, though it should not be forgotten. If the publisher lowers the price, the net royalty is much lower, which reduces the author’s ability to earn out their advance; or it further reduces their paycheck. But that’s a topic for another day.

Now let’s look at the pros column. There are some compelling reasons, some real benefits, to selling books cheap. I asked some of my fellow authors their take on the benefits of bouncing prices and here are some of their answers:

  • Lower prices are a quick way to get onto a bestseller list, which is something you can continue to promote. Bestseller once, bestseller always, which says “This book is worthwhile.”
  • Getting the book to as many humans as possible. Maybe not every person who buys your book will read it. Maybe it will be lost forever on their Kindle. But a percentage of them will. Then, if the book is good enough, they’ll recommend it to their book club, who will recommend it to their mom. And so on! Word of mouth is the only way to truly break out. Here’s a quick example – not about a price break, but I think it still applies – The Nightingale. Before publication, the publisher dumped well over 200 books into early readers’ hands (for free). Now if those readers didn’t like it, it would have sunk right there. But they did! They recommended it widely. And The Nightingale is still flying. These days, people are still buying it, despite the full price tag.
  • Price drops are a legitimate way to talk about your own book. We authors spend a bunch of time self-promoting, to the point where we get a little sick of ourselves. But a price break (or a giveaway) is a reason to put the megaphone back to your lips and holler again. One more chance to get your cover in front of an audience. I liken this to election-year yard signs. You may know nothing about so-and-so running for School Board, but if his name rings a bell when you’re standing in the polling booth, aren’t you more likely to vote for him?
  • If the book is priced so low the reader has nothing to lose and they buy it, and you wouldn’t have had those sales without the price drop, then it’s better than nothing.
  • A price reduction for the first book in a series, or a book by an author you like, creates buzz for their newest title. Low pricing on the first book(s) may entice readers to buy the next on release date, for full price.

Pros aside, I still think we have a problem here. Because I like to work my way to the bottom of something that’s bothering me, to find a solution, I asked myself, “What can be done?” My first thought (don’t laugh): Unionize. Change the industry. Demand fair wages for hours worked and quality products delivered. In order to pay those wages, our work must be priced above $1.99. But that, obviously, is not a solution. Publishing is an open marketplace, full of self-pub platforms, and an overabundance of books. Every sales chain is up for grabs. The industry itself is still trying to come to terms with the upheaval. After much brainstorming, I must confess I still don’t know the answer. And most of the time I feel like I’m simply along for the ride.

So will I play the game? When my book goes on sale for $1.99, will I scream it from the mountaintops and hope for sales? Yes, I will. However, despite the darling meme I create and post on social media, I’m not actually psyched my hard work is being tossed about like it’s worth next to nothing – especially if the price break seems premature or not well-timed to promote my next book.

How do you feel? Is there a solution? Do we need a solution? Leave a comment and let me know!


About Ella

biophoto1.3Ella Joy Olsen was born, raised, and currently resides in Salt Lake City, Utah – a charming town tucked against the massive Rocky Mountains. Most at home in the world of the written word, Ella spent nearly a decade on the Board of Directors for the Salt Lake City Public Library System (and four decades browsing the stacks). She is the mom of three kids ranging from pre-teen to edge-of-the-nest teen, the mama of two dogs, and the wife of one patient husband.

root, petal, thorn COMPThough she’s crazy about words, Ella is also practical, so she graduated from the University of Utah with a degree in Finance. After years spent typing boring stuff, Ella eagerly gave up her corner cubicle and started writing fiction. She has also lived in Seattle, Washington & Savannah, Georgia.

She is a member of Tall Poppy Writers and Women’s Fiction Writers Association. You can find her at, Twitter @ellajoyolsen, or Facebook at

ROOT, PETAL, THORN (September 2016/Kensington) is her debut novel. And coming in September 2017 – WHERE THE SWEET BIRD SINGS.

59 comments to When Everyone Is Special, No One Is

  • Thanks, Ella, for putting this on the table. I hope to finish my first novel early next year, and have just started to think about the marketing and pricing aspects. Much to learn!

  • Oh, Ella, I think you’re going to get a ton of comments! I read this, nodding in agreement, at the same time, shaking it in disbelief (and I’m glad no one was up to see that).

    SO true! I’m so torn, and I sometimes feel guilty, being cheap, and not buying at full price, but…you’re right about the sales…

    One one hand, as a writer, I get frustrated with publishers – both ways! Put a book on sale too early? I’m making too little money! Too late? ‘Who’s going to but an ebook at $12.99? I’m losing sales!!

    As a reader, I’m torn, too. I’ve stopping perusing the Kindle daily deals…I have WAY more books than I can read already. And my husband would seriously freak if he could see my TBR shelf on my Kindle. But I DO have a couple of auto-buy authors at full price, regardless.

    I think this is a sign of the crap at the bottom of the tank getting stirred up by the tsunami of change in the book industry.

    It was hard enough to get discovered before…I’m sure I’m also on someone’s bloated Kindle shelves…. Hopefully, they’ll get to me before they die.

    On the other hand….

    See? I’m torn.

    Except on the fact that this was a fantastic post.

  • As a primarily indie author, I think I make as much in royalties from a 99 cent book as a traditionally published author makes from a MMPB sale. I go with the ‘first in series for 99 cents” angle (and right now, my 1st 2 books in my Triple-D Ranch series are on sale for 99 cents in order–I hope–to get more people to try them before book 3 is released.)

    All those major advertising sites, such as BookBub, which is the 500 pound gorilla require price drops, as do most of the others because their readers want bargains. The ‘sweet spot’ for indie books seems to be $2.99-$4.99, and again, the royalty rate at that price point is more than most traditionally published authors make, so I price mine at $3.99 (sorry they don’t make your minimum cut, but I’m happy to sell you one for whatever your base price is!).

    Do I try new authors if their books are free or “cheap?” I most definitely do.

    Marketing is my least favorite aspect of being a writer, but it’s become a necessary evil. I don’t have a solution for your problem, but I think there are as many people who want the sale books as there are those who think a lower price cheapens the quality. I know I pay my editor and cover artist good money to make sure what I’m putting out there is as good as it can be.

    Do I aspire to becoming a NYT best-selling author? Frankly, no (although my editor is disappointed, but those are her goals for me, not mine.) At my age, I’m not looking at a 20 year career plan. But it’s nice to go into the car dealership and write a check for a new car.

  • S. A. Young

    Just a thought, but is it possible that because you put a book on your “Want to Read” shelf, but didn’t buy, some algorithm somewhere lowered the price to the point where you would buy? Given that we’re talking about digital transactions, could we have situations where, just like on an airplane, no two people have paid the same price?

  • My first novel, published by an Indie press, sold well at first, thanks to my friends. But, with time, it fizzled. Most books never really make it off the ground, I’ve learned. On a whim, my publisher and I submitted it to BookBub, and it was immediately accepted, much to my surprise. We offered it for free, and the results were amazing. I’m sure it’s still sitting on a lot of TBR shelves, but a lot of people read it. My reviews went way up. Since the promo, it has gone back to regular price, AND it has continued to sell. My last royalty check was 7x all my previous royalty checks combined. I’m sold on the buzz a sale brings.

    That said, I’m not a fan of most self-published, always-cheap books. They may be good reads, but I hesitate to give them a chance because they come across like the $1 section at Target – okay for fun, but nothing too serious.

    My second novel (shameless self-promotion, When I Was Seven) comes out the end of this month. We’re applying for the illusive BookBub promo for the first book (.99 this time) to coincide with the second book’s release.

    I didn’t make up the game, but it’s here to stay. So we might as learn how to play.

  • Great post, Ella. I’m undecided on this issue. I do buy 99c books and take advantage of free titles. I also have a list of author’s who’s books I buy at full price as soon as they’re available. Some of the free books have led me to new authors who’s books I now buy.
    I don’t value the free or cheap books less, I just get the marketing angle. But that’s an author’s perspective. Maybe readers think a cheap book equals poor quality. Sadly, there are a ton of crappy free books out there. I know there are people who only read free books so they must come across a lot of poor quality writing. In that sense, they’d be right in thinking free or cheap equals inferior quality.
    For those of us that do a bit of everything, I like to think we all know why good books are sometimes on sale.

  • Ella, this is a fascinating discussion. I self-published a novel before signing with Penguin; I’ve been with them for the last five novels, and I still don’t know how or why traditional publishers insist on charging 9.99 or even 12.99 for my ebooks–Yes, I think my books are worth that much, but who the heck would shell out that money if they can buy six or even twelve books for the same amount? The other frustrating thing is that traditionally-published authors have NO control over things like BookBub–the publisher gets to decide when/if they do that for you. Having been a hybrid author, I can say I relished all of the freedom I had as an indie writer–BUT I also really love the marketing muscle of a traditional publisher, especially one like Penguin, because they have a much wider distribution (including international) than I was able to do on my own. But these ebook prices have to start declining to be more in line with what indie authors are charging–even 6.99 or 7.99 would probably be more tolerable for people than 12.99.

  • I think the short answer is that there is no answer. As with the music industry, technology has brought sweeping changes that have both helped artists (opening more gates) and hurt them (prices down, subscription services, more competition, etc.). Newer authors (like me) are probably focused more on growing readership than on income, whereas more established authors might be looking harder at the income statement. But like you’ve said, at this point most consumers really don’t want to pay much more than a few bucks for any book unless it is a hugely popular one or that of a favorite author. Just two years ago, I didn’t blink at paying $7 for an ebook, but now I frown at anything over $5.

    I’ve heard some people suggest that pricing will be the new gatekeeper. That, as authors tire of toiling away for very little income and grow weary of chasing readers with “giveaways” and such just for attention, some of them leave the market, making it easier for those who stick around to achieve some visibility. And that, at that point, maybe prices can stabilize/increase. I don’t subscribe to that theory. There will always be new, hopeful authors entering the market convinced that their work is different/better/breakout quality. And absent a “union” as you joked about, there is no way to fight for fair prices.

    Ultimately, my advice to anyone entering this industry is, do it for love, not money. Write what moves you, not what “sells.” And keep aiming to write a better book. Ultimately the only thing that will really grab and retain loyal readers is quality.

    Thanks for the post!

    • ellajoyolsen

      I think you are right, Jamie, the answer is to write a book that’s good enough to break-out. It’s just hard to get those readers to take notice with all the books available.

  • Wonderful post, Ella. Like you, I grapple with both sides of this equation. The need to get readers versus ‘what is my time worth?’ Ebooks and self-publishing have added a whole new element to the pricing war on books. In a market where more books than every are published, getting yours to sell is tough. And yes, I too have a pile of books gathered at bargain prices. Often, I find, the quality isn’t there. Other times, it is. Which leads to the “bestselling” status that seems to be everywhere these days. All I can say is it doesn’t speak to the quality of some books I see with that title. And yet, they sell… so who am I to judge?
    In short, I find I’m happiest when I’m focusing on my writing and less focused on the crazy atmosphere in publishing these days. But you raise some great questions.

    • ellajoyolsen

      Sharon – I feel happier when I’m simply writing, as well. It’s just we’re smacked with the pricing thing all the time…or sales numbers. What to do? Thanks for your comment!

  • Orly Konig-Lopez

    Great post, Ella!
    Tough topic … I’ve always felt queasy about books that go on sale too soon and paying so little for something that takes so much to create.

    With my debut coming out next year, I see the arguments for price drops. And, like most of the world, I’ll buy some books when they go on sale that I may have been hesitating to buy otherwise.

    But I also go buy a lot of the books I get from contests or as ARCs because I want to support the authors. And I bristle at complaints about spending “that much” on a book. We don’t expect artists to sell their paintings or photographs for $1.99.

    • ellajoyolsen

      Orly – you’re exactly right! I don’t expect to pay nothing for a meal, or a movie…but a book? Many are free, or darn near it. What’s funny is Audible keeps their prices high, and people still pay it. Something to think about!

  • Jocelyn

    As an avid reader, to find a new author who captures my interest is like finding a gold mine. A good author generates good books. But finding them in the avalanche of writers can be a daunting task. There are so many new titles released every year. So when I am offered a book, as a way of introduction, I do take advantage. I can tell you that when I find an author I like, I not only download their Kindle books, I buy paper books as well.
    On the other side of the coin, if I wait, I can check them out of the library. No cost to me. However in the last few years, as new books have been offered, my personal library (Kindle and paper) has grown. I will read everything I buy eventually. So offer me a copy at a reasonable cost, and I will take the bait. I have found so many enjoyable hours of delightful and intriguing fiction, that I can carry with me wherever I go. And when I find books I love, I tell my friends, or write a review.

  • Ella, an excellent set of questions. I have a lot to say about this issue! In fact, I wrote a post at Writer Unboxed called:

    “As Writers, What are we Worth?”
    Link here:

    And it stirred up enough of a storm that Porter Anderson, publishing journalist wrote a follow up article about price drops and books. Worth a read–and the comments as well!

    Link here:

    I feel consistent price-dropping has degraded the industry as a whole. Discounts are fine, but make them count and don’t offer them regularly, as you’ve suggested. There should be a limit to “cheap”. Both the low pricing and the incredible content glut have really crippled the book industry. It has done good things as well in terms of democratizing the publishing process for writers, though, like any industry, a system of checks and balances must be in place because of the most basic principle in marketing and sales–control supply and demand or there will be a big fall out and subsequent BUST. It has happened historically hundreds of times. We’ve managed to destroy that concept in publishing and now authors are paying the price. (No pun intended.)

    Thanks for bringing these very good questions here to WITS!

  • The result of this, for me, is I don’t believe it when I see “best selling.” I can’t trust reviews, or even sales to point me to a good book. Sadly, in small press and indie-world, it’s too easy to pass drek off as “best selling.” Put a book up for free for three days, it marches straight to #1 in it’s category, and you’ve got a “best seller” whether or not anyone actually reads the thing.

    Here’s the bottom line, making it in publishing of any sort is as much of a shot in the dark as it has ever been, just on a larger scale. None of this is anything new. Art is never going to earn what it’s worth for any but a select few. Luck? Promotion? Word of mouth? All of the above? It’s individual, and it doesn’t seem to have much rhyme or reason. What worked for one author doesn’t for another. Why some books of marginal skill/quality take off while others that are all-around better quality don’t is another crap shoot.

    In the end, it has to be about the book (your art) and what you, personally, want from it vs. what you get from it.

    (For the record, I’ve six books out with small and mid-press publishers.)

  • I fear that ship has sailed. Now that readers expect to get books for as little as $.99 or even free with so many giveaways, it’s a tough sale (pun intended) to convince them that that same book is now worth $13.99 or more. It’s not just books. I’m a freelance writer/editor in my day job and even with all my years experience, I just recently had to negotiate up to get $.50/word. I made more than that 25 years ago. When the market gets flooded (everyone wants to be a writer and so many will do it for free to get exposure), prices reflect that glut. Not trying to be a Negative Nellie, just calling it as I see it.

    • ellajoyolsen

      Densie, you are right. The careers that are most appealing are those that pay the very least. How much does an actor make unless she gets that one big break? Not much at the community theater. True also, for artists who display at the coffee shop.

  • Orly’s comment “I bristle at complaints about spending “that much” on a book.” hits me the same way, and I want to respond, you did a few years ago before the price drops began and you can buy multiple books for $1.99 or not pay at all. Maybe it’s part of our current culture that cheaper is better, though I confess I was appalled by a writer friend of mine who said she’d just read something that wasn’t very good, but that was okay because it was free.
    Hopefully the good ( of which there are many) will float to the top, but in the meantime here’s the question that worries me: Are we training readers to expect and accept less of a book?

    • Orly Konig-Lopez

      “Are we training readers to expect and accept less of a book?” Sadly, I’ve heard the “oh well, it was free” or “I didn’t have high expectations because I only paid 99 cents, so I wasn’t too disappointed.”

      • Snapshot of your “baby boomer” market (female, 60+ but still working) – there are a lot of us).

        After 60+ years on the planet, we know our time is our most precious resource. In my case, I struggle to find time to write around a demanding day job, a hella long daily commute, and spending time with friends and family, so I can’t afford time to read badly written books. I don’t really care if the book is free or $4.99. I very seldom pay $13.99 for an ebook.

        A KindleUnlimited subscription helps me keep costs down and search for promising new authors. When I find one I can’t bear to return, I buy. (That’s how I found Marion Harmon’s, Wearing the Cape series. Excellent YA/NA urban fantasy). Unfortunately, my hubby has taken to reading them on his kindle, and ordering as well. We’re now pushing 1000 books in our kindle ‘cloud’ library. I’ll look in kindleUnlimited for new writers, but search the kindle store for favorites. In some cases I’ll buy the hardback (1st editions only) and the ebook. For non-fiction, I’ll buy the softback and the ebook. I subscribe to bookbub, and have bought based on bookbub ratings and reviews.

        If you’re active in any of my writer’s groups or blogs, I’ll take a look at your books when offered. It they look promising, I’ll buy, read and maybe offer a review. I don’t give 5* reviews lightly.

        The ebooks don’t wear out or put me over the luggage weight limit for air travel. They can never be lost, stolen or damaged. Don’t disparage th ebooks! they will build your readership faster than the hardback/paperback market, at least for fiction.

  • Great post, Ella. And I could write a whole blog post on why I love the Incredibles, including the idea of everyone being special, participation trophies, etc.

    Oh, the free and 99 cent books! Not to mention the 3-20 book bundles for 99 cents. How am I to get someone to buy one copy of my book if they can buy all the books for under a buck? My publisher prices my eBooks at a reasonable price anyway. $2.99-4.99 depending on length. My fifth book came out in July and is already on sale for 99 cents. I know my sales for this book are disappointing, and my publisher is trying to boost interest. But I have had mixed success with sale promotions. Sometimes they boost sales and sometimes I think it does have the opposite effect. But usually my other books get a boost as well.

    I do find it distressing that books are so undervalued. I mean, people don’t even look at the price on the back of a greeting card. I do, and most of them are more than the price of my eBooks at regular price.

    I need to write. I also need money. Hopefully I can someday find a way to do both because I’m too old to get a third job.

  • I will occasionally buy cheap ebooks on my Kindle when I see the author herself promoting them. That said, it can take years for me to actually read it because I bought it at that moment only because it was on sale. Like you, Ella, I have MANY unread books on my Kindle. The books I read immediately? Those are the ones I buy at full price, and I usually become aware of them either because I saw a cover I liked at the bookstore or I heard the author interviewed, usually on NPR. I’m a sucker for anyone who does a good interview, I guess! And with those books, I ALWAYS by the printed version. Print is my preferred medium hands down, and those do not go on sale as often, as soon, or for as little as ebooks.

    I’m not sure there is a lot that we as authors can do to effect large-scale change in the publishing industry. The super blockbuster bestsellers have sway, but even they are not much of a match for a business that is, like any other business, driven by the bottom line. Sorry that sounds defeatist! But I’m at the stage of my life and career where I can only allow myself to control what I can control (my writing) and in the meantime try to practice personally responsible buying habits.

    The market speaks. Unfortunately, most of our readers are not writers, and they don’t know the harm that can come from them getting a good deal. In fact, my own MIL, though both her son and I are writers and despite the fact that I have worked for a book publisher for 14 years, once said, in my presence, “I just can’t bring myself to pay ten dollars for a book.” !!!!!!!!!!!

  • Am I thrilled to promote a price drop? Yes—for once I am not “begging readers” as much as “informing readers of a great opportunity.”

    Was I thrilled to get a BookBub, and have a chance at the bestseller lists? Yes. But with the proliferation of price-drop newsletters, I think it is already starting to work less well in that regard. My guess is that they will have to soon lower their ad prices. But any price drop allows you to get new readers that might build a career. It also might get you noticed only by frugal shoppers looking for the next cheap thing.

    Do I wish authors could get paid for their work? Sure, but the problem is right in your title here—everyone wishes this. Literary artists have to write the work that comes from their soul, and the market will decide whether that is popular enough to make any sort of living. The competition since self publishing took off is such that absolutely no one really knows how to stick their head above the crowd to gain notice. And the reality is, most of us would (and will) keep writing anyway. Any sort of “demands” ring false.

    The only thing I can control here is what I do with my own purchasing dollars. If I were not an author, and had a decent-paying day job, I would purchase full price books (which I still do from time to time to support my favorite indie bookstores) or go to the library, because I think the most important thing we can do with our purchasing dollars is to build the world we want to live in. That said, I must read a lot to continue to learn my craft and its market, and to have relevant examples to share when I teach at conferences or edit for clients, so I do take advantage of price drops so I can do that within my budget.

    But one thing I will never, ever do is download a free book. It feels wrong in every way, and I do not want to let anyone think this tactic will work.

  • jillhannahanderson

    Great post and great examples here, Ella. The Nightingale example is perfect (I use The Kitchen House as my example many times). Ultimately, it comes down to a good book. As someone earlier mentioned, you can give away a ton of free books and temporarily make a “best seller” list… but it means nothing if people don’t read the book or recommend it by both reviews and word of mouth! The author of The Kitchen House (which I’ll be talking about in a future book blog) did similar promo work in the early months, as we all have to, but because her book is amazing, it crawled up to a million book sales – something that wouldn’t happen without a GOOD BOOK!
    And as you mentioned with The Nightingale, I initially borrowed a friends hardcover copy. I loved it so much, I bought my own.
    As a near-future-author myself, I know the publisher is going to try and give my farm away. I can only hope I can hang onto a goat and cow so that I make enough to not starve. 😉

    • ellajoyolsen

      But, Jill, would you buy the cow if the milk was free? Sorry, I couldn’t help myself.

      • jillhannahanderson

        Good point! 😉 The thing is, I think of all the library books my husband and I read… there is no way we can buy every book we read. So, I guess I have (many times) got that cow for free! I’m still clueless how an author makes money from a library lending out their book a hundred times…

      • ellajoyolsen

        Hi! I’m a huge borrower from the library, also. Actually, libraries are some of the largest purchasers of all books (paper, electronic, audio)..and they typically purchase for full price. Plus, they get the books into the hands of tons of readers, where it can get the “word of mouth” effect.

        • jillhannahanderson

          Whew! Then I don’t feel so bad about the many books we borrow from the library. And you are right, we spread the word about authors and books we’ve loved (and buy the ones we really enjoyed.)

  • Writers in the Storm. Every post is a hard, honest slap in the face. Lol.

  • Robert Doucette

    Really good post. I’m revising my first book (that is, the first one worth revising) and appreciate all of the honest reports on the Indie Publishing/Marketing world. And you can’t beat the comments on this site. Smart, savy people.

  • Bob Maddamma

    Thank you for this post It brings up so many issues in the industry. One aspect that has not been discussed is the possibility you’re being paid twice by the same consumer. I often buy cheaper e-books that are in my physical collection (cloth and trade PB). That way I get to carry around my favorite books wherever I go with my Kindle. Have I ever bought $1.99 copies of books new to me? Yes. Would I have paid more for these books? Yes. There’s the gap. Too many e-books are promoted at “Under $2.” These are undervalued. Shouldn’t they be promoted/offered at higher (still discounted) price points? I don’t know too many readers who wouldn’t pay $4.99 for an e-book. Plus, if it becomes a success at that price point, then it does not need reduced. In business parlance, I feel that “Willingness To Pay” is being overlooked. Publishing marketers might disagree, but there is not enough exposure to titles at higher price points.

    • Great points all, Bob. We all have different price points. But they’re to a certain extent, set by the market. I admit, with the exception of a few ‘auto-buy’ authors, $4.99 is my limit. But then, my point may have been set by the market too – impossible to say.

      • Laura, this is very true. That’s the unfortunate part. The industry has set the consumer’s expectation at under $2. E-books are available at $5.99 and $4.99, but they’re not promoted. I do understand the ‘loss leader’ concept but detest the notion of books being peddled as retail ‘things’ as opposed to being promoted for their aesthetic properties. This is why the low cost places a perceived value on the book (it can’t be that good if it’s that cheap). It used to be “I’ll just wait until it’s out in paperback,” now it’s “I’ll just wait’s $1.99.” Terrible.

  • This is a fantastic article, Ella. Thank you for voicing what I am sure are the concerns of many authors. I feel like our books can get lost in the sea of low priced books. When I have a price drop I always promote, but am torn between appreciating the opportunity to meet new readers and the dismay of yet another opportunity to earn dollars. Thanks for writing this.

  • Fae Rowen

    Thanks for getting this discussion going, Ella. I’m working on self-pubbing a book, and everyone I talk to has a different opinion on pricing. I’ve worked hundreds of long hours, paid for classes, editing, a cover, and I am not putting “my baby” up for free. I have to value my work, or no one else will.

  • And there are publishers who don’t really discount at all, or often, leaving authors feeling like they’re not getting their fair share of the bargain shoppers, which are many. Sometimes I feel like it’s “when in Rome…” and if everyone else is gathering readers like this, I’d like the chance as well.

  • I’m jumping in to nod in agreement! As an author, I don’t have the answer,either. In the meantime, as a reader, if I borrow a book from the library–or a friend–and love it, I immediately buy myself a copy. And I buy across the board. My local indie. Barnes & Noble. Amazon. Doing my best to keep book sellers in business!

  • I almost never think about whether a book is on sale. I just decide I want to read something, head over to find, and if it’s a good price, I buy. BUT I admit that I’m very reluctant to get a book that is either free or $.99. Because what does that say about how the author and/or publisher value their work? It feels like they’re too eager to give me a deal — like the used car salesman who keeps dropping the price, thus signaling that the car is a lemon. It’s fine to have the temporary sales, but long-term low pricing doesn’t sit well with me.

    That said, I have non-writer friends who absolutely shop that way — looking for free and $.99 books. Yes, I’ve talked to them, pointing out that an author spends way more time writing a book than the barista spent making a latte, so it’s appalling they want the book for free but will pay $4 for coffee. *sigh* I don’t know the answers either, but the whole pricing situation is a great question and seems to be in flux.

  • Excellent post and brings up so many good points. As I reader and a natural bargain shopper, I have a hard time bringing myself to pay above 2.99 for an ebook. Paperback books I’ll sometimes pay full price for if it’s something I needed like yesterday. Even then my favorite stores tend to be used bookstores. I’m sure by the time I’ve bought the book at those stores, any money made doesn’t go to the author (I could be very wrong on this and have no problem being corrected), but to the store.

    All that being said, as a writer and hopefully a published novelist sometime in my lifetime, I can see the conflict an author would have. I never considered what having a book go on sale or being offered free for a limited time would have on an author’s psyche. Personally I don’t think there’s any correlation between price of an ebook vs. quality. Probably because I know that deals and price drops are offered all the time as a way to boost sales. I guess that’s the healthiest and most realistic way too look at it?

    As for a solution, who knows. The publishing industry is changing all the time and what’s effective and true today won’t be the case a year or more down the road. I guess go with the flow? Fight for a higher, but still reasonable price, if your publisher constantly places your work on sale? It’s so difficult to argue the price of what our countless hours, days, weeks, months, and years are worth. We give up so much to write that I don’t think any amount of money, well maybe J.K. Rowling kind of money, can ever fully compensate us.

  • Great post! The comments show what an issue this is for so many of us. As an indie author (by choice) from the onset, I like that I have control over my pricing, which I have yet to drop… and which mediocre sales woefully reflect. It’s hard to get noticed in the glut of under-priced books, but if I don’t value my work, why should anyone else? I’m a writer not a player. The game changes too rapidly to keep up, so I just keep plugging along while it does its thing around me, and hope that I’m still around when it plays itself out.

Leave a Reply