Scott Marlowe, fantasy author

Scott Marlowe

Author of the Alchemancer and Assassin Without a Name fantasy series

Some Thoughts on eBook Pricing

Determining the "right" price for an eBook is hard to nail down. If you're a traditional publisher, then gouging the consumer with prices over $10 seems to be the way to go. If you're an indie writer, you're typically on the lower end of the scale, with bargain bin prices of $0.99 or maybe $2.99 to get the 70% royalty rate or, if you're courageous (or actually want to make a living at writing), $4.99 and up.

The problem with the $0.99 price is this:

  1. There's too many eBooks at that price, so finding the needle amidst the haystack is next to impossible.
  2. There's a growing consensus that eBooks at that price are crap. (I've read this here and there, and the noise seems to be growing)

You might as well throw free into that pile, too. By its very nature, a writer makes nothing off free, and as far as getting reviews or some other form of reciprocation, it doesn't work.

I've given up on the $0.99 price point except for promotional purposes. John Locke has found a lot of success at that price. In his words, though, he writes "breezy" novels. Say what you like, but I definitely don't write "breezy" novels.

I've also tried $1.99 – $2.99. I've had some success at this level, and I'll continue to offer one or both of my novels in this range. In fact, I just bumped The Hall of the Wood to $2.99. It's a well-written, fun, entertaining read, and I think it's worth that much. Maybe not more, but not any less.

I don't have a series loss-leader (yet), but I also think if The Hall of the Wood is worth $2.99, then The Five Elements, which is an infinitely better novel in just about every way, is worth at least $3.99. That's therefore what I've priced it at.

In general, I'm in the camp that believes a well-written novel is worth more than a latte (and way more than gas station coffee). I also think I work my tail off delivering the best experience possible for my readers. Most have thus far agreed with me on that. Last, if this is to become a viable second (or primary) source of income, 99 cents doesn't cut it.

All this being said, it doesn't really matter what I think my novels are worth. What really matters is what readers are willing to pay. That, my friends, is something I'm still trying to work out.

5 out of 5 stars for The Five Elements by reader Timmain

5-stars

There's a new review for The Five Elements out on Amazon and Goodreads and it's 5 stars out of 5!

I love getting reviews, even if they aren't always flattering. They're feedback regardless of the number of stars. But it's always nice exhilarating getting a 5 out of 5.

In this one, reader Timmain, who also read and reviewed The Hall of the Wood, said this about her experience:

The Five Elements is an enveloping story that drags you in and doesn't let go. I enjoyed it immensely. The characters come to life and tell their story in a way that shows the authors passion for the subject matter. I myself do not have any background or knowledge of alchemy and yet the story is written such that I had no trouble following along and cheering the heroes on through every step of their journey. Well done Mr. Marlowe.

Thanks, Timmain!

She brings up a good point re the use of alchemy, which I would extend to all of the pseudoscience and steampunk-like devices and machines used in the novel: While I strive for some semblance of believability (in the context of it being fiction, of course), I never at any point let the story get bogged down in technical mumbo-jumbo. My job is to entertain, not teach. It's nice to see I accomplished that.

If you'd like to get your own copy of The Five Elements, you have some options:

  1. If you're a member of Goodreads, you can enter the currently ongoing giveaway and maybe you'll win a print copy.
  2. Buy the print edition on Amazon.
  3. Buy the Kindle edition on Amazon. I'm holding prices at $1.99 until the Goodreads giveaway ends on March 10.

The Failure of Free

As an unknown writer, I adopted early on the Cory Doctorow mantra that "for pretty much every writer -- the big problem isn't piracy, it's obscurity". Doctorow gives away his novels via his web site even as they're sold through the usual retailers. Apparently, this model works well for him. I thought it was something that, for me, was at least worth a try.

Sometime after I finished writing my fantasy novel, The Hall of the Wood, and had put it up on the various online retailer sites, I decided to also start giving it away via this site. I figured while I was busying myself with my next writing project I'd be, worst case, spreading the word about my work, name, etc. Best case, I'd surely get some reviews out of it or at least some (hopefully) positive feedback. Maybe someone might even go out and buy a copy as a show of support.

What were the results?

In all, I must have given away about 2,000 copies in between the time I first made it available as a download and when I finished my next (unrelated) novel, The Five Elements. Since that time, with very little promotion, I racked up another 7-800 downloads. All told, not great, but not bad considering the audience on this blog is somewhat limited (audience is key; I'll touch on that next post). So, out of 2700-2800 downloads, how many reviews or emails with feedback do you think I received? How many sales?

I got 1 review and a handful of emails for HOTW. Sales… so miniscule not even worth mentioning.

About a year ago I did the same thing with The Five Elements, except this time I put a nice note in the front of each PDF saying something to the effect of "Thanks for downloading. I'd love it if you could give me a review." Almost 1,000 downloads later, no feedback and no reviews.

Sheesh.

So what went wrong?

Hard to say, but I suspect people were downloading the novels and never reading. I do this myself. I have a "folder of forgotten eBooks", either in Kindle or PDF format, which I've downloaded, categorized, and then never looked at again. Some people think this sort of hoarding goes on with eBooks priced at $0.99, too. I believe them. Whether free or 99 cents, both prices are cheap enough that most people aren't going to feel guilty enough or obligated to actually read the book. Pay $2.99, $4.99, $9.99 or even more for an eBook and I think the reader is much more likely to follow up the purchase with a read (and maybe even a review). It is for this very reason that some authors will not price their work at $0.99. I have to agree with them. If you think about it, by downloading a lot of free or 99 cent eBooks, a reader has simply transferred the hoard of cheap content from Amazon to their own personal device. Picking out what to read (or to read anything at all) becomes no less easy as a result.

With this in mind, I changed my strategy. No more freebies and no more of my eBooks priced at $0.99. Given the apparent correlation between price and the quality of the reader, I mapped out a blueprint of which I will discuss next post. Believe it or not, but this plan (so far, anyway) is working and I'm making sales every day.

The Five Elements Giveaway

I'm giving away 5 print copies of The Five Elements!

The promotion is through GoodReads. Basically, you sign up to enter the drawing and, when the giveaway period ends on March 10, GoodReads selects 5 lucky winners.

If you'd prefer to read now and own a Kindle, I've reduced the price of the eBook to $1.99. I'll hold the price there until the promotion ends.

Click-through to find out more about the giveaway or to enter. Good luck!

Upcoming giveaway for The Five Elements

I'm running a giveaway on GoodReads for 5 print copies of The Five Elements!

The giveaway begins on Feb. 10 (this Friday) and runs for a month. Lots of time to sign-up, but wanted to give some advance notice.

GoodReads giveaways are made with no expectation of anything in return—namely a book review—though it is greatly appreciated.

I'll post again when the giveaway period begins.

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