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by Nick Stephenson in Books and Writing

I’ve been doing some pricing research today – I’ve taken the last 4 months’ worth of sales, and looked at which price points have been the most successful. There were a few surprises – but I’ll get to that in a minute. First of all, I’m taking the opportunity to announce the next Leopold Blake novel is going through some editing and should be available in the next few weeks. This is a particularly exciting release, as it’s the first time I’ve worked with a co-author – the talented Kay Hadashi, author of the June Kato series. This new book is a rock’em sock’em teamup of sorts, that’s been an absolute blast to write. In the meantime, here’s the brand-spanking new cover:

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Now, back to the reason you’ve all bothered reading this far (excluding those who stumbled across me via my hidden Justin Bieber keywords):Β what’s the best pricing strategy to sell ebooks? The quick answer: nobody has any idea. What I do know is what prices work best for me, and in what situations. Sometimes. Maybe.

So I did a study, and some of the results were a little unexpected. First, here’s a little bit about methodology:

  1. I tried $2.99, $3.99, and $4.99 between three different full-length novel titles (genre = mystery / thriller, approx 60k words each), trying to give each book a fair shake at each level. On average, I tried each price point for a month or so.
  2. I excluded ALL sales within 5 days of a price promotion (free or 99c) to avoid skewing the data in favour of lower prices (I generally reduce prices to $2.99 across all titles during a promo). I also didn’t include data for my multi-novel bundles or my $2.99 novella, or any first-month sales for new releases (where sales are generally higher due to the hot new releases lists and people on my mailing list snapping up copies).
  3. In total, I’ve studied a little shy of 1,500 units of “qualifying” sales since January, which accounts for about 35% of total sales.

Here’s what I found across the 3 titles I analysed:

  1. As expected, $2.99 yielded the most sales per day, averaging out at 5.5 sales per day, per title.
  2. Rather unexpectedly, there was no appreciable difference in volume sales between $3.99 and $4.99 – both price points averaging out at 2.85 sales per title, per day.
  3. Revenue was highest at $2.99, averaging $10.99 per title, per day
  4. Revenue was a close second at $4.99, averaging $9.93 per title, per day
  5. Revenue was lowest at $3.99, averaging $7.69 per title, per day

Here’s a lovely graph:

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sales charts

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Conclusions:

I’ve tried to be as fair as I can, by ignoring any boosts in sales that could be attributed to a successful price promotion (and therefore not applicable long-term), and cut out any sales from the sample that might be affected. I’ve also not included sales from my $2.99 novella, which stayed at that price the whole time (and actually further skews the data toward a lower price preference).

It seems that my novels perform best, in terms of revenue, at $2.99, when taken on average. But there’s not much difference in revenue performance between pricing at $2.99 and pricing at $4.99.

There is a noticeable drop off in my sales moving from pricing at $2.99 to pricing at $3.99 / $4.99 – around 45% loss of volume. Upping prices to $4.99 almost makes up for this.

Surprisingly, there is no appreciable drop off in sales moving from $3.99 to $4.99.

The drop in volume moving up from $2.99 does tend to kick the books off most of the top 100 lists – meaning readers are finding me some other way. This is likely to be through the Popularity Lists, or by actively searching for me, or by keywords (or something else). Giving rise to the question, “just how much exposure to you get from being in a top 100 list?” I’d wager, unless you’re on the first page, not very much.

So, what am I going to do with this information? Well, I’ve just dropped one of my full-length novels into permafree, so I’m not going to do anything for a couple of weeks while I wait and see what effect it has. After that, I’d be tempted to try $4.99 as a standard price for my other novels and see what happens. All things considered, I’d rather sell at higher prices where possible, which gives me more flexibility for promotions and helps build a more premium brand. So long as the figures support the move, I’m all in – especially as I make the transition from KDP Select to having my books out on other vendor platforms (more on that in a future post).

Limitations

My books aren’t your books. Even if you write in a similar genre, chances are the packaging, writing style, and pretty much everything else are entirely different. What works for me (or doesn’t) is unlikely to be exactly the same for you, so take these results with a pinch of salt.

1,500 units over three titles isn’t a particularly huge sample – and the difference between $9.93 and $10.99 per day across three books probably isn’t going to make or break anyone’s writing career. The above conclusions might not apply to a larger data set. Additionally, I only studied sales occurring in the US, so this study doesn’t take into account different markets.

Branding is important. Are you aiming for a premium brand? If so, maybe you would rather sacrifice a few sales to command higher prices. The long term view is important, and that can’t really be captured within 4 months’ worth of data.

Anyway – I hope some of you will find this useful, or, at least, not so dry and boring you now want to scratch your eyes out. I don’t want to be responsible for blinding anyone. And apologies again for anyone looking for Justin Bieber. It was a cheap trick to lure you onto my site, and I’m sorry.

For anyone else, I’d love to hear from you in the comments if you’ve had any experience fiddling with your pricing. Just drop a note below and I’ll gladly pretend your ideas were mine in the first place.

If you want a step-by-step guide to getting started on your email list, go download “Reader Magnets”. This free ebook will show you how to put this process in place and start building your email list – click below to grab your copy:

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15 Comments
  1. Geraldine Evans says:

    I enjoy your posts about pricing, Nick. I have most of my series books priced at $3.99 and the sales have gone down. Hmm. Not sure whether to price up or down now. Maybe, given the additional boost to the rankings, down might be the best option, especially given it’s the price point that gave you greatest income. I really must start to keep better records myself so I have more precise information on my own books.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Thanks Geraldine! It can be difficult to attribute sales to one thing or another, especially if you do much promotion. A new title, for example, can sell tons in the first couple of months and impact all your other titles too. I’ve found with rankings, it makes very little difference unless you can get onto the first page of your genre (top 20). The Popularity Lists are far more useful, where pricing is taken into consideration – two books selling the same, the higher priced one will get more visibility. Worth remembering…

  2. AFN Clarke says:

    I recently increased my ebook prices from $2.99 to $3.99 and have noticed an appreciable drop in sales, about 35%. Extra income almost makes up for it but am wondering if I made a mistake or if I need to ride it out and see what happens over time. I often appeared in the top 100 in ranking in genre/subgenre and sometimes in the top 20 and now not, and I do know the more volume of sales the more likely a book is to be associated with other similar books and recommended to readers and so that’s a way of boosting sales volume yet again and increasing rankings and so on and so on. I guess the dilemma is, is it worth sacrificing volume of sales for something else?

    I too am trying to figure out the best pricing point as I am also thinking about leaving KDP Select and branching out and so then I don’t want to be experimenting with price too much on all sorts of different platforms. One of my main reasons for branching out apart from the obvious, is that from the day Amazon introduced its new sales reporting widget my sales have dropped like a lead balloon – I had about a week of no sales at all – or that’s what the reporting was telling me and I know that’s not possible, I always sell at least 10-15 books a day. Other authors have complained of the same issue, and I am not a conspiracy theorist as some are, but if Amazon has stuffed up and the reporting software malfunctioned then there could be lots of sales simply lost in the ether. And that worries me. Not that any other sales outlet or platform is any different, but at least I can spread my risk so to speak. Anyone else having these issues?

    Would love to hear more about your thoughts on leaving KDP Select as am concerned about how to market my books on other platforms, as so many of the website etc that most of us would use for advertising cater to Amazon/Kindle books and not Nook or ibooks or whatever. Am also worried about losing some “weighting” in the Amazon algorithm when I leave Select. Amazon isn’t clear that being in Select gives us greater “value” in their algorithm for ranking but many authors think that they do give extra weight to that and to books being able to be borrowed by Prime Members …. losing that could affect rankings adversely. But at some point I feel I have to make the move and so my next few weeks will be researching other platforms, marketing and then I think I will take the plunge. Any exchange of tips etc would be most welcome, am happy to share my own learnings and experiences on this next phase of the journey.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Thanks for the comment! As I’ve also noticed, there’s a drop off moving from $2.99 to $3.99. But I haven’t seen any loss in volume moving up to $4.99. So, if $3.99 is losing you a little money, it might be worth trying $4.99 instead. No way to tell for sure, but I’ve seen no change in sales moving up, but an extra $0.70 per copy makes up for the loss in volume. Seems a few others have noticed a similar result too.

      As for rankings, don’t worry too much about them. I haven’t seen any major correlation between being in a top 100 list and sales – but Amazon algorithms work on a combination of sales volume and price, not ranking – so the popularity lists will favour you if you have a higher price, versus selling a similar volume at a lower price. I think this is why I’ve not seen much change in income between $2.99 and $4.99 – because, even though I’m not ranking as high in the pure sales ranks, the algorithms are actually favouring the books more. So it seems to even out.

      Worth remembering, none of us know 100% how the AMZ charts and popularity lists work, so this is a best guess.

      I also had a weird blip when they introduced the new sales reports – not in actual sales (which I record on my own PC) but in author rank – there’s a strange dip for 24 hours, then it recovers. Guess it must have been a glitch, very strange.

      My thoughts on leaving KDP select – the only real benefit (for me) is being able to do free days. Combined with a bookbub ad or similar, this can make a big difference. Now, I’m experimenting with permafree, so this benefit isn’t really there any more. And borrows have dropped below 10% of revenue, so there’s nothing keeping me there any more. I’ve been wanting to branch out for a while, but the figures have only just recently supported that move. I’ll make sure I keep everyone updated on how it goes – I’d love to know your experience too if you go ahead πŸ™‚

      I don’t know if there’s any truth to AMZ artificially boosting titles in KDP Select. Only one way to find out!

  3. I do well on other platforms, especially B&N. I now everyone wants to deride Nook, but sales have been excellent. Nick, I think if you had all your books on all the platforms, and then did a Bookbub promo for the first book in the series, you’d see a huge tidal wave of sales across all platforms for the other books in the series. I have two books in KDP Select right now and can’t wait until their 90 days are up to get them out. I’ve seen no benefits, except one Countdown Deal which did okay. Honestly, I think I could have probably made and sold more if I had those books on all other platforms. Also, just recently I made all my novels $4.99, and like you, I haven’t seen much drop off by raising it only a buck from their initial $3.99.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      I think Select was great just starting out, but now borrows are down as a %age of sales there’s not much keeping me there. There is something to be said about Countdown getting you 70% royalties with a Bookbub deal, but relying on BB isn’t a wise career move considering their acceptance rates these days…

      I’ve heard similar results from other authors moving away from KDP Select too, and I’ve been wanting to branch out for a while – so I’m looking forward to it! Thanks for sharing your pricing experience, glad my results aren’t an anomaly.

  4. Inge H. Borg says:

    Catching up on your posts, Nick. Congratulations on the co-writing with Kay Hadashi. She’s an interesting writer and I featured her on my blog (and not just for her husband’s connection with a German winery!). By the way, I have to like your books – my Austrian father’s name was Leopold – which made my German mother laugh: “I thought only kings were named that.” They still got married as he was a prince of a man.
    Another insightful article from you.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Thanks Inge – interesting historical point there… I might have to steal it!

      1. Inge H. Borg says:

        Go ahead, Nick. It’s yours.

  5. I am thinking hard about pricing – I hope to put my first book up on Amazon by October. It is a mainstream love story, will run about 150K words, and is the first in a trilogy – and you have to read the whole trilogy to get completely to the HEA (so, not a category romance).

    I have been reading and storing information about everything from everyone – but the only true comparison I might have is to Darcie Chan’s The Mill River Recluse – mainstream – and she sold 600K copies at 0.99 before being scooped up by a publisher. That’s a LOT of copies.

    The novel is being serialized on the Pride’s Children tab of my blog (getting ready to put out its own site), so you can read it for free (subject to WordPress limitations on formatting, and having to click to get to each new scene), and I’m planning to leave it there and Wattpad and…. The finally-edited-and-a-bit-improved ebook version will go to Amazon for KDP to start, while I get a print version (?) ready. It is already as good as I can make it (no rough drafts) on the blog on a scene-by-scene basis; the final edit (which I will point to on Amazon when available) will do some whole-book things I need to do (consistency, etc.) and be proofed as a whole. For another comparison, the trilogy as a whole is going to be about as long as Gone With the Wind (1468 pp in paperback).

    Why am I telling you all this? Because anything you’d like to add off the top of your head to my plan to publish at 2.99, and raise the price gradually as/if it sells well to 5.99, and ultimately to have all three volumes in an omnibus edition at, say, 7.99 would be greatly appreciated.

    PS Just got your new book on metadata, etc., and am looking forward to devouring it.

    PPS Have extremely limited physical energy. Sigh. No promotional strategies for hyped-up high-energy people for me.

    1. Nick_Stephenson says:

      Hey Alicia! Thanks for your comments. I haven’t published romance myself, but I do know that many romance readers zip through books at a fast pace (one a day for many). I would be tempted to split book 1 into three books of 50k words, and sell each for $2.99, then an omnibus edition at $7.99.

      With pre-orders now being available, you could release book 1 and then book book 2 on pre-order to be released a week later, then book 3 on pre-order to be released a week after that.

      Or, you could release all 3 at the same time, make the first book free for a few days and run a bunch of promos on it to drive sales of the others. You’d need at least 5-10 good reviews to get accepted onto the good promo sites though.

      With romance, I do know having a wide range of titles is important, and readers are happy to read seralised novels at 50k words or so. I’ve also heard Kindle Unlimited is very popular with Romance readers. This approach probably wouldn’t work for other genres, but if you can split that 150k into three books, and make sure each volume ended on a cliffhanger, I think that would be a very interesting approach – especially if you then offer the full 150k book as an omnibus. It would really show immense value for the full book, and make the installments look like bargains too.

      Hugh Howey did this with his “Sand” book – and his wasn’t anywhere near as long as yours. Readers loved it!

      Just my 2c πŸ™‚

      1. You are a wonderful young man – all full of enthusiasm. I will definitely think of what you’re saying, BUT if you realize that I have zero energy, and you just multiplied the amount of work by three at a minimum, it isn’t going to work for me, the writer.

        Think Gone With the Wind: where exactly would you have split that into 6 or 9 volumes? OTOH, Tolkien published TLOTR as six parts – but I believe that was to make the individual volumes smaller for the physical book parts; my copy had three print books, each containing two parts – but it was a set. I don’t remember even noticing where the story split, as I read it in college straight through – but they split things up for the movies.

        PC’s not a category or genre romance; those may be short, but romance writers have a few conventions, and one of them is that you get your HEA (happily ever after) in each volume, after the 50k or 60k or whatever. After they ‘through books at a fast pace (one a day for many)’ they want their payback: HEA. Which is why GWTW is not classified as a romance. If you label something romance, and it isn’t, the reader is going to leave you horrible reviews – because not getting what you expect is like getting a perfectly lovely vanilla milkshake when what you ordered was chocolate with caramel: there’s nothing wrong with the chocolate, but it’s not what the customer ordered, and the customer is NOT HAPPY.

        My initial plan was to finish the whole thing, and release one massive volume with the whole story. Half a million words. In today’s climate, and with the way things like WOOL have worked, you may be right.

        I’m already serializing it online – and another possibility is to put out Book 1, set it to permafree, and issue the rest of the story in smaller chunks by subscription. More like a Chinese banquet, with many courses – and a wait in between them.

        Thanks for the ideas – I wish my brain did changes faster. The amount of energy Hugh Howey has should be bottled.

        1. Nick_Stephenson says:

          Why, thank you! Yes, I was thinking Lord of the Rings – even more splitting goes on with the movies, but each instalment has a beginning, middle, and end, with the overall arc continuing throughout the others. Without having read yours, it’s hard to know for sure if its something that can be split like that.

          The readers could be given a HFN ending halfway through, maybe. I don’t know… only you can tell if that will suit the story – don’t force it. But if you’re not going to split the book (and give readers 2 or 3 as many opportunities to find you), the key is still getting eyeballs on your work. Just uploading a manuscript (even with kickass keywords) isn’t going to do much without pushing people towards the sales page. That’s where having more than one book is extremely useful – you use one as a loss leader to get people “in the door” and the other at full price to recoup that “loss”.

          And waiting until you’ve got book 2 written and released isn’t necessarily a bad thing – a quality piece of work has no use-by date πŸ™‚

          1. Had to go look up HFH – happy for now. Shows my total ignorance of the romance genre – my apologies to people who love it.

            Book 1 definitely ends in a plausible good place, with clues that there is more to come even though all seems if not lost, then closed down. The characters have come to a solid friendship after going through a lot – and I expect to have enough of the next part of the story up on my website when Book 1 comes out that people can immediately go to the beginning of Book 2 to realize ALL is not lost.

            But TLOTR has an arc within each book (that’s where they broke off on the movies) – and mine is too interconnected to do that. Structurally, it is as subdivided as it’s going to get with the parts I have. It would do violence to what I’ve written and planned to try to break Book 1 into smaller pieces: you get your HFN at the end of Book 1, and not a minute before; and a conditional HEA or maybe even a HFN at the end of Book 2, and your reward of an HEA solidly only at the end of Book 3. (GWTW doesn’t even give you that!)

            A quest story such as TLOTR does work in pieces – each piece of the quest is finished for now and then moves on – but you can’t stop until the ring is tossed into the volcano and feel the story is over, can you? Plus we get the king and his elven queen for our HEA. That’s the feeling I’ve tried to set up by having a very short prologue in a different time frame (it purports to be a New Yorker article written after everything is over) to tell you that HEA is coming eventually – but without giving it away.

            Thanks – you’ve given me lots of food for thought but nothing is clearcut yet. More than anything, I need to go finish the writing of the whole thing – but you HAVE to think marketing and audience as you go – or be at the mercy of chance.

            They say the first step is to write a good book. I’m working on it.

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