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Are You Underselling Yourself?

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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): 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:

reader-magnets-3d

 

 

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madden 17 coinsAlicia Butcher EhrhardtNick_StephensonInge H. BorgRobert Swartwood Recent comment authors
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Geraldine Evans
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Geraldine Evans

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.

Nick_Stephenson
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Nick_Stephenson

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…

AFN Clarke
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AFN Clarke

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… Read more »

Nick_Stephenson
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Nick_Stephenson

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… Read more »

Robert Swartwood
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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… Read more »

Nick_Stephenson
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Nick_Stephenson

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.

Inge H. Borg
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Inge H. Borg

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.

Nick_Stephenson
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Nick_Stephenson

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

Inge H. Borg
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Inge H. Borg

Go ahead, Nick. It’s yours.

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt
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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… Read more »

Nick_Stephenson
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Nick_Stephenson

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… Read more »

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt
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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… Read more »

Nick_Stephenson
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Nick_Stephenson

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… Read more »

Alicia Butcher Ehrhardt
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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… Read more »

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