An experiment in pricing

If you’ve been following this blog, you’re already aware of my grand ebook experiment, where I’m selling my first book, Please, as an ebook. But what you might not be aware of is my pricing experiment. I’ve been quietly tweaking the price of Please and trying out different prices to see where the sweet spot is, and the results have been surprising.

First off, I want to stress the sweet spot for me is maximizing readership, not profit. If I can earn more money off fewer readers at a higher price, I’ll take the lower price/profit and more readers, thank you very much. I’m in this to have my books and stories read, not for the money. Such at it is.

OK, now that I’ve got that out of the way….

When I first published Please on Kindle, I set the price at $2.99. That seemed to be the going rate for indie books, so I figured I may as well start there. Please wasn’t exactly indie — it had been published by Raincoast back in 2002 — but it was close enough at this point. It did OK at the $2.99 price point, but I wasn’t exactly finding a new generation of readers.

So I followed the example of other writers who temporarily lowered their price to 99 cents to generate interest in their works. I changed the price of Please to 99 cents and waited for my new legions of fans to start messaging me.

Instead, my sales dropped. Considerably.

Now, when you lower your price to 99 cents, you expect your profits to drop because your royalty rate changes. With Amazon and I think most other services, you make 35% of the selling price up to $2.99, and then you make 70% for books priced $2.99 and higher. So there’s a financial incentive to set the price higher. The 99-cent price point is a loss leader of sorts — you lower the price and earn less but you get more readers into your virtual bookstore.

The problem was not only was I making less, but I was also attracting fewer readers. So that experiment blew up in the lab….

I decided to change the price back to $2.99, but then on a whim I set it at $3.99 instead. What the hell, I figured. If that price didn’t work, then it would only take a few minutes to change it.

I have to admit I was surprised when I sold more books at $3.99 than at $2.99 — and way more than when Please was priced at 99 cents. Why? I have no idea. Maybe it was people avoiding the lower price points because the lower prices are associated with lower-quality self-published books. Maybe the ebook version of Please was just starting to get noticed when I changed the price. I really have no idea.

So I’m going to keep experimenting. I’m going to drop the price back down to $2.99 for the month of April to see the difference. Then in May I’m going to raise it to $4.99. We’ll see what surprises June has in store.

Like I said above, I’m really interested in the number of new readers I can find for Please. The money is nice and all, but I’m not getting rich off the book, so whatever. I’d much sooner get more people interested in my fiction than earn a few extra bucks. Although both would be just fine.

I’ll post back here with results when I have them.

I also plan to do a post on how ebooks are changing my writing style. Because they are. But that’s still a work in progress.

And remember, vote loud and vote often.

About Peter Darbyshire (Roman)

Nothing to see here. Move along.

Posted on March 31, 2011, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. Brian Panhuyzen

    Hey Pete, you’re very forthright and open on the ebook experiment you’re conducting, but I’m wondering if you will or won’t publish hard quantities. I’m really curious to know what “sold more books” means. I can understand and respect if you’re hesitant to do this – the numbers may be embarrassingly high, or low (or perhaps embarrassingly reasonable?) – but I want to know, especially as I’m intending to launch an ebook shortly and will want to gauge where I stand empirically.

  2. peter darbyshire


    The short answer is I don’t really want to publish sales numbers because I don’t want to be one of those writers who obsesses over the numbers. I think there’s a bit too much of that going on in the indie world — with charts even — and not enough discussion of craft, writing process, ideas, and just plain old reading.

    If you want to follow other people’s numbers, have a look at Kindle Boards. People are always going on about numbers there. Although, to be honest, I would take some of them with more than a few grains of salt…. There are a few other writers who have been posting numbers lately — Arthur Slade, Tobias Buckell, Derek Canyon — but it’s not something I really want to spend a lot of time on.

    The slightly longer answer is I’ve sold somewhere between 100-150 copies of Please and my short stories.(Sorry, no idea about The Warhol Gang. Still waiting for a statement.) I’m guessing a bit because the sales are divided up between Kindle, the iBookstore, Smashwords, Barnes and Noble, my website…. you get the idea. Most of those have come in flurries, when there’s been some focus on the book. For instance, I sold a bunch when the Book Madam piece was posted and got thousands of views. So there’s the sales bursts, and then there are the weekly trickles, which have been a few copies per day. I saw the trickle increase slightly when I raised the price of Please to $3.99, and when I lowered the short stories to free for ebook week. That said, I haven’t sold anything in April yet.

    The longer answer is don’t use me as an example. Please is ten years old at this point, and a niche literary book with a limited audience at best. Same goes for the stories. Frankly, I’m surprised I’ve sold anything at all. Pleasantly surprised.

    I think the real test of this would be releasing a new book, not one that’s a decade old. Most of the people who wanted to read Please already have a print copy, so this ebook is just picking up a few extra readers. Your ebook, though — well, everyone in your network should buy a copy. I certainly will.

    I don’t think there’s any way of gauging how your book might do by comparing it to others. Sure, some people like Joe Konrath and Amanda Hocking have gotten rich off ebook sales. Other writers are managing to make a living off self-publishing ebooks (mainly genre writers, I always remind people). And most writers, such as myself, are really just earning beer money. Which is a shame, as I’m more of a scotch man. So I guess I would have to say my sales are “embarrassingly reasonable.”

    I’ve got no problem posting about my publishing experiences, but I think I’ll pass on discussing earnings in future posts. It’s not something I’ve ever talked about for my print books, and it’s not something I want to focus on with my ebooks. It makes me a little uncomfortable, to be honest. I don’t mind sharing my tips on process, as I know it’s useful for other writers — and publishers — but I’d prefer to discuss the technical/production and creative side of things. Unless, of course, I strike it rich. In which case, you won’t be able to shut me up!

    Hope that helps, although I doubt it.

  3. Brian Panhuyzen

    A great answer, Pete, which certainly works for me. I have no idea what to expect for my book…honestly. Other than the 30 or so people I know who will generously support me (present company included), I can’t fathom why anyone in the world will want to buy it, unless it strikes some kind of chord with people who are willing/able to spread the word. Thing is, it was never meant to strike chords –- craft has always been (and continues to be, as I’m presently conducting a “well, if I’m publishing it myself then making it perfect is entirely my responsibility” edit) my purest goal. Which doesn’t mean I’m not going to do my best to get it out there…by route of some of your fine advice on these pages.

  4. peter darbyshire

    If it’s perfect, it will strike a chord with those people looking for perfection. And they’ll tell other people who care about quality literature. And word will get out.

    And then, of course, the vampire lobby will hear about it and have you hunted down and you will disappear into the Red Cross.

  5. Brian Panhuyzen

    Thanks Pete…for the confidence that it will strike a chord somewhere. Not for the bit about the vampires, though. Zombies I can handle; vampires not so much.

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