The Price is Slight!

Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?

Would you buy a second-hand car from this man?

Writer’s diary: stardate: 28.02.2014

In January of this year I aligned the prices of my books to £1.99 each. A brave step? An arrogant leap? A hopeful bound? A foolish jump (to be quickly followed by a plunge into oblivion)?

When I first introduced my brood to the world I went into the market place like 633 Squadron (look what happened to them: crashed and burned, shot to bits, disappeared without trace, forgotten, bright young lives cut short. Ok, perhaps, the implied comparison is a little…dramatic? But I had to wonder: would that be me? Anyone craving a shot of classic British war film, nostalgic, iconic, movie soundtrack, click here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GRVu18h2mfA – give it twenty seconds). Where was I? Oh yeah, low and fast all guns blazing, and screaming manically (one of the neighbours called the police). In equal measure, I was brimming with confidence at my invincibility, mumbling to a god I can’t believe in, shitting in my flying pants in case I’d got my approach all wrong, it went tits up, and I was spread all over the ebook battlefield like the contents of a jar of Robertson’s finest conserve.

I am a keen observer of the charts (every morning I spring out of my basket beside the bed [the bed I have been displaced from; the bed I used to get half a good night’s sleep in before the Halfling decided he’d outgrown his crib and wanted to move up the wooden hill and Bedfordshire’s property ladder to something a little ‘roomier’] skip to the computer while the house slumbers on, and with heart thumping like a hopeful Lotto ticket holder checking last week’s numbers after having been shit on by a bird in the street [that’s supposed to be good luck. The world is full of loonies.] I check my position in the only chart that really matters – Books>Kindle Books>Fiction>Crime, Mystery, Thrillers>British>England>Kent>Romney Marsh>Police Procedural>Contemporary>Silly Detectives’ Names. In short, I like to see how the books are doing.

When my books first went onto Amazon I priced them as cheaply as I could, as cheaply as Amazon would allow. For those of you who don’t know, the cheapest that Amazon will allow one to list a book is the British pound equivalent of $0.99, which back then was £0.77. The only way I know of that one can get one’s book’s price lower than that is to have one’s books listed as cheaper to purchase through other recognised ebook outlets and then for Amazon to be informed of such and then for Amazon to feel like matching that price.

In my initial desperation to get my books read, I gave them away for free through Smashwords. All three of the R&M Files could be had for nothing. Like I said, and I do think it’s worth repeating, I was desperate just to be read, to get some reaction.

In time Amazon price matched Rope Enough to £0.00 and that was my wake-up call to form a marketing strategy. I’d had some positive feedback, some helpful criticism and some encouraging comments. I dropped the second and third books from Smashwords (living outside the UK and the US and without a credit card I was unable to set up a payment system) and as I was giving away my first I then took a leaf out of other self-publishers books (sorry) and introduced an incremental purchase price scheme – first book free, second book, £1.50, third book £2.

Next out were my two Acer Sansom novels. Again I thought that the best chance I had of getting these read, getting some feedback and getting them into those all important charts was to make them available to download for the cheapest price I could: £0.77 again. That worked. I had a good number of downloads and the books were visible in a couple of obscure charts.

Then I brought out Bad Sons and I felt it was time for change.

I’ve been self-publishing for a little over a year and my opinion on pricing has changed (I want to say matured but I’m not sure that’s quite right). When I was new and unknown, I felt I had to do something special to attract readers to my books. And it’s my belief that the best way to do that is good covers and cheap prices. If I had to choose between the two, I’d say cheap price is the single most important factor in encouraging a prospective reader to click download.

A year on and I don’t feel quite so unknown (I’m still not remotely well-known but I do have a foot [OK maybe a pointed-winkle-picker-toe-cap] in the door that opens out onto the promised land of ebook  world. I don’t feel so desperate. I no longer feel the need to (yes, it’s time for something rude) offer myself to the customer like some backstreet harlot, spread on her filthy, stained mattress under a plastic awning while people line up round the block to exploit my talent. To continue the analogy, I’ve not decided to install myself in a suite of rooms in The Ritz either: there are some ebooks being touted for over a tenner (for a computer file hahahaha) and they’re in the charts. That’s high class hooking.

When I think of myself as a prostitute (not something I often do, I hasten to add, but I seem to have caught my stiletto in the fishnet stocking of this extended metaphor) I prefer to think of myself as having my own room in a quiet and respectable part of the neighbourhood. I think I’m charging a fair price for a fair service/product. I like to think I’ve gone up in the world. Gone are the days of £0.77 knee-tremblers in darkened recesses at kicking out time. I’ve made myself a little more dignified. Perhaps, I’ve also given myself a few airs and graces.

All this brings me nicely onto that time worn topic of conversation: what is a fair price for an ebook? Think of everything that goes into an ebook, the promise behind that thumbnail image stuck on the screen in front of readers like some obscure stamp in a philately catalogue. Hard work: months of time, effort, consternation, desperation, late nights, early mornings, sacrifices (I’ve gone through a number white chickens), intellectual property sharing, blood, sweat and tears. Money: the price of a good cover, editorial services, maybe the services of a publicist, a website and a website designer.

What does an ebook offer a reader? Escapism, entertainment, an opportunity to get in touch with their emotions, a laugh, a cry, some learning, some diversion, something to do.

What else will £1.99 buy you? Half a pint of lager in a pub; a cheap coffee in Starbucks, a BLT sandwich from a high street name; a pack of three own brand condoms; half a dozen free range eggs; a King of the Day Burger (T&C apply); 6 pints of semi-skimmed milk or a 200g tin of corned beef, for examples.

And then there’s the lasting effect dynamic of whatever one is spending one’s hard-earned two quid on to factor in to the equation. The memory of a good book will stay with a reader long after he or she has pissed out the beverage, pooped out the sarny, beaten the eggs or choked on the bully beef. Granted a pack of three can also provide escapism, entertainment, an opportunity to get in touch with one’s emotions, a laugh, a cry, some learning, some diversion, something to do, but you’ve got to put some effort in, you can’t just lie back and enjoy it like you can an ebook…actually…anyway, where was I? And in my experience it costs a lot more than the price of a condom to get to the position in a relationship where it can fulfil its intended purpose and then there’s often a hell of a price to pay afterwards: hidden costs. Those cut price condoms have cost me two houses already! I should have just bought a couple of ebooks. (Sorry. It is a bit funny.)

An ebook that sells for £0.77 on Amazon nets the author @ £0.27 – four downloads to make a pound. That no longer seems right to me. I think we’re all entitled to look for something a bit ‘fairer’ than that for what we do, for what we’ve put in. Time will tell whether that decision has been the right one for my books. Initial evidence shows that what shoving the price up has done is push me to the arse end of those all important download charts. Still at least I only have to sell one book to make a pound these days instead of four. Swings and roundabouts.

So, what do you think? Will you come on down(load) ‘cos the price is right! (Did anyone groan at that?)

31 thoughts on “The Price is Slight!

  1. Now that’s a good topic!
    I follow a few kindle pages on facebook which post free, reduced and bargain books and what often happens is that I will get the first book at that price then if I have enjoyed it I will dig deep and buy the next at the normal price. If the books are priced reasonably then I quite happily keep buying them and it doesn’t feel like an over indulgance.
    I’ve recently bought 3 books of a series of 4 and where as the first 3 were all priced below £2.99 the 4th is at £6.99 and I haven’t bought it. At that price it seems more in line with an actual real life paper book. It really disapointed me that the price had doubled and it basically priced itself out of my market. Kindle and ebooks make so many books available at my fingertips that I would rather take a chance on 3 bargain books than buy one dearer one.
    That was a long winded way of saying I think your £1.99 is bang on the money 🙂

  2. Hi Oliver, Jacky again with her two penny worth !! I, personally, would not pay for an e-book of an author that I hadn’t read before. That is why I think you did the right thing in allowing us to have free downloads (from Amazon) – it got me hooked on Romney & Marsh ! Consequently, I would (& have) buy your books. When you launched Acer upon us, that was it …done job !! Would quite happily pay for Acer’s 3rd book & can’t wait for you to get it out there !!! I have recommended your books, but must admit mainly Acer, to lots of Kindle friends so I hope your Sales continue x

    • Hi Jacky,
      Thanks for chipping in.
      Rope Enough is still free. I forgot to say that in the post. Doh! I intend to keep it that way because, as you say, readers might not want to take a chance on paying for a book from an author they’ve never heard of and I can’t blame them. I wouldn’t. Try before you buy is my sales philosophy.
      I’ve started Acer #3. I finally found a way in to it. Thanks for recommending them. Romney and Marsh #4 is next out in a couple of months.
      Best wishes.

  3. Oliver

    Another amusing and thought provoking post from you. It has prompted me to to put pen to paper (well, the digital equivalent anyway – thumbs to iPad screen) about something I’ve been musing about for a while.

    But first… since I retired last August I’ve read more books than in the previous five years. A couple of paperbacks, then I thought ‘what about digital books?’ I joined the Surrey County Council online library and then dipped my toe into the world of Amazon… Which is where I found your books. It’s a really good feeling when you find a ‘new’ author that you like and there is a whole back-catalogue to catch up on.

    Anyway, what has been in my mind for a while is considering hard-copy books -v- digital books, how does the second hand market work. Lots of hard-copy books that it have read over the years have come from charity shops or local Summer fetes. Oh, come on, get to the point… OK… How could a second hand book market work in the digital world? Part of the pleasure, having found a new author, is to tell friends who have similar reading tastes and to pass books in to them, or indeed to give them to charity shops/fetes to sell for 50p.

    I’d be interested in your thought(s).

    Regarding the price of your books on Amazon I think you have pitched them exactly right. Having now read three of them (Rope Enough, Bad Sons & Making a Killing) I would certainly pay more, but to attract new readers, who will be taking a chance on an author they may never have heard of, £1.99 is spot on. I’m currently thinking about which of yours to try next – any advice?

    Sorry to have rambled on but…

    All the best,

    Jim

    • Jim,
      Your comments are always valued. And if you’ve read my blog-post you’ll know I like a ramble.
      I am a great fan of ‘real’ books. I collect first editions. A great many have come from second hand bookshops, charity shops and ebay. Despite being quite comfortable reading on my Kindle these days there is still nothing like the multi-sensory joy of reading a ‘real’ book, even a paperback.
      I don’t believe that hard-copies of books will be phased out completely in my lifetime or my children’s. But I do think that the range and variety of authors who have ‘real’ books traditionally published will slowly diminish until only the likes of the Lee Childs and the James Pattersons, the best-sellers, will be published in hard-copy form.
      That will naturally have a knock on effect with the second hand market. But in my opinion it’s a very long way off. And in the mean time there will continue to be a wealth of pre-owned books sloshing around the second hand outlets.
      Maybe one day readers will end up being able to file transfer digital books to each other or everything will be digitally pirated and available for download for free from a Russian website. When that happens maybe things will go full circle again and the few publishers who have survived will refuse to publish anything digitally and only bring out hard-copies.
      As for what to read of mine next, Joint Enterprise might be worth a punt or I can highly recommend Dirty Business the first in my Acer Sansom thrillers. (But then I would wouldn’t I?)
      Best wishes and whatever you’re reading I hope you enjoy it.

  4. Great post. Apparently there is some science behind pricing – see http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/new-smashwords-research-h_b_3278022.html

    It isn’t the case any longer, but when JK Rowling’s The Casual Vacancy first came out, the ebook cost more than the paperback………go figure (the Kindle version is still at #136 in the Kindle paid charts………..oh my goooooooood how much money?!)

    “I seem to have caught my stiletto in the fishnet stocking of this extended metaphor…” caused me to splutter my tea over my keyboard….cheers for that!

    £1.99 for 6 x free range eggs?? Where the heck do you shop?!?!?

  5. There’s a difference between Oliver Tidy novels and J K Rowling’s A Casual Vacancy: OT beats JKR hands down.

    My guess is that if the author of ACV had been unknown (how did it slip out, I wonder?) then the book would be too.

    Now if only more people knew about your books… Maybe it’s time to get the publicity horse into the shafts before the nosebag runs out of oats.

    • Martini,
      That’s very generous of you. Thanks for the compliment.
      It was suggested to me (!) that perhaps I could let the world know that the R&M Files were written by JKR. That might still work, but I might have to kill her first.
      Yes, self-promotion: a dirty business with lots of loose ends. (I couldn’t come up with a shaken not stirred line. I so disappoint myself sometimes.)
      Best wishes.

      • We don’t expect you to talk, Mr Bond, er Tidy… we expect you to die, er, write.
        That’s the only bit of James Bondish stuff I know.
        By the way, I’ve read A Casual Vacancy. Now there’s a weekend I’ll never get back…

        Now scribble!

  6. I have now read all your books and the better half of the team is just 2 books behind. We share the same Kindle account (mine – so I actually pay – how did that happen?) We both enjoy your books and we were originally attracted to R&M by the fact the Mrs was born and educated in Deal. Each pub R&M visited prompted the response “It was a bit rough in the 70s”.

    I digress, the pricing – I have no idea how much you would receive as royalties from a paperback sale (if you got a deal) but I think a fair price is one that leaves you with a similar figure after Amazon have taken their cut. I think a £1.99 price for your books is a price I would pay now that I am hooked. I would still keep the early books priced as low as you can to attract new readers.

    Anyway, thanks for your stories and for this blog. Good luck with it all.

    Roger

    • Hi Roger
      Thanks for your thoughts.
      I have a daughter who wangled a Kindle linked to my account for a birthday present. While I’m downloading freebies to read and save money I keep getting emails from Amazon to thank me for my purchase of the latest chic-lit to hit the eshelves at a mere £5 a throw.
      Good to know that you’re enjoying the books. Thanks for your support.
      Those pubs were still a bit rough in the nineties when I was there. I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if they’re still lacking a certain finesse.
      I completely forget to mention that I’m still giving away the first R&M as my try before you buy offer.
      Romney and Marsh 4 will be the next out. Hopefully, in a month or so. Announcements here as usual.
      Thanks again for your kind words.
      Best wishes to you and your wife.

  7. Hi Oliver

    In between sniggering at your extended metaphor (oooer missus) I have been musing about your pricing post. Before the age of e-books I often paid £6 odd (admittedly muttering all the time) for paperbacks. However, for that I got a tangible item which I could read, pass onto others, sell second hand or give to a charity shop so the money would go to a good cause. That meant that often each book would have four or five readers, each of whom extracted some value from the £6 initial outlay. The e-books model only works for single ownership (read on multiple devices is a red herring because all those devices are owned by me, not someone else). So I am one of those who thinks that although the content of the books may be the same, there will always be a difference in the pricing model between the two publication forms while the content of e-publishing remains locked down to single ownership. There may already be ways of getting round this but for the majority of us not versed in the ways of the dark web we just have to follow the rules set by Amazon. And I expect it will stay like this until some bright spark comes up with a ‘royalties’ model which will allow individuals to share e-books and recompense the author at the same time.

    £1.99 each sounds fine to me, and sets up the expectation of a book of reasonable quality – so your new readers won’t be disappointed. The higher the price, the more we readers expect from a book, and that’s reflected in the reviews. Personally I enjoy trawling through the free or under 50p books in the hope of discovering a new voice in fiction. Sometimes I find a winner eg Rope Enough. It’s a kind of treasure hunting. As a result I speed read an awful lot of cr*p, but in return I will always post a review, trying to give constructive feedback. By contrast, before I went on holiday a couple of weeks ago I thought I should leave the bargain bin and go ‘upmarket’. I downloaded ‘Alex’ by Pierre Lemaitre, which won the CWA International dagger. Paid three quid for it. And it was awful. So gave it two stars and posted my review (Reader by the sea):
    http://www.amazon.co.uk/product-reviews/B009P1WES6/ref=cm_cr_dp_synop?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=0&sortBy=bySubmissionDateDescending#R2MC9DYPJM1JKU

    Had this been a free book or cheaper I would have probably given it more leeway. But not much.Maybe three stars rather than two.

    Sarah

    • I like free books, too. But sometimes I can’t even get past the sales pitch.

      For example, take this one (plugged on freeebooksdaily today):

      “Drawn across cities, countries, and continents by ludic memories and quixotic chimaeras, Sandu is fired by the pursuit of what happened, why, and—above all—for those responsible. Still, he’d no real expectation of success until that evening in the industrial basin.
      The cryptic encounter—hard on the docks—with the figure scuttling down ruined and derelict streets offered the first genuine opportunity in years. From this broke a widening gyre of gesture, absurdity, battle ballet, metaphysical elusion, and political in-fighting. Detail nearly drowning sense and purpose.
      Aided by dream; a jade-eyed, black grimalkin of mixed purpose; a hesitant, self-righteous cabal, and his own rage Alexandru (Sandu) Barr stalks a tableau of characters and elusive endgames which cross time, M-Theory, myth, folklore, eschatology, and the burdened air of revolutionary wrath and justice. Cosseting these is an exegetical, if suspicious, promise of redemption.”

      (The Seurat Construct by David S. Wellhauser, if you must know…)

      No reviews on Amazon so far, for some reason.

      • Wow. When I have to look up what words in the pitch mean I know a book isn’t going to be for me. (Too many to list here without making myself appear tremendously thick.) I find the sentence ‘Detail nearly drowning sense and purpose.’ quite ironic. 🙂
        It’ll probably be a best seller and win the Man Booker Prize.

    • Sarah,
      You raise a couple of really good points: the single ownership system and a price related to expectation factor.

      As a reader I won’t pay several £s for a digital file of a book no matter how much I love reading a particular author. (I would a real book because so much more of the expense can be justified). I just don’t think that asking five/six or more pounds for just a digital file is right. If I did buy at that price, I would also be far more expectant regarding all aspects of what I was getting. With cheaper ebooks it’s always a pleasant surprise when one reads something for a couple of £s or less that was really good. I don’t begrudge that kind of money for a digital file. That said, I only pay that kind of money for an author who has a place on my virtual or real bookshelf.

      Software that enabled readers to share titles that they’ve paid for and downloaded and where the author got something out of it could be good. However, I can see such a scheme fraught with difficulties and subject to abuse. Ebooks are already being pirated by unscrupulous swine.

      I hope to see ‘real’ books and ebooks continue to be sold side by side. Everyone has access to the best of both and whatever suits them best.

      I’ve noted your comments on ‘Alex’. I see that you are not alone on Amazon in feeling disappointed with the read.

      Best wishes and thanks for sharing a perspective.

  8. You are a very funny guy Oliver and I’m definitely a fan of your books. Yes £1.99 is excellent value for money. If you ever get short of cash you could always write comedy as well.

    • Russell
      Glad you enjoyed the blog-post. My blog has a special place in my heart.
      Good to know that you think £1.99 is VFM.
      Comedy? I don’t know, but I am going to write Romney and Marsh The Musical this year. Yes, I said Romney and Marsh The Musical.
      I’ll do a blog-post on it soon. :-/

  9. Didn’t realise that when the blog dropped into my inbox on Monday morning, it had been written the previous week – where’s it been?But in answer to all the questions posed, I would be happy to pay £3.49 or even £3.99 (about half of a paper back price perhaps) so go for it Oliver!

    • Ernie,
      Can’t answer that one, sorry. I blame Turkish customs.
      You’re very kind with your pricing suggestions. I appreciate your support. I’ll keep the books and the next one at £1.99 though because I don’t want to lose readers by getting greedy. R&M 4 should be about a month away.
      Best wishes.

  10. Gave me a good laugh. Think you should be thinking of a book about a year in the life of an author…could be very amusing if you kept this style. As for the price of a download, well,I would certainly pay £2.99 for the third Acer book ( but I have read and really enjoyed the first 2 so I know that the third will be well worth the money)…so perhaps have the prices incremental for those who have not read any of your books……..book 1 99 pence, book 2, £1.99 and book 3 £2.99. Write enough in the series and the sky is the limit 🙂 This was a good and enjoyable read…cheered me up and dragged me away from painting the lounge!

    • Bonsoir,
      Good to hear from you, again.
      Glad that you enjoyed the blog-post. Maybe you have an idea there. Then again maybe it would be better if the book had a happy ending – like a six figure book deal…just checked my inbox – still nothing.
      I appreciate your vote of confidence over pricing. I notice a few authors like that incremental price increase strategy as their series grows, but do you know what? I don’t like the idea of getting too greedy. I want to be fair. I feel that those authors are trying to cash in on something by taking advantage of their fans. I know that sounds stupid. Of course we want to make something out of it, but to my mind if you have readers who have supported you and then you go trying to stiff them in a popular series…maybe I’m just not hungry enough. Maybe one day I’ll change my mind. Until then I’ll be pitching everything at £1.99. Which reminds me, R&M 4 out in about a month, I hope.
      Enjoy your painting!
      Best wishes.

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