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Marketing 101: Price Revisited

Five Reasons Free Isn’t Working

A lot of authors choose to price their new release free to raise awareness and build readership. Or KDP Select members might use their five free days to increase visibility and sales. But free isn’t working the way it used to.  Authors aren’t seeing the increase in visibility or the spike in sales from free books that was common two years ago (and which is why, if you are looking for books about marketing your novel on Amazon, I don’t recommend buying any book written before 2013).

Here are five reasons free doesn’t work as well any more:

1.    Bestseller lists

Free books used to count towards bestseller status (in that one sale of a free book counted in the same way as one sale of a full-price or sale book). This changed in March 2012, and free sales no longer contribute towards bestseller status. Strike One for free books.

2.    Popularity status

Free books used to count towards popularity status (the books that show up first on a category search) in the same way as they counted towards bestseller status: one sale of a free book counted the same as one sale of a paid-for book. No more. Free books still contribute towards popularity, but you need ten free sales to equate to one paid sale. Strike Two for free books.

3.    Amazon Associates

Strike Three was the changes to the Amazon Associates affiliate marketing programme. This programme allows websites to link to Amazon products, and the affiliate then earns a percentage of any purchase resulting from that link. Many websites are a member of the programme, if only because it allows us to use book cover images without infringing copyright (for most websites, it’s not for the money —I’ve earned less than $20 in two years). As an example, if you click on any of the book cover images on this site, they will take you to Amazon. If you click buy, I’ll earn a small commission (paid in the form of an Amazon gift voucher).

Anyway, there were a lot of websites making use of the affiliate programme and getting to the maximum fee percentage by advertising a lot of free books. While this was good for the websites, it was less good for Amazon. Since 1 March 2013, free ebooks no longer count towards sales. And—to discourage websites from advertising free deals—if more than 20,000 free Kindle books are ‘sold’ and those books make up 80% of the volume of ‘sales’, the affiliate is not eligible for any fee. These websites have moved to promoting cheap or discounted books in order to preserve their revenue stream, and it’s now harder for authors to get publicity for free books.

This is explained in detail by Ryan Casey. A number of bloggers have postulated that 99 cents is the new free (in fact, someone’s even written a book about it), as this is low enough to attract attention from consumers, yet gets around the restrictions in the Amazon Associates programme.

4.    Free listing

In August 2013, Amazon started tinkering with their Best Seller listings. Previously, each page had the Top 10 Paid and Free Best Sellers (in the chosen category) listed side by side, so the#1 Free book was displayed right beside the #1 Paid book. Now the two are on separate pages, further reducing visibility. It’s another strike against free.

5.    Owner behaviour

The first thing most new Kindle owners do is fill their Kindles with free ebooks (yes, I did). Each of those free books counted as a sale for the author, but most of them—probably close to 1,000—are still sitting on my Kindle, unread. I’m now more astute and tend to only download books I’m planning on reading.

How do I prioritise my reading? Well, as a reviewer, I obviously have to read those books I’ve promised to review. As an editor, I also read books on editing and book marketing. When it comes to choosing a book to read for pleasure, I tend to choose a book I’ve paid for, whether as an electronic or a dead tree version, even if I only paid $2.99.

And that’s the final strike against free ebooks: just because I download them doesn’t mean I’ll read them. I’m going to read the books I’ve paid for first.

Review: Is $.99 the New Free? by Steve Scott

As most authors know, making Kindle books available free through KDP Select no longer has the powerful marketing effect it did a year ago. In Is $.99 the New Free? The Truth About Launching and Pricing Your Kindle Books, Scott explores whether free still has a place in a marketing plan, or whether pricing books at 99 cents is a better strategy.

He starts by examining the four essential metrics he believes all authors should track (including sales and reviews), then discusses five pricing strategies:

#1 – Free Book Launch
#2 – $.99 Book Launch
#3 – Free Pulse
#4 – $.99 Pulse
#5 – Perma-Free

Scott then offers an eight-point strategy to developing an author platform and marketing ebooks. This isn’t new information, but it’s presented well and appears accurate (which is more than I can say for some of the marketing books I’ve read). Useful information, but covered in more depth in other books.

Is $.99 the New Free? iss around fifty pages, and currently costs less than a dollar. For that price, I think Is $.99 the New Free? represents good value for money, and is worth reading.

Marketing 101: Price

This article is part four in my series on marketing, following posts on planning, product and place.

What is the right price for a book?

If you are accepted for publication by a trade publisher, then they will set the recommended retail price for your book. The actual retailer may discount that price, so you need to understand whether your contract pays royalties based on RRP, or actual selling price.

Looking at the Christian novels on my bookshelf, most are priced at $12.99 (all prices in this post are quoted in US dollars unless stated otherwise), with some priced at $11.99, $14.99 or (rarely) $15.99. Category romances are less expensive – Barbour 4-in-1 novella collections are $7.99, and Love Inspired are $5.99.

Now, obviously, I’m based in New Zealand, so the retail price I pay for books includes shipping from the US. Most full-price novels are NZD 24.99, NZD 27.99 or NZD 29.99, with some small-press books priced slightly higher than this—which means they might miss out on my purchasing dollar because I perceive a NZD 33.95 book as ‘too expensive’ – especially when I consider the price of e-books.

Ebooks

I own both a Kindle and a Kobo, so can purchase and read e-books from all the major online sellers. New release Christian fiction generally retails for $8.99 to $9.99 on Amazon – or less than half the price of the ‘dead tree book’ at my local Christian bookshop. Some authors have pre-launch sales where the book might be available for as little as $2.99—a bargain.

Older Christian books by established authors often cheap as well—$3.99 and $4.99 are common prices (and the author may be getting a bigger royalty from that than from the full-price dead tree version). Kindle evangelist Joe Konrath (who reportedly makes $50,000 each month from Kindle sales) believes that the ebook pricing sweet spot is just $2.99. At this price he makes $2.04 off each sale, compared to $2.50 off the sale of a trade-published $25 hardcover or $0.75 off a trade paperback. David Gaughran makes similar points, pointing out that different strategies will lead to different price points (e.g. maximising readers vs. maximising profit).

Why is this important? If choose to take the self-published route, you need to understand what the market price is, and what your strategy is. If you are considering publisher through a small trade publisher, make sure their retail prices are competitive with the market.

Self-publishing

As a self-published author, you need to understand you have to charge less than this. Why? Because these tight economic times mean readers have less to spend, so they are more likely to spend their money on a known author—who will pay $17.99 for a book from an unknown author, when you can buy a bestseller from a well-known Christian author for less?

This is where the economies of scale and marketing presence of the trade publishers can have a positive effect. I might not know who Carrie Turansky is, but I can see that The Governess of Highland Hall is published by WaterBrook Multnomah, who publish a lot of excellent Christian fiction. On that basis, I am prepared to spend money on a book by Carrie Turansky. But I probably wouldn’t spend money on an unknown author from an unknown publisher without having had the book or the author recommended to me. Which brings me nicely to the subject of the next post … Promotion.

Marketing 101: Introduction

Anyone who has ever done a course in marketing will have heard of The Four P’s that form the basis of marketing strategies – Product, Price, Promotion and Place. But how does that apply to publishing? Over the next few weeks, my Saturday posts will look at what you need to know about the Four P’s and what you can do to successfully market your book.

I’ve read several current books on the subject of book marketing, and I’ll be reviewing each of them over the next few weeks, with my posting on Wednesdays. While most of the books are aimed at those who are self-publishing on Amazon and other sites, some of them have information that is useful to all writers, regardless of where they are on the publishing journey, and whether they are trade published or self-published, as there are many common principles.

As the author, your level of input into the development and implementation of the marketing plan will depend on whether you are self-publishing or have a publishing contract. Different publishers will have different levels of expectation of their authors, and this should be covered in your contract. However, all publishers expect their authors to participate in marketing to some extent, and having established relationships with readers should improve your chances of getting published.

Have a Marketing Plan

The first step is to have a marketing plan (to echo Stephen Covey, begin with the end in mind). What do you want to achieve? Do you want to sell lots of books? Do you want to make lots of money? Do you want lots of people to read your books? (Those goals might be mutually exclusive.) What must you do to achieve that goal?

In my view, it’s never too early to begin thinking about marketing. For example, one of the first decisions an author needs to make about their book is what genre it is. Is it fiction or non-fiction? Is it a devotional or a self-help book? If fiction, is it contemporary or historical, romance or action? If you’re not sure what the different fiction genres are, I suggest you reread my series on genre.

Know Your Genre

Knowing your genre will help you understand your target market: an essential piece of a marketing plan. If you don’t know who your target reader is, you won’t know how to connect with them. This is one of the key points in Karen Baney’s book, 10 Keys to Ebook Marketing Success.

Knowing your genre will help you determine your author brand: the way you want readers to see you and your work. Understand what you are, and ensure all your marketing efforts (including tweets and Facebook posts) reinforce that brand. You don’t need a fancy tagline (although a tagline is a way of keeping your marketing efforts on track), but you do need to consider and manage your brand. Joanna Penn discusses this in How to Market a Book.

Understand Your Author Brand

It’s never too late to develop and implement a marketing plan, but the earlier you understand your author brand, the earlier you will be able to begin developing and implementing a marketing plan (including that all-important platform) that introduces and reinforces that brand. An established platform will be an invaluable asset if you are seeking traditional publication, as agents and commissioning editors are more interested in authors who understand the need to be active on social media. And an established platform is essential if you decide to self-publish, as it gives you a built-in group on which to focus your marketing efforts.