Views From The Captain’s Chair! Episode Seventeen: The Cheap Lie


Captains ChairBlogAhoy, Mateys!

So, a Facebook friend of mine, who is a game designer, posted about how he wondered if game developers wished they hadn’t created the $.99 app monster years ago. He talked about how someone puts in hours and hours of hard work, but can’t get into the market unless they sell their work/art on the cheap.

I quickly commented it was the same for novels too.

Someone else quickly commented on how the $.99 model works because of volume.

It’s time to destroy the “volume” myth and all the other stupid selling myths and shoot those pieces of crap arguments out into space.

Discounting is a marketing tool, not a business model.

Say that with me, “Discounting is a marketing tool, not a business model.”

I want that to run through your head every time you think you have an argument against what I’m about to write, okay? Okay.

Oh, and I have another saying, “Live by the discount, die by the discount.”

Before I became a writer I was in sales and marketing. I spent nearly a decade dealing with margins and markups, discount percentages and BOGOs, promotions and tricks of the trade. I learned a lot about commerce in that time.

What I also learned is that if your business model is based on slim margin pricing and discount wars with your competition then eventually you will lose and go out of business. I watched store after store after store in the Southeast, especially South Florida, decide to play the discount war game. None of those stores exist anymore.

Who does exist? The large retailers. The ones with deep pockets that could wait out the discount wars and keep prices where they wanted. They survived.

It’s the same with pricing novels. The $.99 business model for self-published novels is killing the business for everyone. Knock it off. Just stop doing it.

Why? Because if everyone is pricing their novels at $.99 then the consumer no longer sees $.99 as something special. No one is gaining volume sales from that price point because the market itself is glutted with a volume of cheap novels.

One of my publishers, Severed Press, only uses the $.99 price as a promotional tool and only for a couple of days each quarter. My novels are regularly priced at $2.99 for the first in a series and $4.99 for the rest. I am consistently on bestseller lists.

And the only time one of my novels was offered for free was to launch the reboot of Dead Mech which had been in the market as a self-published title for a few years. It gained some new readers, but now stays at $2.99 with the sequels at $4.99.

This works. And you know what? It’s the same business model that has been used for mass market paperbacks for decades.

Oh, I can hear you sputtering objections left and right. Knock it off. When you offer your work for cheap then you cheapen your work. Why does my stuff sell at $2.99 and $4.99? Because it appears to be higher quality by being offered at a higher price. My work isn’t in the discount bin.

“But volume! Volume! VOLUME!”. Shut the fuck up. Volume is a lie.

When I was a sales manager, my boss had a saying, “Would you rather have slow dimes or fast nickels?” The entire industry loved that saying and bought into it.

Yet, there was one major flaw. It only offered two choices. You could pick “slow dimes” or “fast nickels”.

What about fast dimes? Or, better yet, fast dollars?

In the post about apps being $.99, the commenter went on to say that you make up in volume what you lose in price. That’s crap. Why? Because that’s assuming the product sells at volume!

Wal-Mart is the world’s largest retailer and sells more volume than any other entity on the planet. Do you think every single product that gets put on the shelf and discounted sells a ton of volume? No. Not even close. That’s why Wal-Mart is constantly shifting its inventory and clearing out the slow movers.

Guess what? Your novel, despite being priced at $.99, could easily be a slow mover. And you will have lost money as you played the discount game.

Still not convinced? Well, maybe the leader in ebooks will convince you. Amazon gives only 35% of royalties to authors if their books are priced below $2.99 or over $9.99. Priced at $2.99 to $9.99? 70% royalties. Amazon knows that selling books below $2.99 cheapens the product and they discourage it.

But folks ignore the people that pretty much invented the ebook marketplace and still play the discount game.

It makes no sense. None at all.

Oh, I hear another argument coming. It’s the “But so many authors have had huge successes selling at $.99!”

Not true.

“But look at blah blah blah and blah blah!”

Really? Count on your hands how many writers you know of that have made their fortunes selling novels for $.99. Come on, do it. Do it. Dooooooo iiiiiit. How many did you count? Three? Five? Ten? Out of how many total writers sell their books for $.99? Do the math, please, before you try to convince anyone, especially yourself, that the $.99 model works.

The ones that have made it work? They are an exception to the rule. The majority of $.99 books do not sell. Just like the majority of books don’t sell. Please never use outliers as an argument for success. They are an ideal, not an example.

The plain truth is no one in the publishing industry knows why one book sells and another doesn’t. So why limit your income chances by going cheap? It just doesn’t make sense.

Now, do I expect this post to change anyone’s mind? Probably not. There is a cult of publishing out there that refuses to listen to reason or look at history. Why? Your guess is as good as mine.

But, maybe, just maybe, we can get some authors that have some common sense to just stop the madness and price their novels in the non-cheap range. Low cost is good ($2.99-$4.99), but discounted at $.99 forever is not.

One last thing, that “free” model? It’s a lie. You see a bump, gain maybe half a percent more readers, but in the end the majority of your “sales” are to people that troll the free lists and never buy a damn thing. Why would they? They can read free crap the rest of their lives.

Please take a hard look at how and why you price your novels the way you do. This is a business and the entire health of a business is based on revenue. You want that health to start strong, not weak, right?

I know I do.



Disclaimer: Views From The Captain’s Chair are just that: views. These are not laws. These are not set in stone. I could be totally wrong. I could be off my rocker (shut up). I could be full of S-H-I-T. I could change my mind next week. All of that is possible. Who knows? But if even just a little of this helps you then I’m happy with that. If it just makes you stop and think then I’ve done my job. Which I really need to get back to. Blogging don’t pay for the bourbon! Oh, and the whole Captain’s Chair thing? Yeah, I write in a captain’s chair. It’s true, Mateys! Got a question? Need some one on one? Shoot me an email, a DM, a PM (no BMs) or comment below.

Jake Bible lives in Asheville, NC with his wife and two kids.

Novelist, short story writer, independent screenwriter, podcaster, and inventor of the Drabble Novel, Jake is able to switch between or mash-up genres with ease to create new and exciting storyscapes that have captivated and built an audience of thousands.

He is the author of the bestselling Z-Burbia series for Severed Press as well as the Apex Trilogy (DEAD MECH, The Americans, Metal and Ash), Bethany and the Zombie Jesus, Stark- An Illustrated Novella, and the forthcoming YA zombie novel Little Dead Man, and Teen horror novel Intentional Haunting (both by Permuted Press).

Posted on April 30, 2014, in Views From The Captain's Chair! and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Totally agree. The problem is that people will continue to price themselves too low and there’s nothing much you can do about it. For those serious about working full-time as an author, though, it would be a good thing to heed your sage advice. Nice to see your book covers are still so understated.

    • Understated? What is this word “understated”?😉
      Hopefully writers can start a dialogue about how $.99 does more harm than good. Everybody wants to get rich quick because they’ve seen five authors do it. While completely ignoring the fact that hundreds of thousands of authors are struggling. But people believe what they want to believe. Sigh.

  1. Pingback: Friday Night Drabble Party! | BRAIN SQUEEZIN'S

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