Many writers struggle to find the best price point as they enter the crowded and confusing digital book marketplace.
Movable Type Management president Jason Allen Ashlock helped found the The Rogue Reader imprint this month, a new “digital publishing channel for outstanding suspense fiction.”
We caught up with Ashlock (one of our many Media App Summit guests) to get some advice about how to price a digital book. His long and thoughtful answer follows below. UPDATE: Ashlock also shared his thoughts about the PressBooks platform and publishing online.
Because The Rogue Reader publishes only one breakout author a month, we have the time to really drill down on the data we’re compiling and make the most of it by experimenting often. And we have great analytics partners helping us read the data we’re getting. Pricing is, of course, a major factor for readers who are considering whether to take a chance on a new author, and when you’re just starting to build an author brand, and the author is really good and the work is really good, the most important thing is that readers actually read the books. You have to price to make that as likely as possible. But pricing as low as possible isn’t always the right way to do that. It used to be that pricing really low was a distinctive. It separated you from the big publishers’ high priced ebooks and gave you a competitive advantage. Those days may be over. Because now pricing too low just places you in an even more competitive segment. And if you follow that strategy to its natural conclusion–pricing lower and lower to distinguish yourself–you end up giving away your book for free.
Ashlock continued: “First, we’ve learned from watching the ebook lists that non-traditional authors don’t have to be under $2.99 anymore. The bestsellers in the $3 to $8 range are now frequently not Big 6 titles. So the myth that you have to be under $2.99 just doesn’t prove true. In our price experiments, we’ll drop to that low tier, but we don’t have to assume that’s the only place you can succeed. Second, you can price higher when you don’t need to compensate for lack of blurbs or reviews.”
The agent also urged writers to be flexible: “When you publish outside traditional channels, and go directly with retailers, you have a great deal of flexibility, including the control of pricing. We can change prices whenever we want, as often as we want. So we aim to use that tool to our advantage. We launched a week ago and we’ve already done some pricing experiments, and will continue to. When we get reviews or media hits, we’re highly alert to how well the sales respond, and can adjust quickly to any trends–upward or downward.”
He continued: “We’re tracking sales rank and unit sales constantly, so we know when we are peaking and when we are slowing down, and we can adjust price as necessary to keep momentum or try to prompt momentum. Our debut author, Ro Cuzon, has two books out this month. Under the Dixie Moon, which was a Nook bestseller, and Under the Carib Sun. Both feature the same protagonist, Adel Destin. Both came out priced at $4.99. The second, Carib, is a prequel actually, so when Dixie started taking off, we dropped Carib to $1.99 to encourage those who jumped on the first title to pick up the second. To make that easy, we dropped the price on the second book to encourage readers to continue their journey with this great author and his compelling hero.”
He concluded: “With our titles, we’ve got blurbs from major authors like Lippman, Pelecanos, Chercover, and others, so the value is communicated clearly. And third, we knew we had the support of Barnes & Noble, who had chosen our first title, Ro Cuzon’s Under the Dixie Moon, as a Nook First pick for October. If you don’t have retailer support or major endorsements, you can feel as though your price has to be as low as you can make it. If you have those things, you can price differently. It’s important for all of us who are publishing non-traditionally to remember that pricing is tactical. It’s one tool that has to be combined with a lot of others–and has to adjust to changing conditions–to accomplish the overall strategy.”