Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

The Myth of the Instant 99-Cent Bestseller

With the advent of Amanda Hocking and other authors’ successes in selling oodles and oodles of digital books on Amazon at the low, low price of 99 cents, there’s come to be a sort of common wisdom that pricing your book at 99 cents is the most reliable road to (almost) instant success and bestsellerdom. Of course, there are plenty of people who don’t agree with this strategy and complain that it devalues all digital books. I think both Courtney Milan and Tessa Dare have done a nice job of explaining why this is probably not true–people buy digital books all the time for more than 99 cents, even when there are plenty of 99 centers out there (and even in the face of the relative ease of getting the book for free from a torrent site). So I’m not here to argue about that. What I am here to point out is that 99 cents (or less than 99 cents) probably isn’t as much of a draw as some folks think.

As you know, I made my short story, The Reiver;, available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and Smashwords back in mid-January for the low, low price of 99 cents. I’ve said before that my sales of this digital short have exceeded my expectations (my sole goal being the earn back the amount I’d invested in the purchase of the cover art, which I did within a month), but that is not to suggest that the 99 cent price was an instant draw that garnered lots of sales. To the contrary, sales were pretty steadily around 5-6 per day between Amazon and B&N, with Smashwords to this day reporting only one sale. So much for 99 cents bringing on the buyers, eh?

Partly as an experiment and partly because I decided the 99-cent price point wasn’t exactly getting readers to knock down my door, I went ahead and raised the price of the story a few weeks ago to $1.29 on Amazon and B&N. I didn’t bother raising it at Smashwords, since it’s not selling there anyway. I figured anyone who was actually truly interested in the story based on the blurb and perhaps based on knowing something about me or having read the sample would buy it whether it was 99 cents or 30 cents more. Either one is less than the price of a medium soda at most fast food chains, and I figure I’m worth it.

What happened? Well, my sales did tail off, from 5-6 per day to about 2-4 per day. In other words, my higher pricing definitely drove some people away. But it didn’t drive them <i>all</i> away and even though I’m not earning as much overall, I’m getting a better payment per copy and I’d like to think there’s a better chance that those who are buying it will actually read it.

Fast forward to yesterday, when I hopped on Amazon to look at my current numbers/ranking and discovered, to my bemusement, that Amazon had discounted my book from $1.29 to 89 cents. I really scratched my head over this, as I couldn’t imagine what had possessed them to lower the price on my book (and I had never, ever seen a self-published book discounted by Amazon before, so it came as a real surprise). After posting to the Kindle Boards, I discovered that this is probably a case of Amazon matching the price on Kobo, which must be getting the file through Smashwords. (Since I didn’t even know Smashwords distributed to Kobo, this came as something of a surprise as well.)

So, what happened? Well, my sales did increase dramatically yesterday–so much that got into the top 10,000 in the Kindle store overall and actually hit the top 100 in the Anthologies sub-category. And today, sales are still brisker than they were–I believe I’m up to 6 copies on the day–but my ranking has dropped back to sub-10k levels and I’m no longer hitting that subcategory list.

Of course, there’s a possibility that the discounted price could eventually launch The Reiver into stardom. But my guess is, probably not. And let’s face it, if an 89 cent price isn’t enough to get people to buy your book in droves (because, let’s face it, everyone loves what they perceive to be a bargain and 89 cents is a rather unusual price for Amazon), then 99 cents probably isn’t going to do it, either. At least not in and of itself.

In the final analysis, what makes bestsellers ISN’T price–it’s the right combination of concept, price, and execution. In other words, to quote The Talking Heads, same as it ever was.

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