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There are loads of things that are interesting about ebooks. One of them is that you can fairly easily change the price of an ebook. So how eBooks are priced and why has to be a major aspect of any publisher’s (or author’s) strategy.

Pricing (as lots of people have talked about and discovered) is also one way to get your book or author discovered. But there's also been a conversation going on that free doesn’t work any more and there are loads of opinions about why or why not.

This week Amy Denim noticed two of our titles available for free and posed this question:

I mean, Sourcebooks Casablanca is a pretty big publisher (I'd die to get published by them) they sell zillions of Romance novels every year. Why are they offering free books? (both of which I downloaded as soon as I could possibly make it to the one-click button)

So I pulled some data together about why we did it. (Thanks for the question, Amy!!). We ask ourselves this kind of question every week as we are evaluating eBook promotions. Here’s a bit about what we’re seeing.

We have offered 7 adult fiction titles (in romance and in general fiction) for free within the past 6 months. 

On average, full-price sales for the 4 weeks after the promotion

were 46 times greater than the 4 weeks before the promotion.

That’s a really BIG increase – both in sales and in exposure for what are (in most cases) backlist or deep backlist titles. There’s a lot of variability in the results. Some titles saw a relatively weak 7-12 time increase. One book saw a staggering 844 time sales increase. The average was a 46-fold sales increase. The kind of novel seems to make a big difference here and we (as always) need more data.

We obviously use this tactic sparingly and as part of pretty wide arsenal of marketing and publicity tactics. We're testing a lot of different ways to drive sales and discovery. And while we are interested in driving sales and marketing results, we are unwilling to do that at the cost of the value of our authors’ work. So again, there's both analysis and discussion around when different tactics work best.

Anyone else have any data they’d be willing to share? I’d love to understand this better. What are you seeing from other publishers or authors?  What is your opinion of using free or discounted backlist to drive discovery?  Would love to hear what people are seeing and think works.

Thanks in advance for any discussion.

Dominique

Comments  

 
+2 # Amy Denim 2012-02-03 15:03
Whoa! Those are some big numbers.
I've been doing lots of investigating on the whole FREE ebook phenomenon. Indie/ self pubbers use it all over the place and anecdotally report increases in sales like this. I wonder if Amazon would or could share insights. Probably not, they're too busy taking over the world.
Glad you guys are on top of these things.
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+2 # Dominique 2012-02-03 15:06
Thanks, Amy!
There really is a lot of noise. And I can't tell what is based on data vs just opinion or sometimes even just fear. I worry about overusing this tactic and have been known to drive members of my team a bit crazy with data requests in this area. lol
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-2 # David Krug 2012-02-03 17:29
I think this can be attributed to exposure. FREE creates excitement in the marketplace. Once the "free" has been removed sales will naturally increase to see what everyone has been consuming.

Just make sure what your giving away is amazing!
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+2 # miapratt 2012-02-04 13:46
I've noticed that free books from "authority book sites" go like crazy, while free books from unknown author sites, do not. This is unforgivable since I'm a fairly unknown author, but the truth is when I see a free book from someone I've never heard of, I pass. When I see one on an authority site I download quickly before the freebie ends. There's a perception that someone has reviewed and vetted an ebook that is released on an authority site, I suppose. I do very much enjoy reading the free chapters from unknown authors, however, since this doesn't represent the same commitment level as downloading their whole book. That's my 1.5 cents worth
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-2 # Dominique 2012-02-06 12:46
great input. I think you're right, that's basically what people are doing. Thanks!
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+2 # carmen webster buxto 2012-02-06 09:50
I think there are probably several reasons for the effect you cite. For one thing, booksellers such as Amazon fold the "purchase" of free books into customer history just like regularly priced books. That means books that are downloaded lots of times appear on "People who bought this book also bought..." screens more often than they did before. Also, I am pretty sure once the book is no longer free, its ranking still show its free purchases, which can even push it into the "Top 100 in genre x" lists.
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+2 # Howard_B 2012-02-06 14:19
"And while we are interested in driving sales and marketing results, we are unwilling to do that at the cost of the value of our authors’ work."

What on earth does that mean ?
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+2 # Dominique 2012-02-06 14:25
It means that (we think) there are things you can do that will actually lower the value that the book has in the reader's mind. And we're trying to successfully grow awareness of the author without causing a devaluation in the reader's thinking about that author. You know, all of this thinking is relatively new. So we're trying to gather as much data as we can around these ideas.
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-2 # Howard_B 2012-02-06 14:33
This is the kind of silliness that publishers plant in author's mind.
There is no intrinsic 'value' in a piece of writing. The only value it has is what people are prepared to pay for it.
Writers who think their title is precious and too precious to be priced below 5 dollars or below 2 dollars are clearly disconnected with reality.
What matters is what they earn from that title - in total.
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+2 # Dominique 2012-02-06 15:02
I agree, there's no inherent value to a piece of content except what the reader will pay. So I'm much more willing to pay for Michael Malone than I am for John Smith who I don't know. How do you maintain that extra value that Michael's work has? If Michael flooded the market with a ton of bad content, would I still be willing to pay more? I've got a lot of questions here. So do authors and agents.

We're seeing some interesting results from different experiments these days. To me, it's way early to draw conclusions.
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-2 # DensityDuck 2012-02-07 12:48
Howard, if you don't think the work is worth more than $2 then you're certainly welcome to not buy it.

The issue is when people like you, who think like petulant children, come to believe that they DESERVE to have no book be priced more than $2 because "that's how much a book costs to buy". People like you are the reason that "under ten bucks" means $9.99; it's because you think mostly by bellyfeel.
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+2 # Howard_B 2012-02-07 14:25
DD - you miss the point and, sadly, seem unable to discuss without abuse.

The public have always and will always decide, as a whole, the value of what they buy or don't buy. That goes for milk and bread as well as mobile phones and cars.

In the case of pBooks, look at the remainder counters and remainder shops. How often we see pBooks that are only a month in print being sold for knock down prices. The reason ? people don't want them and don't deem them worth the price. The reason the remainder shops often thrive is because when these pBooks have their prices slashed, they often sell quite well. They reach the value-point that the public set.

No title has an inherent value. Only a pompous writer believes his work is so precious it should never be sold below a certain price.
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-2 # Howard_B 2012-02-07 14:29
Dominique - Value is earned by quality. Once a writer sells a title, and it sells well, he earns a reputation among readers. They know that that title was good, a good read, good value, worth that price ... maybe 3 - 6 dollars as a first timer.

Next time they see a new title by that author and the fact that he sold X number of copies, they will seriously consider paying a higher price. That is how quality earns a reputation and a value.

The public have now been liberated from the yoke of the self appointed arbiters of taste, the established publishers. They can see, as I have, that there is serious quality among the self published titles being sold for 2.99 dollars. They are becoming increasing dubious of the ridiculous pricing of the big 6 over priced titles.

In the future high prices will be earned by good writing. And with self publishing the writers will earn far more than before, which they well deserve.
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+2 # Howard_B 2012-02-07 14:31
.... Again, writers again need to liberate themselves from their egos. They need to look at their total earnings from a title, not the individual selling price, especially now that they are actually earning higher royalties on cheaper eBooks than they ever earned on expensive pBooks.
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