I am in the process of readying a collection of short stories for online publication. The stories are literary, and focus on one character (a young boy) over the course of a year. I hope readers connect with these stories emotionally. If not, I failed to hit what I was aiming at.
I will be posting the collection first on Smashwords. I have decided that I will not be posting the collection for free, but rather will be setting a price. I do intend to allow readers to sample the collection to demonstrate that I can, at the very least, carry a tune.
The question before me now is what the price should be. It’s a question everyone is wrestling with, so I don’t feel alone in my consternation. Whatever your feelings about the fluctuating price of gasoline over the past few years, at least there’s a constantly-updated market price for that product. If I was trying to unload a gallon of gas right now I’d know where I stand. Twelve literary short stories? Not so much.
A big part of the problem is that I’m not selling an object, but an experience written by someone who is not famous. Another factor is that the experience I’m selling has pretensions to art, or at least sober craft. In order to determine the price of such nebulous goods, markets tends to rely on abstract consumer sentiments such as personal taste and cultural appeal, rather than functional utility. For these and other reasons I’m obviously going to have to make a series of assumptions in order to set a price.
I do know that every aspect of pricing — every possible permutation of every possible permutation — has been studied to theoretical completion. I also know I don’t have time to learn about all that, so instead I’m going to fly by the seat of my pants.
Mark twirls the propeller on his beanie and by god lifts off the ground!
Over the course of this week I will be exploring the pricing question with several brain-dump posts on various aspects of the problem. I genuinely do not have any idea what the price of this collection should be, and I find myself as intrigued by that fact as I am by the prospect of having people read (it not also buy) my work.
If you have any thoughts on the subject I would be grateful if you would share them. What would you charge? As a content consumer, do you have a positive or negative response to various price points? Although Smashwords is an e-book only site, product can flow from Smashwords to other online retailers, who may in turn kick out a print-on-demand version. How much does posting the work on Smashwords affect your feeling about what the price should be?
At the very least I think I should know something about the pricing of print books as well as e-books, if not also any price relationship between the two. On that basis alone this conversation will necessarily be rolling and wide open. Feel free to chime in.
— Mark Barrett
Will Entrekin says
When I first published my collection, I used what I called the iTunes model: I priced the flash fiction at 99 cents, the short stories and essays at $1.99, the poetry as an EP (5 or 6) at $4.99, and then the collection at $9.99.
I’ve since reduced all those (to free). But I found the pricing scheme was pretty good when I used it. Just ended up being a choice between lots more exposure with free downloads or hoping for beer money every month. I chose the former.
If you have any more questions about it, drop me a line.
You’ve brought something into focus for me. When I fantasize about the collection as a print book, and wrestle with what that price should be, I keep seeing ‘$12’ in my mind for no apparent reason. Obviously, however, I’m using your iTunes pricing model and pricing each story at $1. Apart from any economic realities (like, say, the fact that nobody would pay that much), it seems sensible — even fair in some basic way.
Despite a recent post or two here, I understand the appeal of free in terms of getting the message out, and don’t dismiss the long-term utility of that approach. I have no plans to even make beer money on these stories, but profit isn’t the only thing I’m wrestling with. As others have noted, the price floor is often determined not only by supply and demand, but by how many sellers are willing to commit mass suicide. Testing my stories at a reasonable price in what may be an unreasonable (everything-on-the-web-should-be-free) market is something I’m interested in doing.
As to the price issue itself, I keep flashing on an experience I had one winter as a child. We’d had an ice storm overnight, and though the sun was out the next day it was still cold enough to keep everything covered with a crystal-clear coating. And I mean everything. After skating around in the street for a while I tried to walk up a barely-sloping driveway apron, but I couldn’t do it. The slope couldn’t have been more than a few degrees, but the ice was so slick that each step or two up inevitably caused me to slide back that same amount. I got to the point where I was laughing myself silly at the absurdity of not being able walk up this almost-flat piece of frozen concrete, but I couldn’t do it. (Eventually I gave up, walked around the side, then slid down.)
That’s what wrestling with the question of content pricing feels like. It’s such a simple, obvious thing, and yet every time I think I’ve latched onto something useful, the next thought voids those gains and I’m right back where I started. For example: I like the iTunes model, but one of the differences between songs and stories is that you can generally digest songs multiple times, while stories are often a one-shot experience. Does that mean an iTunes song is worth more?
And I slide back down…. 🙂