I am publishing a collection of short stories as an e-book. In this week’s blog posts I’m trying to work through the relevant pricing issues and set a price for that content.
More than once in my life I’ve had someone tell me they would like to own ItemX. When I asked how much ItemX cost, however, the person replied with, “I don’t know.”
Now, it’s not very often in our commercially saturated lives that we encounter a product which is outside our pricing experience. And that’s particularly true if we know enough about the product to know we want it. Which is why, when this scenario unfolds before me, I invariably respond like this: “Is it a dollar? A million dollars? Ten dollars? A hundred dollars? Ten hundred millions dollars?” And on and on, until the person calmly replies that one of those numbers is close to the mark.
Most products have a price range that we’re familiar with. If you say you’re looking for a used car, that’s probably not going to be a $2,000,000 antique. If you say you’re looking for an office chair, that’s probably $100, or $200 max. If you say a good office chair, then that’s an Aeron, so maybe $750.
So…what pops into my head if you mention you just bought a collection of short stories — by which I mean a print book? $12. Why? Well, until a few days ago I had no idea, but now I realize it’s because I’m doing some simple subliminal math relative to the twelve-story collection I intend to publish. (More on that here.)
One disadvantage I do have is that I’m not a book buyer by vice. I’ve learned some rough price ranges for print books (now also being called p-books) and e-books from all the reading I’ve done over the past half year, but even at that I’m still vague on the criteria that determines price in any specific case. So I’m telling you my gut reaction here, not what I objectively know to be true.
One bit of good news is that the floor on any price is $0, meaning I only have to truly flail at one end of the price range. (Having already rejected the free/freemium pricing model I still have to figure out where my price range starts, but at least the total range will be smaller.) I think the high end for a contemporary p-book collection of short stories — without getting into rare books and first editions and such — is probably something like $15 or $20 dollars, but even there I’m not sure if that would be the paperback price or the hardcover price. (I’m thinking paperback, but again, that’s a guess.)
One benefit of this admittedly narrow range, however, is that no matter how completely whack my decision-making process is, I can’t really go too far wrong in any absolute sense. I mean, I’m not going to crunch a bunch of numbers and end up with some insane mathematical proof that my short story collection should sell for $293. Even if $15 for an e-book might be considered no-way-anybody-will-pay-it crazy, it’s not $293 crazy.
Right now my gut tells me that the theoretical high-end price of an e-book collection of twelve short stories is an even $12. That price keeps coming up because it’s $1 per story, and I have hard time thinking of any story I wrote as worth less than a buck. (If it would help total sales to sell at $0.99, I’d obviously go there.) But my gut also tells me that the whole collection should be discounted from the $1 per-story price, precisely because people are (theoretically) willing to buy more than one story at a time. Just as three lemons might get you a fourth one free, or a dozen doughnuts will net you one more at no change (the proverbial baker’s dozen), it seems as if a larger purchase of my content should be discounted relative to the price of acquiring each story individually.
Whether I think that’s an incentive to the customer, or just fair, I’m not sure. (Maybe there’s no distinction; maybe it’s a win-win.) I just have the feeling that the price range I’m coming to terms with is something like $10 at the high end. Because I’m not giving the content away I know the low end will be higher than $0, but I don’t really have a fix on what it might be. A big part of the equation is the degree to which I think a lower price might increase purchases (readers) while keeping overall profit the same.
In fact, I think that question will probably be the subject of my next post. As for now, a price range between, say, $4 and $10 strikes me as not objectionable or insane. That’s a six dollar spread, and if I made the theoretical top-end price $9.99 the entire range of considered prices would be in the single digits.
What’s the right number in that range? Is the right number in that range?
I have no idea.
— Mark Barrett