Episode 112 – The USA Today List, Author Value, and Literature Map (with Michael Lister)

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Question of the Week: Do you think indie authors pricing books at 99 cents and free has hurt the industry? Why or why not?

Michael Lister joined the show in our latest Lab segment about the USA Today Bestseller List. Bryan and Jim also took on a trio of tips and six news stories in the self-publishing world! After thanking Michael (who was also our featured patron with his mystery box set: http://bit.ly/6jjmyst ), our illustrious hosts spoke on finding more ad targets, building up a base of readers, and spending money on Fiverr. They also touched on stories about Kobo’s new customer acquisition, the plight of the trad pub author, non-compete agreements, whether low prices devalue authors, AI book marketing, and Ellora’s Cave’s latest threat. This week’s Question of the Week: Do you think indie authors pricing books at 99 cents and free has hurt the industry? Why or why not?
What You’ll Learn:
  • How to make a run for the USA Today Bestseller List
  • How to find more authors to target on Facebook
  • One author’s strategy to build up a fan base
  • What to use and NOT use Fiverr for as an author
  • Kobo’s next customer acquisition source
  • Why some trad pub authors aren’t finding success
  • The perils of the non-compete agreement in contracts
  • Why Porter Anderson thinks authors have devalued themselves
  • Why Artificial Intelligence could signal the next wave in author marketing
  • Ellora’s Cave’s next potential lawsuit target
Question of the Week: Do you think indie authors pricing books at 99 cents and free has hurt the industry? Why or why not?

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  • Spider McGee

    Free kills book sales, just as it kills music sales and movie ticket sales. That’s the internet for you. There are people out there who have never paid for anything, ever, because they don’t have to. There are enough free books on Amazon that you could easily download enough of them to last for your entire life. I mean, they may not be great, but they’re free.

    99-cent books also hurt sales, because readers become conditioned to that price point. But Amazon doesn’t give the author a decent cut of that money. They want you to price books at $2.99 or more, because they make more money that way. So they screw you if you price it less than that.

    To be honest, I haven’t heard this week’s episode yet…so if any of these points were made there, it’s because I have some sort of psychic bond with whoever who made them.

    • I don’t know. The music industry seems to be doing just fine, and I keep seeing record-breaking box office numbers for these huge summer blockbusters, so I wouldn’t say that free kills anything. Many people are willing to pay for quality art and entertainment, and a lot of people like to support their favorite artists.

      • Chris Shumate

        Eric – I agree with you in the sense that the music industry from a traditional standpoint is doing just fine. However, if you take the industry as a whole, including indies, mid-listers, and big names, then the industry is limping along in my opinion. Indie artists, irrespective of medium tend to get overshadowed by the big guys, thus the majority of the public thinks the industries are going well.

        I think what Spider is referring to is the industry as a whole, not the people who have the traditional deals that are constantly shoved down out throats via the radio, movie screen, and book stores.

        @spidermcgee:disqus, correct me if I’m wrong. I don’t want to infer something that’s incorrect.

        Like Spider, I haven’t listened yet either, but I’m going to get it started because I think the QOTW is a good one.

        • Spider McGee

          Seems well-said to me. Want to ghost-write a book? There’s no money in it, or fame, or that kind of stuff….

          • Bryan

            Who needs money when you’re a GHOST?!

          • Spider McGee

            You mean he was writing a book and he was DEAD THE WHOLE TIME?!? Bruce Willis in The Shining 2: The Seventh Sense. It’s a plot bad enough to be worthy of a Stephen King movie, and a bad enough idea for a movie for Bruce Willis to agree to star in it.

            Just want you to know that, even though the comment came very late in the game, I appreciate the effort. You do good work, keep it up.

    • jake devlin

      I’ve run some free/0.99 promos, and I’d speculate that at least 92% of the free downloads are never even opened. I ran a combo once on three books in a series: #1 99 cents, #2 99 cents, #3 free. Got about 240 free downloads, and about 30 sales of each of the 99 centers. Zero reviews, zero feedback, as far as I could tell. I don’t like freebies, as they’re not valued much, but you gotta do ’em once in a while. Ah, well. As for the industry as a whole, above my pay grade, to use a tired cliche.

      • Bryan

        I like that “once in a while” point. It’s part of a strategy. Not the only strategy.

  • Lavie Margolin

    It may have created an expectation of low pricing for the kindle but was a road to success for other authors. Although we are all “in this together”, in a free market each other/publishing enterprise has to figure out through experimentation what works best for them. Personally. I’ve found 99 cents as a temporary way to reignite sales of my most popular book via KDP select promotions.

    • Bryan

      Good thoughts, Lavie. Thanks.

  • I don’t know if free and $.99 hurts the industry, but it does change the landscape. I went to buy a 20 year old science fiction ebook from one of my favorite authors the other day, and was appalled that I had to pay $10.99. I did it, though.

    • Bryan

      Oof. Yeah, they’ve got you stuck on those oldies. Could be a good case for used ebooks on older titles :).

  • Daniel Martone

    A successful marketing funnel requires a lower price… the largest / best book marketing machine, Book Bub, is built entirely around “the deal”… Trad Pub ebook sales took a hit at higher prices… these are all reasons that the lower pricing model works for successful self-publishing authors.

    • Chris Shumate

      Excellent point, @daniel_martone:disqus. To say that the $0.99 or free deal is hurting the industry is to essentially say that BookBub is responsible for being an accessory to the demise of the industry. I don’t think that’s the case either. BookBub has helped many authors rake in some cash.

  • Daniel Martone

    So, no I don’t feel the prices have hurt the industry… at least not our industry in the world of self-publishing… maybe it hurt Trad Pub but only because they can’t handle competition.

    • Bryan

      You can’t handle the truth!

  • jamiearpinricci

    Ultimately I believe that the Free/$.99 Book strategy is helpful in flattening the market opportunities more effectively. The reality is that when new strategies such as this emerge, it rocks the boat of the status quo. For those who choose not to use such strategies, it might negatively impact their approach. However, universally condemning it as a result feels like a childish tantrum by many.

    • Bryan

      Gotta agree with you :).

  • Laura Martone

    As with other commenters here, I can’t definitively say that low prices for self-published ebooks have overall hurt the industry. It might be true that people often look down on low-priced or no-priced items, as if somehow they might have less quality than high-priced ones, but I tend to be less snobby than some. In fact, if given the option between a $12.99 traditionally published ebook from a well-known writer and a 99-cent self-published ebook (with an enticing cover and description) from a new writer, I’ll almost always opt for the cheaper one – and simply wait for the traditionally published one to go on sale (yahoo for delayed gratification!). By pricing ebooks at a lower, more reasonable price (say, no more than $4.99), new authors will find much more wiling readers like me – then, once I’m hooked, I’ll often buy more from their catalog.

    • Bryan

      And read their Copyright page.

  • Your question leaves out an important factor. Which industry are you talking about? Large corporate entities with high overhead they need to cover in the short term are very different than small publishers prepared to build out a long term career. As an author my final determinant is how much do I make from my investment? A juicy advance may seem great against short term sales but pales in comparison to the possibility of better per book returns in a long term strategy. Which can include the use of free or 0.99 books as loss leaders to attract new readers.

    • Bryan

      So, should we mention trad pub or indie in our future questions? 🙂

      • Given the number of stories that cross the line from your core Self Publishing position there are times when the trad pub vs indie dynamic do need to be emphasised in your questions. In this case the trad pub basis of the article from which you drew the question did conflict with the self pub position from which I approached my answer.

        • Bryan

          Makes sense!

  • Robert Scanlon

    “Hurt” the industry? Nope. Changed it? Yes. Opened up new opportunities; shut down old ones … but in my opinion, this is the new world we live in. We used to make great money from organic traffic (in direct sales of various products) up to about 3 years ago, now it’s disappeared. But do I get a huge input of $$ just because I’m “too big to fail”? No … only another lesson that our business reality, especially in the online world, is subject to continuous change. “Hurt” is a perception.

    • Bryan

      Yup, it’s a brave new world. Where are the mind numbing drugs?

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