Funnily enough, pricing is much the same across industries and professions–or should be. At a recent seminar I attended, lawyers were criticised on the basis that “if grocery stores priced like that, they’d soon go out of business”. And funnily enough, the first thing I thought was “Writers are making the same mistakes – only worse!”

So what are those mistakes?

  • Market positioning – this is about where you place yourself in the market. There is a cheap and nasty product, there is the Rolls Royce, and then everything in between. Cheap and nasty mass sells cheap products, while Rolls Royce sells very few, high-priced items. Every market looks like this to some degree. You need to know what you are selling and to who, because this affects what your product is worth and what the buyer is prepared to pay for it. So selling your books at 99c may make perfect sense – provided it is your intention to sell that quality product to that type of reader. If you are selling a higher quality product at 99c then you are doing yourself a disservice because….

  • Price is still a perceived indicator of quality. If there is a mismatch between your price and the product quality then you are trying to sell the wrong product to the wrong people and the people who would be interested in your product at the right price aren’t even looking at it because the price is sending them the wrong message about quality.

  • Heavy and repeated discounting does nothing but train the customer’s psyche to expect more and steeper discounts. We have witnessed this in action in the publishing industry over the last few years as books have dropped to 99c and then, finally, when there was nowhere else to go, to permanently free. Now a loss leader is all very well and good, but many writers are literally giving their books away for nothing.

2015-08-17 20.50.43

We shouldn’t be talking to customers about price. We should be talking to customers about value. You see the example of a cup of coffee for $2.99 used when readers won’t pay $2.99 for a book – primarily comparing the amount of effort and cost of inputs in the coffee to the staggering amount of time and effort that goes into a book. This is all very true – but it’s still the wrong comparison!

So what is the right comparison? How much value does the coffee have? How much pleasure does it give the buyer? It sure is pleasurable to drink, but ten minutes and it’s gone – and most of that you spent waiting for it to cool down enough to drink. And that’s assuming you are a coffee drinker – of course, if you are not, the coffee has zero value – exactly as a book has zero value to a non-reader.

What is the value of a book to a reader? It will vary from reader to reader, but generally speaking the amount of entertainment a reader gets from the book will be a key driver of value. I’m a fast reader but it will still take me 12 hours to read the big fat books I enjoy. That’s a great deal more bang for my buck than the coffee. Of course, it’s not as straight-forward as that, and other subjective factors will include:

  • Preference for short or long books – a book the wrong length will have less value to that reader;
  • Importance of quality – a low quality book will have less value to the discerning reader, while a high quality book may have no additional value over a low quality book to a less picky reader;
  • Brand value – a trusted and enjoyed brand will have higher value than an unknown writer.

There may be others I have not thought of. But ultimately, we have spent too much time having the pricing conversation with readers, offering steep discounts to secure more sales, and have trained readers to expect low prices. While we have been doing that, no one has been talking about the value of books and everyone has forgotten.

After all, if we were talking about value, the debate about steep discounts for ebooks versus paperbacks wouldn’t be raging so fiercely – because we’ d all know that their value is more or less the same because they offer the same experience…