2.99 is Dead

As I look at all sorts of advice on self-publishing, one of the oft-repeated nuggets seems to be to set a 2.99 price point. Why? Here, I’ll try to explain why this is so confusing to me.

1. If you look at Amazon’s top lists, best seller lists–or really any “top” list–almost every book is priced around the 4.99 price point. To me, this would seem to show that success is possible at that level.

2. The 4.99 price point (or higher) holds true for almost every professionally published author. It seems like only self-publishers are using a 2.99 model. Yes, the statistics claim that more novels sell at 2.99 than at any other point, but what if the only reason this is the case is because of the glut of self publishers, many of whom have been given this advice? In Economics, this might be referred to as a confounding factor–one which makes the market appear different than how it is, due to an oversimplification. It makes sense that the market would divide itself into self-publishers, eager to grab onto any number that seems like it’ll boost sales, and traditional publishers, who know how to sell despite price. I haven’t been able to find an analysis of novel prices that divides the market into self-pubs and traditional-pubs, but I expect it would be very interesting.

3. Every “2.99 is the perfect price” post I’ve seen comes from self-publishing advocates. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with self-publishing (in fact, I plan on it), but when every piece of advice is coming from a single source, bias abounds.

4. Although I’ve seen a lot of numbers showing sales at 2.99 being higher than for any other price, whenever I hear a success story, it seems to come from someone who decided to shoot for 4.99 or higher.

In essence, what I think might be behind the 2.99 is fear. Fear that your novel isn’t as good as the 4.99 one from Collins, Hachette, or Penguin, and your only advantage would be to charge less for it. This is perfectly rational–after all, who are we to compete with huge companies, staffs full of editors and publicists, and a name the public recognizes?–but so very wrong. I’m going to throw out one name, just one. Haagen Dazs. The model of Haagen Dazs isn’t to provide better ice cream–indeed, by all accounts it’s just about average–but rather, to use price points to cue customers on quality. Therein lies my problem with a 2.99 price point: the fact that it’s put out there so often as the price point for self-pubbers makes it the price point for self-publishers.

Let me put on my reader-boots. If I click on a book on Amazon and see $2.99, I know it’s self-published, nine times our of ten. This is bad, very bad. I have to admit that, largely because there aren’t any gate guards for Amazon, I steer clear of any work that’s obviously self-published, unless it really grabs my attention. In the traditional market, no one uses 2.99, except as a sale. So neither should we.

And, end rant. I’d be interested to hear what y’all think. Have you had success selling at $2.99? Have you tried a $4.99 price point, only to have better luck with a lower one?

10 thoughts on “2.99 is Dead

  1. The reasons self publishing authors have given me as to why they sell at the $2.99 mark or lower is not that they feel their book isn’t as good as the books sold by popular major publishers, it’s because they think selling it for more is ludicrous considering you can buy a paperback for a little more. Also, if the story grabs them, readers see it as a bargain. Personally, I think it’s crazy to pay $4.99 or more for an ebook! It’s an ebook! I’ve read some amazing ebooks that cost much less than that.

    1. Interesting. I’ll agree that there are several amazing ebooks out there on the cheap, and you bring up a good point that paperbacks aren’t too much more (although I believe only the cheapest paperbacks dip into five dollar territory).

  2. I believe I set my first ebook at $5.99, but that was mainly because of how long the story was. I definitely understand your point about defining your book as a self-pub by the price point alone, something a lot of us would like to get away from, but I’ve heard that the stigma against reading self-pubs is lessening. I don’t know for sure. Unfortunately, I think ‘Secret Lives…’s point is at the center of the current conflict between Amazon and Hachette.

  3. Interesting post 🙂 I priced my first novel at 3.99 because of the length (it’s a time-slip novel so it’s basically like 2 stories for the price of 1!). I priced the second at 2.99 because it’s shorter and so far, the cheaper one is outselling the more expensive one. Still, it’s good to hear other opinions in the 2.99 argument. I might give 4.99 a go and see if it makes a difference!

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