How to Sell eBooks at Higher Prices
Selling books isn’t as straightforward a transaction as it was a few decades ago. Thanks to the digital economy, it doesn’t always resemble swapping money for a single paperback. With apps like Radish, some authors make a living by offering readers access to individual chapters on their phones. Others make money per page read in Amazon’s Kindle Unlimited (KU) programme. And a few have serialised or repurposed their work in so many ways it’s no longer easy to judge what counts as a single sale. No matter your primary method of making money from your writing, however, you probably do sell some whole books.
For many of us, our individual sales are dominated by ebooks, which are easier to market online. But while their existence has made fulfilment simpler, their price point doesn’t always leave much markup for profit. Yes, the news was once full of 99-cent Kindle millionaires, but hitting that status isn’t easy after a decade of rising marketing costs, increased competition and diminishing organic discoverability. While some modern authors can make a living at a low price point, many mid-listers and newcomers don’t sell enough copies to make the writing pay, particularly if they don’t participate in KU or have a long, addictive series.
After a period of charging low prices to get readers, though, how can you increase them without tanking your sales? Many authors do it by upping their RRP in small increments, finding the sweet spot for unit profit and sales volume. This tactic works, but each new price plateau typically starts with a temporary dip. Then sales and revenue creep back up… until they don’t, at which point you know you’ve passed the sweet spot. It’s a solid strategy, but what if you have bills to pay and can’t afford a slump every few months while you’re testing? Fortunately, there are methods you can use to minimise the dip, some of which we will explore today.
Provide More Value
One way to increase your chances of maintaining sales while nudging up your prices is to provide more value. What could you add to your ebooks to make them more appealing at $4.99 that you didn’t offer at $2.99? Could you get better covers? While they won’t add real value to the reader, they will improve the conversion rates on your sales page which amounts to the same result. Similarly, could you improve the quality of your books, including interior images or nicer formatting that readers can see in the “Look Inside” section on Amazon or the equivalent on other stores? Readers value the reading experience as much as the words on the page.
Many readers equate an increase in wordcount to an increase in value. If you’re used to charging $0.99 for novellas, consider writing something longer for this reason. Or add bonus content to your novels or non-fiction books. Character interviews and short stories serve this purpose well, as do supplementary non-fiction material like trade secrets and behind-the-scenes information your readers wouldn’t normally get to see. Alternatively, if you don’t want to write more words, how about commissioning audiobook versions? You could make it clear in your books’ sales descriptions that your readers can get them at a discounted rate if they buy the ebooks.
Train Your Readers
Common indie author wisdom states that giving away free books is a great way to build a readership. This business model makes sense; hand out enough tasty samples and a portion of readers will go on to devour a whole product at full price. Get them onto your mailing list by offering a free ebook for signing up and that’s even better, because it enables you to promote your other books to them afterwards. Problems arise, however, for many authors who give away too much, constantly running giveaways and $0.99 promos. In doing so, they attract and cultivate fans who expect their work for free or cheap, no matter the quality, and struggle to sell anything at a higher price point.
If this situation is familiar to you then don’t worry; you’re not alone, nor is the diagnosis for your author brand terminal. It takes time, but it’s possible to turn the tide. To begin, you must change your overly generous actions before you increase your prices. Let your readers know that your current practice is unsustainable and that you’ll be reducing the frequency of discounts and giveaways to make your author business viable. This will cause some readers to abandon ship, but that’s okay. They’re readers who would never support you anyway. Coach those who remain to expect to pay for your work and this culture will permeate throughout your audience. After you’ve established it, then you can increase your prices with more certainty that they will stay by your side.
Run a Reverse Sale
Everyone is familiar with a sale – it’s when a product gets discounted – but what’s a reverse sale? In essence, it’s an idea created by marketers that persuades readers they’re getting a discount when a product is actually full price. Sounds like some complicated Jedi mind trick, right? It’s actually simple. All you have to do is pick a date to increase your ebook prices. Before you do that, alert your email subscribers and the readers who follow you on social media to let them know that your books are about to get more expensive. Tell them that the price won’t be coming back down anytime soon. Then wait to see a flurry of full-price sales.
This works on two levels. Firstly, it creates a sense of urgency for any readers in your audience who have followed you for a while but have been sitting on the fence over buying your books. Perhaps they’ve been unsure if they want copies. Maybe they’ve been waiting for a discount. Either way, a reverse sale tells them that the current full price is the best price they’re going to get, at least for a while, and persuades them to buy at a higher price point than they normally would, before it gets even higher. Secondly, this spike of full price sales stimulates online retailer algorithms, creating extra exposure just as you increase your prices, which can lead to more full-price sales and help mask temporary dips in revenue that would otherwise occur around a price increase.
Another way to get your readers willing to paying higher prices for anything you sell is to limit the supply. As basic economics states, when demand exceeds supply, shoppers become willing to pay extra. You can see this lesson in action outside A-list music gigs where those who’ve missed out on a chance to watch their favourite singer sometimes linger to score tickets from sellers who can no longer go. Likewise, the phenomenon happens at Christmastime; parents, not wanting to let down their children, willingly pay double for a games console that’s “impossible to get” at most retailers.
On the surface, ebooks are problematic in this department. They’re copyable digital files. Hence, there is no inventory to run low. NFTs, however, have changed the game. If you aren’t familiar with NFT’s – or “Non-Fungible Tokens” – Science Focus defines them as “unique and non-replaceable” items anyone can buy or swap using blockchain technology. Due to their uniqueness, you can limit their supply, creating, in essence, a digital print run of unique ebooks. Admittedly, creating NFT’s is beyond the budget and capabilities of most new authors, but this idea is worth considering if you’re an experienced publisher and have technical ability. Creating more unique products naturally attracts a reader base that is happy to pay more for your creations in any format.
Find a Different Audience
Some bookselling platforms have audiences that are conditioned to seek bargains and pay less. Kindle readers, for example, have access to an abundance of ebooks and are generally known to demonstrate some price sensitivity. Genres that are heavily saturated with books enlisted in KU tend to have even more price sensitive audiences because many know they can read a selection of books for the same cost as a single $5.99 ebook that isn’t enrolled in KU. Apple, Kobo, Nook and Google audiences, however, are often less price sensitive because their stores are less saturated with deals.
Knowing this, if you’re struggling to gain traction raising your prices on Amazon, try re-focusing your efforts to platforms that have less price sensitive readers. Or, if you don’t want to go through the lengthy process of building a wide audience, try repackaging your book for a less price sensitive audience on Amazon itself. If you write children’s books, create adult versions to match the Harry Potter strategy. Or, for thrillers, emphasise the historical fiction aspects of your stories to tap into a market of traditionally older readers who have a lot of disposable income. You could even pitch non-fiction guides to universities. All these exercises tap into audiences that are less likely to baulk at an ebook price increase.
It’s important to remember, though, that while all these tactics can work, not all will necessarily work for you. Two authors’ fans can differ tremendously in behaviour and taste, even if they publish in the same categories. But frontrunners exist in every genre who have tapped into or cultivated a rich seam of readers who will pay higher-than-average prices. Few believed short stories could sell for more than $2.99 until intrepid authors started doing it. Others once claimed it was impossible to charge more than $6.99 for a single ebook, yet publishers have managed to keep high-priced ebooks in the charts for months and, increasingly, so have indies. Readers who are willing to pay more exist. Test and you will find them.
Grab Your SPF Freebies!
Sign up to receive your SPF starter package, which includes a free 3 part video series on getting started with FB ads, and inspirational and educational weekly emails.