Switch11 over at Kindle Review has an interesting article up about why you don’t have to be Amanda Hocking or John Locke to be a successful indie author. He lays out three levels of success, with the bottom being “solid indie authors,” those that only make tens of thousands of dollars a month rather than hundreds of thousands or millions.
This level is very important if you’re an author because it’s a level you can hit even if you don’t get every single thing right. Perhaps you can’t write paranormal romance or thrillers. Perhaps you refuse to join any social networks. Perhaps you don’t have the energy to both write great books and do great promotion. Those are all negotiable – The $1 price isn’t. However, everything else is.
The bit about the $1 price got me thinking. I know Konrath is running an experiment to see if he can make more money selling The List at 99 cents and a 35% royalty than he was making at $2.99 and a 70% royalty. So far, it seems to be working, in that he’s selling more than six times as many copies, and thus making more total revenue. It’s encouraging, especially if the pressure towards the $1 price point intensifies. And I know I’ve said on this very blog that pricing ebooks lower doesn’t cannibalize sales because you bring in more readers that wouldn’t have purchased your book at all at a higher price.
But I wonder if this rate of sales is sustainable. I have absolutely zero evidence for this. This is just my intuition talking. But to me it seems like selling all your books at 99 cents is like clear-cutting a forest. It’s quick and initially very profitable, but it’s not sustainable and leaves you with an empty, worthless asset once the original burst of profts passes.
I’m in this for the long haul. I want to make my living as a novelist, month after month. And I worry that the rate of sales people are seeing at 99 cents is chewing up their potential market — contrary to my own previous statements, the market isn’t truly infinite; I’m not going to start buying romance novels at any price, and know others feel the same way about the stuff I write — faster than the market for ebooks overall is growing. People aren’t planting new trees fast enough to keep up with the clear cutting, in other words.
I could be wrong here. The ebook market may be a tide rising fast enough to raise any and all boats. But it sounds too good to be true, and I’ve long since learned that things that sound too good to be true almost always are.
So I wonder if I might be better off keeping my prices for most of my books at $2.99, even if that means fewer sales and less money overall, at first. Let the fire burn dimmer and cooler, but for longer time, long enough to pay my bills while I write more books.
Because that’s the other thing to consider. While Konrath is right that indie ebooks are assets, things you own that continue to generate money without additional work on your part — let’s set aside promotion for the sake of argument — sales will taper off over time as your market reaches saturation. This is what Chris Anderson calls the “long tail.” The demand for any book will slide down the tail towards just a trickle of sales, but never stop so long as the book remains available. The key is to keep writing, adding book after book until all their long tails stacked up provide enough money for your needs.
I doubt that 99 cents will give me time to do this, but I’m willing to give it a try. The first book in my Unification Chronicles series, Revelation, will start at 99 cents and stay there. I plan on releasing the other six books in the series, along with any follow on novels — there exists a 20 year period between books 5 and 7 in which I could write for the rest of my life — at $2.99, using the first book to get new readers hooked on the story. Time will tell if I’ll be able to keep to that plan, but it’s going to be an interesting ride.