Why Pricing is NOT Subjective… and How it Can Harm the Author…

I’ve had quite a few readers and future readers as well as readers of other authors ask me through email, Facebook, Twitter, contact sheets, Google+, etc. some pretty intriguing questions. These questions all circle the same topic, so I thought I’d approach it from my blog where there is room to cover my answer.

First of all, I read the reviews of other authors’ when I’m searching for my next read.

Yes, I too read books

(Indie and Trad) – in fact, if you’re an author, you better be reading. 

When I’m looking at the reviews, I can usually tell who is full of crap and who gave an honest review.

I started noticing a trend in what is called a LOSS-LEADER* book’s review. Mine are no exception. I started taking a tally. And I’m appalled at my findings.

sacrificing himself

*A Loss-Leader is a first in a series or collection of similar books that is priced beyond cheap and/or free. Most of the Loss-Leaders in this study were FREE, however a few of them were priced at $0.99.

Also, in this study, all of the books were indie-pubbed – meaning the author was in control of the pricing and strategy.

Here is a list of my study’s comparisons as well as conclusions.

  • Loss-leaders were across genres – romance, sci-fi, thriller, action, YA.
  • Subgenres were not separated out.
  • The Loss-Leaders were what is called perma-free – meaning they had been price-matched by Amazon to match another retailer’s lower price of the book.
    • This means that the author altered the pricing elsewhere and reported the heck out of the book’s new price as well as solicited help in doing so.
  • This was a lot of work.

We’ll get into why this makes a difference in a little bit.

  • The reviews were into 3-digits – so these books had been read by many – or at least reviewed/rated by many.
  • Each one lead a trilogy or longer but EACH SERIES WAS COMPLETED.
  • Not one series that I studied was incomplete.
  • All covers were professional and from the free downloads, the editing was, on average, at least average.
  • More than half were defined in some reviews as “cliffhanger endings”. Hmmm.
    • A series is a collection of books with endings that leave you wanting more.
    • A standalone series is a collection of books with something in common but do not hinge on the other books to complete the story.
    • Hunger Games, Twilight, Game of Thrones, Vampire Diaries (the original 3), Divergent, Trylle, and I could keep going – all have cliffhanger endings. This isn’t debatable. Some things are resolved but not everything is. That’s a SERIES.
  • Comments have centered around asking or pointing out a rather important point.
  • Some reviews stated that the reader liked the book but would not fall into the “greedy” trap that authors keep putting out there by having the audacity to actually charge money for the followup books in their series.

*insert arched eyebrow* because the first book free – which is usually the hardest to write – isn’t enough? That book was essentially indentured work – no pay off but lots of investment in the cover, editing, proofreading, tracking down people to help make it free, etc. in the HOPES that the reader would WANT to continue reading, would gladly pay for the next books, excited they got to read the first one free.

  • Some reviews did not like the book and would not suggest that anyone read the story only because of its cliffhanger ending. Everything was roses until that point, but not when they found out they had to read more.
  • One commentor on a VERY popular series got in an argument with another reviewer about the free status.
    • One stated that she/he was going to return the book because she’d enjoyed the book but didn’t want to pay for it – where a different commentor pointed out that the first reader didn’t have to pay for a FREE book.
    • The first commentor then argued with “I’m going to buy the next three and return them after I read them, because $2.99 a book is ridiculous.”.



That is like going to your work for a month and at the end of the month having your boss say, “Oh, man, you know, I really liked your work, BUT I’m not in the mood to pay your rate that I was willing to pay when I wrote your check. I cancelled your paycheck. Sorry.”

That would reek and stink and suck, and would be ILLEGAL. So why is returning a book not illegal?

Sick, just sick.

At least if it’s been read by 20%? or so, right?

How much of this is ridiculous to you?

I price the way I price because Amazon has the royalty split set up to corner me into a more controlled pricing arrangement. It makes sense. It’s set up to avoid the crazy prices – like $0.99 for a full length novel.

$0.99 to $2.98 prices on ebooks earn the author 35%. That’s it.

That’s BEFORE the download fees get subtracted or any returns. So for every dollar they make about 35 pennies.

$2.99 to $9.99 prices will net an author 70% or so not taking into account the extra fees, etc. So, on that book that gave hours and hours of entertainment, $2.99 is just too high? (and it took HOURS and DAYS for that author to write – if not MONTHS).

Personally, I’m on an entertainment budget. I refuse to spend more than $4.99 on an ebook when I can buy a paperback for $5. Which really sucks sometimes because, like right now, I’ve been eyeballing this book being released by a trad pub and the ebook looks AWESOME.

Seriously, right up my alley.

But it’s priced at $7.68. For the ebook. The print is $7.69. This is hurting the author at that price.

Authors don’t get that high of a royalty off the print – I don’t care who you ask.

To go even further with that point, I think it’s important to state that sale prices are damaging sales…

Many readers get used to expecting the lower prices just around the corner.


In a set of comments on multiple loss-leaders in my study, many readers indicated that they would be waiting for the next book in the series to go on sale or become free because they didn’t want to spend the money.

One even went so far as to say, “I read this author often and I always wait until after the first month because her prices always drop. If you’re looking at reading this book, just wait a little while. She’ll lower the price and it won’t go back up.”



Your readers shop you like I shop Wal-Mart. Why buy those snow pants at full price this year when at the beginning of spring, I can buy them for almost 75% off?


I’m not kidding.

Halloween, Christmas, Easter, Fourth of July – all these things go on ridiculous sales after the fact – I stock up for the next year because I know I’ll see another holiday exactly like that one.

You’re being played because you’re setting yourself up for it (sorry, I slipped into second person narrative there… when I’m flabbergasted, I do that.)

It’s predictable and makes it hard to get excited for any actual release dates.

Think of it this way. If you wanted to see a movie – in a theater – and it was releasing on day X for $10 a person to see, but you knew in extremely similar theaters in just Y amount of days, you could see the same movie for $3 a person – wouldn’t you wait?

Today? With prices like they are, you bet your butt you will. Up where I live? Most do.

The loss-leaders in my study spanned a variety of release dates – some as old as two years. This was encouraging for indie authors, simply because their long tail could grow exponentially.

In fact, on some of them, I did a side study that looked for groupings of similar dates to see if there was some kind of a trend – like a promo or something that occurred.

In 64.3% of them, they had groupings in a month’s time to indicate there had been promo of some kind in that time period. That’s terrific.

While my study was conducted with a biased eye toward looking for similarities, the control that I utilized included –

  • free books on lists,
  • Amazon reviews only,
  • all ratings ( 1 to 5 stars),
  • as well as only including the ratings that clearly came after the loss-leader status was indicated – many reviewers will say “glad it was free” or something to indicate that point.

With all of the above, I have come to the


that the low pricing/loss leaders are being taken for granted.

Many posts lately from other authors and industry professionals have bemoaned the lowering of the value of the book and I’ve witnessed it myself as well as just reported on an aspect of it above.

My pricing strategy is simple and predictable.

If I do a preorder, that preorder price will be the sale price it will be on – most of my preorders include something special specific to the PREORDER ONLY. Meaning, the short story you receive or whatever it happens to be will not be available again.

This means a lot to my readers who follow the stories of my characters.

This adds value to the preorder.

However, if I do NOT do a preorder, I will have a lower price available for release day/week for my review team and to reward my loyal readers and then

it will go up


not go back down.

For AT LEAST 6 months – IF EVER (caveat – I do loss leaders on most of my series but my loyal readers know this and most don’t wait. This seems counterintuitive – especially based on my above findings, however, I’m a firm believer in the effectiveness of Loss Leaders, I just don’t believe they need to be thrown around willy nilly when this trains readers to expect them. Have a firm plan and know what you’re training your readers to do).

*Yes, I did say willy nilly. Hmmm.

I don’t generally do $0.99 sales. In fact, Amazon has one of my books lowered to match the price of one of my books on a pirate site and I can’t get it returned to its normal price.

At the beginning, I didn’t realize what I was doing – I would release it for regular price and then lower it a month later to a sale price.

My readers felt screwed – and when I realized what I was doing – I felt like I’d screwed them.

That wasn’t how I wanted to treat my readers.

So I devised the pricing plan.

I’m predictable in my pricing – NOT MY PLOTS – and this is comforting to the readers and to me.

Having read the above, do you have any thoughts on the current trend in ebook pricing? Should it stay low? Should it go higher? Why?

Keep up-to-date on Surviving with Bonnie and sign up for my newsletter on the right side of the screen. I look forward to hearing from you!

Stay Alive!

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  • Hey Bonnie – it’s Barb Hix here – I’m responding thru this comment section because I’m getting a Mailer@Deamon when I tried to send you a regular email regarding a question I had on the Redemption series.

    I saw this posting, read it and couldn’t help but comment. I don’t know how many people buy books like I do, but this is usually my M. O. I do download a lot of the free ones….some times I won’t even look at the .99 unless it REALLY looks like something I want to read, that is simply because I have tons of books to read at all times.

    I am retired, so I don’t have work hours, I have been laid up in bed for the last 8-9 months or more since my herniated discs in my back have made it near impossible to walk or stand for long periods and it is very uncomfortable to sit in a recliner. I do watch a lot of TV, so that is how I spend my time split between reading, TV on computer and playing my computer games….yippeeee, lovely life, huh?

    Anyways, my habit of buying free or .99 books is to sample if I like the author or not, because I’m very particular in my tastes – BUT once I find that I like the author, watch out, I will usually buy every book they have….exactly like with your books. I read one of your first romance novels, loved your writing style and then started buying up all of your other books. I haven’t read them all yet, because I get distracted by other books, but I keep coming back to your collection and I know which one I’m gonna read next (Broken Trails right now LOL).

    So, yes, doing the series type books with the cliffhangers and cornering artists into lowering their prices just to get their books to sell DOES hurt the author. The remark about returning a book – be assured, you can not return a Kindle book once it has been read. Read 1 page and that baby is YOUR’s! The books that really tick me off are the ones that want to charge you 2.99 for 155 pages…..that makes me see freaking red. If I pay 2.99 for a book, I want at least 350 pages or more! I’ve seen some that want you to pay 2.99 for 60 pages….I’m like WTF!!!??? And it is a series of 5 books just like that with the first book a free download. THAT is the free ones that I pass up without any regrets!

    Anyway, just need to get your new email and need to know if the Redemption series is completed. I think I remembered reading that it was. I bought 3 of the books but noticed when I was looking at Broken Trails this afternoon that I was missing 2 of the titles. If the Redemption series is complete I was going to buy the 1-5 bundle, because I freaking love bundles…..love how they go from one book to another without you having to go looking for the next one (getting lazy in the electronic age LOL) I have a $3 Prime credit with Amazon right now, so I would get them for a pretty good deal.

    I would then go back thru, reread all of them and review any of them that I missed doing reviews on….I’m hopeless sometimes. I just read a really good romance, okay good romance – it took the sex scenes into the XXX rated and when you spend 25 pages on a sex scene that is just a waste of my time…but the rest of the book was great. Another gamer themed book and this person was more knowledgeable about gaming. I only caught them in 1 or 2 technical mistakes – LOL, pulled a pop quiz on my ex-hubby and he missed the tech mistakes I had caught and he has been an online gamer longer than I have been. Okay, I’m a really weird OCD geek, I can live with it.

    I hope this comment gets to you and I can get your new email address. I really hope that the weather in your area smooths out and you all stay safe…..we are at the turning on the AC stage already!!!

    Stay well!

    Barb Hix