Wednesday, 4 November 2015

Let's Make A Change - Stop Devaluing Your Work!

Like so many others today, I've been reading Smashwords' Mark Coker's blog post about Amazon's recent reduction in the Kindle Unlimited pricing structure in India. Currently, KU is $9.99 per month for unlimited book downloads, but Amazon has lowered this to $3 in India, and has made insinuation that this pricing structure can and will filter to other Amazon sites in the future. While KU is systematically killing publishing, I have my own views on why books have been devalued and it's not all Amazon's fault.

There has come a very strong trend in the industry from self-publishing authors who only price books at 99c. Some small press do this as a regular thing, but the trend has come from self-publishing. What started off as introductory sales and short-term promotions has quickly become the pricing standard if we want to 'play the game.'

Worse, 99c box sets--often up to 10 books in one download--have become the norm, knocking out the above single titles at the same price! That's less than 10c per book which normally can cost anywhere from $2.99 to $5.99 on their own.

But authors aren't even making that much on those sales because Amazon keeps 65% of that 99c! At 35c per sale, that means those 10 book box sets are only earning the author 35c!...just 3.5c per book!

Certainly, that's a great deal for readers, but what is that pricing doing for the industry as a whole...beyond one author's desire to attract buyers, no matter the cost?

What it's doing is ruining the industry.

The 99c price structure is forcing every other author to also devalue their work in order just to 'be in the game.' And now what's happening, readers are even fussing over paying 99c for one book and just waiting for the 99c box set to stock up on loads of cheap books. This goes beyond Amazon Select and Kindle Unlimited where you can buy all the books you want for just $9.99. This trend is happening for normal retail sales. And Amazon is taking advantage of this buy saying, "Well, authors have devalued themselves already, so by offering unlimited downloads for $9.99, they won't care because they obviously don't care now!"

At a regular 99c price point, authors are barely making 35c per sale. Amazon keeps the rest. Buying books at $2.99, or more, means the author gets a much larger share of the retail...closer to $2.10 per sale! The difference in price can make or break an them pay their rent and put food on the table for their kids. At 35c, that's not even enough for extra creamer for their coffee.

Let's do a breakdown:

An author writes six hours per day, five days per week, for eight weeks (240 hours) to create a 50K book. Making 35c for one sale off that 99c book, means the author has just worked for 0.0015c per hour!

With the same time schedule to write the same book but making $2.10 for one sale off that $2.99 book (because vendors take less fees on higher priced books), means the author has worked for 0.009c per hour.

OK, both are still slave wages, but we expect to make it up on sales volume, and it can only be done when books are priced higher.

Let's say the book sells 10K copies. At 35c per book, we make just $3500.

But at $2.10 per sale, we're making $21K and suddenly we can pay our rent, feed our kids, and not have to work so hard at the regular day job so we can write more. Maybe two books earning the same amount and that means $42K for those 10K books and suddenly we have a living wage!

Granted, this is based on the minimum price point ($2.99) to make the majority of the money (70%) from booksellers like Amazon. 50-70K word books should be priced higher than $2.99, and full length novels up to 100K should be making at least $5.99 retail.

Books selling at $5.99 earn the author $4 per sale. 10K books sold is $40K in the author's pocket which means the author can live off that without having to work outside the home! THAT is a living wage.

What can we do to help stop this crazy spiral into book-selling hell?

For authors and publishers --

1) We need to stop devaluing ourselves as authors.

2) Price your books appropriately. Stop selling 99c books unless on short-term sale (24-72 hours max).

3) Stop selling 99c box sets!!!!

For readers --

1) Stop devaluing our work. Limit your buying of 99c single titles.

2) Support the authors you enjoy reading by paying what their work is worth. Sure, we're all price-conscious and on spending budgets, readers and writers. But there has to be a support system in place that works for both sides

3) Write reviews!!

** As authors AND readers, we need to boycott Amazon Select and Kindle Unlimited. Stop adding our books to these lists, and stop buying from these lists.

We also need to find a way to fix the pricing structure on books...all authors and publishers agreeing on how to price books based on word count so that we can all compete on a level platform. This means respecting other authors and not stabbing each other in the back in order to get a sale.

And readers need to start buying through normal channels and stop supporting the 99c price points except on those short-term sales.

Do you have other ideas on how to create change in the industry and tell Amazon we do not accept their cheap programs? I'd love to hear them. Click the comments below and let your voice be heard.


  1. That's all well and good. I would love to be able to sell my books at $3 or $4, but even at 99 cents, and with 8 books available I have only sold 11 copies so far this month. The article assumes that we would sell the same amount of books at whatever price - so if I sell 11 at 99 cents, I make $3-85; if I sell 11 at $2-99, I make $7-70. Sadly things don't work that way. What is more likely to happen is that we would sell even less as the price increased. Finally unless everyone else increases their price at exactly the same time, I believe that unilateral action could actually be harmful. To me the damage has been done, and maybe cannot be undone.

    1. The article lists averages for the sake of discussion. Everyone will have different results based on several variables, mostly whether the author promotes and markets effectively.

      I don't think the damage can be undone. It won't happen over night. Just like this hole we're getting into now didn't happen overnight. But it will take concerted effort on a lot of people's part to at least stop the current madness.

      Also, at $2.99, if you're making $2.10 after fees, you should be bringing in $23.10.

  2. I totally agree. Sometimes it takes (new) authors YEARS to finish writing that first novel. To turn around and sell it for 99 cents is ludicrous! Personally, I'd rather not sell any than give them away for peanuts (unless it's for a limited time :-)). And don't get even get me started on FREE. I can't even wrap my head around that.

    1. Even seasoned authors can take years to complete each book. It all comes down to what we value out work. What is our time worth to create something completely unique? Does a potter spend weeks designing a piece, hours in the scultping, cleaning, firing, painting and glazing, and firing again just to sell it for a bag of peanuts? (peanuts are a lot more expensive than a buck BTW) No, they are going to ask what they feel it's wroth, and they'll sit on it until someone respects their worth enough to invest in it. Meanwhile, keeps creating. But also keeps promoting and marketing their brand. Authors need to do the same thing, but first there has to be a concerted effort to get rid of the 99c-normal-price-point option. And the free option too. Free books need to be ranked on a wholly different level, not used to get high ranks that are blended with priced books. Of course free books will rank highest on the lists and push out books peole are buying...99c or otherwise. Yeah, another bug in my bonnet ;-)

  3. You should post this article on Books and Benches. They have a blog you can submit to post to. This is JM Robison.