Book Promoting:Is $1.99 The New 99 Cents?

the dead list by martin crosbieWe’re going to talk about selling eBooks. We can call it “connecting with readers” or “building our reader base” or “expanding our discoverability” in other articles. Right here, right now, we’re going to call it what it is: selling books.

I’ve been through the ups and downs of free promotions. I’ve had mega-successful returns where I’ve sold tens of thousands of books and I’ve had disappointing returns where I have not covered my promotion costs. I’ve sworn off free promotions and come back to them and realized that they can still be effective in terms of selling books. Again, we are not talking about climbing up the rankings in a genre-specific category or how many email subscribers we can gain or how many books we can give away. We’re dealing with book sales, and with free promotions we’re referring to peripheral sales of our other books or paid sales when our free book returns to its regular price.

When free wasn’t working for me I championed the Kindle Countdown as an effective means of selling books. I’m referring here to selling books during the promotion at the discounted price and afterward when our books return to their retail levels. Although Kindle Countdown promotions were set up as a means of discounting your pricing in increments and gradually returning to the retail price, the preferred method with most authors has been to discount to 99 cents for one to five days (typically three days) and then return to retail. This method is still effective but may need to be tweaked.

My latest book The Dead List was a Kindle Scout winner. This means I was awarded a publishing contract by Kindle Press (an Amazon imprint). It was a great move for me because KP looks after the promotions. I can still blog and post and promote but they do the heavy lifting, and they control the price point. The book came out in November 2015 and was priced at $2.99. The first major promotion took place over a thirty-day period during January and February. This was a limited time price drop where The Dead List was grouped with twenty-nine other books. A code was emailed to select Amazon customers where they could purchase any of these books at the discounted price. Amazon is still currently running this promotion with different books. Here’s the link to the current deal.

The books in this promotion (and during mine) are priced at $1.99. This is a $1.00 discount. That’s it. They are not discounted to 99 cents. The benefit of running at $1.99 of course is during a Kindle Countdown Deal where the author receives 70% royalty you’re earning an additional 70 cents per sale. This is significant if you have a successful promotion and sell in the hundreds or even thousands of books. My royalty level with KP is 50% and doesn’t vary with pricing. With a non-Countdown-type promotion, your discount could drop to the 35% level. So, the question is: can we sell as many books at the lesser discount – at $1.99 – as we can at 99 cents? Or, even if we sell a lesser amount, will the sales add up to more net dollars?

Because my book was published through a publisher, I had a thirty-day wait before seeing my sales numbers, but I was able to compare my rankings to the other books in the promotion. I was consistently in the top three of the thirty featured books; in fact I don’t think I dropped lower than three. The Dead List rocked for thirty days outperforming well-established books and authors. I earned back the $1500 advance that KP had paid me and earned an additional couple of thousand dollars. And when the book returned to $2.99 it continued to sell well. I realize many author’s returns are higher each month, and mine have been too from time-to-time, but this promotion pulled all of my books out of a rut. And, it got me thinking.

Has the publishing world changed (again) in the past few months? Is 99 cents as a sale price too low? Does it scream of desperation? Are there too many other books advertised at that price level? Well, if we defer to Amazon and accept that their marketing knowledge (especially within their own system) is far superior to ours, then we need to take a look at changing the way we discount our books. I don’t know what the return would have yielded if the thirty day promotion lowered the pricing to 99 cents. But, I know that the promotion wasn’t run on a whim. Some research went into determining what the magic number should be.

The challenge of course is that when promoting our book, the cost of promoting through many of the promotional sites increases when we discount to 1.99 as opposed to 0.99. As more of us latch onto that 1.99 price point and ignore 99 cents, this might change. And I think it is changing already. Check out the featured books on BookBub for the past week. The majority of them were priced at 1.99. Methinks the change is taking place. I offer you the suggestion that $1.99 might be the new 99 cents. I welcome your thoughts and comments.

Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the author of five bestselling books whose newest release is a Kindle Scout winner. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. Learn more about Martin at his website or his Amazon author page

28 thoughts on “Book Promoting:Is $1.99 The New 99 Cents?”

  1. Hello Martin
    I’ve seen an Amazon graph that illustrates $1.99 sells more books than the 99cent price.(currently). So I’m sure you’re right. But what I wanted to ask you is this. I’ve written four comedies and am now writing a period thriller. To use a pseudonym or not is the question? Do you have a view or any experience on this?
    Many Regards

    Alan

    1. Alan,
      I’m probably not the right guy to ask. I’ve written a couple of lit fiction novels, a romance, and I just began a series of thrillers – all under my name. And, I’ve had readers crossover that may not have crossed over if they hadn’t read my work. So, not using a pseudonym has worked for me but there may authors who have reasons for making the change.

  2. I’ve noticed that everyone’s Kindle Scout ebook prices seem to jump at least a dollar from whatever they had been running at before. But Amazon has such an advantage with its marketing machine (and they ARE a publisher, which provides credibility), that I’m not sure that would translate successfully to indie books. As I look at BookBub pricing, I wonder if that is the traditional publishers’ way of saying they’re a step above the fray (not that there’s much of the fray to be found on BookBub anymore). Who knows. The people who could really tell us are the promoters.

    It’s so hard to tell what changes in pricing do if you don’t already have a good head of steam going. It’s like trying to turn your sailboat when there’s no wind.

    I do find the stepping-back-up part of a Kindle Countdown Deal is a bust in my most recent promotions. And I see some successful indie authors continuing to use free periods pretty religiously.

    Congrats on your very successful promotion! I’m sure Amazon will see that your title did well and put even more resources towards that book.

    1. “trying to turn your sailboat if there’s no wind”. Funny.
      I think the same rules apply when it comes to pricing. We’re dealing with the same consumers and the majority of them aren’t checking who the publisher is. So, if the magic number is 1.99 that’s where I’m going to set my anchor. For now. Until it doesn’t work or something changes. Thanks for the kudos Sandra.

  3. It’s very possible that this could be transitioning, and that’s great. I’d love to see a little more value given to books.

    However, an Amazon mailout, with Amazon-published titles has a little more weight with the average reader (I believe) than the promotional emails that sell slots. It might be easier for Amazon to push that price point than it is for everyone else. At the same time, if Amazon leads the way, it’s possible others will follow and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

    1. Yes, if it’s working for them then there’s no reason why we can’t follow. I wish I had concrete evidence that I’d tried it with a Countdown and it worked but I haven’t yet. That’s next on my list.

  4. I think I agree with the rest of the folks. I don’t think this is proof $1.99 is a great price point so much as it’s proof that $1.99 is great when Amazon markets you to its customers. Given that 29 other books participated, and you say you were in the top three for the duration of the promotion, it’s also a sign that your book cover and description do well when compared to others. And that’s good.

    I imagine all 30 titles did pretty well in the promotion (and by that, I mean better than they had been doing prior to the promotion).

    I think the key to seeing if $1.99 is really a great price point would be trying it with a book that isn’t marketed by Amazon. If you try a few promotions of different books and $1.99 rocks over all other price points, then maybe. But barring that, I’m feeling doubtful.

  5. Hello Martin,
    thank you for the well written article and giving us some food for thought. It does give us some hope that our works can be priced at a better pricing point and be deserving of it. But yet again it kind of concerns me too. We do get the better priced deals at the .99 cent level for advertising. maybe if the advertising places could do a lower price for the 1.99 as well? maybe something in the middle? something to think about. Thank you for this article and keeping us up to date on trends! Have a great week Martin!

  6. Thanks, Martin; nice to know. I’m going to run a campaign when I release my next book, a sequel, along with the first book in the series as well, and I was already thinking of bumping up the sale prices from my usual 99 cents. I’ll give 1.99 a whirl and see how it does.

  7. 1.99 seems a reasonable price for an eBook. It is simply a download. Why would anyone pay more. As an author, I’m not looking to get rich. I am looking to get read.

    1. Me too but I’d like fair compensation for my work so that I can continue to produce. The regular price of my books is up to 4.99 and for my next limited time sale I’ll try 1.99. We shall see…

  8. It occurs to me that, ignoring all the other factors, with different prices you may be dealing with different markets. Perhaps many buyers tend to buy at one price only. So if you move your price from $.99 to $1.99, perhaps you’re reaching a different market. It might even be people with more money who buy more books.
    Don’t know how this helps; just musing. It would explain the seeming illogic of raising the price and selling more books.

    1. That makes sense to me. It might lend credibility to the product. If I think about that too hard I think my head will start to hurt though. Thanks Gordon.

  9. Thanks for sharing your experience, Martin. Yes, I do think $1.99 makes more sense, from several standpoints. Many authors I know are pricing their books at $2.99 or $3.99 and doing quite well. For one thing, KU subscribers tend to download books that cost more. (Who wouldn’t, if you have a subscription, right?) That means authors are being paid for more downloads/pages read. At $1.99, a book would garner a fair amount of those subscribers–more than a $0.99 book would attract.

    Congrats on being a Kindle Scout winner with The Dead List!

  10. Hi
    I have a comment and question. I recently rand a countdown with a bookbub ad attached to it. The results were amazing. Better than the last countdown by thousands. I did price the book at .99c. Do you think I should try the next countdown at 1.99? Are you thinking that the results will be even better from what you have been seeing in the trends?
    I’d like to address the author that said she is not looking to get rich, just to get read. Of course, being read is the most important factor here. However, your book is not simply a download. No, there isn’t a tangible copy, and print costs were not incurred, but didn’t you write the book? It took time, talent, and a lot of work. Your work has value and the reader is getting the same product. Considering I buy a latte a day from starbucks for almost 5$ as millions others do, I don’t understand the devaluing of literature.

    1. Effie, I’m in the process of scheduling a Countdown and I’m going to try 1.99. The regular price on the book is 3.99. Check with me on Facebook if you like and I’ll be happy to share the results.

  11. Hi Martin,

    Thank you for the timely advice. A question?
    I have heard a wide range of differing opinions on pricing for a first kindle time author countdown deal ever. What do you think of doing the following for a first time author for a. SciFi short story collection? I am thinking of using all 5 days stepping up the price on day one as Free $0.00 , Then day two and three @ $0.99, then day four and five @ $1.99 Then setting th final price @ $2.99 half the paperback price. With the Match Book price at $0.99.

    Background info: I will be coming out with my first scifi short story collection “The Last Master of Go” in a few months on Kindle and offering it in kindle select. For paperback and large print paperback I plan to use createspace. I will test different price points for the first Kindle count down deal. Will let indies unlimited know how I make out.

    Please advise, thank you
    JB Wocoski

    1. Hi JB,

      That’s ambitious, I applaud you. This is such a fickle market that it’s really tough to predict how well you’re going to do. In essence that’s how a Countdown was devised, so you might be on to something. Good luck and yes please share your finding with us.

      1. Thank you Martin, I have an editor friend looking at it now. Once I get her edits in then I have a few friends who are scifi and fantasy readers who offered to be beta readers lined up, I am shooting for a September release date.

        Best wishes
        JB

    2. Sorry. But one may not start a KCD priced $0. For zero one must use Free days. Those are two different promotions and one is only allowed one or the other every 90 day cycle in KDP Select.

  12. Good article.

    I wonder though if there’s a way to control for author notoriety? That is, does the 1.99/0.99 action change with a new writer’s first book vs an established writer’s release?

    I’m in the middle re re-re-releasing one book (former Booktrope author), and launching a new one in the next couple of months. Pricing is always a headache.

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