Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

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Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Nathan Bransford » March 17th, 2011, 11:11 pm

Lisa Brackmann passed along this interesting interview with self-published author Zoe Winters.

Excerpt:
Then there was the fact that I wanted to cultivate a loyal following and most people who expect ebooks to be 99 cents aren’t that loyal. They’re shopping by price as their main deciding factor. I just don’t want those readers. Anybody that price sensitive just isn’t the demographic I’m going after. (And there are plenty of readers who pay 99 cents who would gladly pay more, but when you’re priced at 99 cents, there is no way to separate that demographic out.)

I want people willing to invest in my work and in me because I work hard at what I do. And I want readers who respect that. I made my novellas all $2.99 because I felt that was a reasonable price point. I raised Blood Lust to 3.95 in the effort to slowly ease it up to it’s final price point of $4.95. Eventually it went up to $4.95 as did Save My Soul. With my novels I intend to do a $2.99 intro price for the fans/newsletter subscribers, but raise up to the full price as soon as possible with each book.
What do you think? Do low prices condition readers to shop on price instead of loyalty?

http://allindiepublishing.com/author-in ... k-pricing/

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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Margo » March 18th, 2011, 1:31 am

This is a really good topic. I have seen some blog discussion on the possibility that the 99 cent readers are just snapping up cheap books and letting them sit on their ereaders without any kind of urgent desire to read them anytime soon or even at all. Hopefully, writers like Zoe Winters and Michael Sullivan will help prevent the race to the bottom - or (god forbid) the free ebook paid for with advertising.
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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Sommer Leigh » March 18th, 2011, 8:33 am

I don't like the idea that there is a "wrong" kind of reader. That doesn't make sense to me. I also don't think what you are able to spend dictates how valuable you are as a reader to an author.

I guess my hang up is the suggestion that there are desirable readers to have and undesirables, which seems like a bad line in the sand to draw. I have been a book store abuser my whole life- I buy plenty of books that sit in my TBR pile that I haven't read. Yet. Hopefully I will, but some of those books have been waiting a long time. That being said, most months I get through, on average, about 10 books. Does that make me the wrong kind of reader to those authors I've bought but haven't gotten to yet? There are many authors on my bookshelves whom I've only read one or two of their books, for whatever reason. I even have several unfinished series. Does that make me the wrong kind of reader? What, exactly, is the wrong kind of reader and doesn't splitting the reader world in two start a trend that is more harmful than not? Do we really want readers to hear us say things like, "You only bought one of my books? And it was the discount paperback? You're not the kind of reader I want. Go somewhere else if you're not willing to spend more money on me."

I get the point that, deep down, we want the people who buy our books to read our books and pay us well for it. Of course we do. That doesn't mean we should say it out loud, draw a line in the sand, and start sorting people. If I bought someone's .99 book and put it in my TBR pile, and maybe hadn't gotten to it yet, I wouldn't want to find out the author thinks I'm not worth her time as a reader. I wouldn't want to know that an author I may have liked, even if I don't fall into the "loyal" reader category, would really rather I didn't read her books if I'm not going to be more committed unless I'm willing to pay more.

I want to stick my fingers in my ears and not think about authors I might care about not wanting me as a reader. And if I were published, there's no way I would sort people reading my book into "worth my time" and "not worth my time." That seems like the worst sort of precedent. Unless a person is actively stealing the book, I don't think we should sort readers. I just don't want that to happen.
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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Margo » March 18th, 2011, 11:18 am

Sommer Leigh wrote:I want to stick my fingers in my ears and not think about authors I might care about not wanting me as a reader. And if I were published, there's no way I would sort people reading my book into "worth my time" and "not worth my time." That seems like the worst sort of precedent. Unless a person is actively stealing the book, I don't think we should sort readers. I just don't want that to happen.
Actually, I think the point is that some of the 'readers' aren't readers in that they aren't ever going to read the book and wouldn't have bought it if it hadn't been priced for the dollar bin. The flip side to your thoughts is that a writer wants their book to be read, loved, discussed, shared. Let's take the example to the extreme. Would you be comfortable with the idea that people are going to buy your book, you get plenty of money, but none of them are ever going to read it? It's not just about not having gotten around to reading a book yet but really treating novels like disposable tabloid trash.

I have to say that in my personal experience the old saying rings VERY true: what is too freely given is too cheaply valued.

I don't think the Zoe Winterses out there are saying they want to turn away any kind of reader. I think they want to actively court the kind of reader who really loves the work. (Of course, saying 'I don't want those readers' makes it sound worse than I personally think she intended.) I think they want to avoid the perception that their work is worthless and disposable.

Also, the idea that some people can only buy 99 cents books doesn't ring true for me. If someone is that cash-strapped, I suspect they're more likely to be a library patron, who are some of the most avid readers I know.

Since we can't be everything to everyone, I do think it makes sense to decide who your niche is and who it isn't, not to exclude readers but to be realistic about where you're going to build a real audience (rather than one-time consumers). Is it really that much different from writing a fantasy and choosing to market it to fantasy readers rather than investing all your promotional time in courting a mainstream audience that generally doesn't like fantasy? Ignoring the core to court the market that generally doesn't care?
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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Sommer Leigh » March 18th, 2011, 12:12 pm

Margo wrote: Actually, I think the point is that some of the 'readers' aren't readers in that they aren't ever going to read the book and wouldn't have bought it if it hadn't been priced for the dollar bin. The flip side to your thoughts is that a writer wants their book to be read, loved, discussed, shared. Let's take the example to the extreme. Would you be comfortable with the idea that people are going to buy your book, you get plenty of money, but none of them are ever going to read it? It's not just about not having gotten around to reading a book yet but really treating novels like disposable tabloid trash.

I have to say that in my personal experience the old saying rings VERY true: what is too freely given is too cheaply valued.
Of course I would hope people who buy my book would read it and love it. But I think after the purchase has been made, what happens is mostly out of our hands. For example, I love the author Jim Butcher. I do, I love him. I own his entire Dresden series, some in hardback, some I've had signed at readings I've driven out of my way to attend. However, I have only read 4 of his books. It's not him, it's me. I have too many books to read and I tend to lose interest in series because I have to read too many books before I get the ending. I don't think that is any different than people who buy a .99 book an don't read it. Maybe they read it now, maybe in a year, maybe in three years when they rediscover it on their Kindle. I don't think that price should necessarily dictate what audience we are courting.

I'm not saying that books should be .99 or 9.99 or 5.99 or 2.99. I don't know what the sweet spot is nor do I know if .99 is even sustainable for people trying to make a living (which it doesn't sound like.) I just don't think its a good idea to put a monetary value on reader loyalty. I don't like the idea of saying "I don't want readers who are only willing to pay .99."

I also wonder if it's even so much an issue of reader loyalty at all or an issue of money? Won't loyal readers who buy a book at 9.99 still be loyal readers if the book is .99 and vice versa? Does it matter if there are readers who buy the book and never read it, no matter what the cost?

I don't know the answer, I'm just asking.

I fear that we're going to see a perception of value war happening between authors and readers and readers and publishers, authors and publishers, readers and distributors, and authors and distributors. We are already seeing the perception of value problems with what readers think a digital book is worth and what publishers think a lending copy is worth. I think that giving a monetary value to a reader (as in, readers who only buy because of price vs. readers who will pay anything) will only make things worse. I think my issue isn't with what she says in the interview about not making enough at .99, it's with putting a price value on a reader.
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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Margo » March 18th, 2011, 12:34 pm

Sommer Leigh wrote:I think my issue isn't with what she says in the interview about not making enough at .99, it's with putting a price value on a reader.
I don't know - I think many readers have already done that to writers by deciding books aren't worth what the traditonal publishers are charging and gravitating (especially for ebooks) toward the indie authors who are willing to write for the lowest bidder. I think some writers might have made a mistake by encouraging that with the cheapcheapcheap! mentality. Zoe Winters even has a Youtube video about the readers who complain her work isn't free. The Wal-Mart mentality at work.

It's hard to tell how this is going to shake out. Everything is evolving too quickly. But I do hope we avoid the point where writers are expected to entertain people for nothing, the value of their work minimized to the point where many good writers won't see the point of distributing their stories and books anymore because they are valued on par with cheap Chinese imports.
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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by longknife » March 18th, 2011, 2:43 pm

I think the Harry Potter series shows something along this line.

When they first came out, I read of a whole lot of "experts" who said it was horrible, badly written and would never go anywhere.
But, they took off and - most important of all - it got a lot of kids to turn off the television and READ a book! So, it expanded the field and gave us a generation of youngsters who returned to the written page.

Perhaps the 99 centers are doing something similar? To me, if ANYONE takes the time to READ a book, regardless of its cost, it means one more person who appreciates the written word. It may not be professional but that individual will eventually move on to other works that cost more and are better written.

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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Mira » March 20th, 2011, 3:44 pm

I joked about this on the blog, but here I'll be more serious. I think the 99 cent price base is worth discussion, but putting out the idea that there is a wrong or right type of reader makes me very nervous.

I really, really don't like the idea of authors critiquing their readers. The whole concept seems bizarre to me. You don't alienate your customer base.

I'll say it more strongly: I think writers alienate readers at their peril.

Besides, alot of these assertions are made up. There is no proof that there is a 'hoarding' type of reader, or that 99 cent buyers don't have loyalty, or that those who buy for 99 dollars have loyalty, or of any of these other assertions.

And even if it were true, things aren't static. A reader who may buy and hoard (if this even happens??) may turn into a different type of reader someday.

The point is that any reader strengthens the industry.

To be more intense and controversial, I honestly think this type of argument is a holdover from the elitist perspective on books. Publishing has traditionally been elite and exclusive, and that includes distribution of books. The traditional reader base is white, middle class or higher, educated, articulate. The majority of books are not targeting the lower classes, the less educated and people of color, for the most part.

This needs to change. Books distribution needs to be inclusive.

If people have an issue with the 99 cent point base, take it up with other authors, not with readers!

I really hope this topic fades out quickly. I hope it doesn't make its way to the media and the general public. That will hurt the image of authors in general.

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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Margo » March 20th, 2011, 4:40 pm

Mira wrote:You don't alienate your customer base.
I think Zoe is pointing out that people who expect her to write for free or to write a whole novel for 99 cents, and then value it so little that they don't even read it (more on that in a moment) aren't her customer base. Is her position really that different from an author taking the time to identify a target audience and writing to it? One of the biggest mistakes newer writers can make is to think they are writing to every reader. That's a recipe for putting together something no one likes.
Mira wrote:Besides, alot of these assertions are made up. There is no proof that there is a 'hoarding' type of reader, or that 99 cent buyers don't have loyalty, or that those who buy for 99 dollars have loyalty, or of any of these other assertions.
Maybe you need to start reading more into the topic before you accuse people of making things up. I've seen numerous posts on this on a variety of blogs where people are admitting they themselves do this. I suggest checking out blogs and interviews with Konrath, Lieske, Winters, Selene....gosh, last name...Kitt?, Robin Sullivan (wife of Michael Sullivan). The comment section on Konrath's blog runs long but can be quite educational.

Mira wrote:And even if it were true, things aren't static. A reader who may buy and hoard (if this even happens??) may turn into a different type of reader someday.
With things changing at such an extreme rate, everything, including this, is possible.
Mira wrote:The point is that any reader strengthens the industry.
Assuming they are actually reading, enjoying the book, talking about the book, and not treating it like a throw-away. Or are you suggesting that the Wal-Martization of industry has been good for anyone's industrial base but China's? Any consumer is a good consumer? Cheaper is always better. No item should ever have a cost actually reflective of the actual cost of production, either in materials or time? Something for nothing, yay!
Mira wrote:To be more intense and controversial, I honestly think this type of argument is a holdover from the elitist perspective on books. Publishing has traditionally been elite and exclusive, and that includes distribution of books. The traditional reader base is white, middle class or higher, educated, articulate. The majority of books are not targeting the lower classes, the less educated and people of color, for the most part.
Intense and controversial indeed, connecting certain behaviors and their criticism to a race/class issue. That's a level of assumption I wouldn't be confortable with. If you want a writer to write for free and generally want to degrade authors, you must be low class or a person of color, and the people who don't like it must be stuffy rich white people.
Mira wrote:This needs to change. Books distribution needs to be inclusive.
Distribution needs to be inclusive? That's more of a geographic issue than anything else. Just ask someone from Eastern Europe. Guardian might be able to comment in inclusiveness in distribution.
Mira wrote:If people have an issue with the 99 cent point base, take it up with other authors, not with readers!
I don't think anyone is taking it up with the readers. Several of the authors have just decided they are going for a different target audience, which does not exclude anyone else from purchasing their book, and certainly not on the basis of class or skin color.

I have to admit I find it really odd that not that long ago indie authors were great, fighting the power of the evil white men running the Big 6. Now, if an indie author gets uppity about not writing for free or being professional enough to even understand the concept of a 'target audience', the author is an evil rich white person out to get the lower classes and people of color. Wow.
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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Margo » March 20th, 2011, 4:59 pm

Whoa, wait a minute. Mira, weren't you the one arguing on one of the Konrath threads here that indie self-publishing was THE way for writers to go because the 70% royalty meant they could keep a larger chunk of the cover price than an author writing for a traditional publisher with a higher priced book? Now the author wanting to get 70% of 2.99 is racist and elitist for not being okay with making 35 cents off a 99 cent ebook? That's actually LESS than they'd be making with the eeebil Big 6, and the indie authors are the bad guys now? And because they are bad guys, they are now just like the Big 6?
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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Mira » March 20th, 2011, 6:01 pm

Margo, I'm not sure where to start. :) I think you may be misunderstanding some of my arguments, but we may also disagree some.

First, I think the author should get the bulk of the return from selling the book, no matter what the price. They wrote the book. That really is a separate issue to me. And yes, I continue to believe in e-publishing for authors.

Second, anecdotal evidence is not evidence. Just because some people come onto their blogs and admit to doing something does not mean that anyone else does it.

I think the danger here is pigeon-holing people. People change. They are not static. Today's non-reader may be tomorrow's reader.

Also, people will do what they want with my book. I can't control them. They might buy my hardcover for 30 bucks and use it as a doorstop. Because if I'm going to corner the 99 cent buyers and ask what they do with my book, it's not fair if I don't also corner the 30 dollar buyers and ask what they do with my book.

And yes, I believe any reader strengthens the industry. They bring money into publishing. They support the efforts of writers. That's true at the 99 cent level and the 30 buck level.

I have no issue with Walmart. What's wrong with Wal-mart? The middle and the lower class shop at Wal-mart. I like that they have access to books in other places than bookstores that tend to cater to the middle and upper classes.

To be potentially alientating readers by saying "I don't want you to be my reader" well, I believe that's just sort of nuts. But hey, I can't control what people do either. If they want to post big signs on their blogs saying: "If you're not willing to pay 2.99 for my book, you are the WRONG type of reader and I don't want you on this blog", more power to them.

And yes, publishing has traditionally been very elitist. Run by the upper white class and catering to them. And no, not everyone who is arguing the other side of this argument is rascist and classist. That's really not what I meant. I meant that cultures change with difficulty. Sorry if it seemed like I was saying that. I wasn't.
Last edited by Mira on March 20th, 2011, 6:11 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Mira » March 20th, 2011, 6:06 pm

Oh, one more point.

I personally intend to charge way more than 99 cents for my books. And if people don't want to buy them, that's okay.

I have no problem with writers wanting to make money. Go for it. If you want to charge more, charge more.

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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Margo » March 20th, 2011, 6:10 pm

Mira wrote:What's wrong with Wal-mart?
There's been a great deal written about how the Wal-Mart business model filtered down to a public attitude of entitlement that led to the destruction of the industrial network in developed countries, the exploitation of workers in developing countries, and a shift to throw-away products that have become a danger to the environment, just to start. If you are interested in learning more about this, it wouldn't be hard. I wouldn't even have to recommend someplace to start. Google would probably bring up a few million sources.

I have always been of the mind that Wal-Mart is great for providing necessities to people would would otherwise have to do without, but that people who could afford to shop elsewhere should do so. Because the most successful product Wal-Mart self-manufactures is Wal-Mart shoppers. That is, what begins as a convenient route to luxuries becomes a necessity for even the basics as it destroys the ability of its customers to shop elsewhere through the destruction of better paying jobs and the exodus of domestic jobs to meet the rigorous demands of Wal-Mart's buying policies.

As I said, it's a interesting topic to read up on.
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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Mira » March 20th, 2011, 6:12 pm

Oh - of course! I refuse to shop at Wal-mart. Because of how they treat their employees and other issues. I agree with you there.

But I have no problem with Wal-mart, and other discount stores, carrying books.

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Re: Do 99-Cent E-books attract the wrong kind of reader?

Post by Margo » March 20th, 2011, 6:17 pm

Mira wrote:But I have no problem with Wal-mart, and other discount stores, carrying books.
I wasn't refering to whether or not Wal-Mart carried books but the fostering of the consumer attitude that we are all entitled to whatever we want for nothing, or certainly less than it really should cost. When we actually receive something for less than it should cost, it loses value in our eyes, and we treat it as being of less value.
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