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Pricing Strategies for Ebooks in a Series

| Posted in E-publishing |

32

I’m about to release the third book in my Dragon Blood series (the opening chapters of the first book are here if anyone is curious), and I have some advertisements scheduled this week for the first. Since this is officially a series now, pricing is on my mind. Just now, you ask?

I originally wrote the first one as a stand-alone. I had an idea for a steampunk romance (stolen from inspired by another story), and I thought, hey, let’s do it. Then it turned out that I enjoyed the characters and the world and wanted to revisit both. Thus a series was born.

I released the first book at $2.99, lobbied for reviews (something I hadn’t bothered to do much of before), and sent an announcement out to the mailing list (they were more interested in the Emperor’s Edge book that was also coming out that month, but some people did give the new adventure a try). It turned out that it did well, hanging out at the top of the steampunk rankings for a couple of months on Amazon. I released a second one in late May, also at $2.99, and, as I mentioned, I’m getting ready to release the third.

After the first three months, sales on the first book dropped off some, as you’d expect, but the Amazon ranking was still under 10,000 most days, which isn’t too shabby for a more obscure category. I just dropped it to 99 cents for a Bookbub ad this weekend, and it’s had a nice boost again (Pixel of Ink mentioned it yesterday).

I’m deciding now whether I want to do a $2.99 release for Book 3 or bump it up to $3.99 (it’s nearly 100,000 words, so it’s longer than the first two). I’m also going to watch how Book 1 does at $0.99, because it may be worth leaving it there longer than the planned week if it does well after the ads have come and gone. That would fit into one of the main series pricing models I’m going to talk about below.

(I like to stay flexible and experiment, rather than committing to any particular pricing model, especially for more obscure niches like “steampunk romance.” Sometimes some books are just never going to be huge sellers whether they’re free or 99 cents, even when they have lots of good reviews, so in that case, it might make more sense to stick with a $2.99 price tag to at least get the 70% cut on sales that do come.)

I’ll update y’all on my doings later on, but I mostly wanted to write this post for others who are trying to price their books to get the most (earnings and visibility) out of their own series.

Common Series Pricing Models for Indie eBooks

Option A:

  • Book 1: 99 cents
  • Book 2: 2.99
  • Book 3 (and subsequent books): 2.99 – 4.99

Option B:

  • Book 1: free
  • Book 2: 2.99
  • Book 3 (and others): 2.99 – 4.99

Both of these options let you draw in new readers with Book 1 that’s priced lower than the rest of the series, in the hope that they’ll be more likely to try your work, like it, and go on to buy the rest.

My Emperor’s Edge series needs a facelift and some loving, but it’s earned me the bulk of my income over the last three and a half years (I published the eighth and final-for-now book earlier this spring). I’ve tried a number of strategies, but I’ve been pretty close to Option B for the last three years. I started out with the first two books at 2.99 and made some sales, but gained a lot more readers when I released Book 3 and made Book 1 permanently free (I also had some luck early on when, with two books out, I ran sales of Book 1 at 99 cents.)

In ye olden days, Amazon listed the Top 100 free next to the Top 100 paid in each category (no need to click over to free books to see the covers), and you got a lot of visibility if you were in the Top 20 free for your category. I’ve talked more about whether or not free is still a good strategy in other places, so I’ll just say here that, yes, it can be, but prepared to pay for ads and promote the freebie, because there’s less visibility for those lists than there used to be. Free still works very well as a series starter in iTunes and Kobo (people always ask how to sell books there, and I always say that I didn’t sell much of anything in those stores until I had a free Book there).

That said, I haven’t made anything else free of late. Part of it is because I’ve mostly been writing pilots this past year, trying to figure out what my next big series should be, but part of it is because 99 cents seems almost as viable, if not as viable, for enticing people to try a series. And, unlike with the free books, you show up in the paid listings alongside all of the other paid books — being 99 cents when the surrounding books are 2.99 and up can make yours look like as much, if not more, of a bargain as a free book surrounded by other free books. There’s also the consideration that people may be more likely to jump right into reading a book they paid for, whereas they might randomly download heaps of free books and wait until much later to check them out.

As I go forward with the Dragon Blood series and other new ones (I have my pen name project in mind here, too), I’ll probably stick with something closer to Option A. I may do free sales, i.e. permafree for a couple of weeks in conjunction with advertising, especially after I have 4+ books out in a series, but I don’t think I’ll do another permanently free book for a while.

With pricing a series (or anything), I think it’s useful to be flexible and try different numbers. Keep track of how much you earn from the series overall, rather than from any individual book, and see what works best. (I wrote a post on this last winter: What You Think Your Book Is Worth vs. The Point at Which It Will Make the Most Money.)

Other Series Pricing Models

What if you just don’t like either of the two options I mentioned? Or maybe you’re also writing a series in a less popular niche. Maybe you’re in an extremely popular niche where it’s hard to get noticed even at 99 cents. Here are a couple more models to consider.

Option C:

  • Book 1: 2.99
  • Subsequent books: 3.99+

This one keeps you in the 70% range for earnings.

There are a couple of reasons you might consider this. First, if you already have a fan base or your new series ties into an old one, you might not need to make the first book a loss leader, as they say in the biz.

Also, if you don’t have the rest of the books in the series out yet, running sale prices on Book 1 may not do much for you, in terms of your income. Yes, it can bring in more readers, but if you don’t have anything available yet for those readers to buy, will they still remember you when you publish Book 2? Maybe, maybe not (don’t forget to include a newsletter sign-up at the end of the first book!).

Lastly, if you’ve already tried 99 cents combined with sales and there just didn’t seem to be enough interest to give you the boost you were hoping for, you might as well go back to the 70% cut. That way, when you do make a sale, it’s at least latte money (or Americano money, anyway).

Option D:

  • Book 1: free
  • Book 2: 99 cents
  • Book 3 and beyond: 2.99 and up

I see this fairly often in the romance genre (especially with series). Giving away the first two books for nothing or next to nothing is hard to stomach, but it’s possible you’ll get a lot more visibility and readers getting invested in the series this way. You’re in the free lists for people who surf there, but then you’ve also got a 99-cent title (remember how this appears as quite the bargain next to more expensive titles) in the paid listings.

I’ve done sales like this with my EE series, and, for me, the second book never sold well enough at 99 cents that I was tempted to leave it there for long. If, however, you’re in a popular genre and have written books that really give people what they want, a pricing strategy like this may get you the attention you’re hoping for.

Okay, I’ve burbled on for long enough. Do you have any thoughts on pricing a series that you would like to share? Please leave a comment!

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Comments (32)

I have a question: Does the
70% pricing begin at 2.99 or is it lower? I thought it started at a lower threshold, but I might have been wrong.

For Amazon, it’s between $2.99 and $9.99. Most of the other stores have something similar.

My series, A Prairie Heritage, will conclude in November with its sixth book. My new strategy is working better than anything else has. I published the prequel (in your case book 1) free thru D2D on Nook and Kobo. Amazon and iBooks price matched it, so it is now permafree.

After 15 days of free downloads it consistently ranks in the the top ten of the top 100 in two genres. And on the last seven days my sales of my other books have tripled.

Congratulations, Vikki. Glad to hear the free prequel is working well for you!

I think option B is the best way to go. Maybe release the free and second book at once, that way when they’re hook they can quickly purchase the next.

I think I’m going to release the first two novels for my pen name project like that. I’ll either make Book 1 free or 99 cents right off the bad, then keep the second at full price.

I’m on permafree for Book 1 of the Storm Phase series, leading up to the release of Book 4 — hopefully soon. I held off at $5.99 then $2.99 and now most of a year at $.99 for Book 1. But Amazon didn’t love me anymore at $.99, though Barnes & Noble seems to.

I’m still pricing the sequels at $5.99, and if that hurts sales, I can’t tell. I might try drop to $4.99 for the sequels once Book 4 comes out. I do also have a novella that goes between Books 1 and 2, and it’s at $.99.

It’s interesting how 99 cents really works the magic for some books but not for others. I’m thinking I’ll end up back at $2.99 for Blade’s Edge myself. When I have more books out in the series, I might make the 99 cents permanent, but it’s hard to drop it that much when it’s still selling pretty well at a 70%-cut price. We’ll see. Always experimenting. 🙂

There were a lot of times in the early days when I had two books out where dropping from $2.99 to $.99 would double my sales, but of course, that didn’t make up for the profit loss.

And for a while $.99 was the magic bullet for me — now it isn’t. It’s a good thing we can adapt as we go. Though that can get nerve wracking.

Some genres and subgenres have a high floor and a low ceiling, and I think that can allow higher prices on the first book.

To be honest, your books are amazing and as my favorite author, I would purchase your work regardless if it’s $2.99 or $3.99 or $4.99. So please just pick the sell price that will enable you to keep on writing for a very long time to come. I only get very hesitant with eBooks over $10.00.

Thank you, Faith. No $10 ebooks coming from me, not as long as I’m controlling the prices!

I like the advice for experimenting. I am probably going to do this soon as the 4th book in my series should be ready to go into the world this summer. But I was wondering — how long do you (Lindsay and any others who care to comment) run these promotions? When do you know if it’s working or not working? Is there a lag time for when the promotion prices start to kick in or does it happen fairly quickly?

I did Select a couple of times with my second book and at the same time did a .99 promotion with the first book and it seemed to get some good downloads, but with only two books in the series, I don’t think it was a good move.

My last question: is it also okay just to wait until the series is up before doing the price slash dance?

Lindsay,

What I would suggest in your situation is to do both 2.99 and 3.99 on the new release. When you email them that the new release is available let them know it will only be 2.99 for a few days before going to it’s regular price of 3.99, so they should grab a copy NOW.

This does two important things…let’s the list know that your new regular price is now 3.99….and also gives them a chance to get the book at the old price of 2.99 if they move fast….and it rewards them for their loyalty as well.

I do this with my books, except my regular price is 2.99 and I launch at .99 for a few days. I’m a newer author and this works really well to get a burst of sales at the beginning, which puts me on the first page of my genre list.

Once I become more well known, I’d like to shift to the 2.99/3.99 pricing.

One other nice thing about the .99 launch is that people on the list know they’ll have the chance to get the book at the lowest possible price. It doesn’t feel good when you pay full price for a book and then see it on sale a few weeks later for .99 (I paid 11.99 for John Grisham’s book on the day it released, 2 weeks later it was 3.29 on BookBub….not a nice way to treat your most loyal fans.)

Yes, that’s just what I might do. Reward those early purchasers. 🙂 My buddy Kendra Highley did that with her last Matt Archer book, and I know it’s selling well.

Agh! Pricing makes my head hurt!

I have been reading (on Kboards, maybe?) that people don’t see much difference in sales between $3.99 and $4.99. Also there’s a perception of higher quality at higher prices, and in some genres it helps you blend in better with the trade-published titles, and that can help with some readers.

I’m not planning to launch my new series until the end of the year, but I’m leaning towards $4.99 with some 99-cent sales here and there… or not.

Thanks for the post! Now I’m thinking about $2.99 again.

I believe that’s most likely true. I think 2.99 is a sweet spot and then, after that, you’re probably not going to turn people off if you stay under $5. After that, people are probably going to think about a purchase a little more. I usually decide between 2.99, 3.99, and 4.95 (I also have a 5.95 book) based on word count, but genre can certainly play a role too.

Lindsay,

I’ve wondered if you have figured out what % of your customers buy the second book of your EE series after downloading the first for free. I think you have shared # of 1st book downloads and books 2-4 #’s in bulk but I don’t recall you breaking them out by individual book.

I’m actually really lazy about tracking things like that. I look but don’t do graphs or keep track very closely. I know there are people out there who do and who post those things (on kboards, doubtlessly). For this month, it looks like around 18% of the people who download the freebie go on to buy the next, and then there’s not much drop-off for the rest of the series.

Thanks for the reply Lindsay.

Hi Lindsay,

I’m looking forward to seeing what you do with your covers. I know I need to change mine, but I’m stuck on what direction to go. Should I focus on the romance? The action? The humor?

Anyway, one thing I wanted to say about the needing to promote … after you’ve been out there for a while, places start picking you up randomly, blogs, and advertisers who haven’t filled their slots. And if your book is free, it’s an easy sell.

I’ve thought about going paid just before I change my covers, and then going back to free a month later. The nice thing about GOING free is you still get a bump when you first do it, completely free, from places that follow that sort of thing … EreaderIQ, etc.

Hey Lindsay!

Just a note on Option D. From my experience (five book series, first is perma-free), there’s no need to price Book #2 to $.99 as a secondary loss-leader to tempt readers into the series. After Book #1, they either like you or they don’t, and most readers seem happy to pay $3.99 or $4.99 for Book #2 and on.

There’s also a group of buyers who flock to a boxed set (I have a box of the first three novels) who then put a run on Book #4…and these seem to be very different buyers than those who incrementally move along, book by book, in the series. (Ed Robertson talks about this phenomenon with his Breakers series).

Lastly, I can attest to the value of the $.99 release…I just released Book #5 last week to my newsletter folks only and it was #1 on Hot New Releases for a few days and is still in the Top 10. Wouldn’t happened, IMHO, without the $.99 price point.

matt

I find the free first books annoying, because they’re the ones I want to send to my friends to get them hooked, and you can’t send somebody a free book on Amazon. But if it’s $0.99, well, that’s nothing, and then I gift it to the folks who won’t ever remember to go to Amazon themselves. Also, the whole “hey, jay liked it so much he paid money for a copy for me” makes them feel a little obligated to read it. 🙂

As always, you’re advice and input is gold! Thanks so much for the tips and the outlining of various strategies!

There are a pricing strategy that make sense to me as a reader that I don’t see very many indies use. Assuming a series that will ultimately have 4 or more novel-length titles:

$4.99 Current release
$3.99 Previous recent release
$2.99 Prior releases (except #1)
$0.99 or free #1 (after #4 comes out)

In this scheme, Book 1 starts at $4.99. You drop the price by a dollar every time you bring out a new book in the series, until you get to $2.99. After that you either drop it to $0.99 or free.

Here is my thinking. If I see your series when Book 1 comes out, it will have to be right in my wheelhouse for me to buy it. The price (up to $5) is mostly irrelevant. Once you hit books 3 and 4, I am much more likely to buy a cheaper book 1, just to try it out. Especially if you have a track record of publishing frequently.

And if I like Book 1, I am most likely to read the rest in succession. The longer I stay with a series, the less I care how much it is going to cost for the next book. And we are all primed to pay more for the current release.

I think this strategy maximizes revenues for the author without generating the reticence to buying that I get with authors who price pulse. I think (but I can’t prove) that this strategy appeals to the indie authors’ ideal customers, people who read a lot of books and are looking for series as safe investments of reading time.

I’d be concerned that this strategy would train readers to wait and buy the book when it’s cheaper. With later books in a series, I tend not to discount or price pulse or anything of that ilk at all. It’s the earlier ones I’ll play around with to try and draw in new readers.

There is certainly some non-zero number of readers who would wait. The question is how many of them would have bought in the first place. Consumer behavior is always tricky to understand and for the ebook market we have very little data. In thinking about this, I realized that the only publisher who really knows their consumers’ behavior is Amazon. Now I am off to see what I can figure out from the Amazon imprints pricing strategy.

Yes, it’s too bad they won’t share more of their data with us. 😀

Smashwords will! They have a great breakdown for each year. It’s so cool that they share this.

I thought about doing something like that. I’m thinking I might just do an across the board dropp from $5.99 to $4.99. But no tier, for the same reason Lindsay mentioned.

However, that might be a really good strategy for a series that’s been out for a long time.

I admit I’m one of those freebie downloaders that puts off the reading. Mostly because I want to read the one I purchased first. I do eventually get to them but then again I am more likely to not give it as long to hook me as one I paid for. Not fair I know, but know I have a giant virtual bookcase of free books that has allowed me to be choosy. I never thought about it until you brought it up though. 🙂

However—if it is in one of my favorite genres it goes to the top of the list and gets more attention. I have found a few read good authors/series with this and I did buy the rest of the books in their series.

Pricing is weird. I’m be doing a lot of reevaluating myself and have made some changes and may make some more. Baby steps lets me analysis what’s happening.

So, there. Lots of not useful information for ya! LOL

It’s a fascinating, though sometimes frustrating topic. What works for some people doesn’t always work for others, depending on the genre you write in and how many books you have out. But any knowledge is valuable when you’re trying to figure out your next move in this business.
Personally, I don’t see much point messing with my prices until I have a few more books out. $2.99 seems to be a good mid-point for me. I’m contemplating dropping the first book in my series down to 99c for a short while once I’ve got the second one out, hoping to draw in new readers who will go on to purchase the second book but I haven’t made up my mind yet.
Thanks for giving me ideas to mull over in the meantime.

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