Robin Spano’s blog on goodreads.com conducted an interesting experiment with ECW Press to try to determine if a significantly lower price would increase the sale of ebooks. She used the novel Dead Politician Society from her Clare Vengel series and for one week the sale price was lowered to $1.99. Spano, an author who believes that standard ebook prices are too high, was quite game and not at all surprised at the results that they found. Though there was no change in Kobo sales, there was a huge change in Kindle sales and a significant change in iBook sales as well. On average, she saw a change of 18.33 times more books sold each day of the extended week (nine days) her book was on sale and averaged 3.3 times the regular weekly revenue. Pretty good numbers.
So what does this mean? Well, for one, Spano, who believes that ebooks should be priced around $4.99 instead of the standard $9.99, is not a self-publisher. ECW Press publishes her books and this experiment was conducted with their consent. Once it was over, she claims they were very happy to go back to the regularly scheduled price. ECW Press alleges that the promotion of the experiment was the predominant catalyst behind the sales, not the lower price. That may be true, as when Dead Politician Society was recommended by the CBC Mystery Panel, sales spiked again, for both print and ebook, garnering 5 times the regular sales and revenue, more than during the experiment. Would Spano have gotten the same kind of promotion if she was self-published? Possibly not, but she probably would have undoubtedly gotten a higher royalty rate (Spano did not specify how much she actually received herself in revenue from the experiment), not that that seems to matter to her.
Spano makes a good point when she brings up readership. Some authors aren’t concerned with finances and are just happy to have their books read; this is a sentiment that Spano shares. As a new writer, she cares more about readership than sales, though she admits that good sales are a bonus. Lowering her price and increasing her sales would theoretically increase her readership, so the results of the experiment would be even better news. However, Spano then follows that sentiment with a statement purporting that statistically books bought for under $5 are less likely to ever be read than books priced over $5, so really you shouldn’t (and can’t) assume readership from sales. Lowering the price can also devalue a book. Measuring it against the $9.99 and up ebooks, the book runs the risk of looking cheap. So is it worth it? Pricing your book at a lower price can increase sales but not necessarily readership, it can make your book more affordable but also look like it is of lower quality. This is arguably something that is accepted of self-published works, but where does this leave traditional publishing houses? If they are game to try experiments like Spano’s from time to time, that would help them compete with the uptrend of self-publishers and their lower priced ebooks. ECW Press is a smaller independent publisher with a bit more freedom for experimentation. What about a larger house? They could afford the sales hit if that’s what the results of an experiment like that came to, but could they afford to change their ebook prices across the board. Spano thinks that the high prices aren’t good for the industry, and wishes that they would follow the mantra of Ghandi, “be the change you wish to see in the world,” and lower them. I would be inclined to agree, but I think that traditional publishers would argue that Ghandi never had these kinds of overheads.