“A barista spends 3 minutes making you a $6 cup of coffee, you tip her. A writer spends a year writing a book, you complain $4.99 is too high” – Seen On Twitter
I saw that tweet go by a couple of days ago, and it tied in neatly with a conversation I was having with a new author that was talking to me about my experiences thus far in this strange adventure. I’ve talked in a previous post about the cost to bring an indie book to market and why the “five buck book” is actually running a loss, not a profit.
Here is the rub, though. Your reader doesn’t care. Or at least, doesn’t care -yet-. Your reader, to use a bit of sales and marketing terminology, is your customer. You’re a sales person. To quote Jeffrey Gitomer, a sales professional and trainer, “people don’t like to be sold. But they love to buy.” So the concept you have to embrace is that your product is a RISK to your customer.
Readers want known quantities. They’re odd ducks… $6 + tip at Starbucks for a fancy coffee is acceptable, but “risking” $5 on a new author is not. And the reason is that there is a “hidden cost” associated with reading that is not at Starbucks.
You can’t get back the time you waste on a lousy book. A lousy coffee is 20 minutes and you can do something else; heck, you can take it back and ask for one more to your tastes in some coffee shops. A lousy book is an hour or more that you’ll never get back and can’t do anything else with. There is also an emotional investment in a book. I’m sure you’ve all seen the meme on Facebook that says:
“That awkward moment when you finish a book, look around, and realize that everyone is just carrying on with their lives as though you didn’t just experience emotional trauma at the hands of a paperback.”
Every time someone takes the time to stop and pick up a book to read, they are making an emotional investment. For serious readers, this is about as risky as going on a date. To quote Gitomer again, “sales are decided by the heart, and justified by the brain”. If you’re an established author, your customers know you, trust you, and love your product, then price is not an issue. That is why in a previous post I noted that even in the top 100, for writers in the 20 to 60 place position, the average price for a book was $4.95. However, for a top 10 writer, the price was an average of $7.07.
That $7.07, incidentally, is pretty much what authors should be selling their work for. But the market won’t support it for a new writer, because of trust and risk. The customer doesn’t know you, and therefore doesn’t trust you.
They know and trust Starbucks. They know the quality of service and atmosphere that a Starbucks franchise store anywhere in North America is supposed to deliver. And so between the coffee, the living room and the wifi, and the trust relationship, that $6 + tip is emotionally acceptable to the customer. It’s a good “value”.
So how do you reduced risk? According to Gitomer, you do that by identifying it and taking it away. Percieved value, or lack thereof, is the big one. The simple way to “fix” it is by reducing your price. A lower price — $5 and not $7 — requires less effort to justify. Put the first 1/4 of your book up for free preview/ download as a PDF — just be sure to include a link at the end to your sales site.
Another avenue is reviews; forget about the sock-puppet issue. The fact of the matter is that the “like” button on Facebook and the “star” on Amazon are referrals. And in sales, referrals are gold.
The reason is reputation. There is an outstanding TED Talk that puts forward that in the 21st century your reputation is going to be more important than your credit rating. Reputation is a trust index. The more of a reputation you can build the more trust a new reader will give you.
Not sure what I mean? How about this: do you trust that Steven King will write a solid horror novel? Or Louis L’Amour will write a brilliant western? Or that Frederick Forsyth will write a gripping crime fiction/ thriller?
Any time I send out a trade paperback from inventory at my office, I try to include a couple of brochures or QR-code business cards in the bundle. That makes it easy for the reader to tell their friends about the book and steer them to where they might get a copy for themselves.
I suspect this is why my previous blog post about the poor returns on investment on paid advertising had the numbers it did. Advertising may get you a lot of eyeballs, but it isn’t a great way to deal with the trust/ risk issue.
So your mission is to write a great book, get it out there, and convince people to leave reviews in social media arenas that say you rock. That reduces the risk to the new reader.
My “value proposition”, to use sales-speak, is that I write great Vernian Steampunk. I depend on word-of-mouth advertising — would you be so kind as to post a review on Amazon and or Goodreads? — to generate sales to people that do not know me. I have had reviews that tell me my work is worth more than I am charging. So the next book in the series will be a buck or so more that the first is currently selling for. At the same time, the price on the first book is going to drop a dollar. If all goes as I think, my sales to new readers via the first book in the series will go up, and sales to existing readers will stay strong on the second.
Stay tuned and I’ll let you know what comes of all of this. I’d love to hear about your own thoughts and experiences in the comments section.