Okay, this is it. The rant to end all rants. I’m warning you here. I’m done being nice. I’ve talked to too many Indie authors who feel the same way I do. I’m saying it. I have to say it. I hope all of you who feel the same as I do will rise up and have my back here. It’s gonna get bloody before it’s all through. It may be like my divorce—I may lose some comrades. I hope not. I am sick to death of this ride—I feel like we Indie authors have been led into a “funhouse” (which are no fucking fun at all: you fall down, look fat and distorted in the mirrors, and they put sticky stuff on the door handles) but we’ve been told how damn lucky we are to be where we are.

I’ve thought about it a lot, but yes, I am certain of it. I recently took a walk through the Dollar Store and saw a fairly standard, crappy hair pick priced at 99 cents. It’s been years since I had a perm (or hair) so I didn’t want the comb but I thought a lot at that moment about my novels. I thought about the durability of the piece of plastic before me.  I thought about the number of hours I put into writing the (almost) three books I have finished. That comb was pure junk. I thought about the person working on the assembly line in China making ten cents a day that may have assembled it, or at least put it in a package, and I felt for them, too.

Then I went home and read about a new book by A.J. Jacobs (Drop Dead Healthy, Simon & Schuster). The suggested retail price for the new hardcover is $26.99. No one is selling it at that price, of course. Amazon has the hardcover for $15.91 (which is pretty amazing because the KINDLE version is $12.99). I have to admit I did wonder a bit about how cool it would be to have Simon & Schuster after my book title. {Pathetic sigh}

Then I thought about that crappy little comb again, and besides being pretty pissed off by that point, I was also still pretty sure my books are each worth more than that chunk of crap. (The comb, not Jacobs’ book.) I did, however, look at Jacobs’ new book again. I like A.J. He writes a lot of stuff for Esquire and he is funny as hell. But he’s not exactly a household author name, like Stephen “I can type the letter ‘Z’ ten million times in a row and as long as they form paragraphs, my publisher will print it and charge you $20, no questions asked” King.

Yet still I wondered. Is A.J. Jacobs sixteen times the writer I am? (Okay, in Kindle math, thirteen times the writer?)

Value. Worth. It’s gotten all screwed up in the book market somehow. Well, not “somehow”—we’ll look at that in a moment. But first I want you to look at the McDonald’s Dollar Menu. I am pretty certain my books are each a far better experience (and last a helluva lot longer) than one hash brown, a SMALL McCoffee, a McChicken sandwich, or a side salad.

One. Side. Salad.

At McDonald’s.

I ordered from Pizza Hut the other night. I don’t even like Pizza Hut all that much and neither does my wife, but they are the only place that delivers where we live. We got a medium pizza that would arrive as soggy as if it’d been steeped in milk by the time it reached us. We received a side of mozzarella sticks that had congealed into mini nunchucks and some chicken wings I prayed repeatedly actually came off a bird resembling a chicken.

Before tip? $24.00. (No, I didn’t use a coupon.)

In the world of books (particularly digital ones) these concepts have become worse than distorted. The market has gone all the way to demented. Fuck John Locke and Amanda Hocking for giving their crappy eBooks away for the price of that kind of toothbrush they offer you at a shitty hotel when you forget yours. You know the kind I’m talking about, where the plastic is so cheap and brittle if you actually try and scrub with it you might be killed when it bursts into a million little blood-red pieces of cheap shrapnel. All this so Locke and Hocking could make themselves a few million and leave the rest of us holding the money bags with the strips of cut-up newspaper in them.

Have you written a book? I mean all the way to the end? Edited it, start to finish? Rewritten it? Published it? How much time did it take you? How hard was it? How much marketing does it take you to sell even one copy? Is your book any good? Even halfway decent?

Are you tired of the implication that your product is worth less than a dollar per unit? Well you can start your objections by not elevating John Locke and Amanda Hocking to the level of book market (and, perish the thought, author) deities. They didn’t do anything good for you. In fact, they are the King and Queen of 99-Centville, and it’s a pretty shitty place to live.

Oh, and another thing you can do? You can refuse to buy any more 99 cent books AND refuse to price your hard piece of work at that ridiculous amount just so you can see a few more sales.

A fellow writer said the other day “I want the kind of readers who are willing to pay $3.99 for a book.”

So do I.

Another writer told me her friend said “tell me when your book is either free or 99 cents and I’ll pick up a copy.”

It’s ludicrous, people. I mean stark raving mad running-through-the-streets-in-a-thong-with-a-blood-drenched-meat-cleaver nutzoid.

Let’s say you still aren’t convinced how badly the world of literature has been ruined by this new-age complete devaluation of your art. Here are a few comparisons to whet your intellectual disdain:

Look, if we are talking about the Sudan, I understand the dire worth of a gallon of milk (even a non-organic one). But this is America. Sorry, but it is. And I know guys who guzzle a gallon of milk after a workout. Here’s another one:

Of course, as I mentioned, we are in America, the kind of place where someone like me still owns a V-8 pickup truck, soooo:

Is it starting to sink in? I wish I could somehow substitute copies of YOUR book instead of mine. It’s painful. It SHOULD be painful. Such devaluation is almost unheard of. Honestly I cannot think of one other product that has been so completely devalued and the instigators of the devaluation lauded like heroes. It’s ridiculous. Amazon didn’t offer to publish your book free of charge because of either John Locke or Amanda Hocking. Those two simply decided to show that they could sell hoards of books at 99 cents apiece. Here’s the funny math they used:

When the Wall Street Marauders and Bankers figured out a way to make billions by falsifying loan applications and ultimately devalued our homes by, say, 30%, most of us would have been just fine with a return to pitch fork mob rule. String those greedy bastards up. We didn’t applaud them because they figured out a way to get rich quick. Sure, Locke, Hocking, and a few other Indie authors got filthy rich by lowering the value of a book to that of a plastic comb, proving they could sell millions of them at that price. WORSE, a whole other couple million Indies bought their “how-to” books (either of which should have been titled How I Devalued The Entire Book Industry And Got Filthy Fucking Rich In The Process—sequel to which is How I Forever Changed The Book Price Point So Books Remain Worthless).

Let me ask you a question: if I could come up with a car that didn’t handle as smoothly as your average sedan, didn’t have any luxuries—bare bones—but it could drive you to work and I didn’t need to make any money at all so I sold these cars for a crisp $20 bill, you think I could sell a million cars? Aha, you say, but the only ones who would get screwed in THAT deal would be the lousy auto manufacturers! Well guess what all the readers who work as executives for Ford and Dodge and GM are saying about this little snafu in the book industry?

Screw it, that only hurts those BOOK MANUFACTURERS, oh, I mean AUTHORS.

It’s our industry, folks. And no, I’m not laying 100% of the blame on John Locke or Amanda Hocking. But they deserve a lion’s share. What concerns me more is that we elevate them and emulate them and price our books at 99 cents.

It’s a tragedy. My books are far better than that. They are not 15, 16, or 17 times less valuable than any other author out there, I can guarantee you that. And yes, raising my book price to that of a latte has cost me sales. But I don’t want readers who only put a value of a book at 99 cents, and neither should you. I’ll wait it out. Keep writing great books. Keep them at fair “Indie” prices. No, I absolutely do not expect a reader who does not know me to pay the same for my book as one by Stephen King. But they can pay 33% the cost. I think a 66% markdown from Stephen King is fair.

So I’m sticking to my guns. I’ll wait it out. I’m building a brand here, and I don’t want my brand viewed as the Daihatsu of books.

If you brand it well, they will come.


The blank page is dead…long live the blank page.



Author known to use foul language, spontaneous satire, sarcasm, and unannounced injections of pith or witticisms which may not be suitable for humorless or otherwise jest-challenged individuals. (Witticisms not guaranteed to be witty, funny, comical, hilarious, clever, scintillating, whimsical, wise, endearing, keen, savvy, sagacious, penetrating, fanciful, or otherwise enjoyable. The Surgeon General has determined through laboratory testing that sarcasm combined with long rants can be dangerous, even in small amounts, and should not be ingested by those who are serious, somber, pensive, weighty, funereal, unsmiling, poker-faced, sober, or pregnant.)


94 Responses to My Novel Is Worth More Than John Locke’s Comb

  1. Kilburn Hall says:

    A… men! A….men! A…men Amen, Amen!
    I have given up trying to tell this to new career authors who won;t listen to my advice anyway. Like college grads- they think they know it all. At least Rob Guthrie and I are on the same page on this. Never! Sell your books for less than the price of a song download on iTUnes. George RR Martin became so popular with (Game Of Thrones) he had to up his ebook price on his new release to $14.00 Kindle ebook. Most new authors should start their pricing at $7.99 -$9.99 ebook. Since Apple doesn;t give authors a choice anyway but sets their own ebook pricing at $9.99 what does that tell you? Who’s gonna pay $9.99 for your ebook at Apple when you can buy it on Kindle for .99-cents? But, I give up trying to convince new authors. It’s like talking to a wall. Thanks Rob Guthrie!

    • rsguthrie says:

      I must admit (with shame, even) that $7.99-9.99 scares me at this moment. Baby steps. I am now at $3.99 and I still feel that is too cheap. I have a new release coming out next month I plan on pricing around $4.99. I don’t disagree with you at all. The average “well-known” author’s eBooks are coming out at $12.99-$15.99, so even at $7.99-$9.99 that’s a substantial discount. $0.99 is crazy, and I believe I noted (and noted, and noted, …). Thanks for the positive response. I await the shrapnel in my foxhole for the weekend. We’re in “sacred cow” territory here; gotta watch for all kinds of land mines. 🙂

  2. Shawn M says:

    The penny quit being copper in 1982 – so all “shiny new pennies” are actually zinc… Free edit there for ya 😉
    Also, i paid full asking price for your book and you still haven’t bought me that pink lemonade!!

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for blowing my cliché clean out of the water. What’re you trying to do, make me more factual AND improve my writing all at the same time? All this from a pink lemonade drinker. (Ironic twist – and very slight plot spoiler): the third book in the MacAulay series has a twist on the year they stopped making coins with silver. Dead serious. So I am EXTRA sorry I missed the penny comment. Of course, this is a BLOG, not a work of art. Oops. I think I just implied my books are works of art. Oh well. It’s not like there’s some magical key I can use to erase what I’ve already said.)

  3. Excellent post. I completely agree with you. And I hope the tide is changing. I think people will begin to realise that 99c books aren’t going to be as good as the ones that are a few dollars more.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thank you dearly, Annika (loooove that name, by the way). I think the tide WILL change. I finally moved by books up to $2.99-$3.99 and the sales dropped by approximately 75%, at least here in the beginning. Monetarily I am actually making more (though either scenario is so far pittance). It kills the Amazon ranks (which I think are three-quarters worthless and shouldn’t even be worried about until you’re hanging in below 10K because the difference between hundreds of thousands deep and 20K can be 1-3 book sold). I just think we Indie authors need to be the ones turning the tide. If we keep pricing (and buying) at 99 cents, it’s like the exorbitant cost of pro sporting events: as long as people are buying the tix and filling the seats, the prices will continue to rise–of course, opposite problem here). 🙂

  4. We get the readers we deserve. Trust me, when I saw the .99 thing hitting last year, my first thought was, “Yes, you can sell day old rolls that aren’t really fit to eat for cheap, but does that really mean it’s a good idea to buy and eat them?” You can also buy wines that are a couple of bucks, but that doesn’t mean decent wine is worth a couple of bucks, unless the market for all good wine dries up. But apparently there was a demand for barely-comprehensible literary equivalents to fortune cookies – fast to read, completely forgettable, and with zero nutritional value. Like reality TV, I don’t get it, but apparently there’s a market for it. Or there was. Let’s see how the purveyors of these gems do at $3.99-$5.99, much less trying to get $12.99. I don’t see it happening.

    When I read one such pundit’s advice, I was moved to write my parody, I was so annoyed with the tone and counsel. It took me five days. I could also write a novel of the length of some of the .99 names, at or better quality, in about that time. I just wouldn’t see the point. I toyed with doing so, in a noire, hard boiled crime series, but does the world really need more iffy, marginally readable screeds produced at first grade level? Seems more honest to just do something else.

    As to what our work should be priced at, I tend to think that there is a price that consumers will pay, and that’s it. We don’t get to set it. Consumers ultimately do. I do know that if I had to sell my books at .99, I’d go back to picking my navel lint instead of operating a self-publishing business. I’d still write, but I wouldn’t try to sell the work. Because the amount of effort to market, edit, create covers for, blog about, and otherwise hawk the virtues of my books requires far more than .99 will compensate me for, unless I was selling millions of units – and even then, per hour of effort, I would do better selling swamp land or something redeeming.

    Having said that, I don’t think we are going to see any more Lockes . That’s over. It can happen once or twice in the early phase of a craze, but like a lightning strike, don’t bet on it. For every girl discovered in a diner who goes on to become a star, there are millions sitting in diners who don’t.

    Thankfully, I believe that particular phase of the self-pubbing gold rush is over for good.

    Liked LOST, BTW. First of yours I read.

    Carry on.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks a big one, Russell. Fewer writers or market experts I respect more than you. Agree with everything you said except the part about selling millions of copies of schlock for $0.99. I don’t see any issue with if it only takes me a week or two to crank out a “Locke-ish” thriller. Wait, except pretty much contradicting my post. Point is, as you’ve said, it ain’t happening again so no point trying to pour spilled milk back into the container. And I, too, think from a market standpoint, Locke and Hockings books should be some of the lowest-priced on the market. But 99 cents? Had they published them at that price because they were respecting the market I might feel differently, but I am not sure anything that’s even grammatically correct should cost 99 cents. The things you mentioned (cover design, marketing, editing, etc.) already price a book into several dollars (where the cream should then eventually rise to 7-9 bucks, probably). Then let the Connellys, Kings, Grishams, and anyone else with a household name sell for 13-16 bucks.

      P.S. Thanks for the comment on LOST. Between you and me (and those who read blog comments): Black Beast and LOST are kind of my “Locke” books. I’ve been working on Dark Prairies for three years now and it was always going to be my first attempt at publishing. Then I read about the Locke/Hocking tsunami and thought “I better crank something out and at least get out there“. I wrote Black Beast in a month, no editor, and LOST in two weeks (but did use an editor and proofreader). Gonna email you regarding a few things later in the day. Cheer and happy Cinco de Mayo. I can only imagine… 😀

    • Katy Sozaeva says:

      Hey, now, to be fair there have been a lot of gems I’ve found in the free and 99 cents books, so please don’t paint them all with the same brush! I could turn that around and change some wording to things that over-priced and money-grubbing and $12.99 and it would be just as wrong.

  5. First, the woman whose “friend” offered to buy her book at $.99 or free, wasn’t a friend at all.

    Second, I think your anger here is well justified. In fact, it’s made me rethink my $.99 pricing even on my shorter work. I think many of us fell for the return on $.99 if selling in volume in John Locke’s book. I did, for sure. The thing is – we’re none of us selling at that volume and as you said it was a matter of lightening striking Locke at the moment he published his Joe Paterno blog post.

    I think the best thing Indie authors can do for the industry is value their own works enough to expect a decent price AND support other Indie authors whose writing deserves recognition.

    Painful post to read, but well-said – including the well-placed fucks!

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks. Most especially for the recognition of important (sometimes, in my opinion, even elegantly necessary) placement. You rock, and I agree: probably no more lighting strikes. But I’d take one. Right in the skull. Maybe at least then I could predict the weather. 😉

  6. Jo VonBargen says:

    I’m with you, baybay! It’s a freaking crime. God. We have enough problems with our self-esteem as it is. Writing is hard-ass WORK. Let’s get paid a fair wage.

  7. […] My Novel Is Worth More Than John Locke’s Comb On May 4, 2012, in Celebrities, Famous Writers, Indie Authors, Opinion, Rant, Soap Box, The Market, by rsguthrie […]

  8. Bert Carson says:

    I share your emotion and then I have to look at myself and wonder if I’m not the problem here. I’ve written and published four books – books that make me and everyone who has read them, cry, laugh, and think again about some things. In spite of that I can’t sell them (in any appreciable quantity at any price) – I hate to admit it, but that’s no one’s fault but mine. When I was standing in front of a live audience, holding up my book, and saying, “My book is available in the back of the room…” I was selling the hell out of them.
    In a nutshell, I haven’t figured out how to stand in front of my prospective readers – yet – but I will, as sure as I’ve written books, I will figure out how to sell them.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Well, heck, you’ve succeeded far more than you’ve been part of the problem. Your writing, to me, is somewhat unique. It is necessary writing from the heart. I mean, you know I think ALL great writing comes from the heart (soul, core, demons) in us, but yours DO have a special impact on people. They’re still worth more than a plastic comb, though. 🙂

  9. Ian Walkley says:

    Great post, Rob. Good luck with your books. I feel the same way, particularly about Amazon promoting freebies. They should use coupons for discount pricing, not freebies. I reluctantly have to compete, but try to keep No Remorse at $2.99 and the paperback at market level. Some readers unfortunately have full kindles of free books and won’t bother buying one for years. Tragic, really for writers who take years at times to write a story for them to enjoy.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks, Ian, and the same wishes of good luck to you! You are absolutely correct. I’ve blogged a couple of times about “Kindle Hoarders”. They could do a whole show on people with Kindle packed so full of free (and, I claim, 99 cent) junk that the chances of them ever reading your book are almost like winning the lottery ticket. And we all know, our best sales tool is moth-to-mouth (and I ain’t talking about resuscitation—unless, of course, it’s to revive someone to read our books!). But seriously, half the problem (and the subject of my follow-on blog) is the fact that 99 cents and free have the same impact. I don’t r4ead 99 cent books I download (frankly, I don’t download them any longer), but a reader who only downloads 99 cent books is the wrong kind of reader because even if they are good-intentioned and not necessarily “Kindle Hoarders”, they still don’t care about the 99 pennies they squandered to grab up a book. I look at it this way: the readers who download my book at $3.99 or above are going to freaking read it. Then it’s on me—the quality of said book, that is). 🙂

  10. I cannot agree more, Rob!! AMEN!!!

  11. I haven’t read the works of either Hocking or Locke, so I don’t feel qualified to comment on how good their books are or aren’t.

    As far as the 99 cent price point, I certainly agree that it can be frustrating to price the book you’ve worked so hard on that low. I’ve written three novels now, each one more difficult and frustrating than the last, and I certainly want to believe that all of the sweat and tears and sleepless nights amount to more than 99 cents in value.

    Having said that, I suspect that a lot of indies (including me, when I started) are/were afraid that nobody would buy our books if we priced them higher than that. Certainly I was concerned that no one would want to pay $3.99 (or whatever) for a work of popular fiction when there was a better bargain a click away. So I priced my books at 99 cents to avoid being under-bid.

    Also, not all e-books are books, per se. Some are much shorter, and for those, 99 cents might well be a fair price point. For instance, my e-book The Antlerbury Tales is a short story less than 6,000 words in length, and I don’t feel comfortable charging the same price for it as I would for a full length book.

    But I think that this is a problem that will soon solve itself. I think that when people see an e-book with a 99 cent price tag, they automatically assume “indie,” and therefore are more hesitant to buy the book because they assume it’s of lower quality (an unfortunate indie stereotype I’m sure you’re aware of). I think a mentality is starting to set in among e-book buyers that “you get what you pay for.” Certainly pricing my books at 99 cents did no wonders for my sales.

    So I say, go ahead and charge $3 or $4 for your work. Not only is it more respectful of the work you’ve done, but you might just get more readers that way, too.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for commenting, John. I agree. Until recently I’d moved by books back and forth between 99 cents and a few dollars. And every time sales dropped, I panicked. No more. I’m not going to “make it” as an author based on the price of my book, but as I said to another commenter, a person that pays $3.99 for my book is probably intending on reading it (and will). THAT is the key. Here’s an interesting little number: When I sell one copy of Black Beast at $3.99 (for which it’s currently priced), the royalty is like making about 8 sales. Hurts the rankings, sure, but until you are selling a strong number of books staring at the rankings is no better than standing on the scale when you aren’t really losing (or gaining) significant weight. 😀

  12. Katy Sozaeva says:

    I totally understand where you’re coming from and sympathize with your point of view. HOWEVER (yes, there’s a however), not everyone who seeks out the free and 99 cents books are doing it just to be cheap. I know I am not the only person out there who is unable to work, unable to get the government to pay me disability payments even though I’m disabled, and trying to survive in a two-person household on less than $1000 a month, which is about $300 too little to pay our basic bills (and yes, they are as basic as we can make them). That means, no matter how badly I want that $5.99 ebook, I have to either wait until I get a gift certificate earned through a survey site, wait for it to go on sale or free for some promotion, hope I win it in a giveaway, or contact the author and beg for a free reviewer’s copy. There are books out there I would love to read, but I CAN’T AFFORD THEM. That’s right – even the 99 centers are sometimes more than I can afford – I’m talking it’s either books or food, and I’m already giving up a lot of food so my cats and dog can eat.

    So, please, don’t heap disdain upon those of us who are forced to live this way. Just having to live this way is bad enough.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thank you for your honest and absolutely relevant comment, Katy. I understand. But I know you understand that authors can find different ways to supplement readers with hardship, financial stress, etc. Or they SHOULD, anyway. (Please check for an email from me, okay?)

      • Katy Sozaeva says:

        Thanks, Rob – as it is, I have your books. I picked them up free, and put them into my “read-review” pile so I could get to them sooner. Still haven’t done so, because it’s a big pile, but I WILL read them (and every other free book I’ve picked up, even if I have to find a friendly vampire to give me immortality lessons to do it!)

    • As an author, I certainly don’t disdain my financially-struggling readers — I feel their pain. I’m not disabled, but have very limited income and as a result literally can’t *afford* to keep pricing my books at 99 cents. (In addition to other reasons I’m ceasing that particular practice.)

      Having said that, I completely agree with Rob that writers should find ways to accommodate poor readers. Literature is a joy that should not be the province only of the wealthy.

      If you ever decide you want to try one of my books, let me know — I’ll find a way to get it to you.

      • rsguthrie says:

        AMEN. Me, too. If you hav a need, I’ll get you a copy of my books. Cheers to you, John. Great response. 🙂

      • Katy Sozaeva says:

        … and John, I picked up “Atticus for the Undead” a couple days ago on Amazon when it was free, and recommended it to everyone ’cause it sounded so cool. I’m also pretty sure I put it on my “read review” pile… if not, I will.

        • Thank you so much!

          I’m only able to keep making fiction with the support of readers like you. 🙂

          Hope you like it.

          By the way, my debut novel, WEAVER, is perma-free everywhere but Amazon, which won’t let me make it so. Stupid Amazon. 🙁

          • Al says:

            John A – If you notify Amazon that your book is free on Smashwords or any other place, they will make it free on Amazon as well. They will also make it free if they see it free anywhere else all by itself, but it may take a long time.

  13. Dawn Torrens says:

    I have said from the beginning that pricing our books so cheap is just simply ludicrous! However, I do sympathise with Katy above, and fully understand that not every one who buys only cheap priced books are doing so just because they are cheap. Yes indie authors need to value their hard work far higher than 0.99c… I have read all of your books Rob and would have gladly paid more for them, and I will buy your next book also whatever the price. You have raised some very good points here and I can feel your frustration, it’s a very hard industry, with thousands of authors trying to make it. If I want a book badly enough I will pay whatever price it is set at, and I think that goes for many hardened readers too. Well done on another fantastic post…

  14. Yes! Yes! Yes!

    I have been planning to write this for some time now, in fact I have half a draft, but you beat me to it. I don’t even have a book for sale yet, but I STILL object to the $0.99 price point. The hours of work that go into a book make it ludicrous to ever suggest it should be sold that cheaply. As you said, price and worth seem to have gotten confused somewhere. People laud the fact they can but literature for less than a coffee. I mourn the fact that literature is valued at LESS than a coffee.

    As a reader I won’t buy $0.99 books, and that’s as much because the price tells me the book is a piece of crap (even if it’s actually not). Because really, how good can a book be if it’s WORTH less than a coffee? Is it going to give me less pleasure than a coffee? In Sydney, a coffee will set you back $3.50, so really why would I be interested in a book which is 3 times less enjoyable than coffee? I want a book that is more enjoyable than coffee to read while I drink my coffee.

    Interestingly, science fiction writer Tobias Buckell did an impromptu (and mostly anecdotal) experiment to see how his price point affected sales. From recollection, $4.99 was the most profitable price point. He lost a few sales, but the higher royalty made up for it, and he didn’t lose as many sales as he’d expected. I’ve read a few other authors who have found similar results.

    Hopefully, there are some other discerning readers like me out there who are still looking for a quality product and don’t mind paying for it.

    • This is a good one, Ciara. My wife Taliya and I recently spent some time in Brussells International Airport. They use Euros there. We bought a sandwich, a small orange juice, and a cup of coffee. We paid in US dollars. After the conversion to Euros, it was $19.00 USD.

      Later, prior to boarding our next flight, we went to the Starbucks and got a Tall mocha and a chocolate muffin. The mocha equated to $9.50 USD.

      That’s a lot of copies of your book, Rob.

  15. Fred Brooke says:

    I agree with you all the way, Rob. No more 99 cents for me, either. Now if I could just get Amazon to change it … 6 weeks and counting. I also sympathize with Katy and all others who are on a tight budget, but personally I’d rather have a third as many books on my Kindle, and have all of them be real winners. How many books have I bought at any price, traditionally published or indies, only to discover what garbage they were. So speaking as an author who needs to live from the income of his books, one day, at least, you are absolutely right, 99 cents is for the birds.

    • Katy Sozaeva says:

      I understand where everyone is coming from, but isn’t the point to get the book into people’s hands? I also understand you want to make a living at it, but honestly, how many writers do? I’d say that, truth be told, very few do, and they are mostly money machines for the Big 6. That’s the flip side of the argument. *shrug*

  16. Caleb Pirtle says:

    You are the mad, raving, in-your-face, emotional, passionate, and dead-on spokesman for us all. I’m glad to be on your side.

  17. Paul Keene says:

    Thanks Rob for telling it like it is!

  18. Geez, what happened in your divorce? What’s your ex armed with? I can only hope they were quick deaths.

    I absolutely agree with you, Rob, books in any format are worth more than a comb. A good cup of coffee costs more than 99 cents! But Russell makes a good point: readers set the price, not authors.

    It’s going to be a long wait, but I’m maintaining my book’s price. 99 cents is okay for short promotions and such, but not the real, average selling price.

    All that said, my book’s sales have been painfully slow and embarrassingly small. I think Bert nailed it: he sold a lot of books when he stood up in front of an audience, in the flesh.

    The problem with all this electronic, social media is that our little group here (which you largely created, Rob – kudos for that) is talking to other writers. We need to find a way to connect with readers. You said it in an earlier post: we need new, imaginative ways to connect with our audience, to market our books.

    Anyone got any great ideas?

    • rsguthrie says:

      Well, just so you know, I did nothing magical (or at all) to make this appear. Here it is! I guess the password worked (finally). First, simply as I can put it, in a divorce, you lose friends. And I don’t mean previous friends of the ex, I mean friends you made whilst a couple. They just choose, I guess. IN my case it was whomever could tell the biggest lies (guess who is a terrible liar—if you said “your ex” you’d be wrong. And, I’m afraid, not very smart.) Just kidding. First, you bring up a GREAT point I for got to mention (though it was somewhat implicit in the context of the blog): promotional pricing is a whole other matzoball. Heck, we give away our books for NOTHING (and I would argue that 99 cents is practically nothing—would you step into a busy New Youk City street to retrieve a dollar bill you witness blown into the second traffic lane? Even the first lane? A dirty gutter?). However I also have something to say about Russell’s “readers set the price” comment. It’s true and it’s false at the same time. Like the stock market, in the long run, it’s still a pretty good bet (of course with the stock market we’re talking in decades). But yes, supply, demand, and all that other micro economic jazz will eventually settle the price wars. Eventually. But by flooding a market with seriously under-priced merchandise for LONG, EXTENDED periods of time (years) you alter perception. Find that in your Micro Economics book. I was an Econ major, and guess what, there are no theories based on product that can be put into the market “FREE” (i.e. NO INVESTMENT, NO RISK). There is a thing called “opportunity cost” and that is the fair market value for YOUR TIME, and for some of us, that can be pretty darn high. But 99 cent authors don’t look at it like that. (And I heard from someone that John Locke is/was independently wealthy so had ZERO STAKE in the success or failure of his model—for the record, I don’t know if that’s true or not, although I did read an interview where Locke admitted his books were pretty, uh, schlockish. I admired him a lot for that.).

      I think the connection with readers is an inevitability, at least for writers with talent, tenacity, patience, and drive. Keep writing, keep putting (quality) volume out there, and I think the readership will eventually comes. Market forces pertaining to quality products are pretty solid over the long run, too. Problem is, some of us are growing older and still feel we write a lot better (and a lot more) without a day job at the Vampire Den where we line up and have our lifeblood sucked out of us—just enough to keep us alive and ready to donate more red stuff the next day). But here’s a thought: people who are willing to spend a fair price (say 3-4 bucks) on your book may be FEWER but I believe with all my heart (and head) that they are the readers we WANT. What good does it do you in the long run if you get 7 times the downloads and 1/7th the reads? I’d rather have a readership that recognizes that $3.99 differentiates my product.

      Here’s another thing I didn’t mention (and neither had no one else): there is a growing contingent of serious readers out there who will not even CONSIDER a book that costs 99 cents. When you go to replace your toothbrush do you choose the 99 cent brittle red job with bristles like needles or the “Reach” for $3.99. FOr me there’s no hesitation and I make decision like that every day. I realise there are people who cal only afford the 99 cent brush and I apologize for the hyperbole….it’s just my style. Point is, the market in general is going to shy away from products that are seriously outside the market range. I submit most people who ONLY download 99 cent books are (by percentage, not ALL) the same ones who download all those copies on your KDPS freebie days.

      • Jericha says:

        Reader who won’t buy a book for 99 cents? That’s me. The ONLY time I bother to buy a 99 cent book is if I see a battered copy of something I LOVE in a bookstore bargain bin. And do you know what I think then? “Oh MAN, what a DEAL!” I will utterly ignore every other book in the bin, and I will think “Geez, they’re really trying to unload these. They must suck.”

        This is a wise rant, Rob. Authors are only undercutting themselves. If good, thoughtful, hard-working writers price their books reasonably, people will begin to see reasonable cost as a sign of a good book. Instead of loading up on junk, they’ll become thoughtful consumers again. And that’s what we want – good readers, not bargain hunters! People see price as a sign of quality. I still put down ten bucks for a book happily, if I know it’s a good one. An ebook should be no different.

        • rsguthrie says:

          Whenever I see your web address I always read “Muse of Joy”. I don’t think it’s anything Freudian (or for that matter anything at all), but I like it. I don’t know how long you’ve been reading my blog, but I have admitted before that i think my muse is female. Or at least I refer to her that way. Anyway, I’m happy to learn you are one of the non 99 cent buyers. (Does that mean you’ll read me now?) I also like the idea of a wise rant. About six months ago I severed a writer relationship that was very important to me over this 99 cent issue. Back then I felt we were all lost. More than that I felt like we Indies were wandering in the desert and it was going to be another freaking forty years before people wised up, stood up, and revolted. I’m glad I posted now. I feel it. The revolution, I mean. And it’s a good thing—a really good thing.

          Thanks for commenting. And reading. And in all seriousness, if you haven’t read my books yet, wait until my book that releases this month. I’ll even send you a signed copy. It’s my magnum opus, and I can’t wait to get it into print. (And I will never sell it for 99 cents—well, not for a couple decades, then it may very well find its way into one of those glorious bins of smelly old wonderful reads.) 😉

        • As one of the indies who used the 99 cent price point until recently, I’d like to say that it’s not ALWAYS a sign that our books sucked.

          Some of us, like me, priced our books that way out of fear that if we didn’t, we’d be “under-bid” by the 99 cent competition. As I say above, I’ve started to suspect that a lot of people hold exactly your attitude, and have increased the price of my most recent novel, “Atticus for the Undead,” as a result. (Amazon still THINKS it’s 99 cents, but that’s because it’s price-matching other places, even though I’ve taken the book down from everywhere but Amazon anyway. Silly Amazon.)

          I’m not planning to price any future book at 99 cents, even first books in a series, for exactly that reason.

          • rsguthrie says:

            I used it, too, and for the same reason! There are still plenty of outstanding Indie books out there for 99 cents—I’m suggesting like you and me that they raise they’re prices to a more appropriate amount and the readers will come! Thanks for the response, John!

          • Jericha says:

            Don’t get me wrong – I do know that not every single 99 cent book sucks, honest! I was trying to express my gut reaction to the price point – that is, the impression it gives me, the consumer, of how the person putting up for sale (whether you, the ebook author, or the bookstore owner putting out the stacks they’re trying to get rid of) views the worth of the item. I know a lot of people have put out their books at that price because, well, everybody’s doing it, and not because I think that ALL BOOKS THAT COST 99 CENTS SUCK FOREVER ZOMG. Hopefully that’s a little reassuring…?

  19. Julie M. says:

    You’re right! And I’ll pay what you ask for your next book.

    After reading your (free) blog I know I enjoy your writing. After reading the (free) excerpt from your next book I know I enjoy your writing. After reading your first two books I know I enjoy your writing.

    There are lots of ways for readers to get to know an author and learn to know if they enjoy that author’s writing. And yes, your books are worth more than John Locke’s comb!

    • Julie M. says:

      (In fact, reading the excerpt from your next book was what led me to buying your first two.)

    • rsguthrie says:

      Your comments have literally made my day. And I am just going to leave it at that. oh, And YOU ROCK! (That I couldn’t resist)

  20. Bravo, bravo, bravo. I couldn’t agree more. As an unknown author, I was quite successful with selling my full-length novel at 2,99$, but then the 99c madness started and it ruined the whole market. As most of us, I tried that strategy as well but in the end it just drew the attraction of the wrong kind of readers – too often those who just collect cheap books. After a while, I saw that at that price, readers expected the book to be crappy right from the start. Finally, I really started to feel angry about this.
    My full-length novel has taken me two years of my life, countless sleepless nights, and a huge amount of work, revising and editing. It’s really worth more than 99c. Of course I also understand that money is tight in most families, and I know some women who will have to wait until the first of the month until they can buy new books again. On the other hand, people still spend a lot of money on cell phones, DVDs, music and other entertainment products, so we shouldn’t be ashamed to expect a few dollars for our work.
    While many indie authors will agree with this article, this will only work if we all agree to raise the value of our work again, hoping that we can change the market back to affordable-but-reasonable prices. Maybe it would even be a great idea to set a standard price for fiction books, depending on the length, and all stick to it. Oh I would so embrace that idea. The pricing problem is a constant nuisance that just keeps all of us from what we should do – writing.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for the comment, Deborah! I know…you try to stand strong. For me it’s the rankings. I can’t stop looking at them (mostly because that’s how authors talk about this success of their book, this book, that book, YOUR book). Baloney. Read the excerpt. Read the book. THAT’S where quality is (or should be) judged. With all the work we put in, I do long a bit for the $27 hardcover days. Problem is then most (if not all) of us could write all we want and never stand a chance to be published. So I’ll take this “free market” model, but damn, I am sticking to my price gun from now on. I find other means to market, expose, promote, and otherwise build my QUALITY readership. Book by freaking book. 😀

    • Here’s my current pricing system:

      Short stories: $1.95
      Novellas: $3.95
      Serials: $4.95
      Novels: $5.95
      Collections: $5.95

      Note that this is based on intuition based on the length of the book. My forthcoming omnibus will be more, perhaps $7.95, as it’s quite hefty, perfect for those who enjoy reading by the pound.

      • Oh, I forgot to mention that during the course of reading this blog post, and greatly as a result of it, I raised all my prices by one dollar. Prices above are the NEW prices. I’ll let you know what happens over the next month or so.

  21. laura thomas says:

    Hi Rob. Being a single mother of a disabled child I was delighted to discover all of the free and almost free books. At first I was grabbing them up left and right. After downloading some of them on my Kindle for PC (Thank God for that!) I realized that I needed to do a liitle bit of research before I just grabbed books willy nilly! Now I check out the author and read reviews before downloading a book. I do not hesitate to buy a book I want from a used book store or local outlet for a fair price. My book fund is slim but I see no problem paying $3 or $4. However, because of my limited funds, I do try to win books from giveaways and try for discounts. Otherwise I would never discover all of the new authors that are out there.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks for chiming in, Laura. I totally understand the issues for many people whereby free books, giveaways, etc. are GOLDEN opportunities (just like coupon clipping). I appreciate you voicing this side of the equation. I think in the end this whole reshaping of the book market will be awesome because I think the average prices of books has already dropped considerably and will likely continue to do so. Another 99 cent concept that just occurred to me is (as with used book stores) I would hope authors would seriously discount their older books…you wouldn’t have to even leave your house (though for me just walking through tiny used books stores is a great experience I probably wouldn’t want to give up) but just like short stories, novellas, and much older books that have seen their lifecycle, I still think there are MANY reasons to charge 99 cents for a piece of writing. 🙂

  22. Scott Morgan says:

    This is why we’re friends, boss.

  23. Andrew says:

    I agree entirely. I’ve been making that arguement for a year. I have an old post about why “you” should support independent authors (and the arts) in general and quit expecting to be entertained for free. Because that’s what it really boils down to: people want, except for movies and big time concerts, to be entertained for free. And “we” keep giving it to them, so they keep expecting it. I’ll put a short story up for $0.99 (I have one), but I won’t put my books up like that. It’s ridiculous to expect authors to do it. Of course, there are so many authors that are that desperate (and most of them, honestly, aren’t any good) that they are willing, which just makes it harder for the rest of us.

    And that, really, is the problem. It’s not a problem of worth; it’s a problem of investment. People really don’t mind paying for something that’s worthwhile, but they don’t want to pay $5 for a piece of crap. They are, however, willing to pay $0.99 for a piece of crap (witness your comb). Since it’s so hard to differentiate what’s crap from what’s not, you get people who won’t pay more than $0.99. It sucks.

    And I still won’t sell my book for that. I’ll wait till I have enough word-of-mouth (reviews) that people will spend the $3.

    • rsguthrie says:

      It’s funny, you just know how ridiculous it is and that most people must be thinking, feeling, believing what you are, but people speak in reverent tones about John Locke and Amanda Hocking as if A) They’ve done something no one has done before and B) Some GREAT for Indie authors. Indie authors should absolutely hate what Locke and Hocking did. I’m just happy that so many Indie writers seems to have “gotten it off their chest” with this post. I’m damn proud of you all. I’m not here to knock Locke and Hocking’s quality yet even if I do get some negative responses, I am still really happy at all the Indies who have come forward and said “hell yes”. That in itself gives me hope, and a lot of it. Thanks for being one, Andrew.

  24. Elaine Allen says:

    Write on!!!! You said what we all were thinking, and hearing it from one who sells ebooks made it that much more powerful! Since following authors on Twitter, I have checked out a few and while there have been some excellent ones like Kathy Lynn Hall and Russell Blake, many have been so grammatically challenged that I could see why they were so cheap! I am not published yet, but have gotten discouraged by the prices. You can’t see a decent play or musical act for less than $30-why should the art of writing be penalized?

    • rsguthrie says:

      In my response to Andrew I said it makes me proud and gives me a lot of freaking hope for the future that SO MANY Indie authors know this to be true. That’s enough. It’s hard to come out and say it because the industry right now seems to worship the 99 cent price. You mention the price of a play…I thought of just a night out at the movies (attended after, like 5 in the morning,, when the ticket still costs 7$)! Many, two people, two tickets a bucket of greasy popcorn and two garbage can-sized drink filled with enough ice to only give you about a 12 oz can of actual beverage (and god forbid a box of candy with 7-8 Junior Mints in it) and you are into your bank account for close to forty bucks. And the movie’s only around two hours long (and too often these days sucks juggled kittens anyway). You know the truth is there are a lot of books out there that ARE worth 99 cents (i.e. they are so bad they’re worth NOTHING), just as there are stinker movies (and plays) that you’d claim are worth about 99 cents, too. The challenge is going to be swaying the mentality back to “priced for what it’s worth”.

  25. Alex says:

    Well you have to understand, if you decide to self-publish, new readers are taking quite a risk by picking up your book. It hasn’t gone through the screening process that a traditionally published book has. I’m not saying traditionally published books don’t suck, lord knows that’s not the case, but at least then the reader knows, “Okay, this book has gone through a legit agent, editor, and publisher. They must know a thing or two about quality.” You could write a book filled with typos and mary-sue cliches, and no one could stop you from self-publishing it. Do you understand how that might put someone off? While I can understand you wanting your regular readers to be the types who think books are worth more, it’s kind of insulting to imply that those who buy a book based on the price are also the types who don’t value books above a dollar. By keeping the price low, you could be hooking a new reader. To me, readers are more important than money. I don’t write for money, and an experienced writer knows that regardless of your publishing method (traditional or vanity), you aren’t very likely to make money off of your art. I’m not saying you’re wrong for wanting more money for your hard work, I’m just saying that you should keep your priorities straight.

    I’m sorry, your post just comes across as whiny to me. You decided to self-publish, and you have to deal with the fact that you’ve taken away a lot of what makes a book legitimate to other people. I definitely think that if your book is well-written, you deserve a lot more than a buck a pop for it, but you can’t blame the readers for that. The sad truth is, there’s a lot of crap being published these days, and you’re more likely to gain a fan through a deal than otherwise. Once you become a more popular writer, you can afford to up the prices. Once you focus on getting your name out there, you won’t have to sell your work so low because you’ll have fans that are willing to pay more, and those fans will tell their friends. Then it won’t be a question of how much people think a book is worth, because true fans are willing to pay more for a good product.

    • rsguthrie says:

      First, thank you much for your comment, Alex. I was mostly with you until you threw in the tired “came off sounding whiny” to me. I ranted, but I did so in a way that was intended to be toned as it was (both for entertainment as well as emphasizing points—I would think you as a writer would know that makes it not whiny but purposely composed and toned in a particular way). regardless, you are right: absolutely the quality out there because of self-publishing is AWFUL by and large (have you read my post on “searching for a needle in a stack of needles?). But you’re off when you say I am talking about making money on books in any other way than fair market value and a fair wage for a day worked. And the issue isn’t how much money is made at 99 cents versus $3.99, for example. As of only five days into this month my sales are down by 75% in raw numbers but my net sale dollars are 200% (i.e. UP 100%). So I am hardly talking about money made. That said, your comment about writers not in it to make money is better suited for a couple of my previous blogs. I AM in this to make money and so are most other “writers”. And I disagree that writers aren’t very likely to make money of their art. They aren’t likely to get RICH, that much is probably very true, but with hard work marketing, branding, and a fair price for their product, artists can make a living just like anyone else. But you are right, there are a lot of questions right now, the whole industry is in flux, and writers have a choice (i.e. self-publish and throw in with the unfiltered or try and find an agent/publisher) and there are challenges to either decision. Even with a known publishing house, 99% of the marketing for the unknown author remains in the author’s cadre of responsibilities (though they DO get that well-known moniker riding after each listing of their book). Thanks again for a thought-provoking response! 🙂

    • Katy Sozaeva says:

      I agree with you – mostly. Guthrie wasn’t whining, he was ranting, and I’m sure you understand why 🙂 And all writers hope to make money on it, otherwise they’d just print out copies and give them away, not charge money on Amazon. But overall, yes, you have good points. After all, even The Rolling Stones didn’t start out charging $70 at Wimbley stadium – they started out playing in dives for a $3 cover charge. Why should writers jump straight to Wimbley?

      • There’s no reason that writers should jump straight to Wimbley. But I think Rob is suggesting (and I would agree) that adoption of the 99 cent price point has created a “race to the bottom” in terms of pricing. The Rolling Stones couldn’t have kept going long enough to get to Wimbley if they hadn’t made enough money to recoup their touring costs and feed themselves. I know many writers have day jobs (I’m one of them, sometimes), but indie writing in particular is several full time jobs. You not only have to write the books and edit the books, but you are also solely responsible for marketing the books. At least for me, this takes at least as much time as the writing. So the optimum environment for success as an indie is if that IS your job (though it’s not impossible to succeed even if you have a day job, witness Darcie Chan’s remarkable success with The Mill River Recluse), and the only way that can be true is if you can make it financially sustainable. At 99 cents a book, that’s hard to do. Especially when you only get 35 cents of every 99. (Granted, still much better than print royalties.)

        I think the 99 cent price point has also created a “You get what you pay for” mentality, but I said that above so I won’t re-hash it.

  26. Edward Owen says:


    I know for the most part you are preaching to the choir, but preach ahead my brother! I just raised my novel to $2.99 because if someone gives me a one star rating, I want it to be deserved. If a reader pays .99 for a book, they have no right to bitch, in MNSHO. What were they thinking? Quality for .99? Really? Therefore, I will no longer sell any novel length work for .99. End of story. It can sit there and NEVER sell for all I care. I will wait until I find an audience who likes my books.

    Now, having said all that, I am very guilty of downloading free books. There is no self help group or 12 step program for being a cheapskate and sometimes I succumb. But I never give bad reviews and will be honest with any author who asks my opinion. I also help those trying to raise their rankings. I am also guilty of buying Locke’s How To book, but that was when I first learned about self publishing. And no, his methods cannot be duplicated in this day and age. *sigh* I was so looking forward to becoming a millionaire (I would take thousandaire at this point). So the next time I really want a book to read, I will cough up the 3 or 4 bucks and buy it. And I will give it whatever honest review I think it deserves. Fair is fair and I would expect the same from my readers. Thanks for the sermon and all of the input you so freely give. Now I have to finish my next story. 🙂

    • rsguthrie says:

      Amen. And can I get a hallelujah? In all seriousness, you took the words out of my mouth: I will reach my success at a price that respects my work. Right now I am at what I consider my minimum price, frankly. I am at $2.99 and $3.99 and I will ultimately let the market decide but I am pretty sure the books are worth more. As you know, my argument isn’t against the free market (readers/consumers) “deciding the price” but rather starting everyone on a fair(and semi well-groomed) playing field. I know there are books out there that are worth LESS than 99 cents; some of the books I have sampled shouldn’t have any price at all on them. Ever. But until Indies quit worrying about 10K or 20K or 100K on the Amazon “leader board” (as I have been for the past 6-8 months) they’re going to keep putting their good books at 99 cents and plowing under the playing field in favor of a moment of “feel good”. Thanks for commenting, brother.

  27. Lyn Sofras says:

    I endorse your argument so totally that words almost seem superfluous. (But I’ve been tweeting like crazy all the same)!

    This attitude, however: “Another writer told me her friend said “tell me when your book is either free or 99 cents and I’ll pick up a copy.” fills me with dismay. And sadly, it’s far more widespread than we think. Too many people have grown to expect something for nothing in the e-book revolution and I suspect it will be difficult to reverse this attitude. But we must try. If we don’t value ourselves, we can’t expect anyone else to do so. So please make room for me on your bandwagon. I’m right with you.

    A great post. Very well written and thought provoking.

    • rsguthrie says:

      I felt the same way about my author friend’s “friend” comment. And i couldn’t agree with you more—the revolution is beginning, I can feel it. We can do it. I have always said the redesign of the book market is more than partly in our hands…I believe the RESPONSIBILITY lies with us. Glad to have you on the wagon. The band we’ll hire later. 🙂

  28. I understand people’s frustration, but I would assess the cause as something other than price. Let’s face it, no one forced any of us to price our books at any particular price point. If we’d price our books now at what we know in our gut to be their worth rather than pricing them in line with our fear or doubt, we could begin to undo what we’ve done. Years ago I bred rams of a breed that was the pariah of the industry. Talk about work to get the world to buy. When I finally knew I had something worth selling, I jumped the price in one fell swoop from $200(the going rate) to $1000. It scared the hell out of me. I’d get stuck on the “th” in the word thousand when I’d go to say it. But I knew that they were worth that, and when I got clear about it, so did my buyers. From that year forward, I was sold out before sale season even opened.

    Where our frustration is truly coming from, in my view, is being the pioneers of a new age and not yet knowing our way. If we don’t get the problem straight, we’ll never get the correct solution. That’s the problem as I see it, and many days it’s just no fun. But we still a have to find our answers for the game were in, because that doesn’t appear to be achanging.

  29. BRA-VO! After 6 months of good sales on my non-fiction (cookbook) ebook, I do occasionally consider lowering the price just to see what would happen, but always come around to holding it just where it is. I put a lot of work into my book! IMHO it is a decent book, and certainly worth AT LEAST the $4.99 price I charge! And besides, you can’t walk into a bricks-and-mortar store and walk out with a free book – why should you online? Give it away on your own website if you must, but not in an online store….

    Just musing, but what do you think would happen if Amazon (et al) set a minimum price (say, $3.99) for ebooks? Assuming this doesn’t break any laws….

  30. I think that you’ve made a erroneous connection by linking value and price.

    The price is just one of many dials people can manipulate to get it into readers’ hands.

    Other tools that get books into people’s hands include building a good website, participating in blogs and forums, building a social network, advertising, word of mouth, getting reviews or endorsements, getting Amazon reviews, going to cons, participating on goodreads, and so on.

    For each author, some of these will work, and some won’t. I’m not going to walk into bookstores and get them to stock my book. I just don’t have that set of skills. But I do have a good online social network that helps spread the word. I did give away review copies, which helped me get a large number of fairly positive Amazon reviews.

    For some authors, their target market is such a low/free price IS the right way to reach those readers. But that’s for certain books.

    It don’t think it would work well with my cerebral scifi thriller, and it won’t work with literary fiction, because those aren’t mass markets, and because the readers are looking for quality work, not low prices, and so on.

    But if you are writing mass-market fiction, low/free pricing might just be a good approach: it might be better to sell a million mysteries at 99 cents than a thousand at five bucks. But it’s definitely not the right approach for all authors, for all types of writing, or for all types of readers.

    But recognize that in none of these cases does price have anything to do with value. A low-value book isn’t going to become a successful seller at any price, because no one can be bothered. (John Locke books have value to the readers who like them.)

    Good luck with your books.

    • You nailed it, William.

      Personally, I price my short stories at $0.99, not my novels. But I don’t assume a dollar novel is a crappy novel. Price does not equal value. The audience is the sole arbiter of value.

      A thought, though: if your books are amazing and you sell them at $0.99, you stand a better chance of building a larger readership. A larger readership means more people inclined to review it, which will drive more sales in turn. Perhaps.

      In any event, pricing should be a fluid thing, not something you set and forget. Don’t try to emulate brick and mortar book retail. Think more about how pricing works at the grocery store.

  31. LK Watts says:

    This is a brilliant blog post on a brilliant subject perfectly timed for me to read seeing as I have just upped the price of my 99c book. Fingers crossed I’ll still sell some – that’s if I’m brave enough to find out 😉

  32. Books are just the latest to “go cheap”, unfortunately. Amazon and the like are just the Walmarts of the book world. Quality is still quality, and good for you for keeping yours quality! I am too!

  33. Jeff Currie says:

    I must admit that I would be very happy to sell 2 million books on Amazon at 99 cents each, and I imagine most people would have a hard time resisting a $700,000.00 gross profit margin.

    The real world situation is a bit different–I haven’t seen any evidence that selling at the lower price will boost sales at all. I’d rather sell at $2.99 and make more money if I’m going to sell the same number of books at either price point–and certainly the satisfaction factor is a good deal higher when I can sell my work at a price point that doesn’t feel demeaning to my value as a writer. $2.99 isn’t that point…but it’s a heckuva lot better than low-ending books out the door for 99 cents.


    • rsguthrie says:

      Amen. And you’re right…$2.99 is not enough either but it’s a damn sight more respectable than 99 cents and we need to get there slowly. My theory is 99 cent buyers aren’t reading your book by and larg anyway. They’re just like the free downloaders. They load up on books but there’s no real investment incentive so they don’t care that it sits there amongst Gigabytes of other unread freebies (or near-freebies). When someone downloads my book for $3.99, I think there’s a pretty good chance they’ll give it a read. Thanks for the comment, Jeff.

  34. P. W. Fox says:

    Amen!! Wonderful rant! For the record, I priced my fantasy novella at $2.99 because I thought it was worth more than $0.99, and I wanted to be able to make some money for my efforts. Thanks for saying what a lot of us have been thinking.

  35. […] a portion from his blog post.  To view it in it’s entirety along with the comments, please visit RobOnWriting. The response was so overwhelming he has since posted a follow-up to […]

  36. Rob, I found this really useful. My memoir is almost ready for me to begin querying agents, and I will keep your post in mind as I move into the marketing stage in a few months. I have tweeted your rant, and will issue later tweets on it. It’s courageous, bold, and needs to be said. All the best.

  37. First – you just sold a book. If your writing here is any indication, I’m sure I’m going to love it.

    Second – quite inspiring. I’ve got four ebooks available and my publisher prices at $3.99 (short story collection), $2.99 (novella), 99 cents (short story) and another short I’m giving away. Note that is the last free work I’ll offer.

    Great blog.

  38. Emma says:

    While you may, partially, have something resembling an arguement there for fairer pricing on Kindle publications, I don’t think you’re strengthening it by bad-mouthing other authors. I don’t personally know either of the two you ‘mentioned’, but I suppose it draws attention to your ‘rant’.
    One other point that I feel should be made- 99c books. I have noticed two of the four currently showing on Amazon Kindle listings are priced at $1.22. So 23c makes all the difference does it?

    I don’t think that your books are any better or any worse than most out there, in print or eBook, you seem to be making damning statements upon the writings of others to draw attention to yourself & your eBooks…all 23c difference.

  39. Gregg Bayes-Brown says:

    What an unrelenting pile of shite.

    Not the point you made. Any spacker with a couple of neurons firing would realise that selling a book for less than a pound instantly makes it a drop in the ocean of unbearable self-published tripe. But your style is so jarred, it makes my brain violently convulse.

    What you need is to get an IV, attach it to your crotch, and directly inject as much manthefuckup as you can get your hands on. While you are at that, consider spending less time whining about the hardship, and more time working on your craft.

  40. Jonathan Andrew Sheen says:

    Hey, price your books however high you want. If you can sell them at a price, that’s the price to sell them at.

    For me, as a consumer who grew up seeing major authors’ books in paperback for $2.25 if they were a pretty big deal, you’ve got a long way to go to convince me to pay you more than that for yours.

    I keep reading the ludicrous, risible claim that the entire physical production process in publishing — paper, ink, power, manpower, storage, transportation, machinery, the lot — is so trivial that e-books quite rightly cost the same as or more than physical books. I call shenanigans. I don’t believe it, and you can’t make me believe it, even if you present me with the accounting books of any given publisher. (If they bear out that claim, I can only conclude that they’re phony.)

    You’re in a new marketplace, and you have to persuade me as to the value of your words. Just your words. Not a snazzy cover image, not hundred of pages of typeset text, its font carefully selected, on individual sheets of precisely-cur paper, not warehouse space and the price of ink and the salary of the craftsman who maintains the printing press.

    If you think “By Rob Guthrie” in the first few words is enough to get me to spend ten or twenty bucks on your words, then set that as your price. I’m sure, for some readers, it will be. For others, not so much.

    If I’m going to try out a writer I don’t know, in strictly data format without any physical plant or other ancillary values to consider, I’m not paying more than I did in 1970. (And even then, new authors were usually tried out through “stripped books,” sold coverless at the grocery store for a quarter. They started running blurbs telling me those books were “stolen property” as they had been reported as “unsold and destroyed.” I’m not convinced their authors would have been better off unread and unknown.)

  41. Hi Rob,

    Just wanted to say I have been following you in cyberspace for some time and I love your blog: gritty and real. I even own a copy of Black Beast and I’m looking forward to reading it. Hell, I would’ve paid $2.99, $3.99. $4.99, or whatever you decided to charge for it (within the obvious price perimeters of novel length ebooks of course) but as it was I received an email from Goodreads telling me I could download it for free. Guess what. I did.

    Which leads me to my next point: ebook pricing. This is an issue that has been hotly debated of late. My opinion; the 99 cent price point does devalue the art, and I don’t care how much money anyone has made from this strategy. There are a number of issues that revolve around this price point and I’m not going to go into all of them. It’s been cycled and recycled already.

    And I won’t sit here and tell you how great I am, how many novels I’ve written, how many books I’ve sold. Nor am I going to start slamming other authors for pricing their books at 99 cents. Hell, we all have are reasons, who am I to judge?

    But I will say this; let my art stand on its own merit. If people like it, they’ll buy it. And, like a succesful Indie author friend of mine once said, authors stress way too much about the price of their books; but in the end, as long as an ebook is priced under five bucks, most people will still buy it.

    And he was quick to add, “write a great book, market it properly and they will come.”

    And if things don’t work out like I’ve planned, I will take some consolation in the fact that I’ve written my books from the heart, told the best story I could, and the audience that I did manage to find said they were entertained, educated and influenced by my work. I will view that as the best reward.

    And it ain’t monetary.

    Having said all that I would like to say this; I have changed the pricing on all my ebooks from 99 cents to $2.99. Like most authors, I have put blood, sweat, tears and many sleepless nights into my work.

    I don’t believe it belongs in the 99 Cent Club.

    Thank you Rob, for helping me reach that decision.


    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks much for commenting, William. It’s always good to hear what resonates with other writers (and what doesn’t). eBook pricing is (and will continue to be, I’m afraid) a debatable topic. As with most topics, there’s not one right answer, but (as you know) I am with you on this one: the writer’s blood, sweat, tears, time, stress, and effort are worth far more than 99 cents (and we haven’t even gotten to publishing costs, cover design, etc.). Thanks so much for following, reading, and for stepping up and sharing your experience. We all learn from each other in this business. 🙂

  42. Wendy Unsworth says:

    John, I am new to self – publishing and a writer in the UK. I came across your site through Goodreads. By the time I published in January the whole Kdp Select – give your work away – thing had already started.
    It has taken me a while to find my way around the marketing aspect of things and to realise that, no, finally finishing my book wasn’t ‘it’ , job done, though at the time it felt like the greatest achievement – something I have wanted to do all my life!
    One point that has been clear though, is that I didn’t want to give my work away. Like everyone else I’m reluctant to put an actual value on my book but I do know it’s not nothing! I also feel that there must be so many kindles, stocked to the rafters with free and 99c (77p in across-the-pond money) titles that will be ultimately deleted without so much as a backward glance.
    I priced my title at £2.18 and have stuck to that so far.
    I totally agree that 99c is a joke for our hours of work and hope that writers who do feel they have quality work to offer will stick to their guns and price accordingly. If we don’t value our work how can we expect readers to?

  43. Dionne says:

    You are a brave and eloquent man. And don’t get me started on the free stuff. Excuse me while I find $3.00 for that coffee I just ordered that will take approximately 5 minutes to drink.

  44. Justin Bog says:

    I hadn’t come across this blog post . . . wish I had when I published my first book. I felt the same way though and love your thought process. Good on ya.

  45. I do have a couple of 7-10k .99 cents ebooks out. I just started writing fiction though and I felt that length would work for an introductory piece. Apparently, recently they moved MP3 pricing to $1.29 per song on Amazon so I’m thinking of moving those intro pieces to that pricing.

    My non-fiction books which I somewhat established in are all at $2.49+. When I produce the second edition of my gardening manual this winter it will at $3.99 which I feel is fair pricing.

  46. Such a wonderful article! And I’m so glad someone said it. It’s great to see so many in the comments agree too! I thought I was alone, fighting against the $.99 craze. I’ve had so many people in the industry tell me I should price my book lower than it is (currently $2.99) because I’ll sell more. (In fact, a few have been down right angry with me about it, like ‘how dare I price my book so high.’ But, I’ve always thought that $.99 was going too far. (And don’t get me started on free or KDP select!)

    Now, I did initially publish my book and priced it at $4.99 but after a few months of hardly any sales at all, I realized that as a newbie author on the scene, that might have been a bad way to go. So I lowered it to $2.99 and it’s sat there ever since!

    Okay, one time I lowered it to .$99 – for the Veterans Day weekend. And had 0 sales for those 3 days. Zero. Zip. Nada.

    When I’m super famous one day, I might raise the price back to $4.99. The way I see it, traditional published authors e-books are priced between $4.99 and $9.99 (average). They are priced that way because not only does the author get a cut, the publisher does too (to cover the cost of editors, cover artists, etc). Well, as an indie author I’m “both” the author and the publisher. I had to shell out the money myself before hand to pay for the editor and the cover artist. So, in a business sense – shouldn’t I price my book accordingly to cover that bit of “overhead?” I think so.

    I know I’m rambling a bit here, but frankly I’m just so excited to see fellow indies agreeing with my line of thought. Like I said, I’ve had SO many others tell me I’m doing it completely wrong by “not” charging $.99. I know I’m a newbie author (only have 1 title currently published) but that doesn’t mean I didn’t work just as hard as J.R.R. Tolkien to get my book finished.

    And that’s how I look at it frankly. Famous authors (traditionally published) like J.R.R. Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, etc do the same thing I do (in essence) – write books. So why should I charge any less than they do for doing the same thing? Being competitive in a business is one thing, but going so far as to completely devalue your product is different.

    Now, I’m not all out against people who do charge $.99. As a reader I will buy a book priced that way. I mean, it’s there business, who am I to judge, right? But, I was always bothered by those that told me things like “If you’re going to make it you HAVE to charge $.99” or “You’ll make more sales if you charge $.99”. To me that sounded like it’s all about the money. Okay, yes, as an indie author it is a business and thus a lot of it is about the money. But I write books because I love to do so. I didn’t get into this to get rich; I did it because I love storytelling, and building new worlds, and touching on people’s emotions with my words. That’s what a good book is supposed to do after all! Right?

  47. ClaireW says:

    I don’t think that all people who browse for the $.99 or free ebooks expect junk. I frequently look there for new authors that I haven’t heard of, e.g. I managed to pick up Jo Nesbo’s ‘The Snowman’ last week at $.99 and if it hadn’t been for that really low price point I never would have discovered this great author.

    I think that the 99c price point can be great if as an author you have a series of books and are looking to entice new readers to discover your work. As an unpublished (thus far) writer, I totally see where you’re coming from and think that the market has been totally devalued by Locke et al.

    • rsguthrie says:

      Thanks much for the comment, Claire! I used to think 99 cent had it’s place (promotions), but I really feel as if in an alternate (more sane) Locke-less universe we’d be talking about, say, $2-3 as being that “bargain price” and $4-7 being the appropriate (sane) range for a good Indie book. Rather, we are all somewhat skewed into thinking that 99 cents is EVER a good price for a novel (other than a USED copy at a garage sale)! I get what you are saying about discovering a great writer but then again if you found Jo’s book in the gutter (and still loved it–i.. discovered a great author) that wouldn’t make the novel worth nothing (gutter price). I see fewer and fewer ‘legit’ authors pricing at 99 cents, so that to me is encouraging.

      Thanks again for jumping in with your great comment on the subject! 🙂

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