RectorWriter

Adventures in storytelling by Bob Rector

BOOKS ARE NOT BREAKFAST CEREAL

15 Comments

A book is a unique and precious product. One of a kind. Not like breakfast cereal or toothpaste or light bulbs at the super market. These items are manufactured by the millions and sold over and over again. When you run out of Wheaties, you buy another box and it’s exactly like the one you just finished and the one you bought a year ago.

When I buy a book and read it, I don’t go back next week and buy another copy of the same book. It’s a unique and individual product that I ingest into my mind where it resides as part of my psyche, my life experience. If I like it, then I will probably buy and read another unique and individual book by the same author.

Wheaties&Kindle

As for Wheaties, I doubt if I will ever look back on that singular bowl of cereal I ate several weeks ago as a unique and memorable moment in my life.

If you haven’t already guessed, this blog is about the promotion and pricing of indie books. Recently my friend Claude Nougat posted a blog entitled ‘A Writer’s Life: Can Blogging Help You Sell Books?’

It brought up a number of issues I’ve been mulling over for some time.

I’m not so sure that blogging or social media in general generates book sales. I’ve made lots of friends on various social media sites and groups, and I enjoy interacting with them, sharing info, discussing issues, and I believe there is certainly value in belonging to a community of fellow writers. But from a sales point of view, too much time and effort, too little results.

I hear often that the reason ebook sales are generally less than what we all wish they were is because the market is over-saturated. That’s a factor, sure, but I think the bigger problem is under-valuation. In other words, the perceived value of the product being sold is . . . cheap.

I’m afraid indie authors/publishers shot themselves in the foot on this one, then lament the results of their action.

ShootInFoot

Books are not breakfast cereal.

Why then do so many indie authors sell their books as if they were checkout counter trinkets, pricing them at 99 cents or, worse, even giving them away as if they were a promotion item at a store? Retailers put new products on sale, or give away free samples, to induce customers to try it so that if they like it, they’ll want to buy more – at the regular price – for years to come. The exact same product, month after month, year after year.

But if you sell a book at a bargain price, that’s it. You’re not going to have customers coming back over and over to buy it again. It’s done. A one time deal.

EbooksOnSale

It’s different to some extent if you have a number of books available, especially in a series. Since I don’t, I’ll leave it to someone who does to discuss book pricing and promotion in that arena. But I think certain marketing principals still apply, chief among them: Perceived Value.

I first learned about perceived value early in my career. I was primarily a film editor at the time in Atlanta, a fairly large market. I was frustrated because I knew my work was good but I wasn’t able to crack the big accounts. Through a series of circumstances an A-list editor on a TV spot for the State of Georgia had to drop out and recommended me for the job. This was with a major ad agency and the account exec was also an A-lister. We worked very well together and the resulting spot was a success. Since she was a ‘player’ in the biz, she was surprised she hadn’t heard of me before. I explained my dilemma and she immediately nailed the problem. “You’re not charging enough.”

“Huh?”

“It’s called perceived value,” she explained. “Most people believe you get what you pay for. You’re pricing yourself at a rate that says you must not be very good. I’ve worked with some of the best editors in New York and your work is as good as theirs, so you should charge a rate that says you are. Then you’ll start getting the kind of clients you want.”

It was like a bucket of ice water in my face. At first I was afraid to do it because I knew I’d lose my regular clients who couldn’t afford the higher rate. But finally I bit the bullet and doubled my rate. Guess what? It worked. Suddenly I was the hottest ticket in town and was raking in big fees.

How does perceived value apply to indie publishing?

When a book is priced at .99 cents it says to the potential buyer it must not be very good, trivial, like that trinket at the checkout counter. If it was good, it would cost the same as any other good book (when I say book, I mean a full length novel). When the book is given away for nothing, then the old business adage comes into play:

“When you give somebody something for nothing, that’s exactly what they think it’s worth.”

UC-EbookCov7Sep14

I’ve written a book entitled Unthinkable Consequences, a romantic thriller, and am fairly new to the indie publishing world. I started by trying to follow established or recommended practices by the indie publishing ‘gurus’.

To little effect.

I started my book at $4.99. I was told that it should be priced at $3.99 since that was the new ‘standard’ price. Or I should sell it for 99 cents to create ‘awareness.’ I did go to $3.99 and engaged heavily and daily in all the social media programs for indie authors.

No effect on my sales.

I even tried a couple of promo sales for which I paid a small fee. These required that for the duration of the sale I had to price my book at 99 cents. Yes, I did get a substantial bump in number of units sold, but since I was only getting 35 cents royalty per sale, and after deducting the promotion fee, the increase in income was negligible.

Sure, it made my numbers look better. Briefly. But that was short-lived. My actual sales remained about what they were before the promotions. Smoke and mirrors.

My book has been priced at $5.99 since my last promotion about a month ago. By pricing it at $5.99 I’m saying that Unthinkable Consequences is a professional top-quality ebook and that $5.99 is a fair price for a professional top-quality ebook. Again, perceived value.

I participate only occasionally in social media, just enough to keep up with what my writer friends are doing and to occasionally put in my two cents worth, like now. The result: my units-sold has slowly but steadily increased, plus I get a bigger royalty payment per sale.

What do I attribute this to? I think Aretha Franklin had it right: R-E-S-P-E-C-T. I’m saying I’m a pro writer and my book is a pro piece of work. I’m saying I expect respect. And that starts with paying a respectful price for my work.

ArethaFranklin

This doesn’t mean that my book is flying off the Amazon shelf. But it’s on par with other indie writers who are considered successful. And I’m making more per unit sold. Am I satisfied with that? Not at all. To quote an old saying: “I’m in it to win it.”

When my wife and business partner Marsha Roberts and I decided to do a legitimate play, “Letters From the Front,” outside of the conventional theater world, we were in effect the theater equivalent of an indie publisher. We bankrolled it out of our own back pocket. I wrote the script and directed, and Marsha produced.

The play itself was successful. But it was a financial disaster. In fact, we didn’t turn a profit until after 3 years of touring. Yes, I said ‘years’. The show continued to be profitable for the remainder of the 15 year run.

LFTF-Logo

My point is that once Marsha and I commit to a project, we stick with it, do whatever has to be done to make it financially successful. We have no illusion that it will happen quickly. If you’ve got the power, resources, and funds of a major publisher, agency, etc. behind you, things may progress faster. We don’t and never have, and we’ve been in business long enough to know that for our books to really take off, professional marketing will need to occur. That will take money, of course, and we’re not there yet. In the meantime, we’ll be experimenting with other types of merchandising techniques until we find something that at least gives us a toehold.

Will social media be part of it? Maybe. We’ll continue to explore the possibilities. But the biggest problem with social media is that it’s primarily social. That’s the way it was designed from the git-go, not as a sales network.

Anybody who has run their own business knows that one of the tried and true paths to problem solving is called POE: Process of Elimination. You start with lots of possibilities, try them one by one, and eliminate the ones that don’t work – no matter how badly you’d like them to. Eventually all that’s left is the solution(s) that actually works.

It’s a journey. But one thing we’ve all proven by deciding to be writers is that we’re not afraid of taking journeys. I just don’t want to spend my journey counting cows.

CowsInField

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog. I hope you will let me hear your thoughts on the matter.

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Author: rectorwriter

Bob Rector has been a professional storyteller for forty years, but his background is primarily in film, video, and stage work as a writer and director. Bob was one of the pioneers of music videos, first for The Now Explosion and then for Music Connection, which were highly popular nationally syndicated shows that preceded MTV by ten years. He created over 100 films for the top musical artists of the times. Bob wrote and directed an outdoor-adventure feature film, Don't Change My World, and has won countless awards for nature and sports documentaries. His original three-act play, Letters From the Front, entertained America's troops around the world for fifteen years and was the first theatrical production to be performed at the Pentagon. This beloved show, written and directed by Rector, became known as the World's Most Decorated Play. After decades on the road (and in the air!) Bob finally settled down long enough to write his first novel, Unthinkable Consequences.

15 thoughts on “BOOKS ARE NOT BREAKFAST CEREAL

  1. Pingback: BOOKS ARE NOT BREAKFAST CEREAL | claudenougat

  2. Bob, I couldn’t agree with you more, and I speak here as an economist. Perceived value is key – I remember a similar story to yours: when I was fresh out of Columbia Grad School, I thought I could do some consulting in areas where I had some expertise and before launching my “start-up”, I checked with my favorite teacher to get his advice – how much to charge for consultations etc. I was floored when he told me how much I should charge – and the reasoning was exactly that: perceived value means that you have to charge as much as a University professor so that your clients realize the value of your advice!

    This is something Indies have totally overlooked and now they are certainly paying the price for having ignored it. At first, all those free and low-price promotions worked wonders (I remember back in 2010 and 2011) but now, no more. Why? Because of what you say. And there’s also another factor at work here. We have to realize that those promotions worked so well because (most of the time) they were those carried out by mid-list authors who could rely on their fan base to rush and buy their books. But now they have exhausted their fan base: they’ve sold to them all their back list. And now they have a problem; they have to come up with new stuff. And they find they cannot price their new stuff at a reasonable level, i.e. one that allows them to have a decent return…So a lot of them rush headlong in the process of writing, trying to turn out 3 to 4 new books per year in order to make a living…Insane!

    The only way out is to do what you did, Bob. Your book is really, really good and deserves to be paid for. Even at $5.99, it’s a steal!

    The future for indie publishing is to price books just below those of publishers, say one or two dollars lower, since as indies, we do not have the overhead costs traditional publishers do. So it is only fair to price books lower than them, say at $7 to $9 (depending on length – that should enter the equation too).

    As to series, yes, that is the exception: pricing the first book in a series at a lower, enticing price makes sense. The exception that confirms the rule!

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Well put, Claude. Yes, the law of ‘perceived value’ is one I’ve had to learn over and over again during my years in business. And so have many of my friends. There is always the fear of pricing yourself out of the market but if your work is professional, and has a voice of its own (and if you’re a writer, you’d BETTER have a voice of your own), this almost never happens.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Pingback: BOOKS ARE NOT BREAKFAST CEREAL | Reviews & Recommendations

  5. Reblogged this on Reviews & Recommendations and commented:
    An interesting take on indie publishing & perceived value.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. This is an interesting take on indie publishing & perceived value. I’m a book reviewer & have my own page http://www.facebook.com/InJoyfulBookReviews

    It’s not a large page but I hope to have some of my over 9,000 fans from http://www.facebook.com/Joyisachoice to swing by my book review page.

    I’m a fan of the lower priced books because quite frankly, as much as I read, I couldn’t afford to pay top dollar price. I usually aim for ARC’s & freebies through BookBub or OHFB. That’s not to say I won’t pay top dollar when I’m reading a book for personal reasons instead of review purposes.

    I believe the ebook market has been glutted with lower quality material because people are rushing into publication without paying their dues so to speak.

    I use Face Book as a social outlet so of course do not charge for any of my pages. My husband tells me that I should have a blog where people pay to read it. That’s not important to me when it comes to my Joy is a Choice page. If I ever get short stories or a book written, I’ll agree with your article whole-heartedly.

    Thank you for a thought provoking article.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I understand where you’re coming from, Carolyn, and appreciate your comments. But as a working professional in the storytelling business all my adult life, your approach would have ended my career before it even got started and I wouldn’t be talking to you now. Unfortunately there is no category in Amazon (or any other online book seller) for professionally written books as opposed to unprofessional. And who would make that judgement call anyway? If you go to Barnes & Noble, all books of a certain genre or category are competitively priced. There are no 99 cent just-released books. Why? Because Barnes & Noble understands the principle of perceived value. You may find books that have finished their runs, over-stocks, etc. on a bargain table and some of those may even be priced at 99 cents, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Granted, books that reach B&N’s shelves have been vetted by professional agents and publishers but that doesn’t ensure the quality of the book. No doubt you’ve bought a traditionally published book and thought, good grief, how did this piece of junk get published? Lots of factors involved that we’re both familiar with. Anyway, ebooks are still a ground floor enterprise in its infancy and who knows how it will eventually shake out. In the meantime, I feel that I must take a stance that says I expect my work to receive a fair, professional fee. I wouldn’t want to go to a 99 cent doctor or 99 cent lawyer. Would you?

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  7. No to the 99 cent doctor or 99 cent lawyer but oh what I’d give for 99 cent gasoline again. 🙂 I’ll address your comments seriously later. Thank you for your response.

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Thank you for your thoughtful post. I go back and forth with this one, and I’m leaning toward your point of view more than ever, Bob.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. It’s a conundrum, Patricia. Sometimes I feel like I’ve walked into a big sticky spider web.

    Like

  10. totally eye-opening ! thank you ! i needed it ! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Lory(?). Glad you found it helpful. All the best to you.

      Like

      • yes, Lory all right ! 🙂 Having self-published myself and knowing how frustrating it can be when you KNOW you have a good book, I found your article really profoundly interesting ! thanks !
        By the way, Marsha`s book is a real LIFE-THRILLER !!! simply loving it and… her !

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Bob, you transcribed the thoughts in my head. I have been struggling with all of these issues and have reached the same conclusions. I’m trying to spend less time on social media and more time writing. I’m not giving away my books for pennies anymore. Although I wish I had a better marketing plan, it seems that paid ads–especially on primo bookseller sites–are an indie author’s best bet.

    Enjoyed your post!

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Thank you Linda. I’ve been in business for myself for over 40 years and I can’t remember a single occasion when giving away my products or services ever resulted in a sale. Not once, no matter how much “awareness” was generated.

    Like

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