An SF author surprised me at Ad-Astra last spring by stating that he’d never buy a 99¢ novel because obviously the author thought it was worthless and so it must be garbage. A panel on e-books had just wrapped up, so in the confusion that followed I didn’t get a chance to ask him if he owned an ipod.
But he isn’t the only one to tell me that novels must be priced higher. Rebecca M. Senese told me at a Sisters-in-Crime meeting (yes, I’m a dude, but somehow I became a ‘brother member’) that she charges $4.99 for novels, $2.99 for anthologies and only offers shorts for 99¢. She warns me that some people might buy my 99¢ novels just because they’re collecting–like hockey cards–and they might never read the novel.
But I come back to itunes. If a band can spend years playing in sleazy bars to make a name, record their music in an expensive studio, have it distributed, and not be ashamed to charge 99¢ for it on itunes, why is it that novels must be priced higher in order to be judged valuable?
It all comes back to price expectations. In music, illegal downloads flourished before itunes because record companies did away with the single, forcing music lovers to buy an entire CD for $25 when all they wanted was one song, the rest was just filler. $25 for one song! Sort of like $25 for one novel. No one would consider paying so much for a song now, and even the expensive songs on itunes are still under $1.50. Apple changed forever what people expect to pay for music.
Traditional publishers are desperately trying to maintain the fiction (no pun intended) that a good novel must be priced above $15, preferably closer to $25, but this will not last. Amazon and self-pubbed authors are changing forever what people expect to pay for novels. There’s a huge 99¢ slush pile on Amazon and Smashwords right now, but it will fade away because many self-pubbed authors will become discouraged with low sales and give up. Amazon will do a little house cleaning and sweep away anything that hasn’t sold in a few years.
That’s when readers will begin to hunt for 99¢ gems. They’ll want to find them before everyone else does and buy them before the price is jacked up–like being the first to discover a new band or a new wine.
I confess, when I build a following I will raise the price of my novels to $2.99 so that I can get that 70% royalty, but in the meantime, I like being the cheap read in the store, and I don’t think there’s any shame in it. If I can buy fantastic music for 99¢, I don’t see why I can’t buy fantastic novels for 99¢.