I needed to buy a new hairbrush recently. I stood in Boots, surrounded by different styles and prices and I decided to do something I’ve never done before: I bought an expensive branded one. As Julia Roberts says in Pretty Woman: big mistake, huge mistake! Why? Because it was rubbish. It yanked my hair, it didn’t detangle any knots, and it wasn’t long before the prongs on it began to snap. I ended up having to buy another hairbrush and, burnt by my expensive purchase, I bought a £1.79 one from Bodycare. And it’s brilliant.
You may be wondering why I’m talking about hairbrushes and what that has to do with writing, but I promise that I have a point. My point is about pricing…
As followers of my blog will know, I’ve really struggled with sales this year, with a horrendous slump in September where I sold hardly any books across any of the five titles I had released at the time. I’m not the sort of person who can just sit back and do nothing about this so I’ve tried playing with Amazon categories and, most recently, I’ve tried playing with prices. My full-length novels are usually priced at £1.99 for a Kindle download so I decided to drop them all to 99p each. I initially stated that this was until the end of the summer holidays (roughly a three-week period) but may make it ‘permanent’ if it was a success. It wasn’t a success. In fact, I sold fewer books at 99p than I normally sell at £1.99! I really wasn’t expecting that.
In late October, I released two Christmas books – Charlee and the Chocolate Shop and Christmas at Carly’s Cupcakes – within a week of each other and I have played with moving between 99p and £1.99 but it seems to make absolutely no difference to sales. I have had good days and bad days at 99p and I’ve had good days and bad days at £1.99. The problem with an author having a 99p price tag is that our royalties are massively reduced. We have to sell four times as many copies at 99p as we do at £1.99 and, even on a good day, I’m certainly not selling that many additional copies; probably not even twice as many. There’s therefore a big loss of income at 99p instead of £1.99 and I’m not seeing a positive impact on sales or chart positions at the lower price either. Which also surprised me.
Which brings me back to the hairbrush. Are there people out there who will only ever buy expensive hairbrushes, believing that expensive means a better product? And are there those who will only ever buy a cheap hairbrush? This could be for several reasons:
They have limited funds and can’t afford to pay more
They see it as something that has a short shelf-life so they don’t want to pay more
They think that the cheaper brush is just as good – if not better – than the expensive one so they choose not to pay more
Does this also translate into book purchases? My mum is a prolific reader. She’s retired and, since receiving a Kindle for her 70th birthday three years ago, she’s read hundreds of books. Because she gets through so many, she chooses to buy cheaper books and download those on free offers. However, if she finds an author she likes, she’s then prepared to pay more for other books by that author. She has been incredibly impressed with her downloads, saying she’s only had 2-3 that she hasn’t rated which is very impressive.
What about those who only buy more expensive books? Are there such people? It turns out that there is. At the recent RNA York Tea, my good friend, Sharon Booth, and I got chatting to someone who falls into this category. She isn’t a writer herself – her sister is the writer and she was attending as her guest – but she is a prolific reader and she told us that she doesn’t download books for free, 99p, or even £1.99. In fact, it puts her off completely and her perception is that the product is not a quality one. She will only pay £4.99 and above.
The thing is, as I proved with my hairbrush, expensive isn’t always good and cheap isn’t always poor. Sadly, for me, either approach doesn’t seem to generate into the sales I’d hope for. I just have to keep writing, keep releasing … and keep hoping!