I used the quote from Adam Sandler’s Happy Gilmore because it makes me laugh, and makes me think about author-publisher pricing schemes.
There is a pile of advice out there for author-publishers coming from a variety of sources and, as is likely easy to guess, provides little clear sense of the fickle world of pricing a product. Ideally, there would be an algorithm that could maximize profits. It’s possible that large corporations have them and use them. The lonely author-publisher, though… screwed. We have to wing it, all the while getting advice such as “Raise your prices if you’re not getting sales- people pay for perceived value” and “Lower your prices because the market for your niche is down there” or “Set your prices to the industry standard.”
The three examples above all seem logical and practical, but I think all three can be combined into a simple strategy that unfortunately is very difficult for one person to implement: Discovering the value of their book, according to the current market. Sounds simple, right? But it isn’t. If it was, you would be a mass mind-reader, or have a fancy algorithm.
The fact is, at any point in time, your book has a price that will attract the maximum balance of readers and profit.
The bad news: There’s no way of absolutely knowing that balance.
The good news: As writers, we are used to, familiar with, and maybe even comfortable with failure, and the pricing game is a experimental process rife with failures. Edison and Lattimer made over 10,000 prototypes of the light bulb before the final success. So we must do as they did, experimenting, testing price points, recording the results.
The ugly news: As our books gain readership and media successes, the markets for them may shift, i.e. The Lord of the Rings trilogy while the movie was out (or any book turned into a movie), a favourable review comes out, the book gets featured on a blog, etc. We have to be savvy enough to cash in on cache. How many artists can say they do that? Hollywood actors do it all the time, but I suspect very few do it consciously. More likely than not, their agents are the ones with the value-sense, the ones thinking, “My client just did Pulp Fiction for peanuts. I’m gonna make him rich with Michael.” A small morsel for thought: The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling is $18.00/$9.28USD for trade/ebook. I think we all know that without the Harry Potter series, that book does not sit at that price.
So what’s the moral, or the nugget of advice from all this ruminating?
When there is no formula, no universal constant to work with, one is wise to fall back on the principles of scientific experimentation: test, record, repeat test, record … slowly develop a theory. When something changes, re-test. Exhausting, isn’t it?