Interesting theory on pricing

This is a guest post by Elle Lothlorien on Joe Konrath's blog about pricing. I've read complaints about "the kind of reader" who buys 99-cent books, with the general implication that they're not the sort of reader one would want. That struck me as both kind of snobby and a way of deflecting rough reviews--you know, "99-cent book buyers are cretins who just don't understand my art!"

Her theory accounts for the phenonmenon of getting more tough reviews when you drop your price (which she saw when she dropped the price of her book from $5.99 to 99 cents) without, you know, sounding like a major whine:


Here’s what I suspect was happening: At $5.99 . . . [y]our customer wants to like it. After all, they’ve read the reviews and it looks like everyone else liked it, right? If they get through the first few chapters and begin to suspect that the book just isn’t for them, they’re very likely to return it for a refund. Hey, six dollars is six dollars. And if they do like it, they want to jump on the review bandwagon and let everyone else know just how much they liked it. 

At $0.99, the reader isn’t as heavily “invested” in your novel. If they didn’t like it, they may not bother to return it to get their dollar back. Instead they’ll find their way to your review page and let you have it by way of a negative review.


She's arguing that the person wants to like it because it's kind of expensive, but I think it's more that, if a person is going to spend $5.99 on a book, they're going to 1. think about whether they're going to like it before they buy it, and 2. return it for a refund if they decide a few chapters in that it's no good. Whereas if they're just interested in a bargain, they'll snap up something cheap whether or not it's really their thing, and then, as she notes, if they don't like it, instead of returning it, they finish and keep it, and therefore feel entitled to leave a bad review.

This is interesting from a marketing perspective, because one of the challenges for a book that's not a commercial, mass-market thing is to find an audience. You want people who are going to appreciate what you have to offer--people who like to read what you like to write. You don't necessarily want to market to everybody, because there's a large contingent out there that's just never going to like the kind of book you wrote. And the implication here is that higher prices might help accomplish that. One of the great things about e-books is that they make it really easy for people to buy and read books, but maybe there's something to be said for having a (small) barrier to entry--like a speed bump. Nothing serious, just something big enough to make people think for a minute about whether they really want to buy it.