E-book Pricing and Channels? It's All a Matter of ... Timing by Ruby Barnes

One of the advantages of being an independent author or micro-publisher is you get to choose and control your sales channels. One of the disadvantages of being an independent author or micro-publisher is you get to choose and control your sales channels.

If you have an e-book to sell then the obvious place to go and tout your wares is Amazon. Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing has an easy upload platform, good opportunities for testing the product before finally clicking Publish, global storefronts and facilities for tweaking the book page via Amazon Author Central. Happy days. Amazon even offers a couple of promotional schemes if you give them 90 days exclusivity and join KDP Select. Up to 5 days of Free Book Promotion (would you want to do that? Debate is never-ending on the subject) or the Kindle Countdown which gives a time-based promotional discount for your title. Why does Amazon offer these benefits in return for exclusivity? Because other channels do sell e-books.

If you decide to go the Free Book Promotion route with a title then KDP Select is the most controllable way of doing it. The benefits are assumed to include (1) creation of a broader readership (a properly promoted free run can garner a few tens of thousands of downloads), (2) a rush of verified purchaser reader reviews on Amazon (always a risk that some people won't love your baby like you do - freebie collectors may not all be your target reader demographic) and (3) a rush of paid sales when you end the free period and Amazon's algorithms push your title up the genre popularity charts. Current online discussions suggest that (1) needs paid advertising to achieve meaningful volume (paying to give away for free?!), (2) there be monsters but also some very positive reviews, pot luck, and (3) them auld algorithms ain't what they used to be.

So, other channels do sell e-books? Indeed. Anyone who has run an extensive e-book giveaway (e.g. LibraryThing Early Reviewers / Member Giveaways) knows that up to 50% of reviewers will ask for an e-book format other than Kindle. My experience across ten titles is around 50% Kindle, 35% e-pub and 15% pdf.

People are not all reading Kindle, so let's go offer our masterpiece to them. What channels should we use? Of course, everyone knows about Barnes & Noble Nook, Apple iTunes, Kobo, Sony (R.I.P.), Google Play (allegedly) et al.

How do we reach those channels? Some provide direct access. NookPress is the B&N entry point (until last week only available to USA authors), iBooks / iTunes requires an Apple Mac with iTunes Producer software, WritingLife is the Kobo platform and Google play has an updated interface. All a bit complicated. Aggregators such as SmashWords, Draft2Digital and eBookPartnership have been providing free or paid access to these and more for some time. That seems like an easy solution to what is looking like too much complexity. So go choose a distribution hub you like and let them do the work. Your e-book gets placed on all channels. Happy days again.

But wait. As an independent author or micro-publisher you might decide to update your book content. Perhaps you have back-matter links to include to a new release, mail list etc (no, of course you didn’t find some text edits that had been missed!) Is that book cover getting a bit dusty? Does your blurb no longer do it for you / new readers? Another double-edged sword is the flexibility with cover, blurb and content. It’s all too easy to blame flagging sales on one of these product components and so things get refreshed from time to time. Try feeding in a new cover, new blurb or new content into your channel distribution hub, then you will find that different channels change content at different speeds. Sometimes the cover or blurb on the product page will never change, and with many channels you have no way of checking the content unless it’s in the free sample, otherwise you have to buy it from that channel to check it (and that’s not always possible if you live outside the served market).

And think again. If you want to run a price promotion across different channels you need fast and accurate price control. Should the mighty BookBub deign to accept your request for a $400+ advertisement, sending your title out at 99c offer price to up to 1,000,000+ readers, then your ducks need to be well and truly aligned. Amazon, B&N, Apple and Google play sales links need to be included in the offer or you may miss up to 50% of potential sales volume from that BookBub mailout. The price needs to switch to and from the offer price on command, like a row of soldiers. If not then two things might happen: (1) you will miss full price after-sales and be stuck at 99c and / or (2) Amazon might price-match to a lower price elsewhere and your title could stay at that low level for a while. Stress and loss of earnings.

So what’s the prescription? Trust me, I’m a doctor. Go direct to channels wherever you can and only include those direct fast-reacting channels in your price promotions.

Amazon KDP price changes have to be made manually (we’re not talking about the KDP Select options here, just normal KDP) and normally take effect within a couple of hours.

Barnes & Noble – as I’m in Ireland it’s too early to judge NookPress (they don’t yet make payments to Ireland) but I imagine their response time to price (and content) changes is rapid. Draft2Digital is the hub I use for B&N and price / content control via D2D is within an hour or so.

Apple – if you don’t have a Mac then find a friend who does and get iTunes Producer downloaded to their machine. Then upload your content (cover, ebook as epub, blurb) via their Mac – it’s very intuitive. Once the content is uploaded you can then manage pricing, blurb and metadata via iTunesConnect on a PC. iTunesConnect allows scheduling of price changes, which is very useful.

Google play - https://play.google.com/books/publish/ will take you to the Google play upload platform. It’s much easier to upload content (cover, epub, blurb) than the previous version and allows scheduling of price changes. Note - you might want to make your regular Google Play price $1 higher than other channels as they have a habit of price-cutting.

Kobo Writing Life is easy enough to use but the speed of changes isn’t good and has caused Amazon price match problems in the past. At the moment I wouldn’t recommend using this channel in price promotions.

Proof of the pudding? I recently managed to get a BookBub 99c promotion for my crime novel Peril. Family events played havoc with my marketing plan and forcing me to travel out of the country for several days that coincided with the promotion. I had already scheduled price reductions on Google Play and iTunes for those days. KDP and D2D were easy enough to adjust during my travels using mobile internet access. The result, in addition to the expected flurry of Amazon sales, was around 500 paid sales across B&N, Apple and Google play, plus sales for other titles including the sequel Getting Out of Dodge. This compared very favourably with a promotion last year for The Baptist which generated good sales but left that title stuck in an Amazon low price match when other channels didn’t change as expected (see How to Throw Money Down the Toilet).

One last point. If you want to remove an e-book title from channels for some reason - e.g. to re-enter KDP Select, to switch rights to another publisher, to withdraw from the market – then be aware that distribution hubs have long tendrils. The paid hubs use global distributors such as Overdrive and, while these give excellent market coverage, it can take a very long time (months) to withdraw a title.

I’d like to finish this post by inviting all readers to join my publisher’s draw for a Kindle Fire HD. This is an international competition and closes end of April 2014.


Lee said…
Thanks for this overview. I've been lax about exploring multiple channels, and this is a real help. It even goes a ways towards persuading me to charge for my books - well, almost.
@Ruby_Barnes said…
Thanks, Lee. Three of those direct channels allow pricing at free - Kobo, Apple and Google Play. Amazon do still seem to respond when that happens and usually drop the title to free within a few days, but not always on all country sites, mainly US and CA.
Lee said…
No, Amazon is a bit inconsistent. My books have been free on Barnes & Noble for ages (thanks to Smashwords), but Amazon has only dropped the price to $0 in the US and Canada, the last not all the time, and in the UK at the moment, I believe, but nowhere else as far as I can tell.

I've been reluctant to grapple with Apple (heheh, unintentional rhyme) because they are apparently super strict about their formatting, and I don't have a Mac to use, only an iPad (a pain for publishing, I suspect). But maybe it would be worth it to borrow a Mac as you suggest.

The thing is, I really don't like to spend too much time on this stuff. I'm at an age where energy is limited and priorities really matter, so I need to reserve most of my efforts for writing. It's obviously different for other writers, and that's fine, but the minuscule sums I'd actually earn from wider distribution wouldn't make a whole lot of difference in my life.
Bill Kirton said…
I agree with Lee - very useful hints and advice, Ruby. None of these things come naturally to me and my basic idleness puts a brake on the enthusiasm your suggestions generate. But you're right and I'm wrong and I really should be more prepared to investigate these channels. Thanks for making it easier to do so.
Louise Wise said…
Brilliant post! I'm going to look into going direct into channels, can't rely on D2D or SW forever.
Lydia Bennet said…
oh dear I feel inadequate, I seem to spend ages getting the word out about my books but I've let them sit on Kindle Select for ages and rarely even use the free promotion options. I did put Lydia Bennet's Blog through the Smashwords 'meatgrinder' and it sat on smashwords, supposedly on all platforms, sold one copy, and when I searched for it on B&N and Kobo, it didn't exist, although smash claimed it was on sale with them. I've not updated my knowledge about these other platforms since then. Yet another thing to somehow fit into the days as they hurtle by! Good luck with all your platforms Ruby!
Susan Price said…
Try Lydia on Draft2Digital, Valerie. She deserves to get out there and party! - It's quite easy to use, and gets your book up on more than one platform without you having to go to huge effort.
Unknown said…
Top-notch post, Rubester. I've given Google Play another go after following your link, and as you say it's far easier with the new system. Kudos.
Debbie Bennett said…
I do OK on kobo via smashwords - worth the effort, I think.
glitter noir said…
Oh, dear. As Byron once remarked, I need an explanation for the explanation. Still, it appears very thorugh and should be of great use to others. Well done.
Brilliant post! I'm going to look into going direct into channels.Thanks, Lee. Three of those direct channels allow pricing at free - Kobo, Apple and Google Play.
Brilliant post! I'm going to look into going direct into channels.I've been lax about exploring multiple channels, and this is a real help.Three of those direct channels allow pricing at free - Kobo, Apple and Google Play.

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