99c Boxed Sets: The New ‘Free’ - guest post by Chrystalla Thoma

For those of us who are self-published authors, flexibility and control over every aspect of our product (the book) is one of the best things ever. Speaking for me, control over pricing, publishing, cover art, and the possibility of changing all of these at a moment’s notice may well prove the reason I’ll never visit the traditional publishing model again.

In these past years of self-publishing, we have seen many promotional models come and go as the field expands and develops. A few years ago, the self-published or “indie” authors were few and every new strategy they devised was fresh and successful. When Amanda Hocking published her books, setting the first one at 99c and the rest at slightly higher prices, she changed the publishing world. Her books sold like hot cakes, and a new model was born. 

Soon after, 99c wasn’t drawing enough readers, as the market was flooded with 99c books following Hocking’s example. More and more authors saw the benefits of self-publishing new works or their backlists. They put out their books using the 99c strategy either for new releases or for the first book in a series to draw readers who had been up to then used to the much higher prices of traditionally published books.

The next step was the freebies. Not that offering products at a low price or free are new strategies as such, but what I am talking about here were huge trends where thousands of authors rushed to join the bandwagon, mimicking what others were successfully doing – and for a while that was offering free books. Amazon solidified the “free” trend with the Select feature which allowed authors to offer their books free for a few days per trimester. Initially, giving away a book in the thousands brought back many paid sales on the same book or others by the same author. 

Then the model changed once more. Free didn’t bring as many paid sales as it used to, although many authors decided to set the first book in their series permanently free to attract readers. 

A new model emerged: the 99c boxed set. Authors came together and bundled up anything from four to ten or even more of their novels. They selected the lowest price possible – 99c – for their boxed sets and advertised the heck out of them. For readers, these new amazing offers have proved irresistible – at least for now. Getting ten novels for the price of a lollipop isn’t something to sniff at. I admit I have one-clicked many such boxed sets – and even if one of the novels included pleases me, then I’ve made a super bargain and I’m a happy customer, plus I’ll go and buy more books by that author. It’s a win-win.

How long will this new trend last? 

Who knows? The market is getting flooded with cheap boxed sets as we speak. Many authors choose to put the first books in their series in such a boxed set instead of offering them for free, to attract new readers. And it seems to be working so far.

Seeing the trend, I decided to give it a try as well. I write Young Adult Dystopian science fiction and I asked around for other authors interested in participating in such a bundle. I checked their books, their ratings, tried to judge how well our books would fit together, and what came out is Shades of Chaos, which contains six novels by six authors of Young Adult Dystopian, plus three new stories set in the same worlds. 

Only 99c! I think it’s a very good deal. ;) 

And readers seem to think exactly the same thing… Until a new trend appears!

Chrystalla Thoma likes writing about bratty, angsty boys and spunky girls in fantasy and science-fiction worlds. She writes mainly for a young adult public but not only (heed the warnings!) and is juggling two series ("Elei's Chronicles" and "Boreal and John Grey").

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Six dystopian YA novels (boxed set)

I AM Alive: I am not my heart rate. I am not my skills. I am not how I look like. My name is Decca Tenderstone. I live in a future America where teenagers are ranked on a scale from 1 to 10 on graduation day. There has never been a 10. Those below the rank of 5 are considered Monsters, a liability to society. The system says I am a Monster. I will not let them kill me. I will survive.

Initiation: Being a Vampire is a crime punishable by eternal servitude in the arena as a Gladiator of the Iron Gate. Mira, a newly turned vampire, must prove she has what it takes to survive in the human's world. It's kill or be killed. Immortality is not guaranteed.

Dissension: In the aftermath of the great cataclysm, vampires are enslaved by humans and used for blood sport as gladiators in the arena. Mira is undefeated, uncompromising, and unbreakable, but when an escape attempt leads her into the path of the city’s Regent, her destiny is changed forever.

Finding Hope: After the death of the one person he called mother, Elei leaves the Trashlands of Ost for the city – looking for other people and for answers. But he soon finds out that people are complicated and answers hard to come by...

Rex Rising: In a world where parasites create new human races, Elei leads a peaceful life as aircar driver — until a mysterious attack on his boss sends him fleeing with a bullet in his side and the fleet at his heels.

Resonant: As the first days of the end of humanity tumble across the City of Las Vegas, turning everyone into vampire-like creatures, April Tate will find out what it really means to survive.

Reign of Blood: April Tate is a seventeen-year-old ferocious vampire killer who lives in the remains of Las Vegas one year after a viral epidemic has left the world decimated. After her family is abducted, her world tilts when she discovers they're not truly alone.

Released: After a demon apocalypse kills everyone they know, 17-year old Abby Phillips, her brother and her friend Max flee their home to travel through the wastelands of America, chasing a radio transmissions of a resistance offering shelter. But soon enough Abby and her companions discover what awaits them is much worse they could have ever imagined.

Burning Bridges: In a world divided between Hunters and Warriors, where prisoners are forced to fight in the arena until death, young Princess Echo must fight to find out who she really is and to put a world that has been swallowed by lies back together again


CallyPhillips said…
This is really interesting! I'd been experimenting with 'ebook bundles' (boxed sets by any other name) on my own site (not knowing how to do this on Amazon) and it's interesting to see the 'trends' laid out like this. It's depressing in so far as one is constantly having to keep up with the trends but heartening insofar as at least being indie allows us if not to set trends or get ahead of them, at least to get onto the 'bandwagon' while it's rolling. If you keep eyes, ears and marketing savvy awake at all times. The gold-dust of course will be to find out what the next trend is - I fear I may already be too late to get a return on the 'boxed set' idea. by the time i find the 'markets' they will have moved on. But thanks for laying it out nice and clearly! I was just wondering how many people would buy a 32 volume set for £1 - and where would I promote such a ridiculous deal?!! Shall think some more.
Nick Green said…
I do worry about this hyper-inflation of ebooks, though. Six books for 99 cents, I mean... there's cheap, and there's devaluing the currency.

It puts me in mind of the infamous scenes in Germany between the wars, where people would apparently queue up to buy groceries with wheelbarrows overflowing with worthless currency.

I'd be more in favour of making a stand, and saying: "This book took me two years to write. I'm not giving it away for next to nothing. If you want it, you pay for it."
Susan Price said…
I tend to agree with you, Nick.
Lee said…
Nick, I agree with you, as odd as it sounds for someone who gives her fiction away. But that's how I handle my translation work too: either I do it for free or I charge a decent price - nothing in between.
Lydia Bennet said…
Welcome Chrystalla, good to see you on AE! An interesting new angle. This is all new, ebook and self-pub ebooks, so different strategies are tried to breaking point. I've bought a few boxed set type thingies from classic authors but I'd not normally think of buying books that way from current authors. I suppose I feel they are a bit unwieldy on the 'shelf' in some strange way! But multiple samplers is a good idea and might work well with YA in particular. Good luck with it!
madwippitt said…
Did you have the same history teacher as me Nick? I remember being told about this too - and that if you left it unattended outside the shop, people wuld nick the barrow and leave the cash ...
The problem with box sets surely is the reading of tem? My Kindle is already overflowing with freebies and bargains that I still haven't read ...
Nick Green said…
Another good point, Karen. I've long held the suspicion that most free books are never even read. Certainly, nearly all my Amazon reviews are from purchases, not free downloads, even though free downloads vastly outnumber purchases. Are any of those free copies even opened?

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