B&N Week 52: Pricing Your Book

| December 20, 2011 | 4 Comments


Welcome to yet another Tuesday! I’ve got things to say, and few people seem to be saying them, so it’s up to me to take this Tuesday to fill the void! That’s right, it’s time for some Bolts & Nuts!

This week, I thought I’d tackle the thing that everyone has to do, but that no one seems to talk about [but has been on everyone’s minds lately]: Pricing. I’m going to go over physical pricing, digital pricing, and the factors you should take into account when it comes to pricing your own book. Ready? Let’s get started!

I’m going to show my age. When I was a kid, I remember comics being sixty cents a pop. [I know some of you are older, and can remember when comics were five, ten, and twelve cents. Maybe even a quarter.] I was able to buy a comic with my lunch money, because I didn’t have to pay for lunch. So, I’d save my money, and buy a comic. It was great! Then, they went up a nickel, and I couldn’t pay for comics with my lunch money anymore. I had my first taste of inflation, and the price of comics have been going up ever since.

For me, after that nickel, it was a dime, and it held at seventy-five for a while. Then it jumped a whole quarter. Then another quarter, and then another quarter. Now, DC did its level best to hold the line at $2.99, but it did that by cutting two pages from those comics. Then Marvel followed suit, albeit much more quietly, and much less forthrightly. It was a shame, but when comics are pricing themselves out of a weekly spending habit, something has to be done, right?

We’ve already gone over the numbers of just how expensive it is to make a comic. Rounding up, a single 22 page comic will run you about $4k. That’s just a reminder. Now, how are you going to price that book?

There are things to take into account. You want to be able to make a profit off the book, so you can continue making them. That’s a no-brainer. However, how much of a profit are you going to make, and what will the market bear?

What the market will bear is a VERY good question. If you look around the comic shop, most of the books you find there are going to be $3 and $4 apiece. Those are going to be books from Marvel, DC, Image, Dark Horse, and whomever else.

If you’re going to go with Diamond [who, for all intents and purposes, is the only distributor in town], you’re going to be giving up a deep discount of 60% [rounding down]. Don’t forget how things flow: you sell your book to the distributor for a discount, who then sells it to the retailer for a discount, who then sells it to the public for retail [cover] price. The retailer pays their bill to the distributor, who then pays their bill to you, and you’re left with the difference in money from the discounts. You’re hoping to sell enough books to cover your costs of production, which would mean you broke even. If you sell more than your production cost, you’ve now made a profit.

In order to make a profit, though, you have to sell thousands of books. You have to price your book attractively in order to do this.

First, though, a caveat: your book has to be good. Good enough for people to plunk down their money and buy it. If it isn’t good, NONE of this will work. Everything I’ve ever said in any of these will be for naught if the book is crap. Remember that.

Okay, so the first thing you’re going to do is to make sure you do not overprice your book. If your twenty-two page book is five bucks, few people outside of your friends and family are going to buy it. The market will not bear a book at that price.

If your book is in color, at twenty-two pages, I suggest a price of about $4. More than that, unless it is a special book like an artist edition or something, and you’ve just priced the book into I’m-Not-Buying-That Land. That’s not where you want to be. At $4, you’re still within the market, and while you may get more scrutiny, you won’t be pricing yourself out of a buyer’s hands. You’d be right in with the rest of the pack.

(So, I’ll just price it lower! That means I’ll sell more! Easy! I thought this was going to be hard, Steven.)

Not so fast. Not so fast.

True, it’s possible you COULD sell more if you priced lower, but it isn’t a guarantee. If you sold your full color book for $2.50 and you sold 100 of them, you just made $250 [taking out the distributors for a moment]. Now, if you sold it for $2.50, you more than likely could have sold it for $4, which means you left $150 on the table.

Pricing is tricky.

The thing with pricing is simply this: you have to get into the buyer’s head, trying to predict what they will and won’t buy and at what price they will and won’t buy it. Damned difficult, because you’re trying to get the best price for the items you’re selling. Capitalism 101.

If you have a black and white book, your pricing is going to be a little lower. $3 is about right for that. You don’t have to pay for a colorist, and your printing bill is going to be cheaper, because even though you’re going to have a color cover, the price of the ink doesn’t impact the printing all that much, so your printing price is cheaper than your color price.

There’s another reason why you want to price your book higher initially. This gives you wiggle room for sales, as well as room for discounting the price over time. If you start low, you don’t have that room anymore, and would need to wait for the market to have another price hike before you could reasonably raise your prices.

Here’s something else to keep in mind: use whole numbers.

Let’s say you’re at a convention. If you priced your book at $3.95 or $3.99, sure it’s less that $4, but you’re going to have to make change for people who are carrying cash. Doesn’t sound like too much fun at the end of the day, especially when you have to balance all the money either daily or at the end of the convention. If you use whole numbers, you don’t have to carry heavy coins around with you. You just have to deal with dollars, which is much easier to deal with.

That’s all for physical books. What about digital?

Digital pricing strategies have been on people’s minds as of late. I’m not going to tell you I have a surefire strategy, but I’ll definitely give you my opinions.

First and foremost, everyone is going day and date. (I hear that all the time. What does that even mean, Steven?) Day and date means that digital books are going on sale the same day and date that physical books are going on sale. That’s all. Pretty simple, and everyone is moving that way.

The problem with DaD [to separate it from D&D] is that retailers are leery of it. At first, digital comics came out after physical comics, and this made retailers happy, because digital comics were a little cheaper than their analog counterparts, and the publishers didn’t want to be seen as undercutting their retailing partners.

Digital has several advantages over physical that retailers were terrified of: cheaper, and you didn’t have to go anywhere in order to get it. As long as you had internet access, be it on your phone, tablet device, or computer, you could buy your comics and never have to step foot into a store. Nice, right?

Well, when digital comics started going DaD, comic retailers winced. When they saw that there was little to no impact on their sales, they started to breathe a little easier—especially because digital comics were priced the same as their physical counterparts.

Currently, Marvel/DC has a plan in place to offer both versions of their comics DaD, and then lower the price of digital after a time. This way, retailers aren’t undercut and everyone is happy.

If this is something you wish to do, that is definitely within your power. Personally, I have problems with that.

When you buy a digital comic through a place such as ComiXology, you haven’t actually bought a comic. What you’ve bought is a license to access that comic from different devices, such as your phone or computer. You’re renting. Personally, I’m not going to pay the same price for something I cannot own.

The other problem for me is the lack of extras. I own an iPhone, and I see a lot of things priced in the iTunes store and the App store that are a buck or two—especially in the App store. I can buy a game for a buck, and get hours of enjoyment out of it. If I buy a $4 comic, I’m only getting maybe 20 minutes of enjoyment. I don’t believe I should pay more and get less.

The thing about digital is that the mainstream perceives digital as throwaway, or not worth as much as their physical counterparts. This is a perfect example of perception being reality, and until people’s perceptions change, then this is what we as creators are going to have to deal with.

Personally, I believe that if you’re going to sell digitally [and you are], if the content is the same, then the digital content should be lower in price. You still have the production cost, but you don’t have the print cost to add to your bill. Am I saying the comic should be a buck? Absolutely not. I’m just saying that it should be lower than the physical book. How much lower is up to you.

(How much would you lower it, Steven?) As long as we’re talking a twenty-two page book, I’d lower it by about a dollar. I think that’s fair.

Now, if you’re going to offer extra’s now you have something that the common person would look at again, and wouldn’t balk at paying the regular price for. You can’t do an artist edition, so throw in things like character sketches, prose pieces set within the universe of your story [separate from the backmatter], maybe some pages of script. Maybe variations of the cover, with annotations, or maybe the book having only the pencils. Something, so that the buyer feels like they’re getting their money’s worth.

Doing this also keeps the retailer happy, because they’ll feel like they aren’t being undercut by you. It’s a little more work on your part, but it will be worth it in the end.

All of that is for a twenty-two page book. If you’re doing a graphic novel, then there are other things to consider. Your page count is going to be one, and the type of binding when you print will be another. If you’re doing a book that’s about 60 pages or so, then $15 sounds about right. Not much more than that, though. No more than $20.

The same convention should also hold true for digital: a lower price if the content is the same; the same price if you’re adding extra’s.

And that’s all I have for now. Your homework: look at your books and decide what price point you want to sell them at, and come up with a digital strategy that works for you.

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Category: Bolts & Nuts

About the Author ()

Steven is an editor/writer with such credits as Fallen Justice, the award nominated The Standard, and Bullet Time under his belt, as well as work published by DC Comics. Between he and his wife, there are 10 kids (!), so there is a lot of creativity all around him. Steven is also the editor in chief and co-creator of ComixTribe, whose mission statement is Creators Helping Creators Make Better Comics. If you're looking for editing, contact him at stevedforbes@gmail.com for rate inquiries.

Comments (4)

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  1. Tyler James says:

    Interesting email from Seth Godin today regarding digital pricing. Here’s a model he’s suggesting. (He’s talking about regular books, not comics, but still interesting:

    “…Which leads to my guess/proposal for creating buzz, particularly for unknown authors with great books. That category (call them UAGB) is the most interesting in all of publishing, because it’s about buzz and breaking open a new idea/author.

    I would start those books at ZERO and raise the price a penny for every ten purchases until I got to $15 and then hold it there for three months.

    If the book really is great, the first 1000 readers (who are easy to find, because they love to read and love a bargain and have to hurry before the price exceeds a dollar) either start raving about the book or they don’t. If they do, then the next few thousand readers are going to stampede along. Still a bargain, but moving fast.

    Now, by the time the book hits $15, it’s been read by 15,000 people (understand, please, that in the book business, 15,000 readers in a week is a national bestseller, a huge hit), and you’ve just created a new must-read author.”

    As always…worth thinking about.

    • I’m not seeing this work for digital storefronts such as ComiXology and Graphic.ly. There are too many cuts to make: Apple (if you’re going through iOS), the distributor, and you (which may or may not include the team).

      This could work better if you were running your own store, which I’ll be talking about next week. It’s a theory that could create buzz, but you then have to find out what the price threshold is. Comics have a much lower threshold than novels, and selling the book for pennies/nickels/dimes and then raising the price based on sales, creating a sense of competition for early adoption and thus getting a deal on a new book…

      I’m still waiting on hearing someone becoming a millionaire from selling a digital comic. I’m still waiting to hear of a comic that has a million downloads/impressions/sales. If Marvel/DC were doing those kinds of numbers digitally, they’d be crowing about it. Hell, I’ll settle for hearing about half a million.

      Maybe the digital space is too fractured. Too many distributors, all trying to get it ‘right,’ in an extremely niche market, going even more niche, trying to find a pricing formula for broader appeal. Everyone is trying to be ‘the one,’ and right now, that’s looking like ComiXology, because few indies have cracked that nut, just like Diamond.

      I’m not saying this sales method is impossible, but I’m not seeing it work overly well for comics. The quality would still need to be there, and that is lacking in a lot of today’s comics.

      Then, you also have the reality that this would REALLY undercut retail partners. They already went apeshit over Dark Horse. How do you think they’d react to something like this?

      • Tyler James says:

        Supposedly Valentine by Alex DeCampi, which was available on just about all digital platforms and in a ton of different languages, dig over 100,000 downloads, which is pretty solid for an indy.

        Hearing about someone becoming a millionaire from selling a comic period in this day and age is probably as rare as finding a leprechaun.

        As far as how retailers would react…note this was a strategy only for UAGBs- Unknown Authors with Good Books…not for every property. Even the most vocal watchdog retailers have stated they have no gripe in what a NEW creator or small-press publisher prices their book at. He does not have a decade long relationship with that publisher…that publisher owes him nothing.

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