The Impact of Pricing on Book Buying Behavior

books, ebooks, sales, publishersA panel of publishing price strategists converged at Digital Book World 2017 to discuss how pricing affects consumer behavior.

Peter Hildick-Smith, CEO of Codex Group, offered some insights that can be gleaned by acknowledging that for consumers, reading a book doesn’t always equate to buying a book, as consumers have a range of opportunities to read without paying for the material: they can visit a local public library, borrow a book from friends, or take advantage of a free download offer.

Readers also have many options to pay for books, while avoiding paying full price: they can buy used books, join subscription services, or even get their books as gifts.

Hildick-Smith presented a range of interesting market measurements concerning book-buying behavior. Among these statistics, the most eye-opening was that only about one third of the total number of books that are read are actually generating revenue for the author and publisher.

The research also revealed that pricing means different things to different people.

Among consumers’ favorite ways to get books for personal reading, 18 percent prefer to read for free, 26 percent claim that they never pay full price (for example, they purchase used books), 16 percent claim to prefer to purchase ebooks only, 18 percent declare that they “save when they can,” and 22 percent are impulse buyers, purchasing books they like as soon as they see them.

When it comes to how quickly they make purchase decisions, consumers who identify themselves as ebook buyers are the fastest to make sales conversions. The second-fastest decision makers are the see-it-get-it impulse buyers, followed by the “never pay full price” consumers.

The laggards on the speed-to-purchase scale are those consumers looking for a bargain. Different genres are purchased at different speeds. When it comes to impulse buying, more non-fiction titles are purchased on the spur of the moment than other genres.

Hildick-Smith concluded his presentation by advising publishers and authors to factor in the question, “Who do you want to buy your book?” when making pricing decisions for their titles. After all, even those who acquire a title for free could help influence increased sales.

Even though they don’t pay for your book, their word-of-mouth influence could generate awareness—and to perform another form of awareness-generating marketing could be more costly than offering your book for free.

Not all readers are buyers, but all readers can be valuable in other ways. Any reader, whether they paid for the book or not, can influence an author’s brand and encourage others to buy.

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Beth Bacon

About Beth Bacon

Beth Bacon has an MFA in Writing For Children and Young Adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She helps organizations large and small define their brands and has a special expertise in helping authors market their books. Beth has won the The Candlewick Award for Picture Book Writing, the Marion Dane Bauer Award for Middle Grade Writing, and is a PSAMA PULSE Award Finalist for marketing.

4 thoughts on “The Impact of Pricing on Book Buying Behavior

  1. Michael W. Perry

    There’s a further topic that needs to be discussed. That is why almost all discussions about books today quickly move to price. A generation ago—or perhaps I should say pre-Amazon—most discussions about books centered on whether they were entertaining or informative. Now it’s price, price and price. Jeff Bezos’s scheme to turn books into mere commodities has succeeded all too well. Oscar Wilde’s cynical quip about those who know the “price of everything and the value of nothing” has come true.

    That makes little sense. After all, when you compare books with other forms of entertainment or assistance, books are remarkably cheap. Taking all the costs into account, a novel is cheaper than seeing the same story at a theater, and a how-to book on plumbing is far cheaper than an actual plumber.

  2. Beth Bacon

    Thanks for your reply. I agree books contain highly valuable content! The challenge for indie authors is to discover the ideal price that inspires people to buy. Many authors use pricing flexibility as one of the elements in their marketing toolbox.

  3. Julie Whiteley

    I am a lifelong reader. I read two or three books a week. Really. So, price is, and always has been a big deal for me. I don’t think you can blame that on Amazon. For me, when print books started edging up to twenty-five dollars for a hardcover, I really had to get creative, and look for deeper discounts and used bookstores. I wish I were wealthy enough to pay full price for books, but for me, that is just not possible. Thank goodness for Amazon and my Overdrive library. But, before you judge me too harshly, I do blog about the books I read, leave reviews, and share across social media, so hopefully that will help offset the discounts I take advantage of when buying books. Also, Michael W. Perry, you might want to check your privilege. Books always have valuable content, but I have to be able to afford it too.

  4. Caleb Mason

    Great information, thank you. I have been testing a new pricing strategy for some of my firm’s books. For instance, I priced two titles last year at $17.95 trade paperback and $7.95 ebook. $10 difference seemed like a good way to “force” consumers who are mostly fine with either format to make a decision, while keeping the pricing within the accepted framework of what is happening across all publishers. So far I am finding this is helping to sell more ebooks, which for my unique firm and our authors makes us both more money than print. We don’t pile in print inventory to retail but instead are slowly but steadily building our Espresso Book Machine sales as their network expands, mostly into indie stores, which I like as a way to help them compete with something new. Plus I don’t publish blockbusters so scale is important, of course. One area we all need to pay attention to is how much reading is moving to the new phones with their larger screens. The phone/computer is always with us as our most important piece of technology. Thanks, again.



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