My 99 Cent Manifesto



I am in the home stretch of finishing up the editing and conversion of my book of short stories that I will put out as a Kindle ebook. I’ve been in the stretch run for a while. I’m struggling now with the cover… but mostly I struggle with the fear that putting something out there generates. Nothing to do but plug ahead as best as I can.

I have been thinking a lot about price points – about what I’ll charge for my book when I get it out.

First of all, isn’t it amazing that I’m even getting to decide this? Unpublished, unknown, talentless, loser writers didn’t used to have input on these decisions. The publisher decides.

But publishing, as we know it, is dead. It doesn’t know it yet – though it has a strong suspicion.

The Publishing Industry. I hate it when groups like Publishing call themselves an Industry. (Music Industry, Movie Industry, Television Industry) I’ve worked in Industry and Publishing is not an Industry (Book Printing is an Industry, but you have to go to China to find it). Industry isn’t art – it isn’t creative (not in the usual sense of creativity) Industry is a world of huge heavy smelly machines – a world of maintenance and statistics – it’s a world of hardhats, steel toed shoes, and flame resistant uniforms.

When a group like Publishers call themselves an Industry… they are dead. They have killed themselves. It is only a matter of time. The only thing left is momentum.

Underwood Typewriter

Underwood Typewriter

So I get to write whatever crap I feel like. And you get to read it. That’s not Industry – that’s the future. The question I have left is, “How Much Do I Charge.”

That’s a tough question. The head swims. To decide, the only way is to break it down, make a few options and choose between them. Eliminate the bottom choices, one by one. OK, that works.

The price points of ebooks don’t take long to figure out. They are:

  •  Really Expensive
  • Ten Bucks
  • Two Ninety Nine
  • Ninety Nine Cents
  • Free

The top choice, Really Expensive, is easy to eliminate. I’m nobody. I’m not selling a textbook or legal reference full of knowledge that is extremely valuable to an extremely small group. So, Really Expensive is out.



Now, we are down to the affordable options. Why not free? This is my first ebook – all I’m really interested in is getting it out there. The idea is to get as many readers as possible, and then try and keep them. I have more books (already have enough short stories for another volume, and a novel is not inconceivable – I have a killer first sentence) in the pipeline, and a free teaser would help me spread the word.

Free is tempting, but I don’t think I’ll go that way. There is a question of value. A book is a relationship between an author and a reader. That relationship should/must have some value for it to be real and useful. Free is throwing propaganda leaflets from a bomber’s bay, free is a blog, free is a mimeographed sheet stapled to a telephone pole. These are all good things, important things, but that’s not what I want this time around.

What I want is terribly nebulous but it I feel it has to involve a transfer of value for it to truly occur.

That leaves ten, two ninety nine, and ninety nine cents.

Ten is tempting. That’s what I think an ebook should cost. That’s what I am happy paying for an established author, for something I’m pretty sure I’ll like. For the hours of enjoyment that a good book gives, ten dollars is a fantastic bargain. It even provides a nice return for the author.

But ten dollars is still a lot of money. Especially in this day of terrible tribulations and looming financial collapse a ten dollar purchase is a tough call (or at least it should be). I’m not established, I’m no sure thing, I’m not very good.

Ten dollars is too much.

Now we are down to two options. Two ninety-nine. Or ninety-nine cents.

Two ninety-nine is a great option. That’s the price (more or less) that Amazon kicks the author’s royalty up to 70 percent. My return on a book sold at that point is twice what it would be at only a few cents less. It’s not a lot of money. I feel sure that this is what I’ll charge for my second book, if I live that long.

Three bucks – a hamburger… a drink at happy hour in a bar… a bag of chips… or so. It is an odd amount of money… sort of in between.

Still, two ninety-nine… that’s not an impulse purchase. You have to think about it. It might not be much of a thought, but it is one.

And ninety-nine cents? What’s that? That’s nothing. Click on that link and it’s yours. Don’t even think about it. If it turns out to be crap – so what? You’re only out ninety-nine cents. Less than a dollar. You won’t miss a dollar. You can’t hardly buy anything with a dollar anymore.

Ninety-nine cents. The more I think about it, the more I like it. It’s something, it’s a transfer of value, but otherwise… it’s like a gift from me to you.

It’s like a cheap lottery ticket. Maybe it will be good, maybe not. But if it hits, you’ve got a lot of entertainment for not a lot of money. If it misses, so what? There is even the enjoyment of the momentary fantasy that you’ve found a bargain, something cool that nobody else has. That’s worth ninety-nine cents, right?


Call Me Ishmael

I have always loved Kafka. His writing has been a huge influence on how I live my life (God help me). During his life, he published almost nothing. When he died, his final request was to have all his work destroyed (thank goodness, Max Brod decided to ignore his good friend’s dying wish). If Kafka was living in today’s times would he be pumping out ninety-nine cent ebooks? I like to think so. Would anyone be reading them? Probably not.

So there it is. Ninety-nine cents.

I like it.

Stay tuned.

7 responses to “My 99 Cent Manifesto

  1. Confession, Franz Kafka got into my head! Hunger Artist really got me. Anyway, the “artist” author is always a starving artist. The popular author, tabloid rag dime novelist always find a way to get fed. I assume you and I are purposely the starving artist types.

    • Well, I’m more of a “starving because I’ve got two kids in college” kind of guy rather than a hunger artist. Money is such a difficult question because I’ll always make more money doing my job than I would as a writer.

      It’s hard to pick a Kafka short story (other than Metamorphosis) but it’s “In the Penal Colony” that always got in my head. His novel “The Castle” really affected me a lot, also. It seemed to have more emotional realism than any of the rest of his work.

  2. Count the printer in on this as well. I actually do print on a similar printing press to the first illustration at a local museum. It pays virtually nothing but is fun and satisfying. I print at home as well on a 1929 printing press. Yes, on ocassion my basement smells of ink and kerosene. Once again, it’s for fun and hopefully soon, for some jingle. Either way, it’s more of an artist’s approach that an industry one. If we do have a financial breakdown, I can print without electricity. I like reading that way as well.
    Bill, I’d consider some sort of paper version of your book. Yes, electronic distribution is free but like email, easy to ignore. A paper copy lays on a desk provoking you to ignore it. Just a thought.

    • David,
      I actually thought of your blog when I was looking for a picture of a press, should have asked you for one.

      That must be wild to have a printing press at home. I have enough problem with ink stains from my fountain pens. Just be careful if the crap really hits the fan – people with printing presses in the basement are the first ones they come looking for.

      I’ll almost definitely come out with a print version. With today’s POD technology there isn’t any reason not to. I’m looking at Lulu and Createspace (Amazon) and trying to figure out which will work.

    • That would be great! Unfortunately, I figure I’ll only have sales to my friends and family… very few of my friends and none of my family have that much to spare.

      I’m looking at paper copies – that would be close to what they might cost.

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