We've been discussing this among ourselves regarding what readers want and what readers are willing to pay for in the current economy. While we can't argue that money is tight for almost everyone, and readers are probably being more judicious in their book shopping, we wonder what this means for new authors just starting out - both in publisher houses and self-published.
There's no doubt that some currently 'hot' books on the market are priced higher than other 'also ran' books. The price difference can be double or more, depending on whether one is offered in hardback. And in the ebook scene, the same kinds of differences can be seen. To put this in more understandable terms, let's use an example and compare 'apples to apples' by pricing both a popular book and a similar self-published book printed in trade paperback format:
The 'Twilight' series by Stephanie Meyers versus 'Generic Teen Vampire Book Title' by Unknown Self-Published Author.
Assuming that a reader even knows to search for the teen vampire book by Unknown/Self-Published, if both USP's book and SM's book appear in the search listings, and USP's book is priced at $16.95 and SM's book is priced at $12.99, assuming the reader has not read either one, on name recognition alone, my bet is that the reader will choose the cheaper and more popular book priced at $12.99.
Now let's suppose that Unknown/Self-Published decides to make her book more price-competitive and lists hers at $12.99 too. With the same reader conditions - not having read either book and recognizing author Stephanie Meyer's name or series title - the reader may seriously consider USP's book as a contender for the reader's $12.99 book allowance ... until the reader sees USP's cheesy cover and realizes this is a 'do-it-yourself' book. Again, the winner is the better-known, better quality book.
These are just suppositions based on our own reading and purchasing experiences. But let's delve a little deeper into the situation, assuming that both books are equally priced and have equally engaging covers. Why would the reader have any incentive to blow $12.99 on an unknown author's book? Has it received much media attention? No. Does the reader have any previous experience with this author's writing style? No. Does the reader have ANY reason to choose an unknown author over a known author about whom there is much media attention - and two movies produced from her books? Well ... what do YOU think?
The only reason we can think of that any reader might take a chance on an unknown author is if the reader heard good recommendations from trusted sources (friends, respected review sites, etc.). There's that dreaded M-word again ... MARKETING. And the reader finds the unknown author's book blurb particularly compelling - so compelling in fact that it sounds MORE INTERESTING than a book that is already receiving generous media acclaim. There's where excellent writing and marketing skill come into play again. And - AND - the reader has not been burned previously by gambling on an unknown author.
Now, wait a minute. What do we mean by 'burned previously by gambling on an unknown author'?
Many readers who read a lot are an adventuresome group and will take chances on books they haven't heard anything about. But with the proliferation of self-published UNEDITED books flooding the market (and we're talking about fiction here), we are seeing more and more reader review comments like, "Interesting story, but could use a good editor!" or "So many typos and other mistakes, I won't read this author's work again!" Are we exaggerating or making this up? Unfortunately, no.
So, what does all this mean?
What it means, we think, is that while the self-publishing venue has become affordable for everyone, not everyone should pursue self-publishing. Why? While traditional publishers and small established publishers have seemed to put up barricades keeping many newbie authors from getting published, what they have in fact been doing (as a side-effect of choosing to publish only books they feel are marketable) is acting as gatekeepers, helping to prevent terribly written books from flooding the market - which is what is happening right now. We're not saying all self-published books are written badly. What we are saying is that quite a few of them are. Because, while some self-published authors love to read so much they want to write their own books and get them published, loving to read does not guarantee good translation to writing well. By 'writing well' we mean producing a book that is engaging in plot, characterization, reading flow, AND does not contain so many typos, grammatical errors, and logistical and character and setting inconsistencies that it makes reading a chore of unbelievability.
So, back to the pricing issue. If you are an unknown self-published author hoping to sell tons of books and make a nice chunk of profit off each book, think again. Self-publishing venues like Createspace and others who provide the book producing service do so with THEIR OWN PROFITABILITY in mind. Their goal is to make a profit off producing the books you order or convince your friends to buy. If you place your book on Amazon, you may think you are getting more sales exposure, but as a tradeoff you are getting half as much profit. By bumping your book price up to $4.00 or $5.00 more than your net cost, you are in fact pricing yourself out of the readership market. And the same is true for ebooks, if you have tried venturing into that market.
Your only real alternative as a self-published unknown author is to do all the marketing you can, get your book reviewed in as many high-profile genre sites as you can (and hope for good reviews), and PRICE YOUR BOOK COMPETITIVELY IN THE OVERALL MARKET. That is the only way you will have a ghost of a chance of selling even a few copies of your book. And continued sales of that book and future books you may write will depend in large part on how well your book is written.