Monday, May 14, 2012

Paulo Coelho Sells Out (at $0.99)

If you didn’t hear, last week Paulo Coelho and HarperCollins experimented by dropping most of his e-books to $0.99. The sides quickly formed, snarking over whether he’d see 1000% increase in sales. Well, Tech Dirt had the figures. Was it 1000%?

No. It was somewhere between 4,000% and 6,500%.

It was a perfect move for Coelho. It wouldn’t work for everyone. Disagree? Observe the thousands of Kindle authors who can’t move a dozen copies at 99 cents. Rather than a clarion call to dump all pricing, this ought to be regarded as a call to regard how we price.

Coelho is famous, an internationally bestselling author whose works have broad appeal and have won numerous awards. He has millions of fans and Twitter followers. He’s that rare level of author who’s got at least one novel so popular that decades after its release Wal-Mart still wants to carry it. That is a heck of a platform.

You drop his works from $9.99 to $0.99 cents, and sales jump. That makes a lot of sense. Especially right now, where an author doing that becomes a news story, turning the news cycle into an advertising cycle for Coelho. If you’re going to do this, you’ve got to have a broad reach for how to get word out about it. I’ve consoled too many peers whose week-long discounts drew pitiful numbers. Changing price has to correspond with public awareness and desire to work.

One of the only web stores I look at weekly, and I don't even buy many games.

The apt comparison has been made to Valve’s Steam. Valve is a videogame company that created its own marketplace for games from other publishers. You buy Bioshock, you can download it immediately and on any computer you log in on. On most days Valve highlights one title or series at the top of the homepage and discounts it, sometimes dramatically. Around Christmas and July, they run the big Steam Sales discounting plethoras of titles. These deals are one of the big ways Valve has drawn people to download and use the Steam service. Valve now brags it makes more revenue per-employee than Apple or Google.

Amazon has Kindle Daily Deals, but no one in book publishing has done what Steam has yet. HarperCollins could launch the next killer app if every week a different beloved book, series or author’s work was dropped to $0.99 only on its store. We’re not talking emerging authors bidding for audiences. If you know the new J.K. Rowling adult novel is going to be $0.99 this Christmas on Pottermore, you have really good incentive to sign up for the free service.

Such services become their own bastions of advertisement. You have message boards and instant message clients to interact with fellow enthusiasts. Users don’t only peruse the new deals; as it becomes your preferred client, you buy products through it first. Valve notes the spike in sales of a game does not end with the discount period; a year-old game returns to the public mind as new people pick it up and talk about it. And if you're like me, half your purchases come from seeing something a friend would like on sale and "gifting" it to their account, paying to give them a license to download it whenever they want.

Coelho himself doesn’t know when the 99-cent sale will end. It won’t last into perpetuity, and as a less famous author, I thank goodness for that. As feel-good a story as it is, what I’m really excited for is what comes next.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad to say I *have* sold a dozen copies of my novella at 99 cents.

    This is a numbers game, and there seems to be a direct correlation between sales numbers and inventory numbers. In other words, you can't just throw one story against the wall and see what sticks — my observation is that the more titles you have available, the better they all do. (Says the guy with one title. So far.)


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