I’ve been thinking a lot about the price of my Music in the Digital Age book this evening.

I listened to the Lean Blog podcast in which Mark Graban talked to Leanpub founders Peter Armstrong and Scott Patten, who talked about their philosophy for the business, and it started me thinking about the trajectory and the development of the book.

They made quite a convincing argument for the idea that a book-in-progress start off at a lower price, and then as it grows and improves, the price can go up. The people who have paid very little (or nothing) at the start are thereby rewarded for their input and early support, and there is an incentive to get in early.

Essentially, you could call that the Amie Street ‘demand-based’ pricing model. And it seems like quite a good idea on first impressions.

The case for free

I originally made a case for the book to be available for free, which I still think is a good idea. I don’t want to stop people from reading what I have to say if they can’t afford to buy the book. That would be ridiculous.

However, you can (and will always be able to) download a free sample of the book, which contains the first five chapters – in which I lay out the core of my ideas, the central argument and an explanation of my position about music in the digital age.

If you wanted to, you could just read that and pretty much understand what I’m trying to communicate. So – there’s a free option.

But I do like the idea of the whole book being available for free to anyone regardless of whether they can pay right at this moment. Ideally, I want people who can’t afford to buy my book to read it, and my aim is that the book should be part of the way that they become people who can afford to buy my book.

I even had an economist weigh in who seemed to think this was broadly a good idea. Or something about non-rivalrous goods and market structures where price was equal to marginal costs, something something.

The case for free at first

Here’s the other thing: I’ve made it possible for people to ‘buy’ the book for nothing (or whatever) on Leanpub, but then come back later once they’ve had a bit of a read and pay me later if they want to.

Check out The Cool Slidey Thing.

There are lots of extra gifts and rewards like downloads, physical books, consultancies and a chat over a pint for people who pay more using The Cool Slidey Thing. It’s a bit like Kickstarter, only there’s no jeopardy. This is all happening regardless of whether I hit some target.

I really like that idea because it means that people can be their own judge of the book’s worth, and can pay according to what they feel it contributes to them. And they can also be incentivised to pay more with the extra bits and pieces that they might like.

The case for a non-zero minimum

At its simplest, the question is simply: as the book grows and improves, does setting the minimum price at zero – even if the suggested price is $5 – undersell the book in some way?

But there’s more to it than that.

Here are some other questions I’m pondering:

1) Does making it free only for a limited time – or for the next 150 copies… or until it reaches 1000 downloads (or something like that) encourage a more rapid uptake, leading to a more vibrant community of readers, better feedback and an incentive for being in on the ground floor, as it were?

2) Does making the book available for free in perpetuity shortchange the people who make the book possible in the first place (the Leanpub guys, Scott and Peter) who are taking a zero cut on zero price downloads?

3) Anecdotally, the people who are paying for the book are typically reading the book more closely and feeding back. Does that mean that paying encourages engagement, or that an engaged person is more likely to pay regardless of what the minimum happens to be?

4) Given that the people who are translating it into other languages are on a 50/50 deal with me for their version of the book, and that’s also currently on a ‘minimum free’ deal – should I change the terms there? I genuinely want to be able to give them money for all the work they’re putting in – but it would seem odd to me if the Spanish version was more expensive than the English version.

This requires further reflection

So… it’s complicated. I genuinely don’t know the answer – and I’m being pulled in both directions.

And frankly, yes – there is the obvious ingredient number 5, which is that I would rather make more money than less. But that’s certainly not the only factor, and nor is it even the most important one. But it would be dishonest to suggest that it’s not really a consideraion.

Perhaps I should leave it for a while and see if people do start using The Cool Slidey Thing.

But I’m genuinely curious. What do you think?

8 thoughts on “Seeking your feedback on pricing

  1. I like the Cool Slidey Thing too. That’s not a real product or anything, it’s just what I call it. I don’t think it has a name. But it’s cool and it’s slidey, so there you go.

    Also, I’ve changed some of the rewards you can get by using it. The $10 reward is now getting your name on ‘the cool wall’. Surely everyone wants to be on the cool wall.

  2. My 2cents on the matter.
    I’d make the first 2 chapters for free via ‘pay with a tweet’ and sell the book at sub 10 dollar say …. 9.50? and a paperback at 7. Both are fairly within reason and the price range of both a poor starving student and also the kind of people who ‘just’ want to quickly pick up a book on the go.

    Both apply to me so most likely i’ll buy /pick up the book within this or a similar price formula

  3. That seems high – especially since it’s download only until it’s finished. Then I’ll be using Lulu which will push the price higher than the digital version.

    I’ll never use ‘pay with a tweet’ though. It completely takes away the value of the recommendation. I’d rather people read it and then decided whether they want to tell their friends. The first five chapters are already free and will remain so.

  4. Of course – what I’m after is a MINIMUM price. People can (and do) pay $10 or more for the book as it is, and the minimum is currently zero. About 20% of people pay, and almost half of those pay more than $5, which is the recommended price.

  5. Following my comments on Twitter earlier, and thinking a bit more, you have a tradeoff. If you set a minimum price AND a recommended price, you could lose recommended-payers to the minimum price, and lose zero-price payers altogether. A net loss. My instinct would be to get rid of the recommended price and ONLY have a minimum price (of $5). This way you’d hopefully retain all of your potential recommended-payers, and also gain some would-be zero-price payers. It’s also less complicated only having one number in the balance.

    Another thought: I paid $5, not because I wanted a copy of the book (although it is interesting), but because I wanted to support the project. Part of my interest in the project is the exploration of pricing and publishing models you’re going through (and blogging on), so It’s part of my ROI to see how this pans out!

  6. That makes sense – and it’s part of my ROI too. This is also an experiment that will feed back into what I write in the book. Another consideration is that I’d like the book to ultimately be available (when it’s finished) via Amazon and iBooks, and I know that Amazon have a policy of ebooks not being allowed to be available cheaper elsewhere – so I’m going to need a non-zero minimum price if I go down that route.

    Appreciate the feedback – and the support. :)

    I think my solution is going to be that the book be available for whatever you want to pay (including zero) right up to the moment that it’s finished. Then I’ll switch to $5 minimum, and throw it up on Amazon and iBooks as well.

    What do you think about the the slidey thing as a way of following up with people who read the book and who might wish to engage further?

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