Some Thoughts On Pricing For Art

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Art is one of the few factors that defines us as human and distinguishes us from the other animals of this world. As far as we know, no other species can create substance from mere thought, a world from a dream, an artifact that will endure beyond our brief spans to entertain and amuse others for generations to come.

I believe everyone is born an artist but at some point in our childhoods we unlearn it, setting it aside for more practical things like settling down, having a family, getting a job to support them and, of course, paying our fair share in taxes – whatever that really means. Practical minded people run things. They may pretend to have culture and appreciate art, citing the evidence of the library they maintain or the pieces of art they collect. But when budgets are cut, the arts suffer first.

It’s little wonder that artists undervalue the worth of their work. You see, artists don’t measure their efforts in time expended as if it were a factor in earning a wage. Art comes from the soul, expressed through the heart. It’s hard to assign a value on such things. However, one thing is certain, art should not be given away.

Since art in general is undervalued in the marketplace – if you don’t believe that, watch someone create a painting, a sculpture, a piece of music or a novel – I’m all in favor of artists making a little more money on each piece of art they produce. Having lived around artists for most of my life and having been a musician as well as an author I think I have a fair amount of expertise one the subject of fair pricing. Artists are the last ones paid when a work of art is marketed and distributed, and so, the margin upon which they are paid is thin at best. Those artists who are independent struggle more to get recognition but they can operate on higher margins for lower price points because of the reduced overhead.

When an artist is not well known, having not established a brand, they tend to use low price points to stimulate trial. Some times they will use a free promotion to gain interest from potential buyers. There is a potential flaw in this strategy, that any author’s core audience is attracted to free promotions. Think about it, if you are an artist do you want to always give your stuff away? Those who are attracted to free deals are no one’s core customer. They are fickle and will only response to the word FREE while you the artist will be working for free, giving your stuff away for the rest of your life.

Since my chosen art is writing, I’m paying attention to a couple of current trends in publishing regarding eBook pricing. They appear to be contradictory – going in opposite directions. Yet I understand why one is going down and the other is going up. You see, authors who have established a brand would like to earn a living from selling their art. And Authors without an established brand are shouting out with a low price to gain attention.

With the introduction of eBooks several years ago the concept was that the books could be discounted and sold as essentially software to use on a reading device. Since the up front price of the device was fairly high, the price of the books became the significant selling point – that over time one could accumulate hundreds of books at a considerable savings over buying a physical book. With hard covers running north of $30 and trade paperbacks prices at roughly half that, a $5 eBook was like a pretty good deal.

Regarding authors using publishers, eBooks allowed for slightly higher margins and royalties even at the lower retail price when compared to the much higher production and distribution costs of paper books. So it was a win/win situation all around. But with the grown in eBook popularity over the past few years a paradigm in the publishing business shifted. Many more authors are self-publishing. The stigma usually associated with that label in the past are evaporating as several indie authors have established a brand and following of avid fans for work that is on a par with many of the big five publishers offerings. Those authors are beginning to raise their prices to be on a par with the big publisher’s offerings and, guess what, they are selling books because of their supportive fan base. Also the authors are earning high royalties than if they had used a traditional publisher with their characteristically lower royalty percentages in lieu of their high editing, production and distribution costs.

The present situation is of considerable interest to anyone looking to publish a book. Do you and your manuscript off to one of big five and hope to wing he lottery? Do you self publish, forking over the money for a quality editor and quality cover artist as well as serving as your own publicist and book distributor? Do you opt for one of the many small publishers who offer carried levels of service and support, sometimes for a fee, sometimes for a contract again revenues after the sale? Often it comes down to what amount of work after the creation of the manuscript the authors is will to perform in reaching the potential reader. There simply is not right or wrong answer for an author faced with these choices. There are valid reasons for someone going with either one of the alternatives. However, as the publish paradigm has changed so have many of the basic concepts of promoting books.

In the past when the big publishers dominated the marketplace even mores than at present, they would heavily promote a new book at launch and follow through for 30 to sixty days afterwards. The book was launched in major markets with media support and advertising, advance reviews and interviews all targeted on the critical launch date. If the book did not sell well, bookstores would remove it from shelves to make room for the next great thing in the pipeline. For the author this meant that the book that took a one, two or more years to write was a done deal a month or two afterwards. It was relegated to the bargain racks or returned to the publisher for disposal.

With eBooks, the critical shelf space factor is removed. Books now enjoy a much longer window of opportunity for promotion and sale – out to two years and beyond. This means that an author of multiple titles can earn a decent income from the royalties not he sales of his or her books. All the time a fan base is maintained and enlarged as word of mouth generates around an author’s work. With multiple promotion periods scheduled through the year, a book can experience a series of peaks or spikes and each time the residual effect may maintain a slightly higher level of sales after the promotion. Each time a new book is released and promoted, the authors existing titles have experience coat tail effects from the new books sales as new readers want to catch up on an authors prior work.

The leveling out of the sales over an extended period may not be reflected int he algorithms used to arrive at best sellers, but the aggregate sales over a two years period for a book may actually exceed those of a book that flashed as a best seller for a month or two. The revenues may be the same and, in the case of the indie or small publisher author the book may continue to generate royalties at a higher daily level than the former best seller.

Specifically with books lower price points signal lower quality to the potential reader. This is not always true, but the major of lower prices books on the market are or lower production quality. The writing may be adequate but the editing and cover design are expenses some authors cannot afford, especially if it is a beginning effort. It is hoped that the Free deal followed by a 99 cent and then a $1.99 price point for a book listed at $2.99 will get the book into a maximum number of hands. As an author you must ask if the time you spend writing your novel worth so little? As a reader, such a low price begs to ask: what is wrong with this book or this author? What have you gained as an author if you have given your book to ten thousand people who probably will not read it?IMG_0233

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