Figuring out the price…

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What the hell is my time worth?  Why the hell do you, the listener or reader, care?

This is the question being bandied about these days, especially since the announcement by certain content creators that they will no longer give away their work for free.  Now, I've already put out a podcast essay on that subject so I'm not going to belabor that point again.  In case you've forgotten, it's the episode called "The Cost Of Free."

No, what I'm talking about here is something completely different.  I'm readying the Fiends collection for Smashwords.  I've been thinking about how to price the collection for quite some time.  I've seen other people sell their short stories for $.99.  Each.  I don't know what their experience has been in creating a market for themselves or how many readers they've grabbed.

With all the titles being offered online now, we're all struggling to build our brands and compete with one another.  So we have a couple of questions to ask ourselves as content creators.  What is our time worth?  What are our stories worth?

You can usually expect, from the paying markets I've seen, $100 for a short story sale.  And that's most definitely at the top end.  At the bottom end, there's merely a mention or maybe a $5.00 honorarium.  You don't get a cut of royalties.  You don't get any kind of repeat.  So trying to make a living just selling short stories is nuts unless you're a famous author where you can get $25k from Playboy or Esquire.

So what are these stories worth that we put together?  They've not been edited by a magazine editor.  They've not been accepted by a magazine, in many cases, not even been read by other writers.  There's been very little oversight by the community over ourselves and therefore some truly shit stories are doubtless for sale.

We have to rely on the paying public to rate our work for good or ill, to leave comments as warnings to  other readers/potential buyers from making the same mistake, or to help promote our work.  The community should also have a hand in ultimately policing itself, but I'm not certain how that would work.

I believe my stories are pretty good.  They're not what I would call ground-breaking or earth-shattering.  Instead, I think they're entertaining and certainly you, my audience, seem to agree.  But that doesn't tell me what they're worth.

What would you pay for the Fiends Collection?  For Momma, Ghosts of 1900, Canvas, and Breakers?  What would you pay for the entire group as a digital e-book from B&N, Amazon, or Smashwords?  What would you pay?

Is it worth more than $1.99 for all the stories together?  Is it only worth $.99?  Are each of the stories worth a buck?  How much would you pay?

The digital marketplace for books is in its infancy.  We, as consumers, are still trying to wrap our heads around purchasing short fiction outside of large collections, where we typically pay up to $15.00 for three hundred pages of fiction, or about 15-20 stories.  But it's a book.  It's usually by some of the best in the business.  Those stories have been published in "real" magazines, edited by real editors, and been checked for grammar and professionally typeset.

So what's a 4500 word short story that's never been sold worth?  What is a collection of them worth?  Think about it.

There has been some discussion about this in the community and there are many and varied opinions on the matter.  Some think it's best to hit the market as many times as possible.  In other words, try and saturate with many different smaller releases than one large one.  In my conversations with the FDO, he suggested that having more items to sell is better.  I concur.

But where do you draw the line?  Do you put out 4 short stories as separate for $.99 each and then the entire collection for $2.99 to save someone some cash if they purchase the whole shooting match?  Do you even bother with the collection at all?  Do you not sell the stories on their own?

Too many questions and there is little data from which to draw conclusions.  We're all taking a chance here as the market begins the slow march toward a decision on the best approach.  If we screw up this pricing model, it will turn away readers completely or leave so much money on the table as to make a living untenable.

I, for one, want to give readers as much bang for the buck as I feel is fair.  I think selling the four short stories in the Fiends collection for $1.99 is pretty damned fair.  It's basically a 1/4 of the length of a shortish novel and is priced accordingly.  But it's also a gateway drug into the rest of my writing.  

But then what to do about novellas?  Works that are longer than a short story, but still not novel length?  Because of Tattoo's popularity I think it's worth a little more than the short story collection and I'm going to start selling it for $2.99.  If that price doesn't work, then I'll drop it to match the other fiends collection.

Am I right?  Am I wrong?  What are you going to pay to grab it from Smashwords or Amazon or B&N or the apple store?  What is fair?  If there are hundreds of people, each purchasing a copy of Tattoo and the Fiends collection, every month, then that is a sustainable living.  Or at least enough to pay the mortgage.  That's awesome and more or less what I'm shooting for.

But you know what?  It doesn't matter much.  I'm going to keep writing.  I'm going to keep podcasting my work for you.  If I make some cash off it, that's great too.  If my work completely fails to attract a paying audience, then so be it.  Closet Treats is destined for a publisher, one way or another.  Tattoo will ultimately be put out as a book in some for or another.  The Fiends collection will continue to grow until its finished and I start the next series of stories.

It wont stop me writing.  It won't stop me podcasting.  And it won't stop me from giving you the content you've come to expect.  

If you have some opinions on pricing, please leave some comments on the forums.  I'd love to see what you think is fair and what you'd be willing to pay.  Chalk this up to market research before I dive into the mess that is trying to extract a little cash for my work.

One last thing.  I'm not insisting or begging you to purchase anything.  I don't expect you to.  Those of you who have given donations, there's no reason for you to give me any more money than you already have.  If you want to, that's fine.  But again, there is no expectation here.  I write.  I create. I edit.  I put it out there.  If it's worth money to you, great.  If not, then I just hope you enjoyed it and will keep listening.  Maybe one day, I'll put out something you feel like paying for.  But to have you in the audience is enough for me.  I hope you continue to support me by spreading the word.  That's all I can ask.


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