Sex For Money is a semi-regular blog series about my experiences in writing, publishing, and marketing gay erotica and M/M erotic romance. All of this information is from my own experience, so your experience may differ. It’s hoped that sharing this information might be helpful to new and aspiring erotica and erotic romance authors, as I see a lot of questions and a lot of misinformation out there. To read more Sex For Money posts, click here.
Anybody who has self-published and read the fine print of the contract between publisher and vendor website will know that there’s always a clause that the price must be no higher than elsewhere. Each site that an author publishes to wants to have the books listed at a price that is competitive with all other vendors.
Usually, this isn’t a problem. If an author prices their work at $2.99, they do so on all sites that they upload to.
However, there are two notoriously difficult factors in this.
The first is that Amazon scours the web for your products and, if it finds your book elsewhere for cheaper, it will automatically lower the price of your product on their site so that it is competitive with the lowest price it can find. It does this without your permission and, from what I’ve heard, is almost impossible to undo. They’ll either undo it on their own, or they may accommodate your request to do so, but it’s more likely they’ll leave it at that lowered price and, if ever, raise it at their leisure.
The second is that Google Play will automatically discount books above a certain price. There is no set percentage that they take off of a book’s price, but rather there is a range of percentages. (This forum post gives you a good idea of the spread of discounts.) If an author’s not careful, their book will be discounted by Google Play, making it cheaper than anywhere else. And when Amazon catches on, their prices get lowered. Authors have lost tons of money over this.
The strategy that authors take, including myself, is to price books on Google Play much higher so that the automatic discount brings it down to close to regular price. However, while that forum post linked above is an excellent guide to the discounts, I find Google Play will make random deviations of a percentage point or two in their discounts. The only real way to fix it is to set the price to what you think is appropriate, give it a couple hours to change the price throughout their system, then check up on it by accessing it through the storefront… then go back into the publisher portal and adjust the price accordingly and waiting a few hours to see if it’s correct. It can take several tries, I’ve found, to get it right.
Even if this goes smoothly, there are still problems now and then. I noticed on Amazon (accessing the .com version from Canada, so your results may differ) that Men In The Hot Room: The Complete Series is priced at $1.95 USD, despite me setting it at $1.99 USD. The only explanation I can come up with is that Google Play has my book priced just under $1.99 USD and Amazon has price matched.
But here’s where it gets difficult (for non-Americans).
Presumably, all of this price adjustment stuff is based on the American prices on the American sites. When I go to Google Play it shows me Canadian prices. (I have to run everything through a currency converter, which helps me set the right price for Google Play.) However, Google Play seems to have this tendency to display “nice” prices for me in Canada. My short stories are all priced at $0.99 USD. This is below the level where Google Play automatically discounts my prices, so I don’t have to worry about that. Or so I thought. Google Play doesn’t want to show me the correct Canadian-converted price of $1.31 (as of right now). Instead, it shows me $1.09.
$1.09 CAD is equal to $0.82 USD (as of right now). I think Amazon has picked up on this. When I recently checked my Amazon catalogue, nearly all of my short stories were priced at $0.84 or less.
Because of Google Play’s tendency to do whatever-the-hell it wants with book prices, Amazon has subsequently slashed my prices, which cuts into my royalties.
However, I don’t think I’m going to do anything about it. All of my $0.99 short stories are older stories, so at this point I’m glad for any sale. And the royalty change between $0.99 and $0.84 is six cents (for a 35% royalty rate on Amazon). That’s nothing to cry over.
With my more expensive stories — the novellas and novels — the price matching has only taken a few cents off the retail price, which has a negligible effect on royalties.
Additionally, I seem to have the unusual result of Google Play being one of my bigger sellers. Most authors complain of Google Play as being a wasteland for ebooks, where a sale might happen once every few months. For me, sales are not very high, but they rank higher than Smashwords (and through Smashwords I get distributed to iBooks, B&N, Kobo, and more). My top two sales venues are Amazon and All Romance eBooks — they switch first and second place often — and then Google Play is usually close behind. My profits gained on Google Play far outweigh the profits lost on Amazon.
There is a lesson in here, though. An author must always read and understand the terms and conditions of any self-publishing site, as well as research everything they can on the industry. (I usually lurk and read the erotica authors Reddit, but don’t post there. There’s tons of good info there.) An author must also be adaptable and responsive — quick to change prices if need be, always looking for new revenue streams in case profits dwindle on a regular site, and be willing to experiment to find out what path in erotica self-publishing works best for that person.