Pricing A Short Story Collection

I am in the process of readying a collection of short stories for online publication. The stories are literary, and focus on one character (a young boy) over the course of a year. I hope readers connect with these stories emotionally. If not, I failed to hit what I was aiming at.

I will be posting the collection first on Smashwords. I have decided that I will not be posting the collection for free, but rather will be setting a price. I do intend to allow readers to sample the collection to demonstrate that I can, at the very least, carry a tune.

The question before me now is what the price should be. It’s a question everyone is wrestling with, so I don’t feel alone in my consternation. Whatever your feelings about the fluctuating price of gasoline over the past few years, at least there’s a constantly-updated market price for that product. If I was trying to unload a gallon of gas right now I’d know where I stand. Twelve literary short stories? Not so much.  

A big part of the problem is that I’m not selling an object, but an experience written by someone who is not famous. Another factor is that the experience I’m selling has pretensions to art, or at least sober craft. In order to determine the price of such nebulous goods, markets tends to rely on abstract consumer sentiments such as personal taste and cultural appeal, rather than functional utility. For these and other reasons I’m obviously going to have to make a series of assumptions in order to set a price.

I do know that every aspect of pricing — every possible permutation of every possible permutation — has been studied to theoretical completion. I also know I don’t have time to learn about all that, so instead I’m going to fly by the seat of my pants.

Mark twirls the propeller on his beanie and by god lifts off the ground!

Over the course of this week I will be exploring the pricing question with several brain-dump posts on various aspects of the problem. I genuinely do not have any idea what the price of this collection should be, and I find myself as intrigued by that fact as I am by the prospect of having people read (it not also buy) my work.

If you have any thoughts on the subject I would be grateful if you would share them. What would you charge? As a content consumer, do you have a positive or negative response to various price points? Although Smashwords is an e-book only site, product can flow from Smashwords to other online retailers, who may in turn kick out a print-on-demand version. How much does posting the work on Smashwords affect your feeling about what the price should be?

At the very least I think I should know something about the pricing of print books as well as e-books, if not also any price relationship between the two. On that basis alone this conversation will necessarily be rolling and wide open. Feel free to chime in [in the comments section for the original post, on Ditchwalk].

This is a cross-posting from Mark Barrett’s Ditchwalk site.

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