We have seen the future, and it sucks.

The Second-Best-Selling Book in America Costs $0.99

25th February 2011

Read it.

The second best-selling book in America, a thriller by Lisa Gardner called Alone, was first published in hardback in 2005, when it cost $25. Now you can pick it up for just $0.99–but only as an ebook. And its ebook sales are the sole reason it is now topping bestseller lists.

So the key to the best-seller list is to cut the price to the bone. The benefit to the reader is obvious. The benefit to the author is almost as plain: Selling an e-book has virtually no marginal cost — you give them a copy of some bits, which costs you next to nothing, and they give you real money (well, if government fiat currency counts as real money); the more copies you sell, the more revenue you get to spread your fixed costs over.

And hitting the NYT best-seller list is the surest route to big advances and publicity budgets, which means better sales for subsequent books.

Anyone who pays attention to Apple’s App store has seen this tactic before: game developers regularly discount older titles to $0.99 in hopes of climbing the charts — the idea is that they make up on volume what they lose on each sale, because a buck is the magic price point at which impulse buys occur. Plus, getting onto the most-downloaded list, whether you’re selling an app or a book, generates enormous amounts of additional sales.

I’m surprised that it’s taken these people this long to figure it out.

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