Pay-What-You-Want Pricing: Does It Work for Books?

by | Oct 7, 2015

By Abs Farah (@payhip)

Once a book is ready to be published, the stress of writing it is taken over by the stress of selling it for the right amount, and the stress of engaging with as many readers as possible.

Whether you are a fiction author, a poet or a fitness professional, selling a book impacts you in the same way: you struggle with implementing a sales and marketing plan and wonder why did you ever get caught up in this mess in the first place!

The solution?

As with almost any kind of problem, improving your sales results is something that can be achieved with the right strategy. Experimenting with prices, giveaways, promotional codes and reader engagement is some of the things that come to mind for most authors. However, most of the time, out of fear or lack of experience, we end up sticking with the same old story.

Are you willing to move out of your comfort zone and experiment with an unusual pricing method in order to increase your sales and gain new readers? Let’s talk PWYW!

What is PWYW?

Pay-What-You-Want (PWYW) pricing is not something that was just discovered, in fact, it has been around for years. This sales technique allows prospective customers to pay what they want for an item or a service. The customers can either be given a choice between a minimum or an average price, or they can literally pay what they want (including getting the item or service for free).

Can PWYW pricing work for books? It can, and it has!

Pricing a book is one of the most difficult processes in the life of an author. It’s not that authors don’t know the value of their work, the problem is knowing what readers are willing to pay for it and most importantly, knowing to balance this with their monetary goals.

When you give people the chance to pay what they want for a book, either in a physical or digital format, chances are that they are going to pay something. But can you base your whole sales strategy on this fact? I dare say “yes”.

Why does PWYW work?

The key to PWYW pricing is to understand that not all readers will pay an above-average price for your book and design your sales strategy based on this reality. Instead of struggling with how much should your book cost, do what you do best and write a stellar sales copy, tailor it for the PWYW strategy and let your readers do the rest. Who knows, they might even surprise you.

The truth is that the success of such a pricing method is highly dependent on how you write your sales pitch and on how you grab the attention of prospective readers. If you can make them become interested in your book, they will pay and share your book with their online and offline friends. And in the end, increasing your reader base is not such a bad consequence, is it?

Crunching the numbers

Based on a recent study conducted by the Payhip team, just 3.5% of all our sellers are using PWYW pricing but over 43% of the buyers pay above the minimum price set. These numbers suggest that we are dealing with an untapped market for selling books, a market that can help you increase your income and attract more readers.

If you set a minimum price for your strategy, and only offer your book for free during special promotions and giveaways you can minimize the risk of people paying nothing. Once you decide to stop your PWYW experiment and look at the numbers, you will see that some of your readers even paid more than the base price you had in mind.

Did it work for other authors and writers?

As mentioned, PWYW is not new in the world of books, it’s just not that widely used. The technique has been used by poets, fiction writers, high-tech brands and even book stores.

Back in 2000, Stephen King made an impressive 470,000 dollars using the PWYW strategy for one of his books.

In 2012, a book store decided to implement the PWYW strategy for a bundle of books including works by famous authors Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow and the results were astonishing. Not only did the authors gain more readers and their books become more popular, but they also made a lot of money: 1.1 million dollars to be exact. What started out as a crazy experiment became an important lesson for those involved.

The PWYW method was also tested by a few high-tech companies that decided to take the road less traveled when launching their niche eBooks. Techdirt, a famous technology portal successfully implemented the unique pricing method and discovered that people will gladly pay to support authors, creators and artists.

Will PWYW strategy work for my book?

This is probably the first question that comes to mind and the best answer that I can offer at the moment is: it depends! It depends on a lot of factors but one thing I can say about PWYW pricing is that it is a fantastic tool for a temporary promotion. I have experienced this first hand whilst helping some of our authors.

Tips for a PWYW strategy

Here are some tips to use when implementing your PWYW pricing strategy:

  • Tailor your offer so that it is clean, clear, understandable and attractive.
  • Use your own writing style when you are working on the sales copy, your readers will respond better to it if it does not sound like some PR company wrote it.
  • Include tie-ins in your offer such as a giveaway for another book, a contribution to charity or a special price for a randomly-selected reader.
  • Anchor the price so that your readers will have an idea of how much the book actually costs; you can include the original price in your sales copy, alongside with the minimum amount that they can pay through PWYW.
  • Consider using limited time offers, especially if you are not sure how this strategy can work for your book or if you just want to test the PWYW method and analyze its results before fully committing to it.

Will PWYW strategy make me rich and famous?

This is something that cannot be guaranteed by any pricing method, whether it is a common or uncommon pricing strategy. In the end, it all comes down to how much time and effort you are willing to put into implementing a PWYW strategy, how good your sales copy is, and a little bit of luck.

Regardless of all the positives and the negatives of PWYW, the fact that this is something unusual, a fun and engaging pricing strategy, may be enough to give it a try!

Abs Farah headshot Abs Farah Abs Farah is the founder of Payhip, a simple platform to help authors sell their ebooks directly to their readers.

Photo: bigstockphoto.com

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11 Comments

  1. sam choo

    Does Payhip has the PWYW feature?

    Reply
  2. Anjelica Way

    Awesome idea! I just uploaded my ebook to PayHip. I love the platform!

    :)

    Reply
    • Abs Farah

      Thank you for the kind words Anjelica, appreciate it!

      Reply
  3. Kelly R

    Thank you so much for the suggestions! Right now, I am trying to figure out the best way to market a book. I want to make my client a household name. He is a household name in my house haha!

    Reply
  4. Karl Drinkwater

    Really interesting, I hadn’t thought of trying this. I assume you will have to use a third party site that enables it (such as Gumroad, mentioned by Marquita): the selling sites I have used in the past (Amazon, Lulu, Smashwords) only let you set fixed prices. And, presumably, for physical objects you’ll need to have the stock to go, rather than sales through a POD seller.

    My main concern would be that when you sell through Amazon you have to promise not to be selling cheaper elsewhere – readers can report lower prices and get the item for that price. The book (or whatever) then has a permanently lower price set on Amazon, which is how people get e-books permanently set to free there. You can also get in trouble with Amazon for pricing lower elsewhere. So is that a risk you would have to deal with? I can see that a single-weekend PWYW deal on a 3rd party site is unlikely to come to amazon’s notice, but a permanent PWYW deal on a 3rd party site is very likely to. I just wondered if the risk there is too big to be worth it, or if I have missed something out! Many thanks.

    Reply
    • Abs Farah

      Hi Karl,

      I’m not suggesting you break Amazon’s terms when using PWYW pricing! :-) Regardless of which retailer you are using, you’ll have to respect their terms.

      Also PWYW doesn’t necessarily mean offering a low/cheap price. You can match the price you set elsewhere and you still have the option to offer your readers the ability to pay more than the minimum price you set. Another option: you can make use of PWYW, before you publish on Amazon to build up an initial set of readers and then launch on Amazon.

      I hope the above helps.

      Reply
      • Karl Drinkwater

        I got confirmation from Amazon: “As long as the recommended price on this website is set to the same price you use on Amazon you’re not going to have any type of problems. Amazon will only see the recommended price, it will not look at what the customer pays (or decide to pay) in the end.”

        Reply
        • Anjelica Way

          Thanks!!

          Reply
    • Anjelica Way

      Karl, that is a very good point and I’m glad you brought it up!

      :)

      Reply
  5. Marquita Herald

    I’m self-published and mostly out of curiosity I tried PWYW with a book a few months ago. I didn’t include any bonus offer and can see how that would make a difference, but nonetheless the experiment was pretty successful. I just ran it on my website and used Gumroad which makes it easy to set this up. With just that and no outside promotion I moved over a hundred books, but what made it so interesting was nearly everyone paid more than the suggested retail price, in fact a few paid nearly double. I’m in final edits for my next book and definitely plan to use this strategy again for the launch only this time I’m going to go all in with a bonus offer and promotions.

    Reply

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