Before anything else, I want you to really understand and internalize this fact:
Price is CAN determine an object’s value. However, an object’s value is NOT DEPENDENT on price alone.
There are pieces of art that are deemed priceless—not because of the prices that market dictates, but because the owners of that piece of art value that canvas more than they value money itself.
Just like if you had your favorite comic created by both your favorite author and your favorite artist, a comic that was signed by both of them, a comic that you won at a contest whose prize included a lunch date with both creators.
You wouldn’t sell that book for anything, would you?
No. That comic would be priceless (at least, for you it would be).
If you want to create value for your work, create memories
Have you ever heard of the term “memory capital”? It’s the kind of investment you make when you take your kids on a vacation to Disneyland. It’s an investment in your relationship with your spouse when you go on a weekend getaway together where you give one another your full attentions.
Seth Godin often says that the best way for musicians to make money these days isn’t by selling CD’s or tracks on itunes. Rather, it’s by creating memorable experiences for their fans when they go on tour and perform in front of them.
The value of a piece of digital music isn’t nearly as high as the value of a concert ticket (why do you think ticket prices are so high?). In comparison, a digital file is easily replaceable. But a night out with friends, dancing to music you all love, isn’t replaceable.
If you can create memorable experiences for your readers through your books, then price takes the backseat.
Memorable experiences are the ultimate scarcity.
In a recent podcast episode of Off Panel, David Harper and John Layman (the creator and writer behind Image’s series Chew) briefly talk about how comics used to have a section at the back where the creators could reply to some letters their fans sent them.
John Layman tells the story of how this one fan (because he had his letter featured in an issue) bought multiple copies of that issue to give to friends and family. He talks about how angry and frustrated he was when (while he was still an editor at a particular comics publication) his bosses decided to scrap the fan mail at the back of the comics they were publishing.
What do you think happened when they did that? The value of those comics instantly slipped. Why? Because they decided to stop creating memories, and instead focus on the business aspect of making comics (making money).
That was, in my humble opinion, a terrible move.
So maybe not everyone appreciates the letters. Maybe not everyone reads them. But trust me when I say this: those that do appreciate them will trust, respect, and love you even more just because you took the time to answer their questions.
Our fans are our customers. Without them, we’re nothing.
So rather than take them off the table, our job should be to serve them, not just ourselves. Because without them, your work would not have any value (no matter how high or low you price it).
Okay… So… How much should I price my comics again?
Honestly, it’s easy to just give out a number. I can do that. Sure. But is that what you really want? A number?
Instead, let me tell you about something I’ve learned from studying the self-publishing industry on Amazon.
If you haven’t read Write. Publish. Repeat. yet, then I encourage you to grab a copy this instant–if only to familiarize yourself with how the authors, Sean, Johnny, and David, were able to build a self-publishing empire (Sterling & Stone), and how you can formulate your own business model around their system.
Give Away Your First Book
One thing that many successful indie authors these days have done with their books, is that they give away their first book for free.
That’s right, completely, 100% free!
The goal of the first book—especially if you’re just starting out—is to be read. It’s the main goal that I believe every comics creator should have before they even think of possibly making money. Because without an audience, how else can you start making money?
The goal at the beginning, then, is to reach as many people as possible. Have them try out your work and your stories, and see if they’re interested. Sample chapters are great in the fiction world because they help readers determine if a book is worth their time and their money.
What free does, is it eliminates the barrier between them picking up your book, or ignoring it completely.
When you charge a price (even just a dollar), what that does is it makes people think and puzzle over whether or not they should pull out their wallets for something they know nothing about. There’s no trust between you two yet, and so people will always, ALWAYS, hesitate.
Your goal with the first book is to eliminate any chance at hesitation. Get your work read. Build trust first. The money will come later on.
Start Charging for Your Second Book
Usually what indie authors do is that they give away their first book for free for just a couple of weeks after it’s release. Some choose to make it permanently free. Some don’t. Other authors choose to price their books at $0.99 after its initial release.
What this does is it makes that first book still very easily accessible (for people that want to dip their toes and test the waters), but at the same time it helps generate for them a fairly decent income while they work on that second book.
When the second books comes around, though, it’s charged at a higher price: $2.99. Now, understand that indie authors price some books higher mostly because of the royalties that Amazon gives. The higher-priced an ebook is, the bigger the royalties compared to their cheaper counterparts.
In principle, though, I believe this is how you should price your comic books as well. Make the first issue the cheapest it could possibly be—if not completely free. Afterwards, start charging for the second issue.
The first issue helps build your audience.
The second issue keeps the freeloaders out, and the more serious fans in. Again, Chris Anderson says in his book that,
Charging a price, even a very low price, can encourage much more responsible behavior.
This is because the main adversary of free is waste. Free can encourage gluttony and abuse.
As much as possible, you don’t want abusive freeloaders planting unhealthy seeds into your fanbase and community. You want loyal fans to stick together and support one another as they support you and your work.
Granted, you can’t please everyone. AND YOU SHOULDN’T TRY TO.
You should at least do your best to make sure that those that are buying your stuff are really interested.
Finally, Produce a Trade Paperback
There are different kinds of readers in the comics universe. Some like reading and collecting single issues. Others prefer trades.
Personally, I’m of the latter group. I hate having to buy single issues every month. I’d rather wait for the compiled version—mostly because I personally feel that those are more worth my time and money.
Of course, you price the compilation higher than your single issues. A good ten dollars (even for a digital version) is, I believe, well worth a reader’s time and money.
Again, you shouldn’t be discouraged when people start complaining that they’re paying so much for just a digital file. Chances are, those people are one in a hundred—maybe even one in a thousand.
Just tell yourself not to worry. It’s not for them.
They aren’t your audience. The people willing to support you are. Ask them how they feel. Chances are, ten bucks seems like a fair price for something they personally enjoyed.
And if you were able to make the experience memorable for them (as discussed earlier), chances are that they might even be willing to pay more for your book, just so that they can pay you back somehow.
NOTE: An even better strategy would be to put out your compilation for free every once in a while (just so that you can continue to create more fans and reach out to new readers).
Your book’s value isn’t in its price. It’s in the memories that you create for your readers, and how well you serve them. Serve them well enough, and you can be sure that they’d be willing to support you all throughout your career.
If nobody’s heard of you yet, better to give your book away for free—just so you can spread the word. But even once you’ve made a name for yourself, it doesn’t hurt to hold a free giveaway every once in a while.
Your goal here isn’t to be make money, but to be read.
The greatest enemy of every artist is obscurity. If nobody knows who you are, what good is your art? If nobody ever sees your work, you not only do yourself an injustice, but you also do the world an injustice by not being courageous enough to share your truth and your vision.
Seth Godin says that art is a gift that changes the recipient. If you believe that, and you believe that your art can make a difference in someone’s life—that it can entertain, teach, and enlighten the world—then you should do your best to make sure you get it into people’s hands.
NOW IT’S YOUR TURN
If you have any good, great, or amazing pricing practices and experiences, then please feel free to share them in the comments. We’re here to help one another out, after all. The more we do that, the greater our chances of success.
And if you feel that you’ve learned something from this post, don’t be shy. Share it with friends whom you know will benefit from this post.