The biggest mistake that I made in negotiating my first solo book contract was not thinking about selling price. When you are an Assistant Professor, you are so focused on getting tenure that you don’t think about book prices. You need peer acceptance (read: letters), and it is possible to get a free copy to the main players in that process. I just wasn’t focused on my book’s list price.
After I got tenure, my book’s price became a sore spot for me. The book was listed at $60 a copy. I’m sure that, in a strict economic sense, that price renders the maximum total book revenue. It hits price insensitive parts of the book market, like libraries and mandated student purchases, and milks each individual buyer as if they were six people buying $9.99 Kindle editions. A book that’s mostly dry-ish household finance data analysis is only going to sell so many copies, so the revenue maximizer tries to get as much out of each potential customer.
The problem is that profit maximization and audience reach are two different things. Who was going to pay that much for an academic book on household finance? Not me. I could not bring myself to encourage people to buy a book that expensive, and there was no chance that I’d ever require my students to pay that kind of money. You can encourage people to ask their librarians to order the book, but you are going to lose tons of readers going through libraries. So many intentions to read die on the inter-library loan vine.
So I used some of my book royalties to buy digital distribution rights from my publisher. I am selling an Kindle edition of my book for the minimum allowable price: $2.99, and will be distributing free copies through my web site in the fall. Along with free electronic copies of my book, I will distribute single chapter PDFs, high quality media for use in classroom slides, and chapter summaries.
The book is a study of financial insecurity in the U.S., and its relationship with the high cost of wellbeing-essential products due to America’s neglected public services. Here an interview about the book:
The book’s chapters can be used as a basis for a range of interesting class discussions, like:
- Are people really worse off today?
- Exactly how have people’s money situations gotten worse over the past few decades?
- Who counts as “rich”, and how much money do they really have?
- Are poor people really so poor?
- How many of us are ultimately reliant on government aid?
- Why can’t people just tighten their belts in response to financial problems?
And many more. Check it out!