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How to price a book

I think that Derek Sivers—one of my favorite people to read online—has the right idea when it comes to modern book pricing.

From his post on considerate book pricing:

If I buy a book in one format, it doesn’t seem fair to pay full price to get it in another format. That would be paying twice for the same content.

Let’s separate these two things:

  1. Contents: the words in a book
  2. Delivery: the ways to get the words into your brain: paper, audio, PDF, HTML, etc.

What we really want is to buy the contents, not delivery.

With so many different devices now, it seems fair that if you buy the contents of a book, it should include all formats of delivery. EPUB, MP3, Kindle, M4B, PDF, HTML, or whatever new formats may come in the future.

Today you want to read silently by the fire. Tomorrow you want to listen while you drive. In ten years, you want to read it again on your new device. This should all be included when you buy a book.

I love this idea. It’s almost perfect. It has just one problem: Paper costs money. So I can’t just include it for free.

But following this philosophy, it’s not right to charge full price for each paper book, because that would mean paying repeatedly for the contents!

So here’s the solution I came up with:

  • Contents of my book: $15
  • Delivery of all digital formats: FREE
  • Paper? Just cover its cost: $4 each (+ postage)

I like this. It means you never pay for the contents twice.

– Derek Sivers, Considerate book pricing

That sure makes a lot of sense to me!

How I priced my own book

I’ve only written one book—so far, at leastthe first guidebook to Kayaking the Salt River. It’s available on Amazon for $4.69 on Kindle.

But don’t buy it there.

Instead, I make it available for free—in both Kindle and epub formats—if you “join” the Alliance of Salt River Paddlers by subscribing to the (also free) email list. Yep, that’s it.

That’s because I created this guidebook not as a moneymaker, but as both an experiment1 and a public service for a place I love.

I published it in 2020 in response to a whole slew of newbies that were suddenly discovering the Salt—one the few outdoor activities that was open during covid shutdowns. Armed with cheap new inflatable paddleboards, they descended on the river in uninformed hoards. And wreaked havoc.

So the book was an attempt to convert my already popular tutorial post on kayaking the river (which was the top result on Google) to new paddlers who were hitting the river. An attempt to impart some Leave No Trace best practices and some wisdom to those who might not know better. I had only written that original post to send to people who asked about my adventures on the river—and to new folks that joined my group moonlight trips. It was a way to consolidate the info I needed to send to everyone into a single link. I was simply tired of rewriting the same info over and over.

But at the time, I was also helping to establish the Sonoran Insiders, a project aimed at using social media “ambassadors” to better promote appropriate behavior on our public lands. I (as the Arizona Conservation Partners) was working to implement my idea with staff from the National Forest Foundation, Central Arizona Conservation Alliance, and the Tonto National Forest.

And it occurred to me that lots of marketers use a so-called “lead magnet” for capturing email addresses that they can then direct into a marketing funnel. Could we use a similar technique for advancing conservation?

This was an opportunity to find out. After all, I didn’t need to be known as “the guy who wrote the book” (as I’ve, awkwardly, been subsequently identified as by randos on the river) or to make money (do first-time authors even make money?). So I could play around with this project in a way that others might not be able to.

The verdict?

Well, I think it’s been a success. It’s the proof of concept that I needed to get started on an another conservation project, now that some of my time has opened back up. Stay tuned.

  1. Well, two experiments really.

    I actually first started writing a book on quests, but decided to do the Salt River book first. It was a more pressing issue, and I also wanted to learn the lessons from the whole “write a book” experience before starting in on a larger topic that has defined so much of my life.

    The second experiment was seeing how many people would “join” a stewardship group in order to get the book—which was “valued” at $4.69 (hehe) on Amazon—by providing their email address. This was a “proof of concept” experiment for a public lands conservation project I’ve long had in mind.

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