Boxed sets, have they run their course?

Redeemed by a Rebel 300 dpiI’ll tell you up front that as an author I’m not a fan of the multi author boxed sets that they then sell for 99 cents. It does what it’s supposed to I guess, which is get new readers, but there is no way that 14 authors are going to make any money off of a 99 cent book (35 cents profit), even if it does reach the USA Today and New York Times lists.

Now I’ll also tell you that as a reader, I love these boxed sets. I get to try new authors for less than a dime a book. I’m hardly out anything if I don’t find one I like I can move on to the next one.

How about you? How do you feel, as an author, would you participate in one of these boxed sets? What do you expect to get from it? As a reader, do you love them? What do you expect to get from them? Are they always new authors for you or some of your favorites?

Do you think box sets have run their course, done their duty and should go the way of the dinosaur?

Leave me come comments and win print copy of my book, Redeemed by a Rebel. (US participants will receive the print copy, international winner will receive an ecopy of the book.)

Here is a piece by my friend E. Ayers on the subject.

Here’s My Two Cents
which looks a whole lot more like dime.

Well, I’ve done that multi-author boxed set so I know what it does and doesn’t do. It put one of my books into the hands of a plethora of readers. Am I willing to do it again? Yes!

The amount made wasn’t very much, but it was a tidy little amount. I’ll say more than nothing and a whole lot less than we’d like to think we’d make per book. But when I look around and see what authors will pay to put their name in front of readers, this was cheap advertising and the reader got my book and quite a few more. What I’ve seen is sales on my other books. I also have a story in Debra Holland’s Sweetwater Springs Christmas anthology and that I know has spurred some sales. But I believe it was the boxed set (Christmas on Main Street, which is no longer available) that became the catalyst for many sales. Even though that was a contemporary western in the box, I’m seeing sales on my River City books, which I swear went dormant during the holiday.

So why would someone read a sweet western and then read a more mainstream book? If people like the style of an author’s writing, they will read that author. I will read anything a favorite author writes because I know I’m going to be reading a great story so it doesn’t matter if it’s set in the 1800’s, 900’s or that it’s a crazy contemporary steampunk.

I wouldn’t care if you wrote a contemporary whodunit because I know you create these great characters and wonderful stories for them so why wouldn’t I like what you write if you wrote something different? I don’t think I’m alone. Yes, there are diehard readers who will only read that one genre, and I’m sure many of those readers bought that boxed set because it contained a book by someone they knew and enjoyed. How many bothered to read all eleven books in the set? And how many people read mine and hated it because I don’t write the same type of book as someone else in that set. I promise there’s not one stinker in the whole set, which doesn’t guarantee everyone is going to like all the books.

So just to play with numbers, I’ll say out of all the sales that maybe less than one third of the people who bought the set might get around to eventually reading my book. I have a 50/50 chance they will like me enough to buy more of my books. That’s an awesome number of readers!

Looking at the anthology with Debra Holland, I believe more people read my story because it’s shorter and those stories are tied together so it’s loads of fun reading them. For every Sweetwater Springs Christmas sold, I have a 50/50 chance of obtaining a new reader, which is different from a much small percentage of readers who might get around to reading what I wrote in the big boxed set. It’s 50% of the whole or 50% of less than a third. (I really hope what I just said makes sense.)

As a reader, boxed sets are a fabulous way to try out new authors. We both know a ton of authors who have joined together and created boxed sets. I’ve collected quite a few on my Kindle. Because for 99 cents or even $2.99, it’s a steal of a deal! I knew the one author but I didn’t know the others, or I knew a few but had never read their books. Have I found some great authors? You betcha!

But just as free books have flooded the market and hurt us, so does the boxed set. Why buy a single book for $2.99 or even $5.99 when someone can grab a boxed set of five, ten, or more books for next to nothing? Readers then expect that all books should be that cheap.

I’m an author. This is not my hobby! It is my career. It’s how I make a living. I don’t have a partner bringing home a paycheck. Don’t expect me to write and give my books away for free or to box ten of them up and sell them for 99 cents. It costs me money to produce books. There are cover costs, the expense of paying editors, etc. I must sell a couple thousand books at 99 cents to just cover basic expenses. If I were to box several, I’ve increased what I must sell. Please don’t expect any author to be capable of selling 10,000 books each month just to pay the electric bill on the house! It’s totally impossible.

But there are those who will only read free books or will never buy a book over 99 cents. I have a sneaking suspicion that they are some of the same folks who will drop $6 on a fancy mocha latte, extra shot, upside down with caramel drizzle. But there are also those who are feeding a rabid reading habit and could never afford to pay more for books. It doesn’t feel as though it was that many years ago when I was in the grocery store, with a toddler in the cart seat, and I was counting pennies and wondering if I had enough to buy a book with the leftover grocery money that week. So I understand how important price can be.

I think most people are quite willing to pay $2.99 or more for a book, especially when they know they love the author. And what better way is there to find new authors other than through free or boxed sets?

It’s a two-edged sword. But the general public is getting used to ebooks. There was a time when the number of readers was limited. Now almost everyone seems to have an ereader. (Yes, yes, there are still paper readers. We all know that, but we’re discussing cheap books. Ebooks are cheap.) There are plenty of folks who think a 99 cent or free book must be trash because who would sell so cheap? I’d say they don’t understand advertising. The general public is seeing these cheap books for what they are – marketing strategies and a way to discover a new author. And how many people have waited until the library brought in a favorite author so that they didn’t have to pay $22 for a hardback book?

Things are changing. The industry is changing. The readers are getting smarter. Does anyone remember those book-buying clubs years ago? For a penny you’d get 10 paperback books and then pay only $9.99 a month plus S&H and you could read another 6 books each month but you were committed for a year? Those clubs had all the big names and new releases. There are several sites trying to do the same thing today with ebooks.

The only thing that has really changed is that we’re reading on a device instead of holding a book.
E. Ayers

22 thoughts on “Boxed sets, have they run their course?

  1. Cindy, this is very timely. As a reader, I haven’t ever bought a boxed set. I know authors who have participated in boxed sets solely to get on the lists. True, there’s no money to make if 10 authors are selling their combined books for 99 cents. However, to get on the lists could help their individual sales in the long run. I have two boxed sets of my books. I put the stories together more as a convenience to readers. The regular price for each set is what the books would cost individually. I do at times run sales and lower the prices to 99 cents. Getting on the lists isn’t something I particularly care about. I basically want to introduce my stories to new readers, so I box them to make them more convenient. I think competing against multiple authors’ boxed sets at 99 cents is hard on those of us selling individual books for $2.99. But I do believe boxed sets, like blogging, are on the way out. Something new will take its place.

  2. Actually, you’d be surprised what a 99 cent price divided by 7 or 10 authors can amount to, if the sales are high enough. The original Mirth, Mystery, Murder bundle contains seven full length books from seven authors, and there have been months when we have each made several thousand in royalties.

    Let me say that again: each.

    We didn’t go into it for that, though. I consider putting my book into a bundle on the same level as a free run. It promotes sales of the rest of my books. It helps me find readers who didn’t know me before. Discoverability is the biggest issue facing us as writers today, and it’s a bigger problem every day, as new books and new authors enter the scene. A bundle is a fabulous, target-specific way to do that. And while I certainly don’t want to devalue books, I’m not sure it does. It’s a special promotional tool, often available only for a short time, and the people who read a book they like, go on to buy the author’s other books at regular price.

    A bundle is a loss-leader. If it spurs sales of other books, it’s doing what it’s intended to do.

  3. Great article and comments. I’ve been thinking about participating in a box set, but this is the first time I’ve heard comments on the subject. Thanks for the info. Judy

  4. It’s nice to know that the participants in a boxed set can make some money. I’ve always felt a bit guilty about only paying 99 cents. Honesty compels me to admit, however, that when I finish with one group of “cheap reads” I often go looking for another rather than paying full price for other books by the authors in the just completed set. As a reader, I’m being trained to only consider a discounted book. This is one of the unintended consequences of the popularity of these sets.

  5. I agree with both of you ladies. I love boxed sets as a reader and I will keep buying the ones that interest me. I have never written or been featured in one, but after reading this, I’d be tempted and willing to participate in a boxed set, no hesitation. Readers are the name of this game. I am one, and I love my own fans.

    I also love my favorite authors like AJ Nuest and Vonnie Davis. It really doesn’t matter what Vonnie writes–and that woman does write across the genre gamut! I’ve read her contemporary western, sweet contemporary, steamy contemporary, am hoping to begin her romantic suspense Red Hand Conspiracy series soon, as well as more of her historicals. I’m currently reading bk 1 of her contemporary-paranormal bear shifters. Soon I expect to sample some sekret erotics from (that) special author, as well. I love her writing because I know I’ll get her lovely humor in any book she pens. She cracks me up and makes me cry effortlessly and with a writing style that is definitely one of a kind. Her writer’s voice is impossible not to fall in love with. So, yeah, it doesn’t matter what a favorite author writes, like you said.

  6. Not really interested in them because not all the books sound interesting or I’ve already bought/read them individually

    bn100candg at hotmail dot com

  7. I’m happy to see someone who has done boxed sets actually discuss them. I fully agree with Jenna Bennett that it is a promotional tool. I would never go into a boxed set hoping to make money from it, although according to Jenna it can work that way as well. The big gain is new readers, and that’s what all authors need just as much as income. I participated in the Exquisite Quills Christmas Anthology, which is similar to a boxed set but is permanently free. It acts as a promotion for all of us. I think the boxed set is a good promo tool and would consider participating in one. Thanks, ladies!

  8. I love seeing this dialogue. I and some compatriots are considering doing a boxed set of historical short stories but haven’t put all the details together. My fear was that boxed sets are passe but it sounds like they are still flourishing.

    • I forgot to mention that I do know the power of free for advertising. I have a short story that is part of my Tame Series and it does drive readers to the rest of my series.

    • I think they are still going to be popular for the readers for a long time, but I do think there are changes coming that will block these sets from climbing ranks the way they do. And maybe keep them from making certain lists.

      Remember this is now a reader driven market. We no longer have a few people dictating what the public wants. The public will continue to buy these sets as long as the sets are available.

      If the market floods with substandard books then the public may begin to back away. But the big paper publishers did this sort of thing for years. They bundle several authors together, usually a known author with several of their stable authors and toss in that new author they wanted to promote. Then they’d sell cheap make a list and the new author suddenly had more credence.

      There’s nothing new about any of it, other than this is electronic, rather than paper.

  9. Interesting blog! I can offer viewpoints from two angles – a reader who buys boxed sets, and an author who has participated in two multi-author boxed sets and creates boxed sets of her own works.

    As a reader, buying boxed sets works for me. I buy boxed sets because I don’t have a lot of money and I want to try new authors at low risk. Every boxed set has some authors I love and others I don’t. I always end up buying backlist books from the authors whose stories I enjoyed. At $0.99 I feel that it’s okay to not fall in love with every book in the set. As long as there is one or two that I love, then it’s worth it. (Quite often there are many more.)

    As a writer, bundling my backlist books into boxed sets works for me. When I took three $2.99 books and bundle them and charged $5.99, I essentially created a “buy two, get one free” deal. I saw a significant increase in sales while still selling a fair number of the individual titles.

    As a writer, participating in multi-author boxed sets works for me.When I participated in the two multi-author sets, I used stories that were linked to an ongoing series and saw a significant increase in sales of that series. Over time, I also saw an increase in sales of my other backlist books.

    It’s about more than money. From the two boxed sets I was involved with in January and February 2014, I’ve quadrupled my newsletter subscriber list, added hundreds of followers on social media and put my story on tens of thousands of ereaders. I’ve met wonderful and talented authors, making connections that will last much longer than the life of the boxed set (the ones I’m involved with are only available for 3 months). These connections have lead to future projects.

    Making a list isn’t as easy as you think. I know that some people feel that a boxed set is an “easy” way to get on a list, but I have to say, it’s not. At least it wasn’t for me. If you google “boxed set” on Amazon you’ll find tons and tons of boxed sets, and most of them don’t make the Amazon lists, let alone USA Today or NYT. In the second boxed set I was involved with, the one that made the NYT list, all fourteen of us worked around the clock for two weeks, doing various things to promote that set. We colaborated to come up with new and different ways to promote, including reaching out and doing joint promotion with other boxed sets. It was a Hurculean effort from all of us, and I have to admit, we are all still recovering from the announcement that we hit the NYT list earlier this week.

    Boxed sets might not be for everyone, though. You have to write to theme, and you have to play nice with the other people in the set. You also have to have good accounting.

    As a reader, you have to accept the fact that when you buy a boxed set, you most likely won’t like all of the books, or you might have read one or two of them before. But, at the $0.99 price point (or even $2.99 or $3.99), I have to say that for me, it’s a great way to sample new authors and find new series to love. <3

    Obviously, I'm a big fan of boxed sets, lol. Hope this helps people who are still trying to decide if boxed sets are for them! 🙂

  10. I read all the discussions. I’m glad the boxed sets are working out for so many of you. I’m going to be participating in a boxed set of short marriage-of-convenience stories with my critique partners. One partner has over 20 books with Harlequin and is a RITA nominee and the other has 12 books with several of the large publishers. I hope our boxed set will drive readers to our other books as it seems to have done will some of you.

  11. This is an interesting and timely post. I see many of the boxed sets selling for $0.99 and hitting the NY Times or USA Today best selling lists. I love anthologies because I can find a new author when I buy a book by an author I love, then I do go out and buy more books by that author. The draw with box sets is usually a well-known author. I don’t know that each set makes money but the exposure is wonderful and who doesn’t want to have “best selling author” after their name?

    • We didn’t set out to make *best selling* but we weren’t about to turn it down. Another set cropped up at the same time and I knew a few of the authors, one is a sweet local author who moved away from the area. She discovered my set when it hit Amazon’s best selling list and from that point forward we chatted every night.

      My boxed set was way ahead of hers in sales, even though we were “close” – it’s all relative. She checked the USAT list as soon as it came out, figuring I’d be on it. Nope! Hers was, ours wasn’t. Once she hit that list, she sailed ahead almost instantly. I was so happy for her, and so sad that I wasn’t and totally confused as to why.

      Yes, it would have been nice to have that under my name. No doubt about it, but that wasn’t the goal. The goal was to put stories into the hands of readers who we might not have reached otherwise. We accomplished our goal.

      I think it is more important to set the goals firmly before you begin. And if the whole reason for doing it is to add some sort of status to your name… You might be sorely disappointed. Yes, it would have been nice. No, it didn’t happen. No clue as to why. I’m not upset.

      As for the author recognition going into it, it was the Authors of Main Street whose books were in the set. We have a few names in our midst. But no one person was huge and carrying the full load. Depending on what you read, some names are more recognizable. But each of us is a seasoned author, that meant the reader was assured that every book was well written.

  12. I have boxed all my books. Yes all of them, in box sets of three or four, on my own. I have to say they sold ten times better than the individual books and remained on Amazon bestseller lists for months. I also participated in two multi-author lists. One did super, and the other not so well. Now I don’t understand what happened after New Year. Suddenly the sales dropped. Maybe readers bought so many boxes, they had enough reading to last the whole year. Or maybe Amazon changed an algorithm. Who knows. All I know is that box sets today are not selling the way they did in September. Would I continue in boxed set? Sure, I’ll give more tries, but I don’t expect the incredible sales of before Christmas.

    • Thanks for stopping, Mona. I think the way you’ve boxed yours has been great – by series and theme. You’ve given the public plenty to choose, and if they know your writing, they know what they want to read.

      I’m suspicious that the algorithms are changing.

  13. Someone asked me what I thought was a good price for a box set. The answer is really I don’t know. When I boxed one of my series, I made it so the reader would save a couple of bucks by buying the set as opposed to the individual books. When you are talking about boxed sets by different authors it’s more difficult. If you use the same philosophy as when I boxed my series, no one will buy the boxed set. It would be too expensive at $30 for 14 books. That is still a good deal, but not one that readers are willing to pay. I would still say that it should be more than 99 cents. I would at least put it at $2.99, so the authors can get the 70% instead of 35%.

  14. Thanks for all the responses and thanks especially to E. Ayers for posting this blog with me. I’ve gleaned so much information on this subject. Who knew it was such a hotbed topic.

    Jenna Bennett was drawn as our winner.

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