Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Looking at Kindle Bestsellers

Right now I'm selling about 180 ebooks a day on Kindle.

That's pretty crazy. So crazy, that some people on the interwebs are wondering if I'm making it up.

Well, I'm not. Here's a video for proof. Check the time and date and crunch the numbers.

Click Here.

Some (most?) people want to believe this is an anomaly. That I'm some aberration. And there's very good reason they want to believe this. Because if I'm not a fluke, then print publishing might be in very big trouble, and authors who have print publishers might be in very big trouble.

It's much easier to think there's a specific reason behind sales. One I've seen a lot is:

"Konrath is selling well because he has a name and a fan base."

Okay, let's analyze that.

First of all, I've worked my butt off for seven years trying to promote my brand and establish a fan base. I'd love to believe that my hard work has paid off, and that people are flocking to my books in droves.

Unfortunately, there are some serious flaws with this statement.

1. My publisher is selling almost as many ebooks as print books. According to the last statistic I read, less than 10% of all book sales are ebooks. So if people truly are finding my books because they know my name, shouldn't they be buying the print versions?

Let's look at my first book, Whiskey Sour. It's in its fifth printing. Last royalty statement, I sold 1547 paperback copies. I also sold 1401 ebooks of Whiskey Sour.

Hmm. That's strange. Shouldn't my ebook sales be only 10% of my print sales? That's how it is with other authors.

Why have I sold so many ebooks of Whiskey Sour?

Oh, wait. I know. Because I've sold 37,000 other ebooks for $1.99, and some of the people that bought those became fans and bought the more-expensive ebooks that my publisher is selling.

This isn't a case of JA Konrath fans buying my cheap ebooks. It's a case of readers buying my cheap ebooks, then becoming JA Konrath fans.

2. I give these ebooks away for free. You can go to my website, JAKonrath.com, and download for free most of the ebooks I'm selling on Kindle.

Wouldn't my fans know that? Why would they buy them when they're already free?

3. Cheap sells better. How can I be sure? When Grand Central released AFRAID as an ebook, they priced it at $1.99 for the first month. Keep in mind that Afraid was written by my pen name, Jack Kilborn, who had no built in fan base.

In one month, Afraid sold 10,253 ebooks. Then, in May, they raised the price. Since then, it has only sold 3720 copies. If this were a name-recognition thing, the ebook would have continued to sell well. After all, the bestseller lists are filled with high priced ebooks by name authors.

4. I'm not the only one. Right now, I have nine books on the Kindle Police Procedural Top 100 Bestseller list. This fluctuates--sometimes I have as many as thirteen in the top 100.

So who else is on this list?

All the ususal suspects are there, selling at full price. Jonathan Kellerman, Robert Crais, JD Robb, Michael Connelly, James Patterson, Charlaine Harris, Robert B. Parker, Jeffery Deaver, Lisa Gardner, Stuart Woods, James Lee Burke, Nelson Demille, Kay Hooper, Anne Perry, John Sandford.

These are all NYT bestsellers. Why am I up there with them? Why am I ten percent of the entire bestseller list?

Price. My books are cheaper.

And guess what? There are a few others on the same bestseller list. Charles Shea is selling well at 99 cents. Casey Moreton has three books on the list, all at $1.99. Eric Cristopherson is hanging tight at $1.99. Michael Harvey is $1.59. John Luciew is $2.99. J Gregory Smith is 99 cents.

So a bunch of newbies are competing with a bunch of bestselling authors. And none of those newbies has the so-called fan base and name that I have.

What conclusions do I draw from this?

I'd wouldn't say "J.A. Konrath is selling a lot because he has fans and an established print backlist."

I'd say "Readers like inexpensive ebooks."

Apparently, readers don't mind paying more for books they want. They'll pay ten bucks for a bestseller. They'll also pay seven bucks for me, if I hook them with a two buck ebook first.

This really makes me wonder, though, how well I'd be selling if all of my ebooks were a few dollars each.

Writers are notoriously tight-lipped about how much they earn, and how many books they sell. But I humbly ask my peers who read this blog: how many ebooks did you sell on your last royalty statement? How many compared to your print books?

You don't have to have a name to sell well on Kindle. All you have to have is a good book at a low price.

Remember that value isn't the cover price of a book. A book's true value is how much money it makes.

I'm making $125 a day. In July, it will be over $300 a day. By the end of the year, I'll have $100,000 in my pocket.

That's not a fluke. That's simply paying attention to what customers want, and giving it to them.

Write a good book. Make a good cover. Use a good description. Then sell it for cheap and make the money in volume.

80 comments:

Lydia Sharp said...

A friend of mine recently acquired a Kindle (her husband bought if for her). She downloads several items a week. And the cheaper, the better. She's trying to talk me into publishing on Kindle (not that I really need convincing), and she knows nothing about the publishing industry whatsoever. She's not very business savvy either, or one of those people that always has to be involved with the latest trend, she's just putting two and two together. She knows she's not the only one purchasing books for her Kindle because they're cheap, and she thinks that I, as an author, would be stupid to pass up the financial opportunity.

Nancy said...

I would never own a kindle or nook. I stare at a computer screen all day and I will be darned if I will take one to bed with me. Would we be reading Wuthering Heights today if there were Kindles?

Jude Hardin said...

This isn't a case of JA Konrath fans buying my cheap ebooks. It's a case of readers buying my cheap ebooks, then becoming JA Konrath fans.

So low-priced backlist ebooks and previously unpublished ebooks might eventually work as advertisements for upcoming new releases in print. Now THAT'S a model I could get behind!

CJ West said...

Thanks for pointing out the other newcomers on the bestseller list, Joe. It gives us little guys hope.

CJ

Ellen Fisher said...

I'm happy with my sales on Kindle so far (I've sold about 1300 downloads over the past month and a half). I don't have much of a fanbase to start with (I've been writing romance for a long time but was mainly a small press writer, and recently took a long hiatus), so I doubt my sales are at all influenced by anything except "cheap price, decent covers."

Thus far, however, I do note that I'm not moving books at $1.99-- they pretty much need to be priced at .99 to sell. This may be the difference between an author with no discernible fanbase, and one that does have some name recognition (and I'm hoping that now that I've sold some books, people might be willing to spend $1.99 on the next one!). Cheap sells, but how you can price your books may depend on some degree of name recognition. I figure I'm a question mark, so readers are currently not willing to risk more than a buck on me. You're perhaps less of a question mark-- or it could be a genre thing, too. Hard to say, really.

I will say that I'm not sure people are emphasizing your sales seem to be unusually high so much because they're worried about what your sales may say about the future state of publishing. I think the concern may be more that it's not easy to duplicate your very impressive sales, and people want to sound a note of caution to other writers: "Don't assume your Kindle sales will be like Joe Konrath's." Of course this should be obvious, but no one wants to see newbies jumping in before they consider all their options carefully (and you've said as much yourself). Hence the repeated statements that your sales aren't typical, I think.

graywave said...

It's a shame Amazon taxes foreigners $2 for every book we buy from the Kindle Store. All your $1.99 ebooks are $3.99 for everyone outside the USA. And, for us, there is no such thing as a free book on the Kindle Store - they're all $2.00!

It makes other pricing weird too. My recently-released ebook is $5.50 on my publisher's website. Amazon sells it for a 20% discount ($4.40) in the Kindle Store but, outside the US, that means it costs $6.40 because of the foreigner tax.

Anonymous said...

Does anyone have any numbers about how young adult sells on the Kindle? I would think the .99 price would be perfect for parenst who want to get their kids to read.

Sean McCartney
Lost Treasure Series
Secrets of the Magical Medallions

Boyd Morrison said...

I was selling over 100 books a day last year, so I definitely believe your numbers. I'm very curious, though, to see how your numbers will change when you raise the prices to $2.99.

Do you think there is a certain inertia involved? If you're already on the Kindle bestseller lists, are you likely to stay there? And if you're not already on the list, does that make it exponentially harder to get on it and get that built-in marketing tool from Amazon? When I did it last year, there wasn't nearly as much competition as there is now for self-published authors.

Kelle DeLuca said...

I'm guilty. I buy books on the Kindle free to $2, get hooked, then buy every book by that author and anxiously await their next book cheap or expensive. Sure, I breeze through a bunch of books that I don't become a fan of, but the gems are frequent.

Eric J. Krause said...

I'm about to get an e-reader, and I doubt I'll be buying very many books that cost over 2 bucks. I'm sure I'll splurge for a few "expensive" ones for authors I love, but for the most part, I'll be getting the less expensive ones.

I think this is a good thing for writers who don't mind placing a lower price on their ebooks. Not only is it possible to make pretty good money, but it's also great advertisement for newer books that will cost more. As said, hook readers with well-written cheap books so they'll spend more for newer ones.

Anonymous said...

"So low-priced backlist ebooks and previously unpublished ebooks might eventually work as advertisements for upcoming new releases in print. "

If I get hooked on Konrath's ebooks I don't want to buy his next book in print. I want it as an ebook, same as the others, and that's where I'll look for it (online).

I don't go into a B&N or Borders anymore.

C. Pinheiro, EA ABA said...

Okay, I'll bite. I think it depends on your audience, Joe. I remember reading that Susan Boyle's CD was #2 in the country, and that 99% of her buyers bought CDs.

Lady Gaga was #1 and I think that the majority of her sales were digital downloads. Can you guess who has the younger fan base?

I sold 9 copies of my Kindle Book last month. I sold 52 pbooks of the same title.

My textbooks are all large trade paper, so I don't have a Kinlde edition to compare them to.

Joe Konrath said...

Momentum, or inertia, may play a part. Once a book is on the bestseller lists, it tends to stay on there. Then, you add more titles, they get on the bestseller lists too, and then you're dominating.

I'm planning on releasing two novels and a non fiction ebook this month. I'm pricing them all at $2.99. I have no idea what the shift to $2.99 is going to do to my other books, but I can't see them dropping much, if at all. There are other authors selling just as well as I am, and they're already at $2.99.

I wish I knew what exactly was going on, and how sales worked, and why some books sell better. But I'm 100% sure price is a factor.

Simon Hay Soul Healer said...

I agree with you about price. I wonder what the optimum price will be? Where higher price lower volumes equals lower price profits.

I think it has to be about reaching as many readers as possible. It maybe that all the promotion work you've done in the past is now bearing fruit (?).

I'd like readers to buy my books because they like my writing and not because they're prepared to chance $1.99. That could be ego getting in the way of sales.

Thanks for sharing.

Karen McQuestion said...

"Readers like inexpensive ebooks."
Well put, Mr. Konrath!

I have six self-published books on Kindle, all under $2.00, and I couldn't be happier. I'm a complete unknown and have no fan base, yet I've sold over 30,000 ebooks in eight months, and now one of my titles (A Scattered Life) has been picked up to be published by AmazonEncore this August. The best part? The validation and response from readers who enjoy my books. I'm in writer heaven.

I'm not all that business-minded, but it seems obvious from what I've read on the message boards that there's a huge demand for inexpensive ebooks. And, as this blog post pointed out, if readers like one book by an author, they'll buy others.

I'm always puzzled when I hear people in publishing say that ebooks cannibalize sales of traditional books. It seems to me that low-priced ebook sales are sales they wouldn't have otherwise. Extra income, so to speak.

Thanks again, Joe, for another terrific post!

Moses Siregar III said...

On the subject of Kindle and ebooks, I collected Joe's advice from the Twitter chat he hosted yesterday and posted all the main points on my blog: how to sell ebooks.

The Feckless Goblin said...

Interesting article...will have to take a look at kindle. Most people I've talked to like a good old fashioned book in their hands but then they've never tried it out and they're as old fashioned as me.

Vincent Eaton said...

This site is one of the best an author/indie publisher can follow. Impressive, clear message and info. Makes me want to hug the Internet.

Ellen Fisher said...

Karen, your books are a good example of good price+good sample+good cover=sales. There are plenty of books as cheap as yours on Amazon, but few of them are selling that well. But yours have great covers and excellent writing, and so they've done well. I think a cheap cover price will get people to take a look at your book, but it won't get them to buy it. What gets them to buy it is the sample and the cover. The low cover price is just a way of getting noticed.

And by the way, perhaps you HAD no fan base, but now that you've sold 30,000 copies I think it's fair to say you have one now:-).

Leslie said...

Thanks for all your posts here, Joe. Great information for authors.

Here's another author sharing what's happened to her backlist saleson the Kindle.

jruschme said...

"Readers like inexpensive ebooks."

Which brings up an interesting question... is the ebook the newest incarnation of the Penny Dreadful, "Pulp" novel, etc.?

Karen McQuestion said...

@Ellen Fisher-

I'm so glad you left a nice comment because last night I'd been wondering if I made a mistake in being so candid about my sales. (I'm from the Midwest, and always heard that no one like a braggart.) I did want to give other writers a measure of hope though, and let them know that even if you're unknown, it can be done--as long as you have a good story and are willing to put in the work.


I completely agree that a book's cover, price, and sample are top selling points. I'd add that the description plays a role as well. And once all that's in place, the Internet makes marketing easy. From the start I've spent an hour or two every day doing promotional work--blog comments, message boards,blog posts, Twitter, etc. All free and fairly easy to do, and it really helped to get the word out.

Joe,I didn't mean to hijack your comments. I am grateful that you've been so upfront about your journey. Your site has been a great resource for me.

rex kusler said...

I think this blog has a lot to do with your sales, Joe. It's directed at aspiring writers, and they probably buy more books than anyone. I usually get about 15 sales per day for my mystery. I noticed when I post a comment here, I'll get an extra 10 for the day. Let's see if that works today.

David Wisehart said...

My first and only novel went on sale as a Kindle ebook on March 3, 2010. I have no established fan base.

From my March report:

Units Purchased: 43
Units Refunded: 0
Net Units: 43
List Price: $.99
Royalty: $15.05

David Wisehart
Author of Devil's Lair

Anonymous said...

@ Leslie

My sales chart is nearly identical to Moira's, except that I sold over a thousand books in March (two titles). On Kindle only. I've never published a book in hard format.

Karen, how delightful to see you here! I grew up just down the road, in the land of cows and contentment. Karen and I drank water from the same aquifer; I must have as much writing talent (O, writing Gods, make it so!).

And, for the record, I'd never heard of JA Konrath before I ran into this blog. He developed this fan online.

Anna Murray

Leslie said...

@ Anna, it really is encouraging to current, and aspiring, authors to see that there's more than one way of building an audience.

Here's another stat: in 2009, traditionally published books totaled 288,355. Self-published? 764,448.

David L. McAfee said...

Another great post. Some good points here that I never thought of before. Way to make people think, Joe.

I hereby recant my Facebook comment about how having an established fan base may have helped you with Kindle sales.

Morgan Mandel said...

My take is the economy is driving more people to ebooks. Once the initial investment in a kindle is made, readers easily make up the price by buying inexpensive kindle edition books, or finding free kindle books.

Once the economy gets better, I'm wondering if they'll still be in the habit of buying cheap.

I also wonder how many will be buying books for the ipad and what the price dictates are over there. I haven't checked into that market yet.

So far, I've resisted getting a kindle because I have so many autographed print books from friends to read first.

Morgan Mandel
http://morganmandel.blogspot.com
http://facebook.com/morgan.mandel

Jack H. H. King said...

Joe,

I bought all your ebooks. It happened by accident. Three months ago I found your blog by luck. I googled something obscure (about Kindle cover formatting) and one of your posts about Kindle sales was near the top of the search. I read it. You impressed me. And I’ve followed your blog ever since. I’m a full-time novelist/screenwriter and I’ve had ebooks on Kindle since its launch. I bought Origin first. Because of the cover/teaser. I gave your book my standard treatment. I read the first paragraph. If the craftsmanship hooks me, I put it on the must read pile. If it fails, I’ll never look at it again. Origin made it onto the must read pile via my adverb loophole. No adverbs in a first paragraph is rare. The sign of true professional. So I bought the rest of your Kindle books.

That was my gift. My question is this. I wonder if your sales level is an ebook thing or an Amazon.com thing. If a book with a sexy cover / title / reviews / price / description / excerpt finds its way onto an Amazon Bestseller List, then it tends to stay on the list for months. You’re selling well because somehow you got a book on a helpful bestseller list, which pulled the rest of your sales upward. This would be simple to verify. Look at your ebook sales on Sony, Nook, iPad and everywhere else. I’m guessing none of them are even close to your experience on Kindle. That’s not a slight against you, it’s praise for Amazon’s current recommendation formula. You mentioned before that this Kindle thing took you by surprise. You woke up one day with a killer sales rank, and list placement. What happens if tomorrow you wake up and Amazon has changed its secret formula? Because in the history of Amazon, they have changed their formula multiple times. To increase Amazon’s profit. Sometimes killing the profits of individual sellers. What if this happens next week and you’re not on any of the new lists? What if your Kindle sales drop to Nook levels? Could you make $100,000 a year selling ebooks on Nook?

Jack H. H. King
jhhk-author.blogspot.com

Joe Konrath said...

@ Karen - I emailed you. I'd like to ask you some questions about what you've done to self-promote. I think my blog readers would find it valuable and encouraging.

Joe Konrath said...

I wonder if your sales level is an ebook thing or an Amazon.com thing.

Right now, it's an Amazon thing. I haven't gotten Sony/Nook/iPad sales reports yet, so I can't see how I'm doing, but my iTunes sales have been slow (only made about $100) and Smashwords has been slow (only about $300).

I've said that the bestseller list is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I believe it is true. But I think another reason I'm selling is Amazon's brilliant use of "Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought" which then lists similar books.

The "Customers Who Bought" system is, in my opinion, leading to even more sales than the bestseller lists. I'm sure I'm getting a lot of appearances on this. And the more ebooks I sell, the more appearances I get. It's like a pyramid scheme.

What happens if tomorrow you wake up and Amazon has changed its secret formula?

Amazon has made some changes I haven't liked. For a while, they stopped listing alternate versions of the book (linking the hardcover to the paperback, etc.). They've stopped adding Author blogs to titles, which is too bad.

If they change, we'll see what happens. But if this method is selling books for Amazon, I doubt they'll change. if anything, they'll improve it.

Could you make $100,000 a year selling ebooks on Nook?

We'll see. I've got a lot of irons in the fire. If Nook takes off (and it might, since Best Buy is selling them starting next week) I'm ready to cash in on that. Ditto Son, and iPad.

The Kindle will be sold at Target the end of April. That is a Very Good Thing.

Sitting around and waiting to see what happens next is like waiting for death to come. Writers should be paying attention, maximizing their exposure, experimenting, trying new things, and constantly tweaking and adjusting.

Also, they should kill their adverbs. :)

Karly Kirkpatrick said...

Joe, let me just say again how much your posts blow my mind! I was skeptical of the whole ebook thing before but now I'm totally on board after your many posts. I'm heavily considering selling an unpublished YA on Kindle. I'll be curious to see if it sells as well as 'adult' novels.

I noticed you made reference to the importance of a good cover. Being new to ebooks, do you have a previous post on that that I could refer to? Who do you use? Or do you make them yourself? I also live in the Chicago area...small world!

The Daring Novelist said...

"Which brings up an interesting question... is the ebook the newest incarnation of the Penny Dreadful, "Pulp" novel, etc.?"

I think that's exactly what ebooks are, and it's got me as excited as can be. I don't have to do as well as Joe to be really energized and inspired - just the idea that the pulps are back is enough.

Moira Rogers - Bree said...

The "Customers Who Bought" system is, in my opinion, leading to even more sales than the bestseller lists. I'm sure I'm getting a lot of appearances on this. And the more ebooks I sell, the more appearances I get. It's like a pyramid scheme.

I can offer some anecdotal evidence to this effect. My epublisher (Samhain) has one free book available every two weeks. In February it happened to be a book in the same subgenre as most of my books. The author and I have the same editor, a lot of the same readers, and appear on each other's "Customers Also Purchased" lists with impressive regularity.

Her book was free, so it shot up to the top of the kindle list pretty quickly. It dragged a few of her other titles up with it, but what I didn't expect and was surprised to see was that it dragged a fair number of mine along for the ride. I went from having never seen my book ranked under 1,000 to having it in the 400s for several weeks.

Even though the freebie has long since passed, all of my books have resettled at a lower average ranking than they were before. I won't see the actual numbers until next month, but I'm imagining they'll be impressive. My January numbers were already a pretty hefty jump.

It may not work in all instances, but it sure as heck worked for me.

Moses Siregar III said...

I question for people who are self-publishing ebooks, but not doing POD versions of those books at the same time: Why not?

Anonymous said...

I question for people who are self-publishing ebooks, but not doing POD versions of those books at the same time: Why not?

A POD book costs the reader $10 more than my ebook format. Most self-pubbed authors report very few POD sales. It didn't seem to be worth the hassle.

Ellen Fisher said...

"It didn't seem to be worth the hassle."

Exactly. If my books move best at ninety-nine cents, I'm unlikely to find a lot of customers for a much more costly paperback, at least not till I build up a bigger fanbase. Right now it seems to be a lot of trouble to go through for very little likely return.

Helen Hanson said...

I love paper. Especially Post-its. But ebooks own the future of the publishing industry. It's inevitable. From production costs, delivery costs, storage costs (I have bookshelves all over my house), purchase price - it makes sense. E-books don't fit the current business paradigm, which makes those entrenched uncomfortable.

I'm currently trying to place my first novel with a literary agent that has shown considerable interest. If he wants me, I intend to give electronic rights equal consideration before swooning over any deal he brings to the table. If not, well, I may go it alone.

@Joe I'm a fan of your writing and your open-kimono approach to sales. Thanks for all you do in the community.

@Karen We would find your self-promotion ideas valuable and encouraging. And you have a cool last name.

Moses Siregar III said...

Exactly. If my books move best at ninety-nine cents, I'm unlikely to find a lot of customers for a much more costly paperback, at least not till I build up a bigger fanbase. Right now it seems to be a lot of trouble to go through for very little likely return.

Thanks for answering (also Anon). I'm considering publishing my work to Kindle, but then I'm anticipating that a lot of people will tell me they just want a physical copy, because they don't have an ereader and don't want to read on their computer. Or, ideally, people will like the ebook so much that they want a physical book, too.

For people who are selling tens of thousands of ebooks, my assumption--which may be wrong--is that you'd do much better having physical books available also.

I don't know, though. That's just what I assumed. An ebook at $2.99 vs a POD at ... I'm not sure what the price would be on Amazon. I assumed a lot of people would go for print, though, and that it would be smart to have both POD and ebook available if you're launching mainly as an ebook.

Granted, there's a lot more hassle involved with getting the print version ready.

Mark Edward Hall said...

Hi, Joe, I wanted to mention that the e-version of my novella, The Haunting of Sam Cabot, released last September by the small press, Damnation Books is outselling the print editions by at least twenty to one. And that's at $4.50 a pop. (My publisher set the price. I didn't have a choice or it would have been cheaper.) The print edition is $8.29. As a matter of fact it was one of the the top ten best selling ebooks for the months of Feb and March on Horror Mall, right up there with mass market writers like John Everson. My point is, cheaper books sell better than expensive books. It seems to matter less and less all the time whether you get signed by a NY publisher. Having a good book is helpful though.

Jude Hardin said...

I've said that the bestseller list is a self-fulfilling prophecy, and I believe it is true.

A couple of weeks ago someone got on one of Amazon's lists by selling a mere twelve (I think) copies. Is there anything stopping authors from buying enough of their own books to make it onto those "bestseller" lists? Seems like it wouldn't cost much, even if you wanted to be #1 for a while.

Ellen Fisher said...

Jude, Amazon only lets you buy one copy per account.

Jude Hardin said...

Thanks, Ellen. I didn't know that.

Zoe Winters said...

Print publishing is in trouble. And I find I can't get too worked up about that. They had a good run, but... yeah.

Nancy, having just received my Kindle, I can say it is NOTHING like reading off a computer screen. It's more like reading a book. In fact, it's easier on your eyes than reading a book and you can read it in bright sunlight too. You should go to a Barnes and Noble and try a Nook or try a Sony ereader in a Walmart somewhere. Or wait until Kindle is in Target.

I used to say I would never own an e-reader, but seriously, this is the most amazing reading experience I've ever had. I think I'll be reading more ebooks and less print books now.

Karen McQuestion, your numbers are amazing! Congrats!! And you are NOT a braggart. Sharing that lets us know what's possible for relative unknowns. I definitely aspire to eventually hit the kinds of numbers you and Joe are doing.

Moses,

Re: POD I think since it can be so inexpensive to get going either via CreateSpace or LSI and with those two companies you can price your trade paperbacks competitively with trad pubbed books, there isn't much reason not do to it except that someone doesn't "want to."

Even if I sell more in E (which I anticipate will probably be the case), I'm not going to turn away readers who want paper.

Karen McQuestion said...

Anna Murray--how nice to run into you here at Joe's Bar and Blog. :)

@Zoe Winters, thanks for the nice words about my sales!

@Helen Hanson, Joe has offered to let me answer a few questions on his blog in the near future, and I'd be glad to share what I've learned about online marketing. So many other authors have helped me along the way, and now I get to return the favor.

The great thing about writers helping each other is that one author's success doesn't take away from another's. Ebook readers tend to be voracious readers (my kind of people!) and with the sale of ebook devices on the rise, the market is growing by leaps and bounds. There's room for everyone and then some.

J.A. Marlow said...

This has been a wonderful discussion. THANK YOU to all the other authors here who have been posting their numbers. I'm finding all of this really fascinating, as well as finding new authors to try out when I get some extra reading time.

It looks like this last holiday season was the point in time that things started shooting upwards for several authors, even while others (such as JA Konrath) have been slowly ramping up for a while.

June is going to be very interesting once the new terms come into play at Amazon. I do have a question for some of the authors here. I've seen several say that that $.99 has been a sweet spot for them. With the new Amazon terms, $2.99 is the lowest you can go (unlike Apple, where an author can still list at $.99 and receive 70%).

Will some of you be forsaking the 70% Amazon lure and keep your books at $.99 even if it means you have to settle for 35%? Do you think the volume you can sell will make up for the dollar percentage you will lose?

Or, perhaps use a $.99 book as a "loss-leader" to help lead potential new readers to your $2.99 books that have the 70%?

Well, that brings up a good question. Will the new Amazon terms be an all-or-nothing situation for everything you list, or can you choose which program each book will go into? Has anyone researched this?

author Scott Nicholson said...

I've shared my numbers here and in the Amazon forum and my own blog. I am new to all this, because my NY ebook sold like 13 copies last year so I figured they were worthless. The reality is, right now, I am more professional than my publisher. They threw up a static page, no description at all (lazily dumped the lukewarm PW review instead), cover not so enticing, title totally unimaginative. Priced at $5.59 as ebook. I'd guess it has sold 30 copies so far this year, judging from its sales rank, which seems to slide in direct proportion to the success of my own titles.

I put up several collections and my OOP novel The Red Church in January and had about 50 sales at $1.99, then 250 in February and 324 in March. I put up an original thriller The Skull Ring in February that never got sent around by the agent, and it sold around 250, if I remember right. I just put up a new supernatural thriller Drummer Boy that I haven't even officially released.

Between the three of those at $1.99, I believe I will earn more this year than I have in any year of my eight-year career, assuming e-reader growth and that the books don't actually suck raw lizard eggs. All I know is this is a lot of fun. I just wish I had rights to all of my books, because I think my vision for them may not be "better" than the one the publisher briefly had, but it will definitely be more passionate.

Joe, I suspect your success is the result of a convergence of established platform, timing, attentiveness to change, quality, subject matter, and the fact that just about every article about e-publishing has your name in it!

Scott Nicholson
http://www.hauntedcomputer.com

Joe Konrath said...

and the fact that just about every article about e-publishing has your name in it!

I'm sure that helps. :)

People on the internet want content. The main forms of content are information and entertainment.

This blog is all about information. I'm lucky that people are reading it, responding to it, linking to it, and quoting it. That no doubt leads to more people being aware of me, which is a good thing.

But how important is it? This blog, like my print backlist and previous marketing strategies, may help people recognize me, but I'm still not sure how much that is driving my Kindle sales. When other authors without my platform can do as well as I'm doing on Kindle, it makes me think that platform isn't all that important.

Robert Burton Robinson said...

Will some of you be forsaking the 70% Amazon lure and keep your books at $.99 even if it means you have to settle for 35%? Do you think the volume you can sell will make up for the dollar percentage you will lose?

I've already raised the price of some of my Greg Tenorly Suspense Series books to $2.99. But I plan to leave the first book, BICYCLE SHOP MURDER, priced at $0.99. If I can hook the reader, I believe she will be willing to pay a little more for the others.

Moses Siregar III said...

J.A. Marlow, the royalty rate on the iBookstore (going through Smashwords to iBooks) is 60%, not 70%. As you said, they'll let you list at $0.99 or $1.99 and still get that 60% rate, though.

Lisa Rusczyk said...

You also have a good attitude. That counts.

Jack said...

Kindle book price vs sales rank isn't always a simple line.

Two years ago, I launched my “pornographically hilarious” fake memoir on kindle at 9.99. It experienced limp sales. So I started to experiment, changing the price at the beginning of each new month.

Dropped to .99. Sales went up.
Rose to 1.99. Sales went up.
Rose to 2.99. Sales went up.
Rose to 3.99. Sales went down.
Rose to 4.99. Sales went up.
Dropped to .99. Sales went down.
Rose to 7.99. Sales went up.
Settled on 2.99. Sales went up.
Kept it at 2.99 for months. Sales bounced around.

I looked at my pie charts. My book sold the best at 4.99 and 7.99. So I changed my point-of-view. I took off my author hat and put on my consumer hat. I looked at my habits. Netflix and Gamefly. I can rent a two hour movie for about .99. I can rent a video game, play two hours per day, for about .99 per day. I can read a book in three days. To own a book, in terms of entertainment per hour, 2.99 feels fair. It feels honest. All of this was before Amazon announced their new 70% royalty. But I’m going to stay at 2.99. Because it feels classy. Maybe in twelve years I’ll adjust the price for inflation.

My data showed something else. Every time my kindle sales went up, my paperback sales went up. This has made my small press happy. It’s true. Not all publishers are dumb and greedy.

Joe said he wouldn’t sell a book to New York for less than a hundred grand. I wouldn’t sell to NY for less than a billion. And if New York had the sack to pay me a billion... I would take it. But I would write the sequel better, and make it a Kindle exclusive.

- Jack H. H. King

Chris Bates said...

@Karen:

Firstly, congrats on your efforts.

Secondly, I just flipped through the preview pages of 'Celia and the Fairies' and it confirms that we need an ereader in our house. My four year old son would absolutely love Celia's story - yeah, I know, my boys are probably too soft ... like their dad, unfortunately! :)

Anyway, I think we must be near finished the entire 80+ 'Rainbow Fairies' series so all I need now is for you to add a few simple illustrations every few pages and ... well, write another 100 books for the series! Just let me know where to send the 299 bucks.

Okay, way you go. Don't dilly-dally about. Get off Joe's site and get back to work. I need those books ASAP. :)

Zoe Winters said...

@Jack

Thanks for mentioning those price points. I have a novella out at 99 cents (about to release two other novellas and all three in a combined book as well, so I will finally have more than 1 piddly little thing under this one name, lol.)

So the one novella with the 99 cent price tag is the only thing I have much experience with.

I have a novel under a different pen name priced at $2.99. It hasn't been out super long, but of course I'm getting antsy wondering if more people would try it if it was cheaper. I have far less "platform" built under the other name, so it's hard to tell.

I was thinking of experimenting with price, or maybe running a 1 week 99 cent sale.

I just think I should wait a few months though first and let my book get rooted deeply enough into the system for it to do be some good.

J.A. Marlow said...

@Moses - Yep, I knew about the ultimate percentage if one went through Smashwords but I was trying to keep the post from going on further than it already did. ;)

But, the point is that Apple is allowing the $.99 and $1.99 price point. With the new Amazon program, Amazon isn't. And then there is the problem of Amazon insisting you cannot have it listed at a lower price somewhere else.

Which is why I asked if the new Amazon terms will be an all-or-nothing situation for everything you list, or can you choose which program each book will go into?

And might Apple's terms of allowing prices under $2.99 pressure Amazon to rethink the bottom level of the price point? Only time will tell on that one.

Although, if your book is selling great at $2.99, then there really isn't a need to worry. Again, time will tell.

Moses Siregar III said...

(I'm from the Midwest, and always heard that no one like a braggart.)

I've got to use that one sometime. I'm not from the Midwest, but that's brilliant :*D

It's a very handy get out of whatever you're about to say next card. I tend to need a lot of those.

rex kusler said...

I grew up in Iowa, and in the summer of 1969 I attended a basketball camp in Prairie Du Chien. The one thing I remember, other than it being hot and humid in those gyms, was Bob Cousy telling us: you don't need to brag. If you're good at something people will notice. (Maybe it wasn't Bob Cousy who said it, but it makes for a better story that way.)

Joe Konrath said...

"I never brag," he boasted.

rex kusler said...

Actions speak louder than words--especially when you're passing gas.

Jack H. H. King said...

Zoe,

I’ve been looking at Joe’s numbers for a while, and they seem to support my central belief about book sales. That the majority of successful platforms have two qualities.

(1) A lead book, that works like a bestseller.
(2) A big backlist.

With respect to pricing, and the Amazon recommendation system, I think a book only becomes a self-perpetuating phenomenon if it enters the top 1%. And I think a book only enters the top 1% in one of two ways.

(1) Luck.
(2) A big backlist.

Joe had a big backlist in print. He doubled the might of his backlist by self-publishing on Kindle. He had that free ebook experiment that sold 200,000 copies, which worked like a bestseller and pulled everything upward. Kapow! He got hit with the moneybomb.

Ever since I realized that I intend to continue working as a full-time author for the next fifty years, I don’t pay attention to sales anymore. I don’t waste time self-promoting my latest shiny thing. Instead, I spend all my creative energy working toward two things.

(1) Craftsmanship.
(2) A big backlist.

Joe’s a good cheerleader, and an example of the future. Because of Amazon.com and Kindle, he’s evolved from New York Author to Indie Author. Joe is now writing his own destiny. More writers need to hear his story.

- Jack

Jude Hardin said...

The voice of reason.

Joe Konrath said...

Neil is a smart guy, and he has left comments on this blog before that I've agreed with.

He's in a delicate position, however. How is he supposed to answer a question about ebooks? He can't panic and say "We're all doomed!"

I sold 10,000 ebooks of AFRAID at $1.99 in the first month it was out, and 3000 in the five months afterward.

That alone says what the future is, and how the future will be priced.

In July I'll be making 10k a month on ebooks. 120k a year, for starters. That's more than 90 percent of all writers earn with traditional publishers.

NY Publishing has shown no signs that it is trying to adapt to this future, only signs that they are trying to delay this future. And by the time they do adapt, what writer will want to sign with a big NY house when they can make more on their own?

Zoe Winters said...

Hey Jack,

I totally agree about Craft plus a big backlist. I think Kept is a good ebook, it's of "trad publishable quality." I know this because complete strangers often email me to tell me that, BUT it could be better. It has it's flaws. I think my next two novellas are much stronger both emotionally and stylistically so I really hope that is reflected in sales but it will take some time to know for sure.

David Wisehart said...

Just got home from my local Barnes & Noble. Instead of the normal best-seller display in front of the door, they had a Nook kiosk. An employee hyped and demonstrated Nooks to everyone who walked in.

Barnes & Noble understands that the future belongs to ebooks. Clearly, they'd rather be on the train than on the tracks.

David Wisehart
Author of Devil's Lair

Jude Hardin said...

That alone says what the future is, and how the future will be priced.

Well, none of us has a crystal ball, but if I had to make a prediction, it would go something like this:

Yes, ebooks will eventually represent a larger slice of overall sales (10%? 20%?), but they will never replace print. Neil was spot-on about that. Ebooks are just another format, like audio.

Sites like Amazon will become saturated with self-published garbage, and the discerning readers who do choose ebooks will flock to publishers' websites where they know they'll find a certain degree of quality.

Traditional publishing wins.

Anonymous said...

Sites like Amazon will become saturated with self-published garbage, and the discerning readers who do choose ebooks will flock to publishers' websites where they know they'll find a certain degree of quality.

Amazon already had tens of thousands of vanity published books on the regular Amazon store before they put up the Kindle store. Authors have been putting their vanity books on Amazon for over 15 years. Nobody was complaining about all that garbage, perhaps because those books were priced much higher and never showed up on the bestseller lists?

What has changed? Why are the indie books selling in digital format when indies (or vanity, as they used to be called) don't sell in hardcopy format?

Is it lower price? Does sampling (the ability to try an "indie" book without risk) have something to do with it?

Has the ebook format opened up a previously hidden, totally new market segment for these books? Konrath mentions that he thinks he has new readers (different set from the readers he developed on the hardcopy circuit). What is this new market segment, and why is it profitable for independent authors?

I have my own theories, but I'd be interested in hearing what others think. Joe seems to be figuring it out, and I suspect Amazon knows a LOT about these readers (after all, they have the demographic data on all these new media consumers). If Amazon thought indie books were hurting their profits they'd remove them from the store . . . but that isn't happening.

What gives? I find it intriguing, and I'm seeing a few quiet nods to this concept of a new market (distinct from hardcopy) from the publishing industry. I'm not sure what to make of it myself, but it cannot be denied -- it is there and growing.

Anna

Chris Bates said...

I sold 10,000 ebooks of AFRAID at $1.99 in the first month it was out, and 3000 in the five months afterward.

That alone says what the future is, and how the future will be priced.


I'm certainly a late adopter of technology. I follow everything about new advances with phones, internet, software, hardware, etc but rarely do I participate in the actual product. I don't use facebook apart from testing their ads for my own analytics. I don't tweet on twitter, although I do follow my peers for their worthy chatter. I also don't have a smart phone, in fact I still use a $50 prepaid piece of crap ... and only because my wife needs to find out which playground the kids and I are destroying that particular afternoon.

Despite this, I am considering the purchase of an iPad, if only to save money on books. Here's the thing, new hardcovers retail for $45 ($42 USD) in Australia and trade pb for about $32 ($30 USD). Thankfully, the bestsellers often get discounted by retailers, but they're still crazy expensive. Hell, I even forked out $18 for a secondhand novel last week. At these prices books are a luxury.

An ebook for $1.99 or even $9.99 is an absolute bargain in my eyes.

Which is why I, Mr Reluctant-Ebook-reader-Man, will end up buying an iPad.

Moses Siregar III said...

Sites like Amazon will become saturated with self-published garbage, and the discerning readers who do choose ebooks will flock to publishers' websites where they know they'll find a certain degree of quality.

Traditional publishing wins.


On this particular point, I don't see it going this way. Like another said, Amazon has had tons of garbage books on them for a long time, and it hasn't made people stop using Amazon. That's because the crappy books just sink into the abyss, and so you don't really find those on Amazon unless you're actively looking for them.

Why go to a publisher's website, when you can get everything quickly, cheaply, and easily all at one place? Unless publishers stop selling books via Amazon, but that would be suicide for their businesses, so why would they?

And of course, anyone with a Kindle is definitely going to shopping at Amazon. And iPad people will use iBooks.

There are ways to try to determine which books are up to your standards on Amazon. You can at least look at reviews and sample chapters. And if you still guess wrong, you're out $1.99 or $2.99 if the book is that cheap.

p.s. I hope I managed to make sense at 4 am.

Ellen Fisher said...

"Is it lower price? Does sampling (the ability to try an "indie" book without risk) have something to do with it?"

I think it's both. Self-pubbed authors with paperbacks do occasionally post on Amazon's Kindle threads. When I go to look at their book, I see a high cover price and no way to check out a sample. There is simply no way I'd buy a book from a self-pubbed author without some way to check the quality of the writing. I could go Google and see if they have a website with an excerpt on it, of course, but I'm unlikely to go to the trouble. And there is still less chance of me paying $15 for a book sight unseen. So those books tend to go largely unpurchased.

Compare this with an indie writer on Amazon. The price is usually $2.99 or less, and there's an extensive sample right there for me to check out. This makes it a whole lot more likely that I'll buy it IF it's good, and so will a lot of other people. If the writing is lousy, on the other hand, it will sink down into that abyss Moses mentioned, never to be seen again.

So no, I don't think Amazon will become "saturated" in any way that makes it impossible to find good books there. The good stuff will sell and the bad stuff will be ignored. That's what is happening now, and that is, I believe, what will continue to happen.

Anonymous said...

Ellen -- I agree 100% with your observations. In the past we had to rely on the agents/publishers to vet for good writing (the whole gatekeeping thingy).

With the Kindle I can sample and vet a new author myself (indie or traditional), and for some reason I'm able to read faster in digital format.

Jude Hardin said...

Ellen -- I agree 100% with your observations. In the past we had to rely on the agents/publishers to vet for good writing (the whole gatekeeping thingy).

Being an agent is a full-time job. Being an editor is a full-time job. I doubt if most readers have the time to wade through mounds of rubbish to find the one book in 10,000 that's actually publishable. I know I don't.

David Wisehart said...

Also, Kindle ebooks are returnable. So the risk of trying an indie author are minimized.

Joe Konrath said...

Yes, ebooks will eventually represent a larger slice of overall sales (10%? 20%?0) Ebooks are just another format, like audio.

How about 50%? That's where music is at.

But guess what? At 50%, a print midlist is no longer sustainable by publishers using offset printing and returns. Which means they'll have to switch to a POD model.

The problem is: bookstores need to have returns. Buying on credit is the only reason they're still in business.

Once ebooks become dominant, it will mean the end of bookstores, warehouses, and ultimately, big publishers.

There will still be bestsellers, sold in Wal-Mart. And small press books, sold online. But the current model--and the quantity it sells and the money it makes--will be gone.

Sites like Amazon will become saturated with self-published garbage, and the discerning readers who do choose ebooks will flock to publishers' websites where they know they'll find a certain degree of quality.

LOL. I get more hits than the Random House website does. Publishers won't ever be able to make their websites become hubs.

As for saturation, have you been in a Barnes and Noble lately? There are 150,000 books on the shelves, and 99.9 percent of it is irrelevant to specific consumers. Yet eyearone can still find that .1 percent they are looking for.

The Internet has billions of websites. Yet people can still find stuff rather easily.

Amazon isn't ever going to become 'swamped', even if the number of Kindle books jump from 500,000 to 5 million. In fact, Amazon already sells millions of products (books, movies, music, everything else) and it's still easy to browse.

Anonymous said...

"Being an agent is a full-time job. Being an editor is a full-time job. I doubt if most readers have the time to wade through mounds of rubbish to find the one book in 10,000 that's actually publishable. I know I don't."

Nobody is forcing you to wade through mounds of rubbish. Nobody is forcing anyone to read indie books. The Amazon store is set up so anyone can easily avoid reading an indie book.

My system is simple. I look at books in genres that interest me (romance or thriller, for example). If I like the blurb, and an indie book is highly rated (ranking or reader comments on Amazon), then I click the sample button. It's easier than browsing in a physical bookstore. I click to open the sample and start reading. If it it's a story I won't enjoy (poor writing, for example) I usually know it within 30-60 seconds. If it engages me I click "buy", and for less than $2.00 I have entertainment. That's a great deal.

If you don't like indie books then don't sample or buy them. On Amazon you can identify the big publisher books quickly (often by price alone), and the publisher/imprint is clearly marked on the product page. This is true in the hardcover Amazon store as well as the Kindle store.

Nobody is forcing the reading public to buy independently published books. Hey, I skip the seafood section at the grocery store.

If you don't like them -- pass them by.

Anna Murray

Eugene said...

I used to walk into Blockbuster to get a video and realize that 95 percent of the inventory was crap (as far as I was concerned). And I'd seen the 5 percent worth watching. It got depressing after a while.

Now I use Netflix. Instead of a thousand titles, they've got a hundred thousand. And 99 percent of them are crap (as far as I'm concerned). But I've got no problem narrowing down my search criteria, skipping past that 99 percent, and keeping my queue filled.

It's much less frustrating than Blockbuster ever was. In fact, it's not frustrating at all. It's fun. The more titles Netflix stocks, the bigger that one percent grows. May its inventory grow forever.

The same thing applies to Amazon. To put things in highly technical terms, Amazon now has a jillion book SKUs. More than any human being could ever "wade through." Let's say that one day Amazon arbitrarily eliminates all of the self-pub/vanity SKUs.

Okay, now there are only half a jillion SKUs. Seriously, what difference would that make? It's like complaining that Google indexes too many web pages. Yeah, get rid of all those "amateur" sites. That's the ticket.

Zoe Winters said...

Jude,

Amazon is ALREADY saturated with "self-published garbage" in print. The thing is... most readers never see most really bad books. They don't have good sales, they don't have the visibility.

You have this imagined vision of people being completely inundated and overwhelmed with self-published drek on Amazon, but that's not how the Amazon shopping experience works.

It leads me to wonder how many books you've bought on Amazon. I do almost all my book shopping there. Originally for print, and now for my Kindle books.

Traditional publishing may not die, but it will lose much of its strength because it will not adapt to E in time.

Just like ipods have almost completely replaced CDs, ebooks will eventually do the same with print. As someone who was a die-hard print book reader who is already embracing and LOVING my Kindle, all I'm saying is... any reader who says "I'll never read ebooks" has never TRIED reading one on a dedicated e-reader. (and the iPad doesn't count because it's not a dedicated e-reader. It's like reading on a mini-laptop) The second they do, most fall in love and never want to go back to print.

Sure, many people still want to OWN books they love in print, but it's a little different.

With e-readers being sold in Wal-mart, Best Buy, and Target, get ready for word-of-mouth to start spreading. You may never own an e-reader, but be careful about saying never. I said it too.

I was totally wrong.

Kathleen MacIver said...

I'm late to the game here, but the thing that nobody mentioned here that has always been a huge part of the key is WORD OF MOUTH. Word of mouth is primarily what drives most print book sales, and it's going to be the same with ebooks. Sure, best-seller lists, help and can help jump-start it. But even without that, authors who have 30,000 readers loving their books are going to have 30,000 salesmen out there selling their books for them...ebooks or print isn't going to make a difference for those salesmen/women.

So what if there's 3 billion ebooks for sale and 2.9 billion of them are junk? If that's the case, then 2.9 billion of them won't have any salesment, and the remaining .1 billion will have salesmen/women out there in increasingly compounding numbers.

The goal hasn't changed. Write a good book. Then write another.

Mano said...

Konrath, you're my new inspiration to become a Kindle author. Thanks for sharing all the insights on this wonderful blog.

J.C. Treeson said...

I definitely agree with Kathleen. For me, I think even a bad cover will get some interest if the book is really amazing. Then the fans will be the impetuous for the changed book cover, because they'll comment to the author and the author will change it to reach new fans.

Write a good book. Fans will come, they'll spread interest, and they'll make you change to reach new readers.

Anonymous said...

I'm fairly new to Kindle publishing and this blog post has been one of the most inspiring I've read.

Clarice Berniere

The Fantastic World of Sean Cleary