Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Can Ebooks Outsell Print?

Before I get to the meat of this blog post, I need to do some housekeeping.

Tomorrow I'm off to the Novelist's Inc. Conference in Florida, which will be the last time I get up in front of a crowd and lecture for quite some time.

This decision didn't come lightly. For years, I jumped at every opportunity to open my mouth before a live audience. But I'm working my ass off, and something has to give, and I've decided it will be traveling.

Immediately after Ninc, I'm headed to San Francisco for Bouchercon. You won't find me on any panels, because I didn't register for any. I'm just there to hang out. If you're going, you can find me in the bar or the jacuzzi. I'll be the fat guy with the long hair and the beard surrounded by editors with stakes and hammers.

We just sent out advance reading copies of DRACULAS. If you wanted to review it and didn't get a copy, send an email to draculasthebook@gmail.com. Draculas is being released on October 19, and we're hoping to have 250 reviews by then.

There's a fun interview with me over at BiblioBuffet by Lauren Baratz-Logsted. It will probably be the last interview I do for some time, though I am going to try to join my Draculas co-writers tomorrow on Diabolical Radio.

SHAKEN is being released on Kindle October 26. AmazonEncore has done a terrific job with it, and I'm thrilled to be working with a group of bright, talented, enthusiastic professionals.

Okay, let's talk numbers...

I just got my latest royalty statements from my print publishers. In a previous blog post, I estimated I was selling 400 ebooks of Whiskey Sour per month.

Boy, was I wrong.

From January until June, my publisher, Hyperion, sold 878 Whiskey Sour ebooks.

Let's compare that to my ebook The List.

From January until June, I sold 9033 copies of The List.

My publisher has priced Whiskey Sour at $4.69. The List is $2.99.

On the surface, the price difference isn't that dramatic. But considering I sold 10 times the amount than they did, I'd have to conclude that price does matter. A lot.

But here is where it gets interesting.

Since 2004, Whiskey Sour has sold about 60,000 copies in print and ebooks. That's earned me about $54,000 not including foreign sales. (Not bad considering I got a $33k advance for it.)

That means it has sold an average of 833 copies a month, and has earned me $750 a month.

These are Important Numbers. Because publishing isn't a sprint. It's a marathon. Sure, short term, I got a nice five figure check as my advance. But long term, even a successful book (Whiskey Sour is now in its fifth printing) only pays out $750 a month after six years. And that's more than most books earn. Trust me. I have hundreds of peers who signed with Big 6 publishers and haven't earned near that.

Compare those numbers to The List.

In six years, I'll have sold 108,396 copies. Almost double what Whiskey Sour has sold. And I'll have earned over $200k--almost four times what I earned with Whiskey Sour.

So my little self-pubbed ebook not only makes me more money in the long run, it also SELLS MORE COPIES.

Did I get a nice, fat $25,000 advance check for The List? No.

But I'd return my advance to get Whiskey Sour back, because if I had it I'd for damn sure be selling more than 147 copies a month.

Now let's compare this to my recent Jack Kilborn novel, Afraid.

Afraid has sold, in all versions, about 62,000 copies. But it has done this in a year. Afraid was released in the UK at the same time as the US, and did pretty good in both countries. It has earned me about $34,000.

17,433 of these sales were ebooks. 10,235 were during its first month, at a reduced price of $1.99.

My publisher, Grand Central, has perhaps been reading my blog, because they recently reduced the price of Afraid to $1.99 again, after it being full price for over a year.

For the moment, let's disregard the month Afraid was $1.99 and average out the other 13 months where is was sold for between $4.99 and $6.99. During those months, it sold 554 copies a month.

Not bad. But not good, compared to Trapped and Endurance, the next two Jack Kilborn novels I released on my own. They're averaging 1400 sales per month, each.

If we add the sale ebooks, and all the print books, Afraid has been selling 4428 copies per month. The best month The List had was about 2600 copies, so it looks like there may be hope for print yet.

That is, until we realize that print numbers fall off rather dramatically.

In the past six months, Afraid has only sold 8,868 copies. That's only 1478 per month, and 3460 of those were ebooks.

So while Afraid is still averaging over 500 ebooks per month, the print copies sold have dropped off a lot, and they will continue to drop off. That's just how it works with print.

In comparison, Whiskey Sour had earned $33,000 during its first year. In other words, pretty much the same that Afraid earned during its first year.

Print books start out strong, then over the years they earn less and less. I expect Afraid, by year six, to do the same as Whiskey Sour (and the rest of my traditionally published books) and wind up averaging me about $750 a month.

So for the seven books I have in print, each averaging $750 a month after six years, comes to a combined total of $5250 a month. And I'm one of the (supposed) lucky ones, because my books are all still in print.

Contrast this to my seven top selling self-published ebooks. Those earn me $11,120 a month, and rather than slowing down, they're picking up speed. I'm selling more ebooks each month, and I expect a big boom come the holiday season.

So not only does self-publishing earn more money than a print deal does over the years, you can also reach more readers by selling more copies.

Think about that. I've gotten over a quarter of a million dollars in advances from the Big 6. That's more than most writers will ever get. And I've also earned out above and beyond that number.

But all by myself I can make a quarter mil in two years. And I can reach more people in six years than a Big 6 publisher with all of its distribution power.

Isn't that extraordinary? Or at the very least, messed up?

If you're a midlist author, crunch your numbers. Spread your advance (and royalties, if you made any) out over a six year period. Those naysayers who declare "You can't make a living self-publishing if you're only earning $750 a month" need to understand that "$750 a month" is what a print book earns, when averaged over time.

If you sign a deal for $50k, I'd guess you'll earn about that amount in six years.

Or you could have made $110k doing it on your own after only six years, by selling 750 ebooks a month at 2.99 each. That's a lot better than you'd do in all but the best print deals, and 750 ebooks a month isn't a huge number.

Now, your mileage may vary. If you get offered a big print deal, take the money and run. And print may pay off in a big way if you get lucky and land on a bestseller list. Then you can make better money (though I do seem to recall a NYT bestselling author who blogged about hitting the list and only earning $27k on that book.)

But if you're offered less than six figures, think long and hard. I believe you can sell more, and earn more, on your own.