Best Practices for Selling eBooks

Smashwords, an ebook self-publishing and distribution platform, analyzes their aggregate ebook sales across their distribution network each year. This analysis of over 450,000 ebooks by 130,000 authors and publishers provides information for best practices for selling ebooks.

The vast majority (87.5%) of Smashword’s sales are fiction titles—well in line with digital book sales trends.

In his 2017 Smashwords Survey, Mark Coker, founder of Smashwords, provides insights to help authors make their books more accessible, desirable, and enjoyable to readers. Here are three questions the most recent Smashwords survey answers.

1. Should I offer a free promotion of my ebook?

Smashwords survey found that free still draws readership, but that best results come from offering a first in series book free to hook readers on the series.

  • The number of downloads from free ebook offers has declined over the past three years. In 2016, offering an ebook for free produced 33 times more downloads on average compared to priced titles in the past 12 months. However, in 2015, the number was 35 times more and in 2014, that number was 41 time more.
  • Free is still a powerful sales catalyst for series or backlists. Series that offer the first book free earn 55% more on average than series that don’t offer the first book free.

2. What is the best price for an ebook?

On average, nonfiction ebooks sell at a higher price point than fiction titles. The Smashword’s survey found that the most common price point for indie authors fiction ebooks is not the price point that maximizes earnings.

  • The most common price point for indie author selling fiction books is $2.99.
  • The top four price points for maximizing unit sales (other than free) are $3.99, $4.99, $0.99, and $2.99.

3. Do shorter ebooks sell better than longer ones?

On interesting takeaway from the Smashword’s analysis is that the average length of books that are selling the most copies has decreased over the past few years.

  • In 2012, the average wordcount for the top 60 best-selling romance titles was 112,195.
  • In 2016, the average wordcount for the top 70 best-selling titles romance was 92,725.

I would love to see more statistics about Christian ebook sales. Sadly, Smashword’s does not break out statistics by categories. However, they do provide ranking for sales of books by category for overall sales. Smashword’s survey found that Christian fiction ebook sales ranked 14 out of 17 categories. For nonfiction books, the Religion & Spirituality category ranked fourth out of 16 categories.

I think the two most noteworthy takeaways from this study are that the best price points for maximizing earnings for a fiction ebook is $3.99 or $4.99 and that free can still drive discoverability for an author.

Related Posts:
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Photo courtesy of Dylan Siebel

Deterring eBook Piracy

Nielson, a data research company that tracks sales of books, recently teamed up with Digimarc to conduct a study on book piracy. From the study, Nielson believes that publishers in the United States are losing around $325,000,000 each year from lost revenue due to illegal downloads of ebooks.

Following are a few other interesting findings from the Nielson’s book piracy study:

  • The majority of illegal downloaders are 18 to 34 years old, educated and wealthy (the digitally savvy generation).
  • Roughly 30% of illegal downloaders either obtain their content from friends via IM, email, or flash drive or from downloading from public/open torrent sites.
  • Illegal downloaders acquire, on average, 13 to 16 ebooks per year—only 3 to 7 of these ebooks are acquired illegally.
  • Men are more likely to pirate a book then women (66% of illegal downloaders are male).
  • 44% of illegal downloaders surveyed reported that they would be much less likely to illegally download ebooks if they believed it harmed the author.

I find this last finding fascinating. What is says is that many of these illegal downloaders don’t understand how obtaining an ebook illegally affects an author. They currently don’t think it does.

If you are concerned about book piracy, this finding gives you an answer as to something you can do to deter piracy. After all, piracy hurts all authors and artists.

When was the last time you heard a public service announcement denouncing piracy and telling people that piracy is harmful to the creators of the content? Maybe the book publishing industry needs to start sponsoring public service announcements about piracy to inform the public how it harms authors.

I know that movies include warnings on piracy and the consequences if you are caught pirating a movie. Here is what is usually presented:

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by up to five years in a federal prison and a fine of $250,000.

Have you ever seen this warning in an ebook? I haven’t. Yet, you can use this warning in any copyrighted materials including books.

So, if you are concerned about piracy and in particular people pirating your ebook, I encourage you to put this warning in your ebook. Put it right in the beginning of the book either on the copyright page or a separate page all by itself. You could even add a line about how obtaining copyrighted materials illegally harms the author.

After all, if 44% of illegal downloaders would be much less likely to obtain ebooks illegally if they believed it harmed the author, tell them that it does. Your statements may deter these people from continuing to illegal download yours and other authors’ ebooks.

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Photo courtesy of Alejandro Escamilla.

Global eBook Sales are Within Your Reach

Imagine that someone in China or South Africa is reading your book. The good news is that it is possible. With ebooks, selling books internationally is easy.

Did you know that with a click of a button, you can sell your ebook in multiple countries?

  • Amazon will sell your ebook in 12 countries.
  • Kobo ebook stores sell your ebook in 36 countries.
  • Apple eBook store sells to over 40 countries.

Author Earnings recently completed a report on ebook sales in the top five English-language countries: United States, United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Below is a chart that shows the annual ebook sales broken down by country.

Author Earnings study revealed some interesting points. Here are three of the salient ones:

  • Amazon is the majority retailer in just about every market.
  • Taken all together, Amazon accounts for more than 80% of English-language ebook purchases, Apple another 10%, Kobo 2% and Nook 3%.
  • Self-published indie authors are verifiably capturing at least 24% to 34% of all ebook sales in each of the five English-language markets.

Once again, the news is that Amazon dominants book sales in English-speaking countries. However, it is important to remember that Amazon is not the only ebook store.

Many independently published authors publish exclusively with Amazon. If you publish exclusively with Amazon, you might be missing out on sales both in the United States and worldwide. Following are three reasons NOT to have your ebook exclusive to Amazon:

  1. You are missing out on offering your book for sale in at least 28 countries.
  2. You are missing a potential 20% more sales for your book.
  3. You reduce the impact of external marketing and sales for your book as everyone does not purchase books via Amazon.

Don’t shortchange yourself. While it is easy to publish a book on Amazon, remember Amazon is not the only player in the ebook sales industry. If you want to sell more books, you need broader distribution. Make sure your ebooks are listed in Kobo and in the Apple store as well as in all the ebook retailers. You can do this by making your ebook available for distribution through one of the following ebook distributors:

If you have already published your ebook on Amazon, that’s okay. You can still use Smashwords or IngramSpark for broader distribution. Both services will respect your existing relationship with Amazon.

Don’t miss out on worldwide sales for your ebooks. Indie published ebook sales continue to grow. Your book sales will benefit from the exposure wider distribution brings.

Related Posts:
Promoting Your Books to English-Speaking Countries
Notable Data on Book Sales
Selling eBooks Worldwide

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Photo courtesy of Slava Bowman

Trends in Digital Publishing

For the past few years, Bowker has teamed up with Data Conversion Laboratory, Inc. (DCL) to conduct a Digital Publishing Survey. This year, the two companies surveyed 698 publishers and authors to discovered trends in digital publishing. This year’s survey found that the number of publishers and authors publishing digitally continues to rise.

Here is an infographic with the survey’s findings:

2016-digital-publishing-survey

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Infographic courtesy of Data Conversion Laboratory Inc. and Bowker

Starting Strong May Not Be Enough

Author and leadership speaker Robin Sharma says, “Starting strong is good. Finishing strong is epic.”

As humans, we start new projects strong, but often our efforts peter out when we don’t see results that meet our expectations. As writers, we can start a story or book strong, but keeping that strength in the story or writing until the end is difficult.

sharma-quote

Companies that study book completion rates for readers find that readers’ attention often decays as they progress through a book. One of the benefits of ebooks, is that they can provide data on just how many readers complete a given book.

Jellybooks is one of the leading voices collecting data from readers engaged with ebooks. This company tracks all sorts of reading data. One of the pieces of data Jellybooks collects is how many chapters a reader finishes in a given book.

Most of Jellybooks’ data collection for reading completion rates is collected from fiction books. Fiction reading is linear. It is a story, so the reader starts at the beginning and progresses to the end. Nonfiction books, by nature, are not always linear. Readers can opt to read random chapters on the subjects that most peak their interest.

Jellybooks has found that readers don’t get past the first 50 to 100 pages for the majority of fiction ebooks they read. Wow. That is the majority not the minority. Of course, some books boast a higher dropout rate—up to 90% of readers give up after the second chapter, while some boast higher completion rates of 70 to 90+ percent.

Jellybooks is not alone in their discovery about fiction ebook reading completion rates. Other companies are confirming this data. Authors have about 50 to 100 pages to grab a reader’s attention and keep it. You must get your reader hooked and get them hooked fast.

The reasons readers don’t get hooked usually include:

  • The reader does not like the writing style.
  • The reader can’t identify with the main character.
  • The reader can’t get into the book.

Jellybooks feels that the cure for reading incompletion rates is to have a strong beginning that grabs your reader within the first 30 to 100 pages. I agree.

A strong beginning is important, but I believe it is not enough. A strong story throughout a book and a strong finish are also necessary. A strong finish is required to turn the reader into a fan. Turning a reader into a fan means that reader will seek out the other books you have published to also read. A win for you.

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The State of Fiction Reading

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