Sales Data Worth Mining

Smashwords, the largest ebook self-publishing and distribution platform for independent authors, has access to a large chunk of sales data for ebooks that the company shares each year. The company examines real sales data each year to extract potential insights about best practices to indie authors and publishers improve their practices to reach more readers and increase sales.

data-miningIf you are an independently published author or small publisher producing and selling ebooks, you can use the information in Smashwords’ yearly report to improve your strategies. After reading the report, I found four nuggets that I think are worth sharing.

1. The Power of Free has Fallen
In the four years that Smashwords has conducted an annual study of sales figures, free downloads decreased dramatically. In 2012, Smashwords found that free books were downloaded 100 times more than paid books. In 2013, free books were only downloaded 91 times more than paid books. In 2013 that number was down to 39 times, and in 2015, the result was up to 41 times. Blame the glut of free ebooks. However, free is still an option when trying to reach new readers for your books, especially if you have a series.

2. Best Price
Smashwords reports that $3.99 is the sweet spot for fiction ebooks. For the third year in a row, authors sold more units and earned more overall income with books priced at $3.99. However, if you are going to price your ebook below $5.00, then avoid the $1.99 price. Pricing at $2.99 or $.99 is better. You will reach more readers and sell more books.

3. Building Sales
Smashwords found two powerful tools for building sales: preorders and offering the first book in a series free. While not many Smashwords’ authors offered preorders, those that did earned the about three and one-half times more income than those authors who simply put a book up for sale the day of its release. Preorders with an aggressive marketing campaign are a powerful tool for building sales. Smashwords also found that those authors offering the first book in a series free to readers earned 66% more than those who did not. So, if you have a series of books, offer the first one free to hook readers.

4. Building Readership
All the best-selling authors on Smashwords are active on Facebook and Twitter and have a blog. Enough said.

As we move into 2016. Consider how you can begin incorporating free offers, pricing, preorders, and more social media presence into your overall marketing strategies for your ebooks.

Related Posts:
Bookselling Magic
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Learning from the Numbers

The newest figures from book sales (new, not used books) for the first half of 2014 (January to June) were released last week. I find this book sales data interesting and relevant for authors and publishers as you plan your publishing endeavors.

First, Nielson released book sales data for the first six months of 2014. This data is showing that ebook sales are not growing. In fact, it appears that ebook sales have become fairly stagnant between 2013 and 2014. For the first six months of this year, Nielson data shows that:

Book Sales

  • 42% of book purchases were paperback print books
  • 25% of book purchases were hardcover print books
  • 23% of book purchases were ebooks

Basically, these numbers show that hardcover books are still outselling ebooks and paperback books are still outselling ebooks. In fact, print books are outselling ebooks three to one.

If you noticed that these numbers do not add up to 100%, you are astute. I don’t have an answer for why. I am just repeating the information that Publishers Weekly reported. They did not account for the missing 10 percent. Maybe someone at Nielson didn’t do their math right.

This data continues to back up my assertion that your best practice in publishing a book right now is to produce both a print version and a digital version. Making your book available in both formats ensures that you garner the highest number of sales possible.

Second, the Nielson data reported where these books are being purchased. Not surprisingly, online stores (e-tailers) sold 39% of all books. Bookstores chains came in second place, selling 21% of books, while independent bookstores only made 3% of the total book sales. Mass merchandisers made up 8% of book sales, as did book clubs and fairs.

What this data shows is that the top two places for selling books is online bookstores and brick-and-mortar bookstores. In your book marketing efforts, don’t bypass the brick-and-mortar bookstores. Yes, they are difficult to get into, but if you do an author event or booksigning in a couple local stores, this can help you get additional exposure and your foot in the door with bookstores.

Third, this recent Nielson Books and Consumer report showed how consumers learned about the books they decided to purchase. Interestingly, more consumers reported learning about the books they purchased through in-store displays than through word-of-mouth. The report revealed that 12% of book buyers said they learned about the titles they purchased through in-store displays while only 10% of consumers said that they heard about the books they purchased from friends and relatives. Another 8% reported that they discovered the titles they purchased by browsing the website of online retailers.

In real estate, the selling mantra is location, location, location. For selling books, your motto should be discovery, discovery, discovery. We don’t buy products we don’t know exist. Consumers must discover your books. Whether your readers are finding you online, in a bookstore, or through word-of-mouth, they must know about your book to buy it. After all, marketing is the most important part of selling books.

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