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:
Global eBook Sales are Within Your Reach
What You Need to Know About Selling eBooks
Sales Data Worth Mining

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Photo courtesy of Dylan Siebel

What Are People Reading?

The days of a man’s word being all you need to cement a deal are no longer—even among those who call themselves Christians. I am sure that you have experienced this.
You offer your book free to readers in exchange for a review. Rarely do all the readers who request the book actually follow through with a review.

Not Read

JellyBooks, a service that provides readers with free digital Advanced Reader Copies (ARCs) of new books in exchange for a review, report that only 50-55% of their books ever get opened. That means that less than half of the reviewers are actually reading and writing a review of the book.

Fortunately, BookCrash‘s (Christian Small Publishers Association‘s Books for Bloggers Review Program) review rate is higher than that. BookCrash sends mostly print books for review and tracks reviews. The service does not let bloggers request a new book to review until they have reviewed the one they already received.

Interestingly, this phenomena is not solely related to digital review copies. Kobo recently revealed that only 60% of ebooks that are purchased through their service are ever opened. That statistic does not count how many of those books are actually read all the way through. Interestingly, Kobo has also found that the more expensive a book was, the higher the likelihood that the buyer would at least start the book, although, Kobo did not share data on whether the book was more likely to be completed or not.

One of the interesting pieces of data shared by these two companies is that the decline in reader attention starts early, generally within the first 10-40% of the book. In other words, those that abandon a book do so in the first half, not the latter half.

While this data did not measure reading rates for print books, I think that the trend is much the same. How many of you have a book or two or three lying around your house that you purchased and have not yet read? I will wager many of you.

I think that authors can learn a few things from these statistics:

  1. Expect to send out more review copies of your book than you will actually receive reviews for.
  2. Strong beginnings are important in a book. They are especially important in fiction, but nonfiction books need strong beginnings with plenty of meat also.
  3. Just because you price your ebook low and get a number of sales does not mean that your book will actually be read and recommended to others.

What about you? Do you have books either on your e-reader or in your house that you have not yet read? I confess: I do—in both print and digital.

Related Posts:
Important Information for Christian Authors
Are Reviews Really Important?
Musings on BookCrash
Are Reviews Important?

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Important Information for Christian Authors

Do you finish every book you start to read? Many people don’t. I once saw a statistic that said that most people only read about half of a nonfiction book.

Today, many ebook retailers have proprietary software for reading their ebooks. This software allows them to actually track how readers interact with the books they download. One of the pieces of information that can be tracked is whether or not a book is actually read all the way to the end.

Kobo (which delivers digital books to 23 million people in 190 countries and is a competitor to Amazon Kindle) recently released statistics for 2014 that showed how frequently readers finished the ebook titles they bought. Here are the results they released.

Kobo Study

What I found so fascinating in this report is that Religion books were the most abandoned (not read all the way through). In four out of the six countries featured, religion books came in with the lowest percentage for completion. In North America, only a little over one-third of all religion books are read all the way to completion.

Learning that Religion books have the lowest completion rate is discouraging. Now I want to know why? Of course, Kobo can’t track why via its e-reading software. That is data that would need to be collected via surveys.

I have decided to not even speculate on why. There are so many possible reasons.
Instead, let me say a few related words. Sometimes member authors of Christian Small Publishers Association (CSPA) will tell me that they feel that a reviewer did not read their book through to completion. This is generally when they have received a negative review. With this statistic, I don’t find it surprising at all that some reviewers may never finish a book, especially if they don’t like it. After all, only 35% of people in North America who download a Religion title actually read the entire book.

The other thing that strikes me from this study is that, if you are an author of a religious book, you should pack your biggest punch, your most important message, at the beginning of your book. That way, you can be sure that a reader will read your most important message. If you leave it for the latter half of your book, only about 35% of readers will ever see it.

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Print vs. eBook

While ebook sales growth has stalled for the general book market, recent statistics show that ebook sales for Religious books is still growing.

ebook vs print

Faith-based publishers reported significant year-over-year ebook growth for November 2013, although net paperback sales fell by 21% compared with the previous November. Overall, sales of religious ebooks increased nearly 10% last year and now account for 11% of all religious book sales. That’s up from 10% the previous year.

Statistics like this can lead one to believe that if ebooks make up 11% of all religious book sales, then if you have a Christian book, you can expect 11% of your sales to be digital sales. Statistics don’t work that way.

It is difficult to answer the question of “Will my book sell more print or digital copies?” Whether a book sells more digital or print copies is often more a factor of what kind of book you are selling than whether your book is Christian or secular.

For example, the best-selling book in print last year (1.8 million copies, according to Nielsen Bookscan) was Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Hard Luck. However, that book did not even crack the top 20 chart for consumers buying ebooks via Amazon Kindle. This may be because children’s book still, by and large, sell very few digital copies compared to print copies. On the other hand, romance books lead the sales charts for digital books. So, if you are selling a Christian romance novel, you can expect to sell a higher number of digital copies.

The bottom line is that in today’s book world, anyone who is not offering both the print version of a book as well as the digital version is missing out on potential sales.

With that said, I am pleased to announce that Your Guide to Marketing Books in the Christian Marketplace:Third Edition is now available in both print and digital format. You can find the digital version in the Kindle store. It is also available as a PDF download on the book’s website. Now you have your choice of preferred reading: ebook or print.

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The Latest on eBook Sales

Will ebook sales surpass the sales of printed books by 2017 as some have predicted (see Prediction for eBooks)?

A new study by the Book Industry Study Group found that the share of all new ebooks sold in 2013—both in units and dollars—has been flat at about 30% for units sold and just under 15% of book dollars spent. In addition, the study found that the percent of book buyers who read ebooks on at least a weekly basis as well as the percent who have bought an ebook have similarly stalled at around 20% and 25%, respectively.

ebook statsIn essence, ebook growth has not continued on the predicted scale. Yes, ebook sales are still increasing, just not at the rate previously predicted, which leaves the question of just when ebook sales will equal or surpass print book sales.

Those in the industry who favor producing digital-books-only are eagerly awaiting the day that ebook sales surpass print book sales. This leveling out of ebook sales growth may mean these individuals and companies will have to wait longer than previously anticipated.

If you are one that favors digital books, take heart. Not all ebook news is discouraging.

A recent poll by USA Today and Bookish.com found the following:

  • Some 40% of adults own an e-reader or tablet, double the percentage of two years ago.
  • 35% of those with reading devices are reading more than before.
  • 27% of readers say they have used Facebook, Twitter or book websites to comment on a book.

One thing is for sure: eBooks have become an integral part of publishing and selling books. As a result, to achieve optimal sales and profits, publishers and independently published authors must produce and sell their books in both print and digital format.

Are you on board?

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