What You Need to Know About Selling eBooks

Sales of ebooks from major publishers have declined since 2014. At their high, ebooks accounted for about 30% of all book sales. Now they have settled somewhere around 25% of book sales. That means that approximately every one out of four books purchased is an ebook.

selling ebooks

Ebooks are an integral part of a good book sales strategy. As such, authors and publishers should know what drives ebook sales.

Smashwords, the largest self-publishing ebook platform, conducts a survey each year of their sales data to find nuggets of wisdom to pass on to authors and publishers to better understand the ebook market. Following are three takeaways from the most recent survey conducted by Smashwords on the books sold from its platform.

1. Fiction Dominates When it Comes to eBook Sales

More nonfiction books than fiction books are published each year. As a result, nonfiction has greater sales overall than fiction. However, when it comes to buying ebooks, fiction books have dominated this format since the beginning. Almost 90% of Smashwords book sales are fiction books. Romance is the largest seller amounting to half of all books sold by Smashwords.

2. Free Still Drives Discovery

Offering books for free to generate discovery has always been a tactic of authors. However, this practice has grown to a new level with ebooks. Authors can offer a free copy of an ebook at no great personal expense. Many authors are using this tactic to become discovered. One study cited that if readers like what they read in a free book, they are 85% more likely to buy another book from the author.

Smashwords survey found that people do download ebooks when offered for free. On Smashwords, books offered for free get 41 times more downloads than books selling for any other price. Remember, offering a free book is meant to drive discovery, so for authors of single books, this practice does not work as well as for those offering a series (series can be offered in nonfiction books as well as fiction). Smashwords survey found that series books significantly outsell standalone books.

3. Pricing Sweet Spot for eBooks

One perennial question that authors face is: What to price a book? Price a book too high or too low and sales suffer. There is a pricing sweet spot in selling books. Smashwords survey revealed that for fiction ebooks, the price point that maximizes both unit downloads and earnings for authors is between $2.99 and $4.99.

You can view all the results from the Smashwords’ Survey on Slideshare.

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Reviving Advertisement-Supported eBooks

Ever since ebooks began growing in popularity, companies selling ebooks have come and gone. I find it difficult to keep track of the many companies providing innovative ways to sell ebooks. Services from adding music tracks, to the ebook to pay-as-you read, to pay-what-you-want, to offering free ebooks that come with advertisements embedded in the ebook are just a few examples.

modern-advertising-methods

Advertisements in print books have come and gone. However, the idea of using them in digital books has hung around for a few years. Although, the idea appears to have met with little success.

In 2012, a company called eBookPlus offered free ebooks to readers. The catch was that these ebooks contained advertisements. The company claimed that a survey they conducted of 5,000 people in the United States revealed that 45.7% of readers would prefer free ebooks with advertising (in the form of a 15-second pre-roll at the beginning of chapters). Sadly, the company was unable to make the model successful, as they are no longer in business. Whether their demise came about from lack of advertisers for the books or lack of readers willing to sit through the ads, I don’t know.

Currently, two other small companies are trying the advertisements in ebooks idea.

Readfy, a German company, offers free access to 50,000 ebooks published by German publishers via their app. Readfy’s ebooks contain mobile ads. Banner ads occupy the upper edge of the screen, and Readfy also inserts ads at the chapter breaks.

Bookboon, another company based in Europe offers more than 800 academic textbooks free on their website. These free textbooks are financed by brand ads in the books.

Now a company in the United States has decided to try the idea again. Eleven will launch later this year. The company is offering readers free access to thousands of ebooks in exchange for ads placed at the beginning of each chapter. They will also offer a way for readers to pay the author at the end of the book if they like what they read (much like Poland’s’ OpenBooks.com).

Interestingly, Eleven will not just be offering ad-supported free ebooks. With the history of lack of success of other companies trying this, Eleven will also offer a paid subscription plan where users will not have to view ads.

Eleven is encouraging authors to publish their books to the Eleven site. They understand that authors looking to expand their audience can use this free method, while still earning a little money from royalties from the advertisement revenue. Readers get the chance to find new authors at no financial risk.

What do you think of this idea? Would you allow ads to be placed in your ebook in exchange for users reading the ebook for free as a strategy to expand your readership?

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Boosting Global Sales

Book selling is becoming an increasingly global market. The Internet and ebooks have driven this trend. Globalization is great for authors and publishers as it means a wider audience and more book sales.

Global Sales

Any author with an ebook on Amazon or Kobo knows that International sales of your book are not only possible, they have probably already happened. According to Code Mantra, the six largest book markets by country are (in order):

1. United States
2. China
3. Germany
4. Japan
5. France
6. United Kingdom

All these countries have English readers who purchase books.

If you collect email addresses from visitors to your website or blog, you may already be aware that not all the visitors to your site are from the country you reside in. Even on social media, all your followers are not from your country of residence. After all, I am fully aware that that not everyone reading this blog post lives in the United States.

Global reach can present a problem when promoting a book. If you send out an email to your list of customers containing a link to buy your book or if you put up a social media post with a link to buy your book, often this link is to your own website where you sell the book or to Amazon’s website in your country of residence. However, if a consumer in another country clicks on that link, they are not going to buy from Amazon in the United States if they live in China.

If you have a rather large global following, this issue can be of concern to you. Fortunately, there is a free solution to this problem.

A service called SmartURL can help you point your potential customers to an online store in their country of origin through the use of one single URL. SmartURL was originally designed for music sellers. It allows music sellers to create a single URL that directs people to the correct online store (Apple or Google Play) to purchase music depending on the device they are using to access the URL.

SmartURL will also allow you to direct someone who clicks on your purchase link to a specific online store depending on what country the person is accessing the Internet from. In essence, with SmartURL, you create a unique URL that sends everyone to a destination URL that you specify to purchase your book. With this same URL, you can direct people from various countries to the appropriate online store in their country to purchase your book.

If you are concerned that you may be losing sales due to globalization of readers, I encourage you to check out SmartURL and try it out for your next book sale marketing push. With this free tool, you can direct your potential customers to an online sales site selling your book in their currency.

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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.

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Develop a Global Strategy

To develop a global strategy is a vital move for indies if they want a profitable future. With the media so globalized, and readers all over the world able to find and buy books online, independent publishers can be ‘much more confident and active’ in global markets.” ~Sandy Grant, CEO of Hardie Grant Publishing

Sandy Grant is right. To maximize sales and profits, publishers and independent authors should move to the global market.

A new Pew study backs up this strategy. The study found that Internet use in emerging and developing countries is highest among younger, more affluent, better educated users who read English. The study also found that people who read or speak English are more likely to access the Internet overall (irregardless of other factors). This is significant for English-language book publishers. English-speaking people around the world are the most likely to use the Internet. This means that these people are also more likely to purchase ebooks.

eBook subscription services are aware of the profit potential in global access. Oyster is already beginning to expand internationally and Bookmate (a Russian-based digital subscription reading service) has launched its service in Singapore.

PG_15.03.11_Internet-Access_640px_WebThe Pew study found that Chile, Venezuela, Russia, and China have Internet access rates higher than 60%, with the United States having an Internet access rate of 87%. Many developing countries rates are still under 50%.

The study noted that once online, Internet users in emerging and developing nations have embraced socializing as their most preferred type of digital activity—with most saying they stay in touch with friends and family online. Many also use cyberspace for getting information about politics, health care and government services. Less common are commercial and career activities, such as searching or applying for a job, making or receiving payments, buying products and taking online classes.

So, while Internet access and activity is increasing around the world, buying products (including books) online is still lagging. However, as Internet activity continues to increase, buying of ebooks will also increase. Making your books available worldwide may not reap immediate profits, but the global strategy is one that will need to be embraced as we move into the future.

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