Audiobook Listening On The Rise

A recent Pew Research survey reveals that reading rates still remain largely unchanged since 2012. About three-quarters (74%) of Americans read a book in the past 12 months (in any format). Print books remain the most popular format for reading, with 67% of Americans having read a print book in the past year.

While reading rates have remained the same for years, audiobook consumption is on the rise. The Pew survey found that just about one in five (18%) Americans listened to an audiobook in 2017. This is an increase of 4% from 2016.

Currently, the vast majority of audiobook sales are fiction books. With mystery, thriller, romance, and fantasy/science fiction the most popular audiobook genres. Interestingly, these are also the most popular genres for ebook sales. Nonfiction only accounted for 26.2% of all audiobook sales in 2016.

To capture the most sales, the majority of publishers and indie authors currently offer their books in both print and ebook format. As audiobook consumption increases, it may eventually become standard for books to be offered in all three formats: print, ebook, and audiobook.

Smashwords, the largest independent publishing ebook platform, is banking on the continued growth of audiobooks sales and the trend toward publishing books (especially fiction books) in all three formats. To help independent authors produce and distribute audiobooks, Smashwords has partnered with Findaway Voices.

With this partnership, Smashwords has built audiobook creation right into their publishing workflow. With a single click, Smashwords authors and publishers can instantly deliver an ebook to the Findaway Voices platform to begin the audiobook production process. Audiobooks produced through this partnership can then be distributed through Findaway Voice’s global network of over sales outlets including iTunes, Audible, Scribd, and OverDrive.

Two of the biggest tasks in producing an audiobook are choosing the right narrator and the cost of producing an audiobook.

1. Choosing the Right Narrator

With a print book, the emphasis is on the written words. Therefore, in producing a print or ebook, choosing the right font and layout design that matches the message is important. For audiobooks, it’s all about the voice. A narrator’s voice sets the tone for the story. In choosing a narrator, finding the voice pitch and pace that fits the story is critical.

2. Cost of Production

Recording an audiobook can be a costly endeavor. Smashwords says that Findaway’s fees are based on the number of hours and minutes of the finished production. Each hour of recorded content comprises roughly 9,000 words, which means a 26,000-word novella might run about three hours and a 100,000-word book would run about 11 hours. Narrators typically charge between $150 and $400 per finished hour.

Selling books is all about creating a quality product and marketing it well. Before you jump into producing an audiobook, be sure that you already have steady sales for the print or ebook version of your book. If your book is not already selling well in print, it probably won’t sell well as an audiobook either. Don’t sink money into producing an audiobook when those dollars might be better spent marketing your print or ebook.

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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.

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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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eBook Sales Data

Smashwords is a self-serve ebook platform. It began in 2008 and has grown from publishing 140 ebooks that year to publishing 276,000 in 2013.

Smashwords has conducted an annual survey of the data from book sales from their service for the past few years. Each survey that Smashwords has shared has revealed interesting information that is helpful for authors seeking to sell more ebooks. This year is no exception.

Some of the interesting findings from this year’s survey include:

  1. A few ebook titles sell fabulously well, but most sell poorly.
  2. Readers prefer longer ebooks. As word count drops, sales also drop. Most best-selling ebooks have at least 100,000 words.
  3. eBook prices of $2.99 and $3.99 are still the sweet spots for fiction ebook prices. Books at these prices yielded the most author earnings.
  4. Nonfiction ebooks tend to earn more at higher prices. The Smashwords survey revealed that many authors are underpricing their nonfiction ebooks.
  5. Free still works, but it is losing its punch. Free remains one of the most powerful book marketing tools because it makes it easier for readers to take a risk on an author brand that is unknown or untrusted. Yet, the effectiveness of free is down when compared to the past two annual surveys conducted by Smashwords—largely because so many authors are offering free ebooks.

Every book is unique. These survey results simply show averages. Consider this information as data to help you make more informed decisions about the ebooks you publish.

Want to know more? The slideshow featuring the overall data from the survey is embedded below for you to pursue.

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