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Smashwords Releases Revealing Analysis of eBook Pricing and Selling

eBooks and Publishing

Smashwords founder Mark Coker just released a presentation and related free eBook revealing the results of analyzing sales of more than 50,000 books over several years. Admittedly, what applies to Smashwords might not apply to Amazon, but based on what I’ve seen here and on the data I’ve seen from various writers (successful and not) who have been experimenting with Amazon eBook sales, this analysis does¬†seem to reveal some basic truths about pricing, selling, and positioning eBooks.

Among the thought-provoking findings: the sweet spot for eBook pricing, as many of us suspected, is in the $2.00-$5.99 range. Books priced in the $1.00 to $1.99 range not only earn less money–they also often sell fewer copies!

It was also eye-opening to see what Coker did not¬†find, including consistent patterns of eBook sales growth individually or in aggregate. Basically, past sales don’t predict very well what any particular title is going to be doing in future.

Coker emphasizes that books don’t sell well unless they’re great books, and that writing a great book is the hard part. With that said, selling a selfpubbed ebook is also no walk in the park, and Coker’s information helps selfpub authors to see the way a little more clearly.

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Seeing a Sudden Drop in Sales of Your eBook?

eBooks and Publishing

This is based only on anecdotal information from half a dozen writers or so, but some of us are seeing a sudden, sharp drop-off in sales of eBooks on Amazon over the past couple of weeks. However, I have a hard time imagining that this is a reader trend. In the absence of some major, disruptive event, it seems to me that if the general public were to change its opinion on eBooks, it would do so gradually and noisily rather than suddenly and silently.

I’ve heard speculation that Amazon may have changed some of their algorithms governing which Kindle books are shown in “also bought” categories and the like. I have no evidence that anything like this has happened, but it would fit the pattern if author-publishers suddenly saw a drop-off in sales because Amazon had changed something that (intentionally or not) favored books that sold a lot of copies and/or that came from major traditional publishers. I worry that some kind of deal may have been cut, especially as I know major publishers are desperate for eBook profits these days, what with other formats all dropping in popularity while eBooks continue to rise, and as Amazon is clearly dependent on major publishers for most of their popular book content.

All of that is nothing but speculation, of course. If it’s true, it still doesn’t signal the end of the eBook selfpub revolution–but it sure would make an already taxing process much more difficult. If major traditional publishers do ultimately come out on top and completely squeeze out author-publishers, then the new make-a-living-as-a-writer model may be pretty much the same as the old make-a-living-as-a-writer model: sell to an agent who works with a major publisher who publishes the book and gives you some or all of the royalties that are due to you. One improvement, however, would be that if many of the copies sold as eBooks, the writer would receive a much larger portion of the sales price–not nearly as much as they would realize as an author-publisher on a copy of the same book, but if major publishing houses can sell many more copies, the likelihood that a good writer can support her- or himself might go up rather than down.

It’s hard to know what to hope for: I’ve been envisioning tiny author-publisher empires in which we writers are happily giving our readers new books at good prices as we finish them, rather than being stuck in the slow and sometimes painful traditional publishing process. However, large eBook retailers are empowered to squeeze author-publishers out because we need them and they don’t especially need us, apart from a minority of especially successful eBooks for which they might make exceptions.

How are your sales? Am I Marsh-wiggling this whole topic? If your sales have dropped off, do you have any speculations to advance?

Photo by m.prinke

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Tobias Buckell Experiments with eBook Pricing

Writing

One of the problems with trying to gauge the potential of ePublishing as an author is the limited amount of data out there. The big successes take up most of the spotlight, while the huge proportion of people who digitally publish slink away after a few family and friends have bought copies.

Somewhere in the middle, Tobias Buckell, whose original novels and Halo franchise books have sold well in print, has posted a careful account of how pricing and time have affected digital sales of his eBook short story collection Tides from the New Worlds. The results aren’t exactly inspiring, but they do offer some encouragement, and more importantly, some clarity. See his post here: http://www.tobiasbuckell.com/2011/04/01/a-year-of-selling-tides-from-the-new-worlds/ .

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