Thursday, January 26, 2012

Caution: Trend Analysis Ahead

I honestly was not going to post another sales/money update this month, but a few of you have asked. Plus I think it's important for anyone just getting into self-publishing and trying to decide how -- or even IF -- to use the promotional tools Amazon offers to understand that a trend curve is becoming apparent with many of the books that do get a boost, so I want to share some observations on that.

The first thing to remember is that in the environment as it is today there are 3 possible short-term results from a free promo period at Amazon:

Category 1: The book comes off free with high visibility and resonates with people browsing the lists for a good read. Those sales then help populate the book into the "Also Bought" lists of other like-minded high-visibility books so even more readers can find it. Many hundreds of copies of the book are sold and/or borrowed in the first week back in the paid lists.

Category 2: The book comes off free with moderate visibility, populates into the Also Boughts of moderately selling titles, and has many dozen sales/borrows in the first week.

Category 3: The book simply doesn't resonate with readers because of any number of reasons (title, cover, description, price, topic, time of the year, phase of the moon, who knows?). The book may or may not see even a blip in sales.

The second thing to remember is that people LOVE to share their successes. Not so much their disappointments. One thing I've noticed is that many, many authors are excited to share how many books they've had downloaded for free and to note they've made a bestseller list or two on the free side. Only a small percentage of these folk are willing to share what happened once the book went back to the paid list. That means for every success, big or moderate, there are a lot of books that didn't live up to expectations. It's a gamble. Occasionally you win. Most of the time the house wins. Even so, I've not heard of a case where anyone's walked out with less money than they came to the table with, so I consider it a "safe" gamble.

I've been following the rise and fall of a number of books that have done well coming off free, and the pattern is pretty consistent, give or take a day or two, across the board. Whether this pattern is planned into the algorithms Amazon uses to identify and churn bestsellers or is simply a phenomenon of buyer behavior in response to the way the free promotions are used, I don't know. What's important is that we recognize it and plan for it -- until something changes the pattern.

SECTOR C fits the pattern pretty well. It's in the smaller percentage of books that see some really nice success when they come off free, but it's by no means an outlier. If your book falls into Category 1 from above, this is the pattern you're likely to see over the first two weeks. If it's in Category 2, the order of magnitude will be smaller, but the same trend will usually be evident. So, moderate sales the first day off free; followed by sales spikes on Days 2, 3 and 4; followed by sinking sales thereafter but no precipitous drop-offs in the first couple of weeks. That drop-off usually occurs somewhere in Week 3.

The remedy for that drop-off currently seems to be to put the book back up for free to goose sales again. The question is how many times will that be successful? Does the free promotion work on the law of diminishing returns? For now, this is unexplored territory that the mapmakers are hurriedly charting. I'll be setting SECTOR C and Vet Tech Tales (a Category 2 book that saw a similar sales pattern) free again for one day at the end of the month. I'll of course report back with maps in hand.

As of Thursday morning, SECTOR C has dropped to a rank of #4091. It saw its precipitous drop yesterday with only 15 copies sold and 1 borrow. Still, I have very little to complain about. I gambled with Amazon and more than quintupled my earnings so far this month. And best of all, my books are being read by marvelous readers!

In real dollars, that's about $4242.62 earned so far in January across 3 books and all venues except iTunes (Apple reports are delayed).

Next month, that could drop to $400 or $40. If I still had a day job, I wouldn't be ready to quit it on the strength of one month that could prove to be an anomaly.

Please feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments. Or is there a topic you'd like to see a post on?


Jo-Ann said...

Hi Phoenix. The trend analysis is fascinating, thanks for sharing. $4k over January isn't too bad. I get the feeling that raising the price to $3.99 didn't do your work any favours.
It's still tempting to bypass the whole submissions process and try it for myself. I'll just have to find out how well MG writers are doing.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Jo: From my chart, it does look like my sales dropped only once I changed the price. However, I really changed the price only once sales began to drop. I've seen shared results on blogs, KindleBoards and in a private group, though, and the trend is pretty much the same. It's the only reason I felt confident enough to raise the price when I did, knowing the trend would continue down.

YA does well but MG is still a pretty tough sell in digital. A lot of kids got ereaders for Christmas and a lot are starting to get hand-me-down, earlier-generation readers from their parents, though. It won't be long before things pick up, but the kids' market does seem to be a couple of years behind the adult market. (And I have an MG series I need to dust off and try myself...)