Saturday, January 14, 2012

Polishing The Apple

If you trawl the interweebs looking for information about sales stats and promotion for indie books, you're going to find, I dunno -- 98% ? -- of the posts discussing Amazon. It isn't that other venues don't sell books. In fact, for certain titles in certain genres -- erotica and romance, in particular -- Barnes & Noble outsells Amazon. It's just that BN doesn't seem quite so welcoming toward their indie authors. And I've yet to meet anyone who understands BN algorithms and rankings and what influences them the same way savvy self-publishers understand Amazon.

And if we're going to be honest, most readers (buyers) don't have a love affair with the BN online experience either. Just about everyone who mentions shopping BN online says they've given up on browsing at BN altogether; instead, they do their browsing at Amazon first, find the titles they want, then head over to BN to get the exact books they're looking for. BN is losing out on a lot of impulse buys that way, I think. And now that there are 75,000+ titles exclusive to Amazon, BN customers who browse through Amazon may be disappointed when they find BN doesn't carry some of the titles they want.

All to say, traffic at BN for my personal titles and for SMP titles in general could be better, but I am clueless how to increase it. The handful of sales I've historically made there makes the decision easy for me to offer all my books exclusively through Amazon.

And I would -- except for the wrench that is Apple. Between April and November, the only intersection I had with Apple was 12 sales. I don't have Apple hardware, so I can't upload directly through their store. That means going through Smashwords and their meatgrinder and sales reports that are 4-6 weeks behind. Aarrgh. I set Spoil of War free on iTunes at the beginning of November. I will never know how many downloads it had because while Apple reports those numbers to people who upload directly, the Smashwords reports don't include the free downloads. Nevertheless, I assume the figures were impressive enough for Apple to feature the book prominently in various places through its various regional stores.

When the book went to paid status, it nabbed the #1 spot in Historical Fantasy for much of December in all 4 English-based stores: US, UK, Canada and Australia. Granted, the HF category isn't the most popular category in Fantasy, but it still hung out in the Top 30 in Fantasy and the Top 100 in SF/F. Made for some lovely screen captures, but all the while I was clueless as to how many copies it was selling. Well, Apple finally reported to Smashwords who reported to me and the results are ... better than the 2 sales per month I'd been averaging, but far fewer than the 400+ sales across the other venues after coming off free in December.

US: 50
AU: 23
UK: 5
CA: 7

85 - Total

If the story ended with these figures and Spoil fading fast on the charts, the next-step decision to make it exclusive to Amazon would be easy. But three things mean the story isn't done.

1) During the first week of January, Spoil was still clinging to a Top 10 spot in the US, #3 in Australia and #1 in the UK and Canada. Last week, it dipped to #11 in the US and #3 in Australia, and I assumed it was beginning its slow slide into oblivion. Not so. This morning, it's back at #3 in the US. And it's in the Top 100 in Fantasy and is #131 in all of SF/F. Plus it's still being prominently featured in the What's Hot sections.

It's still #1 in the UK and Canada, and in Australia it's back to #1 in Historical Fantasy, #23 in Fantasy in Australia and, most amazingly, #24 in all of SF/F.

2) Spoil has over 176 ratings on iTunes now that average between 4 and 4.5 stars, with over 100 5-star ratings. I'm considering mentioning these ratings in the product description on Amazon to offset the 1-star reviews there. But if I pull the book from iTunes, I'll lose those dear ratings.

3) The rumor mill is abuzz with speculation about what Apple's big announcement at the end of this month will be. All clues lead to big news about its ebook program. And if perks are going to be offered to authors, Spoil is a great candidate to test the waters with if it continues to have rank and visibility there.

So for now, I've pulled Spoil from those venues where it wasn't performing and which are slow to respond to remove requests (Kobo, Sony and Diesel) so I can be ready to position the book wherever it makes the most sense come month's end.

If your book is with an agent or publisher, decisions about which venues and which programs will be in their hands, of course, not yours. If you're with the Big 6, it probably makes little difference unless you've been relegated as a mid-lister before you even start out and there are no marketing dollars being put toward your book. If you're with a digital-only publisher, they likely don't have the resources to consider what's best for each book on an individual basis, especially one that's been out a few months.

If you're poised to sign with a digital-only publisher, a good conversation to have with them beforehand is whether you can have any input in how the book is marketed in order to take advantage of the various boosts available. Between a savvy author and an experienced marketing department, a "small" book by an unknown author can get off to a very good start. But it takes work and cooperation to make it happen.

I'll update how SECTOR C is faring tomorrow.


T. E. Waters said...

Thanks for this post! You're probably the ONLY person I've ever seen talking about Apple sales in such detail -- or at all, even.

I suspect, of all the non-Amazon alternatives, Apple is actually the one best positioned to launch a serious challenge (despite Nook doing pretty well over the holiday season). A friend of mine thinks that it may boil down to a format war in the end after all (epub vs. mobi/kt8), especially if Apple is smart about it. There's been no clear winner re: hardware, after all, and in my opinion it's doubtful there ever will be. It's really going to come down to a combination of accessibility and discoverability in the end.

But I guess it depends on how Apple decides to deal with indie-publishing from here on out. I'm gonna be disappointed if it turns out the announcement really is just for educational texts...

Anyway, glad to see your books doing well at various venues! Your business posts are always informative and interesting, and very much appreciated. :)

T. E. Waters said...

* kf8, even.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Thanks, T.E.

I wish I had more historical data to offer and, like you, I haven't found anyone offering anything more than generalities, not solid numbers vs rankings.

Short-term, if Apple's announcesment IS only about textbooks, it'll be disappointing, sure. But it'll just be the first volley. There's a long battle ahead, I think...