Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Tuning In To iTunes

Let me just say how spoiled I am by the near-real-time reporting through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and AllRomance. Here it is the end of February and we've just gotten our January royalties statement from Apple via Smashwords. Mind you, this is just the statement that lets us know how many copies were sold and what the royalties will be when they are actually paid out sometime in, um, let's see ... first month of the first quarter then 90 days out from that and, I dunno, July maybe? FYI, Amazon and B&N pay 60 days out. Automated spreadsheets and electronic fund transfers move business along a bit more quickly for those businesses that embrace change.

Altogether, Steel Magnolia Press has 4 books in the iTunes stores -- all the rest are with Amazon exclusively through the KDP Select program. We already had plans to move 2 of the books to KDP Select in May after a promo we have planned for them in April. This latest royalty statement confirms that decision as being the right one for these two titles. While the combined iTunes sales for these 2 titles is about half the number for Amazon -- a very decent comparative showing -- I'm certain (at least as one can be in such volatile times) these titles will perform much, much better using the Select tools to generate sales.

And that's the real problem. Apple iTunes is delivering good sales. Before I saw what the Select tools could do for a title's sales, I would have been ecstatic at the performance of 2 of the books we have in iTunes stores. But Select has been a real game changer, and any comparisons we make today, just 90 days out from Select's launch, pale into disappointment.

But vague references to sales figures and percentages don't help anyone in seeing the true picture. Are we talking 10 total sales? 100? 1000? So, as always, the Sales Voyeur will demonstrate with actual numbers for 2 of the titles, both of which are "special circumstances" books, making decisions about their futures a tad more difficult.

A Vision of Sugarplums

The first is A Vision of Sugarplums by Jennifer Blake, a holiday-themed novella. Steel Magnolia gave away 13,000+ copies on Amazon and, well, who knows how many on Apple because Apple doesn't report free download numbers to Smashwords to pass on to the authors and publishers (grrrrr). The book was offered free on Amazon through price-matching and, because we had no control over when, of even if, that price-matching might occur, it turned out that Amazon conveniently waited till AFTER the holidays to offer the book for free (despite a couple of emails pointing out the time-sensitivity of our promotional efforts). In addition, once free, we had no say as to when it would return to the paid store and couldn't time its return to best maximize its sales rank.

In any case, holiday fever had cooled by the time the book was back in the Amazon paid store the second week of January. Still, it sold 652 copies there last month. While the sales were nice-to-haves, we really wanted to GIVE the book away to more people during the holiday season.

Over at Apple, the book went back to the paid store right before Christmas, closer to how we planned things. In January, the book saw 157 sales, a respectable number for the venue for a book "past its freshness date."

In all, if we ignore the specter of Select grinning at us from above, we're very happy with how the book performed at Apple in comparison to Amazon. We're happy we could give away so many books to readers in multiple venues over an extended period of time. Leaving this book out of Select served the purpose intended and made a few dollars as bonus.

But what about next year? Properly timed, and with all else being equal with how things are today, selling a couple of thousand copies on Amazon after giving away another 10,000 is a good possibility. The business decision seems clear. We can do well with Apple, we can do better with Amazon.

Spoil of War

Although its "also boughts" seem to indicate the book is selling on iTunes mainly to the romance crowd, it nevertheless held the #1 spot in Historical Fantasy for much of January in all 4 native-English stores, holding in the Top 100 in Fantasy and flirting in and out of the US Top 100 for the broader SF/Fantasy category. It saw a 50% increase in sales from December to January at Apple. With a sharp decrease in sales from December to January on Amazon (after benefiting from the short-term halo effect of coming off a free run in early December), that meant almost equal sales for the book in both venues:

Amazon Sales
90 - US
36 - UK
2 - France
1 - Italy

129 - Total

Apple Sales
62 - US
44 - Australia
10 - Canada
11 - UK

127 - Total

Because I have Spoil priced at $1.99 in the US and 99c in the other stores on Amazon and the royalty structures vary across Amazon and Apple, even though I sold about the same number of books, I made a little over twice as much through Apple.

$73.56 - Amazon
$147.42 - Apple

With Select with this book, I could likely make a few hundred sales at Amazon, especially being able to time when the book comes off free. Spoil came off a price-matched free run in early December at a respectable but not optimal rank and sold 400+ copies. Better timing could likely get double that many sales. But to do that means sacrificing position and 200+ ratings that average 4.5 stars on Apple. I'm still not ready to do that with this book as Spoil is still ranked #1 in the UK, Canada and Australia stores and is still bouncing around the Top 10 in the US. It's a big fish in a little bitty pond and, for now, that's a rather comfortable fit.


So, with Apple results in and the borrow amount per copy finalized, updated combined total earnings for Spoil, SECTOR C and Vet Tech Tales for January: $4819.59

And right around the corner, the Sales Voyeur will look at preliminary figures for February, including updates on two new releases from Steel Magnolia Press that each sold over 2000 copies in 3 weeks.


Jo-Ann said...

Hi Phoenix. Congrats on the sales, you're doing really well, and you're inspiring me to get a book out on Amazon, Apple etc, too.

It's probably just me, but I wasn't sure what the $4819 total referred to. Was that all of SMP's earnings through January? It kind of read as if it was Spoil's sales figures, but that didn't tally with your previous figures.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Sorry to be unclear, Jo-Ann, and thanks for asking! I've clarified that totals figure now and set it off from the rest. I wish it was Spoil's total alone :o), but no, it's for all three of my personal titles: Spoil, SECTOR C and Vet Tech Tales across all venues.

I'll include some of SMP's results in my February post wrap-up because we've reached a few fun milestones.

And I'll be communicating more with the Extinct authors soon about February too. It's looking like we may have sold 70 copies of the anthology and had a few borrows... plus a few of the individual stories have sold too (I seem to remember seeing "My Own Secret Dinosaur" on that Apple report yesterday). That means royalty payments -- modest ones! -- soon (well, 60 days out once Amazon pays).