After finishing the second book in my Badlands series, I was finally able to take some time in December and revamp my sales reporting. My existing sales spreadsheet was clunky and difficult to maintain, and it didn’t allow for the depth of analysis I really needed. I design and build data warehouses in my day job, so it seemed only natural that Elegy Publishing should also have a data warehouse for its sales reporting.
That work is now complete and I’ve been running the new reports for a couple of weeks now. Analyzing this data, I’ve discovered some interesting things. I thought I’d take some time to share those with you. If you’re a reader, you probably don’t care about this. But if you’re another indie writer/publisher, you might find these numbers interesting. You might even be able to apply some of these insights to your own business.
Sales Have Fallen
It seems that the ebook market has cooled. Kindles are no longer new, nor are ebooks. Publishers have dropped their prices now that agency pricing is dead and output of new ebooks has finally started to catch up to demand. Readers now have plenty of books for their e-readers and big-name authors have lower-priced backlists available. Indies aren’t dominating the low-cost market any more; we’re sharing the space and sharing the sales.
Personally I had a killer Christmas season in 2012. December, January and February were $2,000 months. Things started to drop a little in March and April. Even May was decent, earning around $1,000 in royalties.
Then June hit and sales dropped off a cliff. Units dropped 35% compared to June of 2012. Revenue dropped 26%. July was worse, with revenue and units dropping 65%. It steadily plummeted, down 77%, 79%, even down 85% compared to the prior year. $800 monthly norms dropped to a couple hundred dollars.
With the release of Badlands #2, I’ve seen sales climb again (albeit slowly). Not to the levels seen in the heyday (2011 & 2012), but an uptick, nonetheless.
So what does this mean? Well, the gold rush is over. The fair-weather writers who aren’t selling now have likely moved on to other things, leaving behind the die-hards who know that success comes after lots and lots of hard work. The market has reached an equilibrium and writers who continuously improve and release consistently will be the ones who succeed.
KDP Select Probably Isn’t Worth It
At one point KDP Select delivered. Now, not so much. I spent most of 2012 in Select, opting out in 2013. I earned around $700 from Select borrows last year vs. $600 from non-Amazon channels this year.
The verdict? Stay out of Select. The post-free bump in paid sales is gone. And what I’m earning outside of Amazon is pretty damn close to what I *might* earn from Select borrows. But staying out of Select means I can branch out to other markets, namely Barnes & Noble, Apple and Kobo. While this doesn’t earn me quite as much as Amazon borrows, being on all devices (and in all markets) is worth it.
Amazon Continues to Dominate
Amazon drives more than 97% of my revenue. It’s pretty easy to see why they’re still so important:
Note: My "REU" term means a Revenue Earning Unit (a sell or a borrow)
Of the 3% of my non-Amazon sales, here’s how it all breaks out (by sales channel):
Of the little guys, Barnes & Noble continues to dominate. Apple outsells Kobo by units, but is a close third in revenue (I earn more by going to Kobo direct). Smashwords earns me a little here and there and Sony is laughably small.
Armed with this data going into 2014, I can be confident in my decision to stay out of Amazon exclusivity and in all other markets. I also know that going direct with Kobo is worth the effort. It really doesn’t require much of my time to distribute outside of Amazon, so the return on my time investment is worthwhile.
Performance by Title
Into the Badlands (my debut novel) is clearly my biggest earner over all time. It was published during the heyday and has been out the longest. The Desolate, my second novel, has been available since summer, 2012. Beyond the Badlands, my third novel (and #2 in my Badlands series) has only been available for a month. Here’s the breakdown between titles:
It’s interesting to note that in one month Beyond the Badlands has earned 25% of what The Desolate has earned in a year and a half.
This information, combined with fans’ requests for the remaining books in the Badlands series, has prompted me to change direction. Instead of focusing on my sci-fi thriller in 2014, I’ll be directing efforts toward the final two books in the Badlands series. Fans want them and I want to write them. Not only will I make readers happy, I’ll earn more money. I’ll get to the sci-fi thriller, just not as quickly as I’d originally planned.
The other thing you’ll notice here is that my novella (Muster Drill), my short story (Wishes and Desires) and my short story collection (Walking At Night) sell much more slowly than even my worst-selling novel. Those experiments have proven that the money is in novels. While I enjoy writing shorter works, it doesn’t reward monetarily. That said, I’m sure I’ll return to these shorter forms of storytelling, but they’ll likely be side projects, taking a back seat to novels. Besides, I’m convinced people find me through my novels and then pick up my shorter works (not the other way around) and I prefer writing novels anyway.
Paperbacks have never been a big seller for me. But my new sales reporting has revealed something I hadn’t noticed before: I’m losing money on non-novel paperbacks. My novella and short story collection still haven’t earned back my proof copy costs.
So going forward, only novels will likely see paperback. And even then, demand for paper is almost non-existent. I make them because it’s fairly easy to do now that I’ve figured out the process and I like seeing them on my bookshelf. And some readers do still want them. I can make a paperback for less than $10 now (and maybe four hours of my time), so it’s still worth the effort.
Other Book Stats
Some other stats I found interesting about my books…Beyond the Badlands cost nearly $500 to produce and earned its production costs back after 24 days. Knowing that, if I release the next two Badlands novels ASAP I can feel confident they’ll earn out quickly, providing me with enough money to subsidize my sci-fi thriller (it’ll likely take longer to earn out).
Since September, 2011 I’ve sold 14,256 books. I had 344 Amazon Prime borrows. I’ve spent roughly 1,000 hours writing these books, earning an estimated gross of nearly $27 per hour. Not huge money, but decent. Since September ’11 I’ve averaged around 17 books sold per day.
Assuming each novel I wrote *might* have earned a $5,000 advance from a traditional publisher, only Into the Badlands has surpassed that amount. The Desolate has earned a little over two grand. (Beyond the Badlands hasn’t been out long enough to consider).
If I’d taken an advance for Into the Badlands, I would’ve left money on the table. Publishing that book myself earned me more money than if I’d taken a publisher’s deal.
But if I’d taken an advance for The Desolate, I would’ve earned more money (so far, at least). Of course there’s no guarantee The Desolate would have been picked up by a traditional publisher and I would have lost creative control if it had. And I still have the rest of my life for that book to earn money at a higher royalty rate.
Truth is, some books are going to earn more than others. But even my slowest-selling novels have earned back their production costs (and more). I’m not getting rich, but revenue is in the black. In the end, if I had it to do over again, I’d still choose to publish them myself.
All in all, business is still looking good. Things have normalized, but the recipe for success hasn’t really changed: hard work, continuous improvement and steady production. I’m looking forward to a very busy, but hopefully successful 2014 (and beyond)