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MONEY MONEY MONEY:
How Data-Driven Decisions *Might*
Help Authors Reach More Readers



       RT Booklovers Convention
            April 11, 2012

            Mark Coker
        Founder, Smashwords

         Twitter: @markcoker
This presentation was first given at the Chicago RT
       Booklovers convention on April 11, 2012


     On April 25, I modified it to include notes so
Slideshare viewers have better context through which
                to understand the data

                       Visit
http://www.slideshare.net/smashwords/presentations
to access a wide variety of other presentations from
                    Mark Coker
My backstory
My wife Lesleyann is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly
Magazine. We wrote a novel, Boob Tube, that explores the wild
and wacky world of daytime television
Despite Representation by Top
   Literary Agency, Every Publisher
              Rejected it


• Previous soap opera-themed novels had
  not performed well in the marketplace
• Publishers reluctant to take a chance
  on the book
• The experience opened my eyes to Big
  Publishing
The Big Publisher Challenge




• Books judged on perceived commercial
  potential
• Publishers unable to take a risk on
  every author
   • Thousands of great writers denied
     opportunity to reach readers
• Books forced out of print too soon
My Answer: Smashwords




• Ebooks !!
 • Provide writers free tools to become their
   own ebook publishers
 • Open up the printing press to all
 • Open up distribution to major ebook stores
 • Ebooks are immortal

• Smashwords is now the world’s largest
  distributor of self-published ebooks
Indie ebooks published at
                Smashwords

100000                           92,000 +

80000

60000

40000                   28,800

20000           6,000
          140
    0
         2008   2009    2010      2011
How Smashwords Distribution
                  Works
•   UPLOAD
    •   Upload a Microsoft Word file, formatted to our Style
        Guide

    •   Free conversion to 9 ebook formats

    •   Ready for immediate sale online

•   DISTRIBUTE
    •   Distribution to multiple major retailers

•   GET PAID
    •   Author receives 85%+ of net = 60% list from major
        retailers
LET’S GET STARTED
Smashwords Makes Ebook Publishing
      and Distribution Easy
WRITING A GREAT BOOK IS
          DIFFICULT

(and nothing is more important than
           a great book)
YOU WROTE A SUPER FAB BOOK
Let’s Examine Data That Provides
 Clues to Possible Viral Catalysts
What’s a Viral Catalyst?
•   A viral catalyst is something that makes your
    book more available, accessible, desirable
    and enjoyable to readers




•   Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (it’s
    FREE!) to learn how viral catalysts spur word-of-mouth
Navigating Data-speak (the
  dangers of “average”)
???
Useful (and not-so-useful) discoveries
    start with simple questions
???
         So I asked questions

We looked at about nine months of sales
data, aggregated across the Smashwords
          distribution network

Some findings are useful, some were just
                  fun
Smashwords Distribution
      Network
Q:
Do authors who change prices
 frequently sell more books?
Impact of Price Changes


• Conclusions not clear cut
 • Small sample sizes of Top 10, Top 40 not
   statistically significant
 • Not a clear cause and effect of price
   changes to increased sales
   •   Quite possible authors who change prices
       frequently are also promoting their books more
       actively
Impact of Price Changes
Q:
If ebooks are immortal, how do sales
         develop over time?
How Sales Develop

•   This set of data looks at aggegrated
    “Classes” of all titles published in a certain
    month, are still published, and how their sales
    developed from month one to month two to
    (etc…)
•   Key findings:
    •   Strong overall growth as ebook market develops and
        some titles achieve viral word of mouth

    •   A lot of randomness: Different classes, even
        separated by one month, exhibit dramatically
        different growth patterns
        •   Could speak to the outsize influence of a small number of
            breakout hits in each class
Smashwords Class of June 2009
Smashwords Class of July 2009
Smashwords Class of August
         2009
Smashwords Class of January
          2009
Q:
How might an individual title develop
           at a retailer?
How Sales Develop: Single
            Retailer, Single Title

•   This set of data looks at individual titles at
    the Apple iBookstore
•   Key findings:
    •   Different books develop differently over time

    •   Sales rise and fall, then rise and fall again, based on
        various factors (randomness, luck, author promotions, new
        title releases, retailer promos)

    •   If authors don’t maintain persistent presence across all
        retailers, they miss the spikes and miss opportunity to
        harvest the benefit

    •   Unlike print books, which quickly go out of print, ebooks
        are immortal and can yield income for years
Slow boil, breakout, slow boil,
                       breakout




•   This title was selling relatively well (5-10 copies a day) then
    benefited from major national press coverage (spike #1) then
    feature placement in Apple email promo (spike #2). After
    each spike, sales settled at higher level than previous.
Slow boil, slow build, breakout,
                     slow boil




•   This title did nothing for a month, but then started
    growing organically through word of mouth. This book
    is likely to enjoy many many years of solid
    performance as new readers discover it.
Slow boil, breakout, slow boil,
               smaller breakouts




•   Another title that did nothing at first, but then spiked,
    dropped, and spiked again. Titles like this are likely to
    continue selling well, and will often break out into their
    genre bestseller lists many times.
Quick build, breakout, slow boil




•   Sold well right out of the gate, then built, then spiked before
    dropping back to slow boil. This title is also likely to
    experience future breakouts as the author releases new titles,
    does promos, and as new groups of readers discover the book.
Quick breakout to slow steady
                      boil




•   Another title that will yield the author significant
    income over time. Books like this that sell copies
    every day usually earn solid reviews. Titles like this
    are primed for breakouts if author takes right steps.
Slow boil to breakout




•   This is the chart for Ruth Ann Nordin (the only author for which I obtained
    permission to reveal her identity) and her book, An Inconvenient Marriage. This
    book had already been a bestseller at Kobo 12 months before it suddenly broke
    out at Apple to become the #1 romance title in the store. The Apple spike was
    prompted by a new title release, price changes, and possibly also a free
    promotion for a separate title on her list. More discussion in my “Secrets” book.
Q:
What’s the ideal word count for
            ebooks?
Do Readers Prefer Longer Books?




•   For the average book, yes. Clear pattern that
    longer books dominate our bestseller lists
Do Readers Prefer Longer Books?




• This looks at bestseller bands. Trend
  is even more prominent. Ebook buyers
  prefer longer form.
60% of Top 20 Bestsellers Longer
        than 100K Words
53% of Top 40 Longer than 100K
Q:
Do Romance Readers Prefer Different
           Lengths?
Yes. 90% of Top 10 Romance
Bestsellers under 100,000 words
78% of top 40 Run under 100K
Romance Readers Prefer ~80,000
           Words
Q:
Do erotica readers prefer longer or
             shorter?
Average Word Count for
  Bestselling Erotica
Q:
What price moves the most units?
FREE


• FREE moves more ebooks

 • ~100X more downloads on average
 • Powerful platform builder
 • Powerful sales catalyst for series or deep
   backlists
Q:
What impact does price have on unit
              sales?
Impact of Price on Unit Sales


• This set of data examines how price
  impacts unit sales
• 1.0 = normalized reference point. For
  example, books priced in $2.00-$2.99
  price band sell 6.2 times more units
  than books priced $10.00+
• Key findings:
 •   Low prices sell more units

 •   $1.00-$1.99 price point underperforms
How Price Impacts Units Sold
Q:
How are Smashwords authors pricing
          their books?
Prices are slowly trending
                         downward




Source: http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/03/does-agency-pricing-lead-to-higher-book.html
Q:
What are the most common price
            points?
How Many Books are Priced at
     Each Price Point?
Q:
What prices earn the author the
 greatest amount of money?
What Price Earns the Author the
             Greatest Yield?

• We know low price yields more unit
  sales, but what price yields the
  greatest profit for the author?
• Key findings:
 •    $.99 to $1.99 underperforms, about 60% below
      average

 •    $2.99 to $5.99 appears to be sweet spot for indie
      authors and small presses

 •    Data indicates that some authors are probably
      underpricing their works, and might want to
      experiment with slightly higher prices
What Price Yields Highest
       Earnings?
Q:
How many books sell well?
How Many Indie Ebooks Sell
                       Well?

•   Sales distribution is a “power curve” not a “
    bell curve”

•   Key findings:
    •   Most books do not sell well (very important for authors to set
        realistic expectations, and take long term approach to platform
        building)

    •   Sales distribution characterized by small minority of titles
        selling extremely well, thousands of moderate sellers, and then
        a long tail of poor sellers

    •   Authors should implement best practices (read the
        Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success for ideas!) to drive their
        performance to the left of the curve

    •   As books increase sales rank and move to the left of the curve,
        their actual sales increase quickly, especially in top 5,000
Sales Distribution Across
   Smashwords Network
(Normalized to 1.0 = average)
Slice: Top 100-10,000
Slice: Top 100-20,000
Romance Sales Across
           Smashwords Network




•   Romance, on average, sells 2.2 times better than the
    average indie ebook at Smashwords (interesting!)
Erotica Relative Sales
     Performance
Q:
What’s the optimal price per word?
~ 3.5 cents per 1,000 words




•   The outlier is a 27,000 word ebook priced at $2.99. Indicates that
    some authors might have ability to price popular works higher
Final Thoughts

•   Data-driven publishing decisions are
    irrelevant without a great book
•   Numbers provide hints at reader preferences
    •    Don’t write a longer (bloated) or shorter book unless
         that’s what the story demands
        •   If your story demands 200,000 words, go for it!

•   Information, properly applied, can become a
    viral catalyst
    •    Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success for
         other viral catalysts
Free Ebook Publishing Resources




•   NEW! Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success
    (best practices of successful authors)
•   Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to
    market any book at no cost)
•   Smashwords Style Guide (how to format and
    publish an ebook)
Thank you for listening!


                Connect:
Twitter: @markcoker
Facebook: facebook.com/markcoker
Web: www.smashwords.com
Blog:   blog.smashwords.com (offers
email subscription option)
HuffPo: huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker

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How Data-Driven Decisions *Might* Help Indie Ebook Authors Reach More Readers

  • 1. MONEY MONEY MONEY: How Data-Driven Decisions *Might* Help Authors Reach More Readers RT Booklovers Convention April 11, 2012 Mark Coker Founder, Smashwords Twitter: @markcoker
  • 2. This presentation was first given at the Chicago RT Booklovers convention on April 11, 2012 On April 25, I modified it to include notes so Slideshare viewers have better context through which to understand the data Visit http://www.slideshare.net/smashwords/presentations to access a wide variety of other presentations from Mark Coker
  • 4. My wife Lesleyann is a former reporter for Soap Opera Weekly Magazine. We wrote a novel, Boob Tube, that explores the wild and wacky world of daytime television
  • 5. Despite Representation by Top Literary Agency, Every Publisher Rejected it • Previous soap opera-themed novels had not performed well in the marketplace • Publishers reluctant to take a chance on the book • The experience opened my eyes to Big Publishing
  • 6. The Big Publisher Challenge • Books judged on perceived commercial potential • Publishers unable to take a risk on every author • Thousands of great writers denied opportunity to reach readers • Books forced out of print too soon
  • 7. My Answer: Smashwords • Ebooks !! • Provide writers free tools to become their own ebook publishers • Open up the printing press to all • Open up distribution to major ebook stores • Ebooks are immortal • Smashwords is now the world’s largest distributor of self-published ebooks
  • 8. Indie ebooks published at Smashwords 100000 92,000 + 80000 60000 40000 28,800 20000 6,000 140 0 2008 2009 2010 2011
  • 9. How Smashwords Distribution Works • UPLOAD • Upload a Microsoft Word file, formatted to our Style Guide • Free conversion to 9 ebook formats • Ready for immediate sale online • DISTRIBUTE • Distribution to multiple major retailers • GET PAID • Author receives 85%+ of net = 60% list from major retailers
  • 11. Smashwords Makes Ebook Publishing and Distribution Easy
  • 12. WRITING A GREAT BOOK IS DIFFICULT (and nothing is more important than a great book)
  • 13. YOU WROTE A SUPER FAB BOOK
  • 14. Let’s Examine Data That Provides Clues to Possible Viral Catalysts
  • 15. What’s a Viral Catalyst? • A viral catalyst is something that makes your book more available, accessible, desirable and enjoyable to readers • Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (it’s FREE!) to learn how viral catalysts spur word-of-mouth
  • 16. Navigating Data-speak (the dangers of “average”)
  • 17. ??? Useful (and not-so-useful) discoveries start with simple questions
  • 18. ??? So I asked questions We looked at about nine months of sales data, aggregated across the Smashwords distribution network Some findings are useful, some were just fun
  • 20. Q: Do authors who change prices frequently sell more books?
  • 21. Impact of Price Changes • Conclusions not clear cut • Small sample sizes of Top 10, Top 40 not statistically significant • Not a clear cause and effect of price changes to increased sales • Quite possible authors who change prices frequently are also promoting their books more actively
  • 22. Impact of Price Changes
  • 23. Q: If ebooks are immortal, how do sales develop over time?
  • 24. How Sales Develop • This set of data looks at aggegrated “Classes” of all titles published in a certain month, are still published, and how their sales developed from month one to month two to (etc…) • Key findings: • Strong overall growth as ebook market develops and some titles achieve viral word of mouth • A lot of randomness: Different classes, even separated by one month, exhibit dramatically different growth patterns • Could speak to the outsize influence of a small number of breakout hits in each class
  • 25. Smashwords Class of June 2009
  • 26. Smashwords Class of July 2009
  • 27. Smashwords Class of August 2009
  • 28. Smashwords Class of January 2009
  • 29. Q: How might an individual title develop at a retailer?
  • 30. How Sales Develop: Single Retailer, Single Title • This set of data looks at individual titles at the Apple iBookstore • Key findings: • Different books develop differently over time • Sales rise and fall, then rise and fall again, based on various factors (randomness, luck, author promotions, new title releases, retailer promos) • If authors don’t maintain persistent presence across all retailers, they miss the spikes and miss opportunity to harvest the benefit • Unlike print books, which quickly go out of print, ebooks are immortal and can yield income for years
  • 31. Slow boil, breakout, slow boil, breakout • This title was selling relatively well (5-10 copies a day) then benefited from major national press coverage (spike #1) then feature placement in Apple email promo (spike #2). After each spike, sales settled at higher level than previous.
  • 32. Slow boil, slow build, breakout, slow boil • This title did nothing for a month, but then started growing organically through word of mouth. This book is likely to enjoy many many years of solid performance as new readers discover it.
  • 33. Slow boil, breakout, slow boil, smaller breakouts • Another title that did nothing at first, but then spiked, dropped, and spiked again. Titles like this are likely to continue selling well, and will often break out into their genre bestseller lists many times.
  • 34. Quick build, breakout, slow boil • Sold well right out of the gate, then built, then spiked before dropping back to slow boil. This title is also likely to experience future breakouts as the author releases new titles, does promos, and as new groups of readers discover the book.
  • 35. Quick breakout to slow steady boil • Another title that will yield the author significant income over time. Books like this that sell copies every day usually earn solid reviews. Titles like this are primed for breakouts if author takes right steps.
  • 36. Slow boil to breakout • This is the chart for Ruth Ann Nordin (the only author for which I obtained permission to reveal her identity) and her book, An Inconvenient Marriage. This book had already been a bestseller at Kobo 12 months before it suddenly broke out at Apple to become the #1 romance title in the store. The Apple spike was prompted by a new title release, price changes, and possibly also a free promotion for a separate title on her list. More discussion in my “Secrets” book.
  • 37. Q: What’s the ideal word count for ebooks?
  • 38. Do Readers Prefer Longer Books? • For the average book, yes. Clear pattern that longer books dominate our bestseller lists
  • 39. Do Readers Prefer Longer Books? • This looks at bestseller bands. Trend is even more prominent. Ebook buyers prefer longer form.
  • 40. 60% of Top 20 Bestsellers Longer than 100K Words
  • 41. 53% of Top 40 Longer than 100K
  • 42. Q: Do Romance Readers Prefer Different Lengths?
  • 43. Yes. 90% of Top 10 Romance Bestsellers under 100,000 words
  • 44. 78% of top 40 Run under 100K
  • 45. Romance Readers Prefer ~80,000 Words
  • 46. Q: Do erotica readers prefer longer or shorter?
  • 47. Average Word Count for Bestselling Erotica
  • 48. Q: What price moves the most units?
  • 49. FREE • FREE moves more ebooks • ~100X more downloads on average • Powerful platform builder • Powerful sales catalyst for series or deep backlists
  • 50. Q: What impact does price have on unit sales?
  • 51. Impact of Price on Unit Sales • This set of data examines how price impacts unit sales • 1.0 = normalized reference point. For example, books priced in $2.00-$2.99 price band sell 6.2 times more units than books priced $10.00+ • Key findings: • Low prices sell more units • $1.00-$1.99 price point underperforms
  • 52. How Price Impacts Units Sold
  • 53. Q: How are Smashwords authors pricing their books?
  • 54. Prices are slowly trending downward Source: http://blog.smashwords.com/2012/03/does-agency-pricing-lead-to-higher-book.html
  • 55. Q: What are the most common price points?
  • 56. How Many Books are Priced at Each Price Point?
  • 57. Q: What prices earn the author the greatest amount of money?
  • 58. What Price Earns the Author the Greatest Yield? • We know low price yields more unit sales, but what price yields the greatest profit for the author? • Key findings: • $.99 to $1.99 underperforms, about 60% below average • $2.99 to $5.99 appears to be sweet spot for indie authors and small presses • Data indicates that some authors are probably underpricing their works, and might want to experiment with slightly higher prices
  • 59. What Price Yields Highest Earnings?
  • 60. Q: How many books sell well?
  • 61. How Many Indie Ebooks Sell Well? • Sales distribution is a “power curve” not a “ bell curve” • Key findings: • Most books do not sell well (very important for authors to set realistic expectations, and take long term approach to platform building) • Sales distribution characterized by small minority of titles selling extremely well, thousands of moderate sellers, and then a long tail of poor sellers • Authors should implement best practices (read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success for ideas!) to drive their performance to the left of the curve • As books increase sales rank and move to the left of the curve, their actual sales increase quickly, especially in top 5,000
  • 62. Sales Distribution Across Smashwords Network (Normalized to 1.0 = average)
  • 65. Romance Sales Across Smashwords Network • Romance, on average, sells 2.2 times better than the average indie ebook at Smashwords (interesting!)
  • 66. Erotica Relative Sales Performance
  • 67. Q: What’s the optimal price per word?
  • 68. ~ 3.5 cents per 1,000 words • The outlier is a 27,000 word ebook priced at $2.99. Indicates that some authors might have ability to price popular works higher
  • 69. Final Thoughts • Data-driven publishing decisions are irrelevant without a great book • Numbers provide hints at reader preferences • Don’t write a longer (bloated) or shorter book unless that’s what the story demands • If your story demands 200,000 words, go for it! • Information, properly applied, can become a viral catalyst • Read the Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success for other viral catalysts
  • 70. Free Ebook Publishing Resources • NEW! Secrets to Ebook Publishing Success (best practices of successful authors) • Smashwords Book Marketing Guide (how to market any book at no cost) • Smashwords Style Guide (how to format and publish an ebook)
  • 71. Thank you for listening! Connect: Twitter: @markcoker Facebook: facebook.com/markcoker Web: www.smashwords.com Blog: blog.smashwords.com (offers email subscription option) HuffPo: huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker