28 March 2013 - 6:35 pm

Flagging sales

The Apocalypse Blog ebooks had a good year in 2012. After Book 0 went free, sales rocketed on Amazon and I started to get cheques through every month. Colour me one happy writer, actually being paid for the fiction that I share with the world.

However, the end of 2012 saw a dip in sales on Amazon. In January, they fell even lower. I started to get incredibly concerned – had the books saturated its audience? Had they had their day? Was I looking at a sad decline, until I was getting only a sad dribble in sales, from now unto forever? I was doing nothing different, so what made the difference?

Curiously, in February, the sales picked up again. Not back to their previous levels, but certainly looking brighter than before.

Also interestingly, my sales through Smashwords (and its distribution network) stayed roughly the same, maybe increasing a little (it’s harder to track these ones, because it requires consolidating a lot of disparate info, and I’m still working on the spreadsheets for this. A financial genius I am not).

For the funsies, here are some graphs of Amazon sales to show you the patterns I’m talking about. Let’s start with the overall sales revenue figures:

Sales revenue

Sales revenue

You can see pretty clearly here what happened when Amazon price-matched Book 0 and made it free: in March, the sales shot up. Note: this is sales revenue, so this is the effect it had on the paid-for books!

Sales of Book 0, the free one.

Sales of Book 0, the free one.

You can see the summer holidays pretty clearly in that one. The graph only covers the period from after the book went free – before then, it was just 1 or 2 sales per month. Let’s forget about those early months.

Sales of Books 1, 2, and 3

Sales of Books 1, 2, and 3

This is what the sales of the paid-for books look like over the same period. Interestingly, the pattern is quite different – summer seems to have been a bumper time for buying books. Books 2 and 3 sell roughly the same amount, so the knock-on series sales seems to be pretty reliable; if they get past Book 1, they’ll buy all of them. I think I like this pattern. Also, you can see the hike around August where I dropped the price of Book 1 to $2.99 (from $4.99). Another spike. Hello, sweet spot.

To make some of the implications and patterns a little more obvious, here’s the two graphs above merged into one:

Sales of Books 0, 1, 2, and 3, with 0's brought down for comparison (divided by 20).

Sales of Books 0, 1, 2, and 3, with 0’s brought down for comparison (divided by 20).

The sales of free vs paid books is almost completely inverse. Curious pattern! I wonder why this is, especially as I would have thought that the knock-on from the free teaser into paid series would have been stronger. Apparently, this is not the case. Why? Hard to say. Perhaps the teaser is a little too much of a teaser? Some food for thought.

What’s pretty undeniable is the drop-off towards the end of 2012. It’s not a nice trend. On the upswing now, but for how long?

And here is the Amazon ranking chart from October until today (sadly, they only brought in Amazon author rankings in October, so I don’t have figures from before then, and the individual book ranks are currently broken):

Amazon rankings across all books

Amazon rankings across all books

You can see the drop-off through January, but considering there was a steady drop-off in sales after October, the ranking is pretty erratic. If the average rank per week is taken, it’s a bit easier to see:

Weekly average Amazon ranking

Weekly average Amazon ranking

The ranking changes don’t seem to match the actual sales figures, which is a bit interesting. However, the overall downward trend exists in both sales and ranking figures.

So my first question is: why the change? It’s a little hard to fathom, but it could be due to a number of factors, such as:

  • The time of year. I’ve noticed some patterns with sales around holidays, but I don’t have any historic data to compare it to, so this one is hard to be sure about. However, post-Christmas slumps are not unknown.
  • Amazon’s overall sales performance. Very hard to verify, but the author ranking patterns above should give me a clue, as it reflects my sales against other authors and books on Amazon. The mis-match between sales and ranking puts me in mind of the predictions made on the Smashwords blog that Amazon will start to lose market share this year as other online bookstores begin to take over in this space. So at least a part of this trend might not be related to me or my books at all.
  • I haven’t released a new book for a while. Much of the advice I’ve seen about self-publishing and e-publishing say that readers are voracious and a good way to stay in their line of sight is to release new ebooks fairly frequently (every few months or so). The longer I go without releasing something, the more I fall out of sight? Seems plausible.
  • Reviews and ratings. I consistently get 4- and 5-star reviews on Amazon, and most other stores (where I have any ratings at all). The reviews are largely positive and encouraging. However, there are some stores where my books don’t have any ratings at all, and that’s a problem I should tackle.

So what can I do about it all? Should I do anything at all? I have a few options, so let’s take a look at them:

  • Do nothing. I could put it down to market vagaries and the time of year, and ride along in my merry little boat, hoping the tide will swell back in my direction. As tempting as this might be, I’d rather try a few things first.
  • Release some new books. I have plans in this area for the upcoming Starwalker project. The usefulness of frequent releases is part of why I want to release the short stories as individual books: I don’t have to wait for them all to be finished before I can release them, and I can space out the releases to keep interest in my work.
  • Release another Apocalypse Blog book. As much as I’d like to do this (in no small part due to the requests I’ve had to continue the story), I don’t have time in my current schedule to write a fourth book. It would take probably a year to come up with a fourth book, by which point the ‘catching interest’ element will most likely have passed me by. It might happen one day, but it’s not at the top of my list right now.
  • Rejuvenate the existing Apoclaypse Blog books. There are a few ways I could do this: small changes that might make a big difference.

That’s the big picture. Releasing new ebooks is in the pipeline but it will be a while; there’s a lot of work to do there. They won’t be in the AB series, but hopefully it’ll pop my name up on readers’ lists and I’ll get some knock-on sales. In the meantime, I can look into doing something to jog the existing ebook sales. Smashwords had an interesting post on how to rejuvenate flagging book sales, and I’ve got a few things in the works that should help, too:

  • Fresh edit and proof of the manuscript. This is underway and I’m hoping to have a new edition of the ebooks available soon. This is mostly removing typos, not rewriting sections.
  • Make Book 1 free. I’ve been pondering whether I should do this for a while, and the strong feeling I’m getting is ‘yes’. It’s a great way to hook people into the series, and the success that followed Book 0 going free is proof of that.
  • Lower the price of Books 2 and 3. Similar to the point above. It’s mostly about removing potential barriers to sale. At the least, I’ll probably lower Book 2 when it becomes the first paid-for book in the series. They’re long books, but more sales net me more benefit than higher per-book profits do.
  • Redo the product descriptions for the books. This might freshen up the listings, and maybe sharpen the message for readers. I’ve learned things since I released the ebooks, so there could be improvements made here. Make sure it’s pinging all the right areas for the audience I’m trying to reach.
  • Get new covers. This one is tricky, because it will (or at least could) cost me money. Also, I have a deep love of the current covers; they’re so pretty. However, they don’t scale terribly well (particularly to thumbnails), and it might be possible to get something better and more eye-grabbing. Open to options here. Maybe just a re-imagining of the current look? Should I shoot for four distinctly different covers, instead of recolourings of the same one for that ‘matched set’ vibe?

It’s not a lot of work, so I might as well get moving on it. Changing the prices takes all of ten minutes (though the change of Book 1 to free will take a few months to ripple through to Amazon, if Book 0 is anything to judge by). I’d like all of the changes to hit at once – to maximise the impact, rather than dribbling it through – so somehow I have to coordinate all of those changes. The covers are probably the trickiest to get done, so perhaps I’ll kick that off sooner rather than later.

As if I needed any more balls to keep in the air. At least it keeps things interesting, right?

Wish me luck and better sales. Oh, and don’t forget to tell everyone you know to buy my books! Thanks! 😀

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  1. Khaalidah says:

    I love to see what other people are doing and how they are making things work. Being self published is not an easy road, but it does afford us great experience and freedom.
    I admire those of you who have managed to be so prolific and also who keep writing despite the difficulties. Thanks for this post.

    March 29th, 2013 at 11:38 am

  2. Mel says:

    Yeah, it’s not an easy road, but I have no regrets. Onwards and upwards, always. 🙂

    March 30th, 2013 at 3:54 pm