Thursday, February 28, 2013

Can They Sell? Listen Bub . . .

In the interest of exploring various ways to promote the sale of ebooks, I'm always up for experimentation.

I was thus delighted when my better half gave me permission to invest some marketing money towards a relatively new ebook promotional company to try to generate some sales of one of my ebooks.

BookBub is the place.  (Thus explaining the old 1970's Spider-Man theme song that I was riffing on for the title of this post)

One of the things that I love best about BookBub is that they allow you to do a promo on ALL the platforms.  Most of the ones out there are all Amazon centric as if they are the only place where people can buy ebooks. But those of us with our eyes and minds open realize that while Amazon Kindle is popular in certain circles, that Kobo, Apple (iBooks), Barnes & Noble (Nook) and Sony are other large players in the eBook space.  There are, of course, dozens more, nay hundreds more, but the larger ones in the English speaking world are typically Kindle, Kobo, Apple, Nook and Sony.

BookBub allows readers to identify the platform they read on and sign up to receive notification for free and bargain titles in a particular category. They also allow authors the ability to buy promotion space in the emails.

I did a bit of research, checked to see if other authors had any success uses their services, and determined, that, based on the pricing schedule, I would book in an ad for a backlist title that had gotten some decent reviews, but not much attention.

Campus Chills, which retails for $20 as a print book and $4.99 for the eBook, came out in 2009. So it's not new. And while it had been reviewed quite nicely (how could it not with such a fantastic line-up of writers?), it was under-read, under-discovered.

I booked it for a Horror promo on January 10th (with a price of $0.99) and it cost me $110.  I was fully prepared to lose that money or, at the very best, make my $110 back in sales.  For the promo, I linked to Kobo and Amazon.

A few interesting things happened:

  • I made my money back in about 6 hours
  • I increased my sales on Kobo in the US 
  • I ended up trending high on the Amazon US sales rankings and author rankings 
  • I would have made more money if not for Amazon's guerrilla pricing strategies (and issues with aggregator data updates)

Here are a few details related to those point

I made my money back in about 6 hours

For my sales at Kobo and Amazon, I started to see a slight pick-up in sales when the posting went live on BookBub's website that morning.  But it wasn't until their email blast went out mid-afternoon that my sales really picked up.  Within 6 hours of BookBub's email going out I had earned my $110 back.

In all, because sales continued to remain solid for several days, and even trickled down such that they continued in a slow but steady way (and at a higher rate than previous to the promo) for a couple of weeks, I earned a little over $300 in total for the promotion.  (It would have been more if not for issues with data feeds and price matching, which I'll talk about below)

I increased by sales on Kobo in the US

Campus Chills had, historically, only sold in Canada, the UK, Australia and New Zealand via Kobo.  I hadn't sold a single copy in the US.  However, when this promo launched, I saw increased sales in all the "commonwealth" markets as expected, but a startling thing happened.  I went from absolutely zero sales in the US to a moderate handful of sales in just a few hours.  That was pretty cool.

On the flip side, while my sales on Amazon US increased wonderfully, I saw no lift in my Amazon UK sales, and still haven't sold a single thing off of Amazon's newly minted Canadian Kindle site which they launched in late 2012.

I ended up trending high on the Amazon US sales rankings and author ranking

Here were some cool sights on Amazon due to the lift in sales that I saw.

Bestseller Ranking appearing on CAMPUS CHILLS item page

CAMPUS CHILLS hit #5 in Fiction Anthologies

I even hit relatively high on the Amazon Author Rank for Horror

Amazon Author Rank (Horror) - spotlighting a few other titles, which is cool

I would have made more money if not for Amazon's guerrilla pricing strategies (and issues with aggregator data updates)

While I did the price promo on Amazon and Kobo, I wanted to be fair to the other places, but given the fact that my data is submitted to Apple, Nook and Sony via Smashwords, I couldn't guarantee that the price changes would take effect in time for the promotion.  So I didn't include them.

But, to be fair, I did change the price on Smashwords to 99 cents.

I shouldn't have done that. 

The price update took almost a week to hit B&N and Sony -- (it made it to Apple almost immediately -- perhaps 24 to 48 hours later), but then it took a couple of weeks before the price on B&N and Sony was fixed (again, while Apple's update happened relatively quickly)

This damaged me, because, after a full week promo, I updated the price back to $4.99 on Kobo and Amazon and Smashwords.  And it was still selling moderately well (due to the higher trending, the fact the item was in more customer libraries and was thus having an "also bought" effect in searches, etc)

One thing I didn't notice when I flipped my price back up to $4.99 on Amazon is that they don't automatically adjust your pricing back to the full 70% royalty for you.  You have to manually adjust that. I find it interesting that while they automatically adjust down to 35% when you lower your price, they don't automatically adjust back up when you put it back in their prefered pricing range.

Royalty selection for Amazon

Tricky bastards.

I ended up selling at least 100 units at this value (bringing in $1.75 rather than $3.44) -- oh yes, don't get me started on the delivery costs - this means I wasn't really getting 70% but rather 69% -- yes, it's only a few cents difference, but consider that difference when you're looking at thousands of units.  Spread out over all their author sales, they can likely easily fund their KDP Select program funds directly from that 1% they keep from authors.

But then, a few days later, I got the predatory warning from Amazon that they had spotted sCampus Chills at a lower price on Sony.  I immediately fixed my price on Amazon back to 99 cents for fear of the Amazonian Gods coming down to smite me.  And then I waited, and waited, and waited until both B&N and Sony fixed their pricing.  Then I waited another full day (for good measure and to ensure that the search engines that the Amazon pricing bots were likely reading would be updated) and re-adjusted by Amazon price back to $4.99

Amazon then, for some unbeknownst reason discounted Campus Chills by 80%, in effect selling it for 99 cents and paying me based on the lower price.  They are giving me 70% of $0.99 (well, not quite, because they're still taking the $0.07 delivery fee, meaning I'm getting 65%) but it is really frustrating.

I have learned that, next time, I won't include Smashwords (much as I want to support them) due to the challenges of getting my price updates downstream to B&N and Sony. (But not Apple - they seem to process their Smashwords data very quickly) It's too bad I couldn't make a price change at Smashwords (which is instant) and have it NOT flow downstream, so I can also include Smashwords in my next promo, or selectively choose, so I could include Apple as well.  (I'm an inclusive sort of guy)

In any case, I learned a few lessons, I have been able to increase my author brand in markets where I had no presence, and I made back more money than I invested.

I would thus call BookBub a worthwhile endeavour.

I have read reports from other authors who have been even more successful with BookBub.  And I have also read reports from authors who haven't had much success.

I suppose, like most things, we should always consider the following type of disclaimer:

Your mileage may vary.