The thing about electronic publishing that drives me crazy is the silliness of believing that Kindle is the only source of sales.
My attitude as an indie publisher is that I want to get to 100% of the available English language readers in the world. Period.
Now, to do that, I need as an indie publisher to have both electronic books and paper books, and the electronic books need to be in all available stores I can get them into. And the paper books must be available to get into all stores as well. And I hope, in very short order, I will also be selling electronic books on book cards out of bookstores, increasing that market as well.
So it drives me nuts when someone tells me “I only sold ten copies last month.”
My instant response, and not very useful, is “How do you know?”
That always gets people puzzled at my question. But the truth is, that person doesn’t know how many copies of their book they actually sold. Not a clue, unless the only place they put the story was up on Kindle.
What happens if you only look at Kindle for your sales?
— Kindle right at the moment has about 40% of the US market in electronic sales. Give or take depending on the survey you read. But that trend is going downward as other devices (especially different pad devices) are climbing.
— Electronic books are about 15% of all books sold at this moment in August, 2011. (That is logically going up and will spike once again next January and February after the Christmas device sales. Most “experts” think in three years the number will level around 50%…I tend to agree.)
So take those two basic facts and do the math. As an indie publisher, you only put your book up on Kindle. You are reaching (at the moment) 40% of 15% of all readers. (.15 x .4 = .06) So your book is getting into the hands of 6% of all readers. That’s still a lot of market and a great number of readers, sure, but it is only 6% of all possible readers…
…IN THIS COUNTRY.
Kindle has gone into Germany and UK, but they are a minor player in both countries and even smaller in other countries. Kobo and iBooks are the big players for the rest of the world. So to really get your books out to the entire world you also need to be on B&N, Kobo, iBooks, Sony, and Smashwords, plus Overstreet for library sales and so on.
There are two ways to get to many of these sites.
—First you can go direct to them. I go direct to B&N because they have made it simple. It is also very possible to go direct as a publisher to iBooks, Sony, Kobo, Diesel, and Overstreet. It takes a little work and set-up, but very possible for any indie publisher. (Not authors, you must be an indie publisher…read my Think Like a Publisher series under the tab at the top to understand how to do that.)
However, Smashwords has stepped into the distributor role and made it simple for indie publishers and indie authors to go to most of these international stores. Simply by uploading for no cost a file, you can get your books into all the international stores except Overstreet. All for a 10% distribution fee when something sells. Well worth the costs early on.
So for an indie publisher to get to almost all of the 15% of sales of electronic books in this country, plus a bunch of the rest of the planet, you need to get your story onto Kindle, Pubit (B&N), and Smashwords. And get through the premium distribution program at Smashwords. Pretty darned simple.
A few months ago I put out a call to try to get some program that would allow us non-spreadsheet people to get information easily and quickly from all the spreadsheets given to us by these bookstores and distributors.
I simply wanted to be able to load in the data, then ask how many books sold in a month of a certain title and how much I made on that book.
A lot of programmers said, “Oh, that will be easy.” And then they discovered it wasn’t easy. The old Smashwords spreadsheet stops most logical data sorting, but Smashwords is trying to fix that problem. The Smashwords Beta test is still not working well, at least for me. But I admire the fact that they are trying. (You can find it right above your publisher spreadsheet. Try it and give them your feedback.)
And I want to thank those of you who did try to come up with a program and spent the hours running into this crazy problem. If any of you actually have made it work and just haven’t told me, please let us know here. But remember, I don’t just want another spreadsheet. I need a user interface that I can upload all the spreadsheets to and simply ask logical questions and get numbers that are clear and not out in some spreadsheet somewhere thirty rows deep. (I do not know how to use Excel and have no intention of learning at the moment.)
So that said, unless you do a lot of data entry in standard inventory business programs, and I do mean a lot, as a couple people suggested I do, there is no way for a normal indie publisher to know exactly how many books we sold total say in December from around the world. Or how much money we made on any single title, unless you only have a few titles.
There is no way to know the exact number. NONE, ZERO ZIP, without a ton of data entry or very few products and few sales.
Right now WMG Publishing has over 200 titles. And they are all selling at one level or another. And we are gaining about 15-20 new titles per month.
WMG Publishing knows how much cash comes in every month from all the different sources. That’s how they keep track for taxes of course. But without huge data entry or a great sorting program that works, they have no idea how many copies of a certain novel WMG Publishing had published in December sold. Or exactly how much money that novel made.
(This problem is a huge problem for all of us traditionally-published writers. Traditional publishers are understaffed and do a lot more books and have no idea how to break all this apart either. They will get a report in one form from iBooks, another in another form from Kindle, and so on and all have to be sorted and done data entry by hand at the moment. Ugly doesn’t begin to describe it. But that’s another topic.)
I do know (through a lot of data entry on some books) that Kindle for WMG sticks pretty close to the average of 35% -40% for our books.
In other words, if we sell ten copies of a story or book on Kindle in a month, than we sold about 25 total that month through all sites.
(I have done a bunch of sampling on stories and novels we had up in December and January since all the data is in on those months. Hours of data entry.)
How did I get that 25 number? 10 copies is about 40% of 25.
So if we sold 10 copies of a novel at $4.95 on Kindle in January, I know we actually sold around 25 copies over all the sites.
Give or take.
At the moment.
(And that percentage did hold after the data entry experiment.)
One More Time Into The Income Fight
Let me do this one more time to show how amazing not thinking of a book as an event can be, but instead change your thinking to cover years. If you think of a book as an event, ten copies sold looks horrid. If you get out of that thinking, ten copies sold on Kindle looks pretty good over time.
—This math is for numbers at the moment. Electronic sales are going up and I am not counting trade paper or book card sales at all. Just income from electronic publishing.
—This is at 10 sales on Kindle per month, 25 sales total around the world which you won’t know about for at least 6 months.
Do the Math Again
—Sell your novel for $4.99. You will make on average $3.50 per sale. 25 sales x $3.50 = $87.50 per month.
$87.50 x 12 = $1,050.00 per year.
Now doesn’t seem like much, but let’s compare that to traditional publishing.
A contract now with traditional publishing will last for a very long time, but let’s just pretend you have a good lawyer and can hold the sunset clause to ten years and get the book back in your hands again.
That means if your book is selling 10 copies on Kindle per month, you will make in those ten years about $10,000 assuming nothing goes up.
So you really shouldn’t sell your book to traditional publishing for under a $10,000 advance. Or maybe $8,000 if you count the value of having the money in the first three years instead of over eight or ten years. (Expect your book to not earn out, only money is for advance.)
BUT WHAT IF????
I have heard indie publishers complain about only selling one copy of their book per day on Kindle. I damn near choke.
30 copies per month on Kindle means you are selling 75 copies per month around the world.
$3.50 per book profit times 75 = $262.50 per month or $3,150.00 per year.
Figure the book is gone at least ten years into traditional publishing, that’s equal to $31,500.00 in expected income on that book IF EVERYTHING REMAINS AT THIS 15% LEVEL.
Now thirty grand in ten years is a nice amount of money, and I see no reason why it wouldn’t continue earning after that.
But, of course, nothing is going to remain the same. It’s going up.
And, of course, that’s not counting any trade paperback sales or other future device sales.
Have I said how much I love this new world?
Why Did I Do This Math Again?
Honestly, I wanted to have something to point to when someone complained to me about only selling ten copies a month to show them what that number really means. Right after I ask them “How do they know?”
Wow, I sure hope one of you wonderful programmers out there would hurry up and develop the program that spits out real numbers. I would love to load in the spreadsheets and find out exactly how my books and stories sold in December or January. I just can’t read spreadsheets.
I would pay decent money for that program.
Okay, now I have a place to link to when someone complains, “I only sold ten copies last month.”
Perspective is everything. Ten copies of a book as event sucks. Ten copies on Kindle in one month is some really nice money over time.
Keep the perspective, go for more writing and more product up and selling and let the numbers add up slowly.
That’s exactly how New York built those huge buildings.