An American Editor

March 18, 2013

Author Lamentations: eBook Week Sales

The week of March 3-10 was “Read an eBook Week,” which is a week that I particularly look forward to each year. It is the week when many authors put their ebooks on sale, with discounts ranging from 25% to 100% of the normal price. Smashwords is a major promoter of this event, and is usually where I go to buy more ebooks for my to-be-read pile.

In past years, I have spent several hundred dollars on indie ebooks during this week, and I have also “bought” a goodly number of 100%-discount ebooks. This year I bought 3 ebooks plus a dozen of the 100%-discount ebooks. I simply could not find more ebooks from indie authors that interested me; I did find several that I am interested in buying in the future, but I felt no rush to buy them now because they were not on sale. If I’m going to pay full price, I’ll pay it when I am ready to read the ebook, not before.

On some of the fora in which I participate, authors were lamenting that “Read an eBook Week” didn’t boost sales. One complaining author noted that before eBook Week his sales were at zero and during eBook Week his sales remained flat at zero. In his case, I think three things were at work: first, he didn’t discount his book at all during a week when readers expect to find a discount; second, the subject-matter/genre of his ebook was not one that draws readers like bees to honey; and third, whether his book had ever seen the helping hand of a professional editor was doubtful based on the sample.

Other complaining authors noted slight upticks in sales, but not anything to boast about.

This year, unlike past years, authors seemed to be quiet about “Read an eBook Week.” I saw very few pushes to get the word out by these indie authors, which made me wonder how they expected to get readers to notice their books. Many of them also opted for the smaller discounts. I admit that I didn’t even bother to look at books in the 25% discount category and only once spent a little time in the 50% discount category. Most of my browsing was on the 75% and 100% discount categories, and based on comments made in response to the complaining authors, it appears my browsing was typical.

It is clear to me that authors with low to middling sales during eBook Week made several fundamental errors. First, they did little to no self-promotion so potential readers were not made aware of their ebooks. Stores like Smashwords promote the week itself, not individual ebooks; it is up to the indie author to promote his or her ebook, which means the author needs to make sure that tags are appropriate and numerous, that descriptions are well-written and targeted, and that the correct genre(s) are associated with the ebook. For example, I do not like books about vampires or the Harlequin-type romances or “gothic” novels. Consequently, when I see tags that identify an ebook as fitting in one of those categories, I pass it by. Of course, other readers cannot get enough of those categories, so they would be attracted — if the ebook is properly tagged and described.

The second error was that they had a bad combination of too high a retail price and too low a discount for their book. Many ebookers are like me — reluctant to spend $5.99 on an ebook from an author with whom they are unfamiliar and a 25% discount is little inducement. Authors need to think about the promotion. Many of these same authors joined Amazon’s exclusive program and offered their ebook for free at Amazon for 5 days. So why not offer a steep discount for the 7 days of eBook Week?

The third error that a number of authors made was to offer the steep discount on the second or third book in a series, rather than on the first book. I cannot imagine what thinking lies behind that decision. Once I saw that the ebook was the second or third in a series and that the first book was not being discounted, I just moved on. I suspect many readers did the same.

The fourth error was in offering the same ebook this year as they offered last year and even the year before. I would think that by now most readers who are interested in the offered book have already obtained it. One of the purposes of eBook Week is to not only introduce your ebook to new readers but to reignite interest in you in readers who have some familiarity with you but who do not view your ebooks as “must” reads.

The fifth error was the failure to take the opportunity to rewrite the blurbs. Poorly written blurbs can kill a sale. If you haven’t been selling a steady stream of ebooks, perhaps it is time to rewrite the blurb — give the ebook a fresh coat of paint, but paint of a different color.

The sixth error is really not an error except in broad terms: It is the failure to recognize that it is possible that the subject matter of your ebook just doesn’t have broad appeal or that if it does fall into the broad appeal area, that perhaps other books are better written (and better promoted). In other words, this isn’t like A Field of Dreams where “if you write it, they will find it”

or “if you write it, they will buy it.”

Readers tend to be a bit fussier than that.

I’m sure that only a few authors not guilty of all six failures, but every author who had disappointing sales during eBook Week is guilty of one or more of these failures. As an indie author, it is the author’s responsibility to fix these failures, yet I am sure that many will take no corrective action and will find other excuses for why eBook Week was a failure for their ebook.

I have said this before, but it is worth repeating: There is a natural progression to getting someone to buy your ebook. It begins with the cover, runs through the story’s development to the editing of the manuscript, and ends with the promotional efforts made by the author. A weakness in one area can be devastating. The indie author needs to be sure that current weaknesses are identified and addressed so as to pave the path for success. Authors who were disappointed by this year’s eBook Week have a year until the next eBook Week and so can work toward making next year a success.

April 14, 2010

Gift Cards in the Agency Age

As most ebookers know, the big 5 publishers, conspiring with the consumer’s “best friend” Apple, have instituted the agency pricing model — they now set the selling price to which all retailers must adhere. Why did they jump at this pricing scheme? Because they thought their ebooks were being devalued when they were sold at $9.99. I wonder what the big 5 think now.

So, how do you buy agencied books at a discount? U.S. Sony users have the answer this week: buy $25 Sony eBookstore Gift Cards at Target stores for $15 — a 40% discount. How does this thwart agency pricing? Well, if the agencied ebook price is $14.99 at every ebookstore, using the Sony Bookstore Gift Card reduces the effective price to $9.00 — even less than the dreaded $9.99.

I don’t know who is absorbing the loss on the gift card, whether it is Sony, Target, or a combination of the two, but I do know that the deal is great for anyone whose ebook reading device can handle ePub with the Adobe DRM, which is most devices. I bought 10 of the gift cards and am thinking of buying another 10 before the end of the sale.

If this works as well as I think it will, Sony should see a significant increase in sales. I know it will see a significant increase in purchases made by me. A 40% discount is mighty enticing, especially when it is on any ebook, not just New York Times bestsellers that I don’t read. But more importantly, this could turn into a wave of me-toos from other ebooksellers.

How can they get away with this? Well, I admit I’m just speculating, but here are my thoughts. First, the agency publishers cannot control the price that an independent retailer like Target can sell a gift card for; similarly, they can’t control the price that Amazon can discount gift cards.

Second, gift cards represent cash — unspent cash. So a $25 gift card, whether it cost $5 or $50 to buy, was bought with cash and represents $25 cash and can be used to purchase $25 worth of goods. State and federal regulations govern this.

Third, the ebooks are being sold at the agency price; they are not being discounted. When the ebooker buys that $14.99 agency priced ebook, $14.99 is deducted from the $25 credit that the gift card represents. The agency publishers have nothing to complain about and no agreements (to the extent I have knowledge of them, which is to the extent of what I read in the press) are violated.

So who wins with the discount gift cards? The gift card ebookstore who gets my money in advance and who now knows that I will buy at least $X worth of ebooks from it because the gift cards aren’t usable elsewhere. Plus I am now encouraged to look at, in this instance, the Sony Bookstore whereas before I only occasionally looked for a book there. In addition, because people who own ereading devices other than Sony but that are ePub-with-Adobe-DRM capable can also buy books at the Sony Bookstore, Sony gains access to more ebookers.

The gift card seller (i.e., in my case Target) who lured me into its store, a store I rarely go to, to buy the gift cards and hopefully something else.

eBook authors and publishers because I have now committed to buying ebooks that I would not otherwise have bought. The Sony gift cards I bought are not redeemable for anything but ebooks at the Sony Bookstore.

With only the Sony Bookstore gift cards currently available at such a discount, ePub and Adobe are winners, too, because devices that aren’t hampered by being unable to read (without stripping DRM, which most ebookers either cannot or will not do) ebooks in ePub with Adobe DRM can make use of these gift cards — that’s a lot of ebookers.

And me, the ebooker, who is able to buy ebooks at a discount. In this case, I am the big winner because a 40% discount is a bigger discount on an ebook than usually offered once you look past the New York Times bestsellers.

The only losers today are the international ebookers who live outside the United States who do not have access to the gift cards; they need to be bought in person at Target. But this might be the first breath of wind in a brewing storm where the ebookstores begin competing by discounting gift cards. Will Amazon and Barnes & Noble join the fray?

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