By Jean Marie Stine
“My ebook sales are declining!” and “Why are my sales declining?” are litanies being heard increasingly from established authors who have been writing for at least three years or longer, and from publishers who have been in the business for the same period. And yet, we are told more ebooks are being sold than ever before. How can that be?
In fact, total ebook sales have risen over the past few years, but not even double—whereas the number of published books available for sale has gone up twenty-three hundred percent during the same time period.
Here are the figures: When Amazon opened the Kindle store, they announced that they had 100,000 ebooks for sale. Today the site shows their number of available ebooks at 2.5 million. There are now categories in the Kindle store that have more ebooks in them than were on the entire store site when it first opened.
2.3 million titles (and this is just ebooks, not counting print) is at least 5 times the total number of books for sale in the U. S. before the advent of the Kindle.
It is an unprecedented, watershed event in publishing history.
It means the individual ebook today, your book, is vying for attention (and the reader’s dollar) among 2.3 million others. Whether you have written one book or thirty—30 out of 2.3 million is daunting odds.
Of course, the number of titles your ebook is competing with is appreciably smaller than this.
People generally write, sell and buy ebooks according to their favorite genres and categories. Since these categories are smaller, you have a much smaller number of ebooks clamoring for attention along with yours. If you write romance, for instance, your book is only in a pool with slightly less than a quarter of a million other romance ebooks available for sale at Kindle. In addition to which many readers, naturally, have a particular subcategory of romance they prefer, such as paranormal or bondage or m/m, etc., where the number of competing books is smaller still, and the odds improve even more. Your paranormal romance will be offered for sale among only 30,700 others at Amazon Kindle.
The situation for those writing erotica is much the same. Amazon reports slightly over 131,000 books for sale in erotica. But if you specialize in bondage, you only have to make your book stand out in a field of 19,000. And, if you write about male dominants, you are only competing with 9,000. That is still a lot whether you have written one book or thirty, and individual readers can only afford to buy so many books per month or year—and even the most dedicated readers of bondage fiction with the most time on their hands will probably not buy not 19 thousand.
So, practically speaking, what does that all mean? How many sales can you expect on average when purchases are spread thinly over so many titles?
At a recent industry conference I was on a panel with a woman whose husband worked for Amazon’s Kindle division and she said the average ebook sells 4 copies per week. As there are a number of writers selling thousands per week, that means overall there are hundreds of thousands of books that do not sell even one copy per week.
Finance writer Mike Cooper analyzed reports from Amazon and other sources and concluded that the average ebook at Amazon earned $297 last year. Again, that means there have to have been hundreds of thousands that earned nothing or virtually nothing. Cooper concluded that the average author would have to write and publish “48 books per year just to make minimum wage.”
“But what about Facebook and Twitter,” some authors say. “I have a hundred fans who have friended me and ten times that on Twitter who follow me.”
Sadly, those FB and Twitter fans also follow other writers, and have only a certain amount of disposable income for purchasing books. According to the same woman I was on the panel with, for all the efforts writers put into them, FB and Twitter followers account for at most only 28 copies out of the average ebook’s sales.
And here is a final set of figures, the number of free books for Kindle available at amazon: 54,000! Let’s break that down a bit. There are over 2,000 free romance novels, written by newer writers and even quite famous ones, all trying to gain new readers for their work. Almost 200 free lesbian novels. And if you write bdsm erotica, readers will find over 100 free titles.
And who doesn’t like free? No wonder the average Kindle title sells only four copies per week.
Of course, these are daunting figures for those seeking to earn some or all of their income from writing, and for smaller publishers trying to find sales for their authors. But they do pinpoint why everyone’s sales are declining. Since the first step in solving a problem is to find the cause, being aware of the romance and erotica markets for ebooks is a major step forward.
What can you do about all this? In a market this gargantuan, how can you draw greater attention to your ebook, make it stand out above the others, let alone generate big sales?
The fundamental principle of marketing is first, study your customers. In this case, study your potential readers. You may think you know your readers because you have dozens, if not hundreds, of Facebook followers and because you meet readers at events—but, while helpful, these folks do not necessarily represent the typical book buyer.
Findings on such matters as the influence of Facebook, author blogs, Goodreads, cover, price, reviews, video trailers, famous author endorsements, twitter, publisher name and more on readers’ decision to purchase a books are, to say the least, illuminating. If you haven’t read our summary of the widest reader survey ever undertaken on contemporary book buying habits—and what does and doesn’t influence readers to buy an author’s book—click here now to read it.
The second step in marketing something is to educate yourself on the best ways to promote and sell your product. Working “smarter, not harder” is not just an oft-repeated cliche of the business world; it’s a fundamental, applicable principle, especially when it comes to online marketing. Of course use your blog, your site, your Twitter and Facebook. But use them more wisely and realistically, recognizing their limitations. and learn how to automate functions—that step may save you time otherwise unnecessarily wasted. Generally speaking, do yourself and your books a huge favor and search this blog for tips from established writers and marketing professionals—in addition to the articles linked above, there are many more on these subjects!
And remember, sometimes success strikes with the first book, and sometimes with the 50th. But if you give up on writing, it can never strike at all.