Random Numbers

I’m basically moved into my new place and unpacked enough that I should be writing. Which, of course, means I turned to doing analysis instead because I can’t quite decide which idea to write next.

So what I did today was finish building an Access report I’d started that breaks out my sales for each title by platform.

I thought I’d share some observations from that in case they’re of interest to anyone else. (And to make myself feel better about “wasting my time.”)

I built the report to flag any combination of title/platform that was at least $250. So if the amount I received for that title from that platform for a lifetime is over $250, the report highlights it in green.

Now that’s a pretty low threshold, but I set it there because on the wide platforms I really don’t sell near as much as on Amazon. If I’d flagged at $1K or $5K I’d basically just be looking at Amazon sales and a handful of IngramSpark sales.

So.

What were the results?

Total, I had 77 titles that have made me at least $250 when you add up sales across all platforms.

58 of those titles also made that amount on Amazon alone.

(Which means I have 19 titles that have made that amount either on some other platform but not Amazon, for example, one of my video titles, or that have made that amount total across all platforms but haven’t hit that level on just Amazon like some of my more recent titles.)

I have 6 titles that have hit that level on Apple. Almost exclusively fiction titles and mostly my YA fantasy series.

I have 5 titles that have hit that level on Kobo. All fiction titles and mostly my YA fantasy series.

I have 2 that have hit that level on Google. One non-fiction and one my YA fantasy series box set.

I have 1 that has hit that level on Nook. Again, my YA fantasy series box set.

I have one video title that hit that level. And 5 audio titles that have hit that level.

And I have 16 that have hit that level on IngramSpark.

None of my titles have hit that level through libraries or other smaller channels although each of those categories has crossed the $1000 mark with a small trickle of sales across a bunch of titles.

So what are the takeaways from this analysis that can be useful for something?

One, I really need to just write instead of do analysis, but we know that won’t happen anytime soon.

Two, Bookbubs help with wide sales. My YA fantasy series is the one that I’ve been able to consistently get BB promos on and it shows in the wide numbers.

Three, even Bookbubs don’t move the needle that much. Amazon is still 70% of my sales for that series.

Four, in my experience, wide promotion is a tough nut to crack. I think the Apple, Google, and IngramSpark non-fiction sales are partially due to some wide promotion I’ve done, but it’s not near where I’d want it to be given the amount spent.

Also, it’s key to understand that this is my experience only.

Until just now I’ve never tried permafree as a strategy. I’ve had fiction titles free for a brief period of time, but never kept a title there permanently. Which meant most of my wide promo for those titles was either a Bookbub or limited-time Facebook ads.

I won’t know for probably a year or so if doing list-based promo service promotions moves the needle for me in any sort of substantial way or if I can use FB ads long-term to move copies. That’s something I need to work on for the rest of the year now that I have a finished nine-book series to try it with.

Five, IngramSpark is a black hole in terms of knowing where those sales are occurring. I suspect that a lot of them still come from Amazon but can’t prove that because they don’t tell you where the sales actually occurred.

Six, just because you have revenue doesn’t mean you have profit.

One of those audio titles is my second-worst performing audio title. It still has not earned out after five years. (I had a Chirp deal on it recently so we’ll see what that does to those numbers, but it is more than possible in this business to have sales, even lots of sales, and lose money. In this case it’s from producing the audio in the first place. But if you spend more on ads than you earn back in sales, that’s not a good result either.)

Seven, for me, with the exception of two titles that do better in audio than ebook or print, Amazon still beats every other platform in terms of total sales per title. So the titles that were over $250 on Apple or Kobo, etc. were even higher on Amazon.

Now, looking at the above, it’s tempting to say, “Clearly Amazon is the biggest source of revenue, so go all in with Amazon and forget all those other platforms.”

Which is fair. I mean, despite my best efforts Amazon is still 86% of my total revenues after all this time.

But that’s also very much on me because AMS is what I do best with in terms of promo. Which feeds into Amazon’s dominance. 74% of my ad spend lifetime is on AMS ads so, yeah, it makes sense that my sales would reflect that. When you focus your efforts in a specific area that’s where you’re going to see results.

The problem is, AMS have changed over time and will continue to do so. I loved them when I first discovered them because I could finally get sales of my fiction titles. At a profit! At full price!

And I do still manage some fiction sales using AMS, but not the way I did when those ads were first ramping up.

The problem with focusing on the biggest sales platform is it’s also a brutal cage match because everyone is there and they’re all fighting for the same very limited amount of visibility.

Running AMS ads there these days often means paying $1+ per click in the U.S. market. Now, I have titles that are still profitable at that level, but not all of them. I’ve stopped running ads on some of my books there because I just can’t compete. I don’t have enough books to absorb the ad cost and I’m not squarely enough in the category to drive sales.

You can run ads without going that high. A couple months ago I backed off for a bit because I was just tired of paying Amazon that much for a bid when a lot of the cost was being driven by questionable competition. And I still got sales, but not as many.

Lower ad spend means accepting reduced sales. So you have to weigh having 2X sales at a lower profit margin versus X level of sales at a higher profit margin. You may feel better about yourself because you’re not paying as much per click, but if at the end of the day you’re no longer making enough to pay the mortgage…Well.

For me it often comes down to my current feelings about scammers and Amazon and how much I’m willing to support a flawed ecosystem. So I sort of cycle between getting in there and brawling it out and stepping back and letting everyone else beat each other up for a while.

So there’s that. My focus on AMS has driven my results.

Also, I’m not really sure that I’ve capitalized on the potential earnings on those other platforms.

With my fantasy titles, for example, I only have the one trilogy. I published it five years ago and it has slowly accumulated sales since then but until I publish a new title under that name I won’t see a big boost from that readership. They’ve already read all they can.

Which goes back to the idea of focusing your writing efforts on one name if you can do that so that you’re building one thing as opposed to me who it seems is building ten foundations at once. (But having fun doing so which is why I do it.)

I note, too, that sellthrough-wise the wider platforms look to be stronger than Amazon even if the total numbers are lower. So again, which is better, higher sellthrough at lower numbers or lower sellthrough at higher numbers?

The answer to that question comes down to the specific numbers you’re dealing with, because there’s an inflection point there where it switches over. And the inflection point is driven by the specific numbers for each platform and series of books. It’s completely individual.

Also, at the end of the day there are no clear answers on all of this. The most important thing to do is to keep going and producing more content.

I just looked at 2018 and by the end of that year I had 28 titles that had earned at least $250. So in the four years since then I’ve added almost 50 titles to that count.

Some probably existed in 2018 and just hadn’t sold enough yet, but the rest are new books I wrote since then, including 19 of the books I published last year.

It’s a slow build. Wide or not wide. Whatever you write. It’s a process of putting bricks in the wall and building step-by-step and not getting defeated when it just looks like a handful of bricks sitting in mud after all of your initial efforts. Or when you realize you built a crooked wall and now need to tear it down or repair it before you can move forward.

(And, yes, there are some people who experience this stratospheric rise with seemingly no effort involved, but they’re rare. Even the “oh it’s so easy” crew are now talking about six books in a series instead of three like when I was starting out in 2013. And that assumes you wrote a good series and packaged it properly, which I mean, what are the odds of your first six books being like that? Slim, my friends, slim.)

So you try, you fail, you adjust, you try again. And the numbers slowly go up, except for the years when they don’t. And when you come to that moment when you question all of your life choices you can look around at the world we live in, see where it’s headed, and realize that accumulating a bunch of wealth probably wasn’t going to work out well anyway and at least you had fun along the way. Haha.

Okay. Off to maybe actually write something now…

Author: M.L. Humphrey

M.L. Humphrey is a former securities regulator, registered stockbroker (although only briefly), and consultant on regulatory and risk-related matters for large financial institutions with expertise in the areas of anti-money laundering regulation, mutual funds, and credit rating agencies. Since 2013 M.L. has also been a published author under a variety of pen names and across a variety of subjects and genres. You can contact M.L. at mlhumphreywriter [at] gmail.com.

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