Saturday, January 25, 2014

What Traditional Publishers Should Have Learned From iTunes

Some posts that I've read recently on the blogs of JA Konrath, Hugh Howey, and Passive Guy have convinced me that legacy publishers (and many people that are still clinging to that industry for life support) are ridiculously out of touch with what is happening right now. Digital revolutions have taken over many antiquated, top-heavy industries and while legacy publishing wants to believe that it isn't true with e-books vs. paperbacks, it's definitely headed that way. The sad thing is that they should have seen it coming and innovated their business model accordingly.


So legacy publishers, I'd like to take you to school for a little while. Here's a history lesson from the music industry and the things you should have learned from watching it happen. I'm grabbing all of my facts from articles on Wikipedia. Alright, get ready to take notes.

For a long time, record companies were able to dominate music sales. When a popular band or singer released a new album, you had one way to get it. You had to buy the CD. The CD was anywhere from $7.99 all the way up to around $15 in most cases. It didn't matter if you only liked one song on the entire album because if you wanted it, you were going to shell out money for the entire album. I still remember buying CDs because I liked 2-3 songs. It was a colossal waste of money and I buy a lot more music now that CDs have pretty much bit the dust.

What changed? Well around the year 2000, Napster started to offer an alternative. Free sharing of music. No more $10 a CD. A lot of people refused to resort to piracy to get the music they wanted, but on the other hand a lot of people didn't care. At its peak, Napster had 80 million users. You can imagine how much music was shared for free. Napster was hit with a nasty wave of lawsuits and went bankrupt in 2002. Back to overpaying for a handful of songs you like, right? Nope.

Apple launched iTunes in 2003. What was nice about iTunes is that you could take all those CDs and download them to your computer. You could then sync them to an iPod and take thousands of songs with you wherever you go. No more need for CD players that could do 7-15 songs at a time.

iTunes also started to offer the option of buying individual songs and many of them were only $0.99. Wait... so no more ridiculous amounts for every sale? Nope. A dollar for a song... and then you owned it. I know it sounds very close to piracy, but it isn't. It's just a really smart pricing model. Some were a little more. Some were a little less. Sometimes things were even free. There's no way that was a feasible business model though, right? Surely iTunes went under. Quite the opposite, actually.

iTunes has been the largest music vendor in the U.S. since April 2008 and the largest in the world since February 2010. In the first quarter of 2011, the iTunes store brought in $1.4 billion. Notice I said that's what they brought in in ONE QUARTER. They've sold over 25 billion songs.

Well surely iTunes was very much anti-piracy and encrypted everything, right? They actually did add DRM onto their songs at first. Then they started to remove it. By 2009, 80% of the songs on iTunes were DRM-free. Now none of the music they sell has DRM. Guess why? I know that this will be difficult to understand, but DRM IS NOT GOOD FOR CONSUMERS. It's an annoyance that doesn't need to be there. If someone buys a digital copy of anything, they should be able to transfer it to any of their devices.

Apple is now the undisputed king of music selling. No one had been able to dethrone them. Not Google. Not Amazon. No one. If you paid close attention to how early they started innovating in that industry and making moves that were good for consumers, you'll understand why. Guess what else? They continue to improve the quality of the music they sell. They're making smart moves in other areas as well. When they sell a digital movie, they generally price it BELOW the cost of the DVD or blu-ray. Crazy move, I know, but it's paid off for them. Billions of dollars per quarter.

Now what is legacy publishing doing wrong? I'll list a few key things, because I don't have time right now to go over everything. The first thing, that I know annoys most self-published authors today, is their insistence that if it didn't pass through the ridiculous hurdles to get traditionally published, it's crap. Guess what? Way off. I know what I'm pointing to as examples are outliers, but legacy publishing in almost every case TURNED THESE AUTHORS AWAY. They went on to sell hundreds of thousands or even millions. Most of JA Konrath's books weren't accepted by legacy publishing. He's sold over a million books. Hugh Howey was rejected by them. He's pulled in millions and sold the film rights to his Wool series to "Alien" producer Ridley Scott (he also turned down selling his ebook rights to the Big 5 legacy publishers. He told them they had to exclusively take over the paperback rights or he had no interest in signing with them because he was just doing just fine selling e-books on his own.) How about Russell Blake? More than 400,000 books sold and now he's co-writing with Clive Cussler. I know for a fact that the "gatekeepers" of legacy publishing turned Mr. Blake away too. Nick Russell made the NYT Bestseller list selling thousands. I've read his books. His books honestly kick the shit out of most traditionally published books I've read. I could go on and on, but what's the point? Legacy publishing knows they screwed up in these cases. Now I just wish they would learn from their mistakes. Self-pub authors can't all be labeled "crap" and then filed away as "not a threat."

What else are you guys doing wrong? Artificially keeping prices high comes to mind. When Dan Brown launched his latest, it was $14.99. You're probably thinking that was the paperback or a special edition of the hardcover, right? No. $14.99 was the price of the e-book. Can you say ridiculous? They go on the record over and over saying that $0.99 and $2.99 are terrible price points that no one but self-publishers would want to sell at. Fine. If you want to totally ignore readers who enjoy a good book at a good price... I'll take them. All of my books are priced between free and $5.99. I have 20 titles (most of them are shorter works) and in the couple of years I've been doing this, I've sold just under 600 books. Only 600? That's no significant blow to legacy publishing, right? Well it's 600 sales legacy publishing will never see and it gets scary when you think how many more self-published authors there are out there who, like me, are taking small amounts of business away from the bloated cow that is legacy publishing. My best selling e-book is priced at $2.99. But surely the self-published authors who have "made it" are selling at a much higher price point, right? Nope. Hugh Howey has most of his shorter stuff free or $0.99. The most you'll pay for a Russell Blake book is around $5 for a full-length novel and the starting books for most of his series are at $2.99. Colleen Hoover, who has sold over a million books, made it to the top of Amazon with an e-book that was priced $3.99 at the time. I think it's still even at that price point. Let me go check. Yup. Colleen Hoover's Hopeless is still at $3.99 for the e-book. So guess what? Readers aren't always going to accept that they should have to pay $9.99 - $19.99 for an e-book just because it made it past a "gatekeeper" in the traditional publishing industry. Readers understand that it costs a lot less to distribute e-books and they expect that to be reflected in a lower price. Sounds like solid logic to me, so I'm not sure why you're still fighting it. An e-book should never cost the same as a paperback. That's just stupid and very much counter-intuitive.

Moving on... here's another thing legacy publishing is doing wrong. When they first release a book, they release it as a hardback. Why? Hardbacks sell at the highest price point and make them the most money. Paperbacks generally don't come out until months later. I remember being forced to buy Dan Brown's Lost Symbol in hardback. It really pissed me off, because I wanted to read it but I didn't want to drop $20 on it. I paid it, because I thought that was my only option. I was pretty mad though and felt like I had been ripped off as a fan of Dan Brown because I didn't want to wait several months for the paperback. Well guess what? Most self-published authors release the e-book, paperback, audio book, and whatever other format they can all at around the same time... because it's GOOD FOR READERS. I try to have all of my books available in as many formats as I can because I think everyone should have a chance to read what I write. Now I don't always have control over my price points for audio book and paperback, but I keep it as low as I can in every case. Most of my audio books are $5. I have paperbacks as low as $5-$6. My paperbacks with a ton of pictures are a bit more... because that's what my print on demand service charges to make them. I take under a dollar royalty per sale on all of my paperback sales. Could I raise prices on my paperbacks and still sell about the same amount? Probably... but I won't. Hugh Howey said on his blog a little while ago that hardback books should come with a code for a free download of the e-book. I think that's totally fair. I still buy blu-ray movies because a lot of them come with a free digital download to iTunes. I don't feel like I'm getting ripped off if I can get the physical media AND the digital media for an overall reasonable price.

I won't go much into royalties other than to say that you're paying most authors 25% per e-book sold. That's so ridiculously wrong. As a self-published author, I make royalties of between 35% and 70% on all of the e-books I sell. How can you feel good about ripping your authors off like that?

DRM. It isn't a good thing. I don't use it. Most self-published authors don't use it. Stop using it. It hurts your readers. Stop covering your ears and start caring what your readers want. If they buy a digital copy, let your readers read it on any of their devices.

I have a feeling that I could keep going. On and on. I won't though. I just wanted to take the Big 5 to school for a little while. Maybe if enough people keep telling them the same things they're doing wrong over and over, they will eventually listen. What I'll do instead is get back to writing books... and I know it doesn't yet... but that should honestly scare the living hell out of legacy publishers.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Book Sales Breakdown 2013

One thing that I think differentiates indie authors / publishers and the trad. publishers is their willingness to share data. Indie authors share data. There have been multiple examples of a traditional author posting terms of their contract or how much money they made and then immediately having that information pulled by their publisher. I've posted my sales numbers for a few specific titles a few times now and I thought I would take it a step further, by giving everyone a review of my second year as a self-published author. So here's my book sales breakdown for 2013 (from most sold in 2013 to least and I'm including Amazon borrows as ebook sales - all the book covers are linked to the ebook on Amazon if you find something you want to check out):


Constantine: The Emperor of Tolerance

Ebook Sales: 44
Audio Book Sales: 56
Current Price: $2.99
Books Sold 2013: 100
Total Sold: 167

This 30 page article on Constantine, while it still has no reviews, always sells without me having to do much. It sold more ebooks in 2012 than it did in 2013 but it made me a lot more money in 2013. I gradually raised its price over two years from $0.99 to $1.99 and then finally to $2.99. It seems to sell about the same number of copies at $2.99 as it did at $1.99 but I make a 70% royalty instead of 35%. For those of you who don't want to do the math, one copy sold at $2.99 is roughly equal to three sold at $1.99 and six sold at $0.99. I pretty much never offer this as a freebie anymore because it sells fine on its own. I also made all of my history books available as paperbacks but those just became available this year.

Caribbean Piracy: Pirates and Privateers

Ebook Sales: 16
Audio Book Sales: 40
Current Price: $1.99
Books Sold 2013: 56
Total Sold: 87

This didn't sell near as many ebooks this year as it did in 2012 but it sold the second most audio books for any title I currently have available in audio and that was enough to put it in second place for 2013. It's a shorter article than Constantine (about half the length) so I don't really want to experiment with the price above $1.99. This started as a $0.99 article but I changed it to $1.50 for most of last year. I brought it up to $1.99 this year and it's already had some sales, so I think I'll leave it there and see how it does.

Explanations and Advice for the Tech Illiterate

Ebook Sales: 23
Audio Book Sales: 21
Current Price: $1.99
Books Sold 2013: 44
Total Sold: 57

Explanations and Advice for the Tech Illiterate took off after being featured in one of my friend's blogs. I wrote it after being asked over and over by Geek Squad customers where they could learn the basics about today's technology and get some good advice. I didn't know of a good book that covers that kind of stuff at a reasonable price, so I wrote this over the course of a few days. It slumped in sales a little after it's initial explosion but then it started selling as an audio book with little to no promotion. It comes in at #3 for audio book sales for 2013 which was enough to bring it to #3 overall for 2013 books sold.

Horror Stories From A Computer Tech

Ebook Sales: 29
Not available in other formats
Current Price: $0.99
Total Sold: 29

Horror Stories From A Computer Tech was written after JA Konrath issued a challenge on his blog. He said that if you could write a book, make your own cover, edit, and essentially get an entire short ebook ready to go in under 8 hours that he would feature it on his blog. This collection of seven stories from my time as an in-home computer tech qualified. I decided to go under a pen name in case I need to separate geeky books that I write in the future. I like keeping everything under the Geekus Maximus name short and $0.99. The only exception I'll make to that is if I bundle several Geekus Maximus books together as one. This ebook sold the second most ebooks for me in 2013 but it ultimately ends up in fourth place since it isn't available in any other formats. I am considering an audio book though (which I may even narrate myself.)

Gateway to the Vikings: L'Anse aux Meadows

Ebook Sales: 14
Audio Book Sales: 6
Current Price: $1.99
Books Sold 2013: 20
Total Sold: 20

This article wasn't available in 2012. At least not on Amazon. I had this up as a free read on my blog for a long time. Eventually, it made its way in to my top 10 viewed blog posts of all time. When it started getting traffic like that on my blog, I made a cover for it and threw it up on Amazon as a $0.99 article after taking most of the article down from my blog (so now all my blog has is a sample.) It did really well when I briefly offered it as a freebie until someone hit it with a 2 star review, claiming that the cover looks great but that I stole everything else from Canada's website and Wikipedia. That's not even close to true, but everyone is entitled to leave whatever review they want. Sales pretty much halted at that point but a few audio books were sold even in to December. I may eventually make this free and ask that everyone who enjoys it leaves a nice review so that it doesn't sit at 2 stars overall because I think it could start selling again after some positive feedback from reviewers.

Traveling Asia: The Philippines

Ebook Sales: 11
Paperback Sales: 7
Current Price: $3.99
Books Sold 2013: 18
Total Sold: 18

All of my world travel books were released this year and the four of them did quite well. In overall sales, this one is at #6 but it actually made me more money than a few of the titles that sold more books. A $3.99 price point on an ebook brings in a higher royalty per sale than all of my history articles. This also sold more paperbacks than any other title I have available in paperback. Obviously the Philippines has a special place in my heart since I lived over there for two years and I visited again in 2010. This book has a lot of great pictures of the local food, tourist sites, souvenirs you can buy, etc. mixed with some Tagalog words. I initially started this one out at $2.99 but I found that it sells the same amount at $3.99 as it does at $2.99, so I decided to take the higher royalty. I don't know anyone who bought the paperback and two of the paperback sales came from Europe so I'll take that as a sign that this title will continue to sell well on its own.

The Mormon Theocracy

Ebook Sales: 5
Audio Book Sales: 9
Current Price: Free
Free U.S. Downloads: 1297
Total Sold: 14

This short book contains two articles: one on the Mormon theocracy that existed in Utah prior to its acceptance into the U.S. as a state and one on Gregory Palamas' views on God (he's an archbishop from the Eastern Orthodox Church.) It's been a totally free download since early 2012. How did I sell 5 copies of the ebook? I'm not sure to be honest. I guess there are some territories governed by since they don't have their own version of Amazon (like and I guess in some of those places it isn't free. Some of the sales came from the U.K. where it currently isn't price matched to free, so that makes sense. It also sold the fourth most audio books. It has recovered since initially being hit with a one star review on Amazon from a reviewer who admits that she doesn't even read books that she reviews if she thinks they are "too short." Since that initial one star, it has received eight additional reviews and currently sits at a 3.6 / 5 stars. I may bring this back to a $1.99 price point and make a different history article my permanent free offering around March.

Jehovah and Hades: Books 1-3

Ebook Sales: 13
Not available in other formats
Current Price: $2.99
Total Sold: 16

This collection contains The Journals of Jacob and Hyde, Jehovah and Hades, and Jehovah and Hades: Federal Case. Currently, The Journals of Jacob and Hyde is free and the cost of the other two adds up to around $3.50. This collection is a way to get all three novellas in one and save a little money. I already have a feeling that this collection will do better this year as it is currently my best money maker for January 2014 (since free downloads of Jacob and Hyde have skyrocketed this year.) This actually tied sales of Jehovah and Hades for 2013, but I put it first because it made more money.

Jehovah and Hades

Ebook Sales: 13
Paperback Sales: 0
Current Price: $1.99
Total Sold: 24

This was the first book I self-published on Amazon. I know a lot of my friends and family have a copy of this one and its that support that helped me decide to write The Journals of Jacob and Hyde as a prequel. It's a novella at around 20,000 words so I will keep it at a $1.99 price point. It's already sold some copies in 2014. This is the one that started it all and, while I've grown a lot as a writer and a marketer since I released this, I'm still pretty proud of it. I might go back and modify some parts at some point in the future but I'm happy with it for now.

Prayer: Archangels and Intercessory Beings

Ebook Sales: 7
Audio Book Sales: 5
Current Price: $1.99
Books Sold 2013: 12
Total Sold: 22

This short article was hit with a one star review at the same time that The Mormon Theocracy got one. It was from the same slightly crazy lady. She didn't read this one either. It has since received a well-thought out three star review which I appreciate, but that leaves it at a 2 star rating overall. I think this may be the article that I make a permanent freebie in March to replace The Mormon Theocracy. Maybe that will pull in some more reasonable reviews. It has sold already in 2014 though, which is promising.

Luther Standing Bear: Assimilation

Ebook Sales: 10
Audio Book Sales: 2
Current Price: $1.99
Books Sold 2013: 12
Total Sold: 20

This article actually tied Prayer: Archangels and Intercessory Beings for 2013. They came close to the same sales totals in 2012 as well. Like the other history articles, I occasionally run free promos on this one and it will see a mild sales spike afterwards but I can mostly count on it to sell itself at about one copy a month. I don't promote it much, it's a fairly niche subject. I still think it's a good read though, especially if you want Luther Standing Bear's ideas and beliefs summarized.

Traveling the U.S.: Hawaii

Ebook Sales: 9
Paperback Sales: 2
Current Price: $3.99
Books Sold 2013: 11
Total Sold: 11

This photo based travel book, like Traveling Asia: The Philippines, actually made me a lot more money than most of the books that sold more copies than it did in 2013. The cover features a photo I took of a wholphin (a whale / dolphin hybrid.) It covers a lot of great places to visit including the USS Arizona memorial, Hanauma bay, the Polynesian cultural center, and more. It's already on the sales boards for 2014 as well.

Traveling Asia: Tokyo, Taipei, and Hong Kong

Ebook Sales: 8
Paperback Sales: 0
Current Price: $3.99
Books Sold 2013: 8
Total Sold: 8

This travel photo book features a lot of really cool sites from Tokyo, Taipei, and Hong Kong but may be less useful as a travel guide for a specific location (since it covers three locations.) It does feature pictures of the Temple of the 47 Ronin though, which I still think is one of the coolest stories I've ever heard. This was the only one of my travel books that didn't sell any paperbacks and I'm a little surprised by that. I've seen it in paperback. It's awesome.

Traveling the U.S.: East Coast History

Ebook Sales: 4
Paperback Sales: 2
Current Price: $3.99
Books Sold 2013: 6
Total Sold: 6

This is, by far, the most in depth I've covered so many different locations in a single travel book. I released this shortly after our east coast vacation last summer, so it didn't have as much time to sell books last year. It's the newest in my world travel series. Featured locations include: the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, the White House, Arlington National Cemetery, Mount Vernon, Monticello, Jamestown (with excavation photos), Gettysburg, Independence Hall, the Liberty Bell, the Empire State Building, the Statue of Liberty, the 9/11 Memorial, and more. If you don't have a copy yet, you should get one. It's a steal at $3.99.

Minor Demons

Ebook Sales: 5
Paperback Sales: 0
Current Price: $3.99
Total Sold: 5

This is my first ever full-length fiction novel. It took me 13 months to write (obviously I took breaks and worked on other projects) and it came in at around 72,500 words. I'm already working on the sequel. It was just released in December, so I didn't expect it to sell a ton of copies. I based a lot of the demons on actual demons from Christian and Judaic demonology and Hell is loosely based on Dante's Inferno.

The Journals of Jacob and Hyde

Ebook Sales: 4
Current Price: Free
Free U.S. Downloads: 3538
Total Sold: 15

The Journals of Jacob and Hyde was my only permanent freebie on the fiction side for 2013. The ebook sales came from countries where it still wasn't price matched down to free and from some sales that I'm still not sure I understand. It's already been downloaded more than 300 times worldwide in 2014, so that already looks promising. My main goal with this title is to hook readers on the series so they purchase Jehovah and Hades or the three novella combo. It seems to do that decently well, as I make more money off of the three books now than I did when Jacob and Hyde had a price attached to it. It's currently being made into an audio book as well.

A Collection of History: Five History Articles

Ebook Sales: 3
Not available in other formats
Current Price: $5.99
Total Sold: 5

This was made in an attempt to give those readers who want all of my history articles, minus The Mormon Theocracy, in a bundle that saves quite a bit of money. Since it covers so many subjects, it sits in some very broad and general categories on Amazon. While I doubt it will ever be a huge success, I'll take the few extra sales it brings in yearly. I'll admit that I've thought about taking it down, but I figured I'd just leave it out there for now.

Jehovah and Hades: Federal Case

Ebook Sales: 3
Not available in other formats
Current Price: $1.50
Total Sold: 4

While I think most people who read Jacob and Hyde and want to continue with the series will purchase the three book combo, they have the option of buying Jehovah and Hades and then Jehovah and Hades: Federal Case. This one is only about 10,000 words (so its half the length of Jehovah and Hades) but its still a good short read.

Geek of Legend: The Elvish Screwdriver

Ebook Sales: 1
Not available in other formats
Current Price: $0.99
Total Sold: 1

This is the only other book published under my Geekus Maximus pen name. It's about a computer tech who enters a world of goblins, trolls, dwarves, talking horses, etc. to fix their broken technology. It's around 8,000 words and I wrote it over a weekend. The cover I made for it initially was pretty terrible, so I paid my go-to graphics artist to make the cover it has currently (which I think is a lot better.) It already has 2 sales in 2014, so at least it already doubled its sales total from 2013.

If you read this entire thing, congrats. I have 20 books and I broke down all of them (well... all of them except End of the Road which I only have a short story in) so I'm betting it took a while to get through. For some final numbers:

2012 Books Sold: 157 (156 ebooks, 1 paperback)
2013 Books Sold: 372 (222 ebooks, 139 audio books, 11 paperbacks)

In 2013, I also made over 5x what I made as an author in 2012. January of 2014 is already off to a strong start for ebooks, but audiobooks and paperbacks have kind of limped along. I have projects in both formats that will hopefully boost sales. My goal for 2013 was 365 sales (an average of one a day for the year) and I made it. :-) I would love to hit at least 500 total book sales for the year of 2014. You know how you can help me reach that goal. Go buy my books. :-P If you already have and you enjoyed them, please consider leaving me a review or feel welcome to let me know what you think about any one of my twenty self-published books. I always love hearing from readers and it always surprises me how many people I know that buy my books and actually like them, but don't say anything to me about it until a long while after reading them. I love hearing from people who have read my books, so please feel free to let me know if you have.