Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Is Print Still Important for Self-Published Authors? What Does the Flattening Sales of eBooks Mean for Self-publishing Authors?

Publisher's Weekly story on the decline in ebook sales indicates that while the industry is not alarmed, yet, the ebook market might be softening. What has caused this trend in the last quarter has quite a few industry experts speculating about what the decline in sales has been caused by. Some industry experts offer the following as possible explanations:
  • rise in prices due to the new contracts with Amazon.
  • saturation of the market.
  • changes in reader habits.
In reading various accounts of what the experts think, I find the change in reader habits the most interesting. These individuals argue people are returning to the traditional printed book in many instances, buying ebooks for when they travel or must carry the book with them to work or for work. The digital version, which can be read on nearly any device,  is easier to travel with. The traditional, familiar print version is a more complete reading experience.

I'm not an expert on this, but I can comment on my own sales and experiences as a reader. In the past quarter, my ebook sales have plummeted dramatically. My POD sales have held steady and actually increased in the past two months over last year's sales for the same months.

I write in a non-fiction niche and the possibilities for the changes in my sales can include saturation of my market and a preferences for the larger (8.5x11) print format paperback offers. The information in my books is illustration intensive and the paperback versions lend themselves to taking written notes in the book as well as duplication of key illustrations to share.

It is hard to know as a single author what causes a decline in sales. The variables are too many for me to track and make any real determination about.

My next book, due to be released in December, will appear only as a POD paperback. There will be no ebook edition for several reasons.

The first is there has been a rush to the bottom in my niche for ebook prices. The Kindle edition of a $19.95 paperback will only sell if priced $2.99.  My profit per unit is drastically smaller for the book sale. In order to make the same net, I have to sell four ebooks to every paperback.

Tracking four of my books and comparing the sales figures, I am starting to believe I should shelve the Kindle editions as an experiment for a month or two and see if my print sales for those titles increase in terms of units sold.

My forthcoming book will be huge, nearly 300 pages in length with almost 300 illustrations. The 8.5 x 11 inch format allows for a large amount of information to jammed into those 300 pages. The delivery fee, which I find reasonable and do not object to, for the sale of the Kindle edition will cut into my net significantly.

Pricing the paperback version at $24.95 will allow me to earn nearly $10 per unit sold. Pricing the same book at the Amazon desired $9.99 version, minus the nearly 70 cents per sale charge, will net me less than five dollars per sale. This of course only happens if I can convince my buying audience to pay $9.99 for the book. The past data I have for books this size says $4.99 seems to be the sweet spot for my readers.

The same sized book contentwise sells for $19.95 or $24.95 in its POD version. Clearly, finding a way to increase the number of print unit sales is critical for profitability. It's the same information, but I receive a better price for the actual print book than the ebook edition.

So my next book is not going to give my readers a choice. If they want the information, they are going to pay a fair price for it. There will be no ebook edition, a fact I plan to make clear in my marketing of the book.

I'm not trying to cut my nose off to spite my face. My small publishing business is just that, a business. It is a second income for my family. In asking the individuals who purchase my books if they think my pricing is reasonable, the responses are overwhelmingly favorable, for both print and ebook, a fact I find discouraging in regards to the ebook market.

For writers of fiction, where the potential number of customers is vastly greater than the niche I write for, I would price my novels in the price ranges most Indie authors sell their work for, $2.99 to $4.99. Creating a set of characters and a world allows you to build and audience for your work and continued publishing of books at reasonable prices means a large following and increased profitability through vastly increased unit sales.

I am beginning to think the same might not be true for non-fiction authors with a limited audience for their works.

And so it is that I will be taking a chance on my next book. If the audience wants the information, they have to pay for what it's worth in print. I am not going to provide a low cost option that reduces the value of my work and the hard won information being shared.

Time will tell if this is a mistake on my part, but it is a gamble I am willing to take on one book to see what I can learn, if anything.