Finding A New Baseline With Statistics

Here it is. One of the big blog posts I’ve been promising. Figuring out the new baseline as well as comparing a few numbers with how I was doing before life exploded.

And wow, did it explode… but anyway…

Comparing Apples and Oranges

Tumisu / Pixabay

I could have made this blog post shorter, but that would have meant taking out the comments of what some of the statistics mean or why they are the way they are. For me, that would have been boring, and not helpful at all.

So, below you’ll find my comments, which are basically me thinking out loud as I crunched the numbers. If you have any thoughts, please share them in the comments! I would love to hear them.

The last year I have full stats for ebook sales is 2014, so that is what I’ll be doing a comparison with. I analyzed not only income from the various retailers, but also unit sales. Just to see how they arranged themselves. Unless otherwise stated, I am discussing writing income, not units sold. Not that I don’t want a lot of books to sell, but sorry, cash stream is important!

Speaking of cash streams, for this particular analysis I looked at ebooks only. Yes, I have other cash streams and I’ll talk about those in a later post.

Diversify, diversify, diversify.

Income dropped severely over the inactive years. I expected that. How could it not? Writing income dropped 78.4%. Yet unit sales dropped only 51.4%. Seems a little weird? Weeeellllll…

The reason is because of Bundle Rabbit.

Bundle Rabbit is a great way to do book bundles. In ways it’s similar to Story Bundle, but it does things a little different way which has allowed someone smaller, like me, to be a part of bundles that I otherwise would not have had a chance at. I’ve been fortunate to be a part of several bundles this year. The company did not exist in 2014, so it is a new income stream for me.

In 2017 Bundle Rabbit equaled 10.4% of the writing income, however it accounted for 39.5% of total units sold. Which meant that each ebook sold for less. But, no panicking. There is a very good reason for this.

The reason is that the bundle price is split among all the ebooks that are a part of the bundle. So obviously my cut will be smaller even though I’m moving more units. Still, 10.4% of the income is nothing to sneeze at and I have the added bonus that my writing is getting into the hands of people that it wouldn’t have otherwise. However, because it represented such a big portion of the units sold, for the rest of the summaries I’m going to take Bundle Rabbit out of the equation. It skews the numbers too much.

Now for a pretty, colorful graph of the market share in 2014. The second graph is the market share for 2017. Remember, this is for income, not units moved.

Now onto the comments about what some of the changes (might) mean:

Amazon

I’d known that Amazon had been dropping in the total percentage of sales, so it was interesting to get hard numbers. It went from 70.7% in 2014 of my income to 32.2% in 2017. The number of units sold dropped 90% from 2014 to 2017. Income dropped 91%.

Wow, what a drop in market share for me. 70% to 32%. In 2017 Kobo is beating Amazon.

Even with this information, I want to continue to diversify further. It’s a major point in my new business plan (a subject for a different post). I would be quite happy increasing units sold while keeping Amazon at this percentage of my total sales.

I mentioned this in a post before this, but I’m going to say it again. Amazon’s reports are seriously lacking. I had to figure out many of the royalty lines myself by hand, especially those in other currencies. Considering Amazon is a big data company, this is not only annoying, but rather, well, um, stupid.

Apple

In 2014 Apple represented only 1.5% of my sales. At the time I’m pretty sure I was distributing through Smashwords. I am now distributed to Apple’s iTunes store directly without a middleman distributor. Considering all the markets I use Smashwords to distribute to have dropped to zero, I’m wondering if going direct (I think in late 2014 or early 2015) is the reason Apple has continued to sell over the past few years.

In 2017 Apple is 6.8% of my sales. Interestingly, this percentage is from only 4% of the 2017 units sold. There’s plenty of room to grow at Apple.

All Romance Ebooks (ARE)

A sales venue that no longer exists. The demise of ARE is a sad story and it still ongoing, I believe. But back in the day there were definitely sales, and not just with romance. Most of my sales was through their Omnilit general fiction branch. Heck, it beat Apple back in 2014 with a 2.2% share.

Barnes & Noble

In 2014, B&N represented 5.5% of the writing income, and as I recall, sales were rather consistent at the time from month to month.

In 2017, that changed to 11.9% with 9.3% of units moved. However, the sales there are now sporadic. Some months there is a bunch of sales, then for a month or two of nothing. Then another spike.

B&N isn’t doing so well today as a company. It’s sad to come back after a few years away to find that the leadership still doesn’t have a clue. If the company goes down the drain, the income will be missed.

GooglePlay

GooglePlay makes me nervous. They do strange things with pricing and discounts, and reserve the right to drop a book to free whenever and for as long as they want. If Amazon sees that and also drops, then you could find yourself suddenly out of lot of money on a suddenly popular book. It’s something I’m watching, but for now I’m staying distributed directly. At least, until a distributor somewhere gets a distribution deal with Google that prevents the pricing games.

For now I have to play my own pricing game: I was able to get a direct distribution account before GooglePlay shut down that option. I set the price higher and then GooglePlay’s automatic discounting brings the “sale” price down to around the same as elsewhere.

In 2014 GooglePlay sat at .9% of the income share. In 2017 it grew to 15.1% while accounting for only 9.3% of the unit sales. In other words, I’m making more money on fewer books sold. That is because of the discounting. Readers are buying at a discounted price (they think), but GooglePlay is paying me on the full (elevated) list price I set in the back-end. This is illustrated well by the fact that in 2017 I sold exactly the same number of books at GooglePlay and Barnes & Noble, but my profits at GooglePlay were 27% higher.

Kobo

In 2014 Kobo stood at 7%. In 2017 its share increased to 34%. Very nice increase.

Because Kobo has such a big international audience, I did two special pivot tables to look at the unit distribution among countries. In 2014 the most sales were in Canada and the United Kingdom. In 2017 that changed to Germany (by a huge margin) and Australia. In both years, the US is way down the list.

Smashwords

One big disappointment is Smashwords. Smashwords has gone from 12.1% of the writing income to zero. Which is too bad, because it sold only 8.8% of my total units in 2014, so each individual sale had a higher profit margin.

Smashwords were one of the first big promoters of Indies. Sad to find that legacy fading away. Unless they do some serious upgrades to the website, Meatgrinder (shudder), and accounting periods, I don’t know how long they will last in the long-run.

Other

In 2014 the “Other” category was 1%. There is no ‘other’ in 2017 because those other sources have either gone out of business or dried up. I’m hopeful that using a different distributor for some of the smaller book retailers will help build this category up in the coming few years.

Hard Numbers

I’m sure some people want to see hard numbers and not just percentages. First, let me say that 2014 was not my best year. I was in the midst of taking care of Mother Hen at that point, and in the summer of 2014 she spent almost 2 months in either hospitals or rehab facilities. The releases dramatically dropped as my attention turned to being a full-time caregiver to someone who needed more and more constant care. As a result, sales income and units moved also started dropping.

If I look at the months of early 2014 and late 2013 before the regular releases stopped, the units sold ranged from 87 to 44. The average income per month hovered between $150 and $200

Note: early 2013 was even higher. 2012 was better still. Cancer diagnosis happened at the beginning of 2013.

Those old numbers don’t help me much right now. But, I was curious. They give me something to aim for.

A New Baseline

What is important now is the new baseline. I need to know what the new average is for me so I’m not mentally comparing apples to oranges. I need a way to measure the success of what I’ll be doing over this coming year as I ramp up the writing business.

So, I took all of 2017 and averaged out the numbers. What is the new baseline across all retailers all across the world?

$28 a month

11 Units sold

Now I have numbers. Yes, some months will be more, some will be less, but this is the average I’ll now use as I’m moving forward. A point of reality from which to base my new expectations.

A new baseline to grow from.

Now it’s time to start looking forward. Onwards!

NASA-Imagery / Pixabay

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8 comments on “Finding A New Baseline With Statistics
  1. D J Mills says:

    Good post. 🙂
    Smashwords pays monthly now. You sales are like mine, more collectively from everyone else than Amazon, however, Amazon has started improving after their last Algorithm changes.
    D2D and PublishDrive distribute to GooglePlay, but I have no idea if GooglePlay discounts their set prices. From your results, I need to get my ebooks onto GooglePlay. 🙂
    Was Xinxii part of the Other 1% and have they closed down?
    I did a spreadsheet listing all the distributors and who they distributed ebooks/pod books to. I have been updating as soon as I hear another book seller opened or closed down. 🙂
    You can have a copy of the spreadsheet if you want. 🙂

    • JA Marlow says:

      Do you have an approximate time when Amazon tweaked their algorithms again?

      As for D2D and PublishDrive, I’ve already verified that neither has a contract with GooglePlay that prevents GooglePlay from discounting. In fact, so far I’ve found no one who has that type of distribution contract with GooglePlay. Pronoun was the only one, and that was only because of who their parent company was. (Not going to get into Pronoun. The handwriting was on the wall that it wasn’t going to last. Which is why I didn’t bother with it when I found out about it.)

      Yes, Xinxii was once a part of that 1%. Technically they are still in business, but they have pretty much gone static. Pretty no movement there and their interface is sadly lacking. This past month I pulled my work from them and closed down the account. I’ll be using someone else to distribute to the few places I once used them for.

      Thanks for the comments and ideas!

  2. Good report. I get income from Smashwords because I use them to distribute to other retailers. Is it worth the time to directly input my books to each retailer rather than use Smashwords? And I haven’t used Google, everyone has told me their site is too hard to use, so I never tried.

    • JA Marlow says:

      I use Smashwords for a bunch of distribution, as well, and no income has come in from those sources the entire year of 2017. In 2014, though, I did get income from those other sources, which is included in the “Other” category in the 2014 graph.

      For Kobo, I initially used Smashwords as a distributor. Hardly sold a thing. When I was able to get an account with Kobo to go direct, I did so. And immediately started selling. So, for Kobo, it was worth it to me to go direct.

      Googleplay shut down direct accounts a couple years ago after a huge problem with scam books. If you meet a representative at a professional writing conference, you can often get an account, but other than that it is closed. So at this point, most people will have to use a distributor like D2D or PublishDrive. If you do get a direct account, then yes, it’s not the best interface and they haven’t done much over the years to improve it. Unfortunately.

      • D J Mills says:

        JA, just wondered if you updated your US tax form at Smashwords lately. Has to be done every 3 years. I heard they hold funds until updated, but don’t know for sure. 🙂

  3. I’m with Connie Cockrell. I can’t afford the time to keep up with all the different vendors, so I use Smashwords, but their income has been declining. I avoid Google because they do arbitrary things. But, I use Leanpub.com, which hasn’t been mentioned so far. Partly that’s because they pay a higher percentage royalty than the other sites, partly because they don’t penalize me for books that I price at higher than $9.99, and partly because the majority of my books are non-fiction. Most of my sales seem to come from people who know my name, so they aren’t just browsing on Amazon and happening to see one of my books. So, don’t really need amazon to market for me, so why pay them a premium? More than half of my income comes through Leanpub, while sales are about equal to Kindle. Again, this is just ebook sales. I’m on Barnes and Noble, but sell only about one book a month there, out of an average of 500 books a month. I get a few more sales from D2D, but I haven’t listed my entire inventory there. I tried XinXi, sold about three books, and haven’t heard from them in a couple of years. I’d love to hear from other writers about their stats. Thanks, Marlow.

    • JA Marlow says:

      I remember hearing about Leanpup from you years ago. If I had any non-fiction books, I would definitely be looking into using them.

      Xinxii was once a part of that 1% back in 2014. Technically they are still in business, but they have pretty much gone static. Pretty no movement there and their interface is sadly lacking (and hasn’t been updated in years). This past month I pulled my work from them and closed down the account. I’ll be using someone else to distribute to the few places I once used them for. Someone who has a more active engagement with their distribution partners. I’m hoping it will help with sales now that I’m getting back into it.

  4. Noble says:

    I was also concerned about GooglePlay discounts and contacted PublishDrive to see what their stand on that is. They sent me back this answer:

    In our case, we automatically adjust the retail price given by the publisher at Google Play. Thus the final retail price will be as the publisher requested. If Google’s pricing strategy changes, we change our calculations accordingly. Payment will be based on the SRP you set. Read more about Google Play here: https://goo.gl/Jiouff
    Please feel free to enter the amount you use at the other stores, and we do everything in the background we can to prevent Google from discounting it.

    I hope this answers it.
    Kind regards,
    Happy publishing,
    Csilla Csurgai-Kalmár
    Publisher Coach
    PublishDrive

    So apparently they have a workaround for the issue. BTW, PublishDrive has been incredibly easy to work with and opens up markets I couldn’t reach otherwise. I prefer to work with them and pay their cut to avoid GP discounting my books the way they would if I dealt with GP directly. With PD adjusting their pricing to GooglePlay I actually end up making a slight bit more on my books. Just my $.02

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Writerly Progress

2015 Yearly New Words
47.15%  188600 of 400000
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Available Ebook Formats

The works of J.A. Marlow are available in a wide number of formats including DRM-Free. Below is a list of a few of the retailers the various formats can be found at.

Mobi (Kindle compatible): Amazon, Drive Thru Scifi, Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii

Epub (Nook compatible): Barnes & Noble, Drive Thru Scifi, Google Play, Kobo, Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii, iBookstore

PDF: Omnilit/All Romance Ebooks, Smashwords, Xinxii

Palm DOC/iSolo (Palm compatible): Smashwords

RTF (Rich Text Format): Smashwords

LRF (Older Sony Reader format): Smashwords

Plain Text: Smashwords

Online Reading (HTML): Google Play, Smashwords

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J.A. Marlow and Star Catcher Publishing is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, iTunes PHG Affiliate Program, and affiliate programs with Kobo, Smashwords, DrivethruFiction, and All Romance Ebooks. These affiliate advertising programs are designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking.