So, here are my thoughts on Amazon versus smashwords.com and basically all of the other platforms that are out there for writers:
I’ve gone completely indie for about two months now and, by far, most of my sales have come from Amazon. As of this writing (2:43 am on January 29th), I have sold roughly 250 books on Amazon, as opposed to 9 on smashwords.com -- I haven’t sold any anywhere else. Therefore, at least in my case, I am selling about 25 copies on Amazon for every 1 copy I sell anywhere else.
When Amazon brought out the Kindle Select program, smashwords immediately posted a warning to authors that they should beware and, that makes sense from smashwords.com’s perspective. After all, Amazon was requiring that their authors go exclusive for ninety days and that they not even sell their ebooks from their own websites. On the surface, this seemed draconian and the warning, along with many other warnings from indie writers who were put off by such a condition, kept me from joining the program.
I continued on my path, giving Post-Human away for free on every platform but unable to offer it for free on Amazon since Post-Human wasn’t part of the Select program. Despite the fact that Post-Human was everywhere else, it continued to outsell my other two titles combined on Amazon at its 99 cent price point (my other two books are 99 cents as well).
Smashwords did offer me some excellent free exposure. In the 8 weeks that Post-Human was there for free, it was downloaded almost 500 times and it was marked as “to read” in almost 1500 member’s libraries. It remained as the number 1 most downloaded cyberpunk book on smashwords for almost the entire time it was published on the site. It received some excellent reviews, with one reviewer even claiming that I was now his favorite author. Not too shabby, right?
Yet its sequel, Trans-Human, was only downloaded 9 times in 8 weeks.
Meanwhile, Amazon offered far more sales, though they plateaued almost immediately. In December I sold exactly 100 books. In January, I was on pace to sell slightly less. That was until I found a big piece to my book selling puzzle: visibility.
I recategorized my books into smaller categories, which is kind of like taking your book and putting it on a small table in a bookstore, rather than a huge shelf. While the shelf might attract more people overall, the smaller table attracts certain, specific people who are looking for certain, specific books. Therefore, your book has the chance to be a big fish in a small pond. For me, this category was Science Fiction Series, and Post-Human and Trans-Human quickly climbed into the top 30. This boosted my sales from 3 per day to about twelve and put me within range of selling 100 books in a week instead of a month.
After this modest but welcome success, I realized that I needed what only Amazon could give me -- even more visibility. In 8 weeks on smashwords.com, my free version of Post-Human wasn’t quite able to garner 500 downloads. In the last two hours since Post-Human became free on Amazon, it has been downloaded 60 times (and it is 3 am!). I am expecting to be closing in on my 8 week total from smashwords.com by the time I wake up tomorrow morning.
Speaking of which, I should really finish this posting tomorrow when I have a better update. Just so the record is straight, my Amazon.com downloads as of 3:00 am were 119 (up from 69 before midnight), my Amazon.co.uk downloads were at 14 (up from 2) my Amazon.de were at 4 (up from 1) and Amazon.es was at 1 (up from 0). ***
*** Okay, so it has been 9 hours since I left off this writing, and Amazon.com downloads are now at 648, Amazon.co.uk are now at 58, and Amazon.de is at 22.
So, like I guessed, in less than half a day, Amazon gave me the same exposure that it took 8 weeks of having my book for free on smashwords.com to accumulate.
This has also pushed the sales of my other two novels up. It is modest, but my previous record for all 3 of my books in one day combined was 21. Trans-Human has already sold 15 today and The God Killers, which is notoriously lagging behind usually, has sold 8 -- and I still have 12 hours to go.
I will finish this posting tonight once I see the final results from my Amazon Select experiment. ****
Okay, it’s now after midnight and, overall, I have to say Kindle Select has been pretty impressive. The final numbers after 24 hours were 1171 (up from 69, remember) on Amazon.com, 95 on Amazon.co.uk, and 35 on Amazon.de. So, in one day, I reached 1231 readers, almost tripling what it took 8 weeks to do on all of the other platforms with a free Post-human. Post-human also became the #1 book in both the sci-fi series category, as well as sci-fi high-tech, and it reached as high as #7 in sci-fi overall in the free kindle store. It also reached #267 in the free kindle store.
As added benefits, before my Select experiment, the best my books had ever sold in one day was 21 copies combined. Well, Trans-human alone sold 29 (and continues to see more after the 24 hour period ended) and The God Killers, my lagging middle child, sold 9, almost doubling its monthly output. Trans-human got as high as #10 in the paid sci-fi series store as well, which, for me, is quite an accomplishment and increased its overall visibility.
For these reasons, I decided to extend my free day on Kindle for another 24 hours. Although Monday is a notoriously bad day for selling ebooks and it might sound crazy to burn up a free day, I am trying to be bold, and since I was climbing the rankings at midnight, I opted to see what would happen if I kept going. So far, the results are pretty mixed. Although I am way up in the overall rankings, now reaching #209 in the free kindle store, the “sales” have been way slower since the new free period kicked in. It has been about 4 and a half hours as of this writing (yep, I am awake at 5:00 am) and only 80 copies of Post-human have been downloaded. 3 more copies of Trans-Human sold, however, so that is a positive.
So, my verdict is that, currently, Amazon just kills all of the other platforms combined in every way. If you’re an author, I highly recommend signing up for the Select program -- after all, it is only 90 days if you don’t like it and you want to switch back, and what do you really have to lose? I spent 8 weeks trying to get people to notice my free book and had limited results. In 24 hours, I blew those results out of the water and really got some excellent exposure.
My last thoughts on the subject are about the future (as I guess they should be as a sci-fi writer). It seems to me that, while some people may be gnashing their teeth at Amazon’s dominance in the ebook game and will feel pity for their ebook competitors, that there is still room for competition. Amazon’s 99 cent royalty rate is only 35 cents, and smashwords.com has a far more generous rate (depending on what platform your book sells in) of between 60 and 80 cents. As our e-readers get cheaper and cheaper, it is going to become more and more about the websites and applications that allow people to download books, and there is definitely room for someone to come in and offer writers a better rate for books that are under the $2.99 price point. So, while Amazon currently rules the day, for those pioneering e-publishers out there, I’d say, don’t give up hope! Plan for a day in the near future where you can build a company that caters specifically to attracting authors will a higher royalty rate, and watch the authors, and eventually the readership, follow you there.