Thursday, February 28, 2013

Crunching Sales Numbers

Hey y'all! This blog post is sort of me thinkin' out loud about something that may not interest you. If that's the case, skip right on! ;-) This post, however, may be of interest to authors (and others) who wonder why some books sell the way they do and why certain books sell. Read on to find out how freebies play a large role.

The focus is on Amazon Kindle U.S. and UK only for February and January. (February final results may change a little after this posting but oh well.)

I didn't tally results from Barnes and Noble, Smashwords and the like because they don't compile their data in look-at-a-glance categories like Amazon does. It'd require a lot of collating and adding. Plus, Amazon Kindle (U.S. and UK) are my #1 and #2 markets in terms of sales and income.

A quick note about Kobo, which does have easy-to-see categories like Amazon does. I have four books directly uploaded there (before Kobo enabled this option, I distributed there through Smashwords and have kept doing that for those older books). The four books I have directly through Kobo are "Three's a Crowd," "Love's Spell," "The Girl Prince and Her Princess" and "All in the Family." The results here puzzle me. I don't know what to make of 'em, quite honestly. For some reason, "The Girl Prince and Her Princess" is the huge, crazy, absolute top seller at Kobo. This is odd when you consider that on Amazon, "Love's Spell" outsells it by about a double margin. On Kobo, however, "The Girl Prince and Her Princess" outsells all my other works by about sixteen times combined. Yep. That wasn't a typo. Sixteen times combined. Weeeird, but hey! At least it sells.

The pattern on Amazon is much more discernible, and it's interesting to see the differences between U.S. and UK sellers. I'm only discussing the top five spots for each month, though.

*****

Amazon U.S. -- February
1. THREE'S A CROWD -- Strange Bedfellows Book 2 (released February 22)
2. LOVE'S SPELL
3. MISS LUCY PARKER AND OTHER SHORT STORIES
4. THE GIRL PRINCE AND HER PRINCESS
5. (tie) STRANGE BEDFELLOWS and WAITING

Amazon U.S. -- January
1. LOVE'S SPELL
2. THE GIRL PRINCE AND HER PRINCESS
3. MISS LUCY PARKER AND OTHER SHORT STORIES
4. THE OLD WOMAN AND OTHER LESBIAN STORIES
5. (tie) ALL IN THE FAMILY and WAITING

Amazon U.K. -- February
1. THE OLD WOMAN AND OTHER LESBIAN STORIES (by a large margin)
2. WAITING
3. LOVE'S SPELL
4. (tie) ALL IN THE FAMILY and THE GIRL PRINCE AND HER PRINCESS
5. THE ODD COUPLE

Amazon U.K. -- January
1. THE OLD WOMAN AND OTHER LESBIAN STORIES (by a large margin)
2. LOVE'S SPELL
3. (tie) ALL IN THE FAMILY and WAITING
4. THE GIRL PRINCE AND HER PRINCESS
5. MISS LUCY PARKER AND OTHER SHORT STORIES

*****

A few things jump out right away. 

1)  "Strange Bedfellows" tied for fifth on Amazon U.S. February because of a late surge obviously propelled by its prequel and sequel, "Three's a Crowd." This heartens me because I was afraid of diminishing returns (say, if Book 1 sold 1,000 copies, and 800 of these people enjoyed the book enough to buy another, then Book 2 might sell 800, and Book 3 may sell 700 and so on). I didn't think there'd be much effect the other way around (sales of a Book 2 propelling sales of a Book 1), but there apparently is, at least initially.

2) The sales numbers for "Three's a Crowd" have me quite optimistic, especially given #1 above. I'm not sure diminishing returns apply in this case, but time will make the picture clearer. It does say a lot that a book out only one week this month is the month's top seller.

(By the way, I am hard at work on Book 3 in the series. I tried to continue with a psychological suspense lesfic I had in progress, but the characters in Book 3 kept calling to me. So I said: "Dang it!" and got to work on Book 3. It's going beautifully.)

3) My short-story collections sell well. At least, two of them do. "Miss Lucy Parker and Other Short Stories" and "The Old Woman and Other Lesbian Stories" were free on Amazon for several months last year. Because of that (all the free downloads), Amazon's algorithms position them more often in "People who bought this also bought..." situations. My third short-story collection, "Cupid Pulls a Prank and Other Lesbian Tales" was never made free, although I tried to do so. (Amazon never price matched.) The "Cupid" collection hasn't even begun to approach the success of the other two collections, and it's clear that the free run and the recommendations algorithm have a huge part in this. This is especially true considering that before "Miss Lucy Parker" and "The Old Woman" went free, they barely moved any copies.

** A little side note, though. While Amazon never did price match the "Cupid" collection, that collection's sales through stores Smashwords distributes to, especially Apple, increased a lot after I reverted it to $2.99. Made the "free for a while" move more than pay off. 

If it still isn't clear enough, though, then let's look at the UK-specific numbers. Why is the "The Old Woman and Other Lesbian Stories" hugely outselling everything else? The answer, again, is algorithms. For a couple of days a few months ago, I made the collection free on Smashwords. I don't quite remember what my reasoning then was, but I did it. Reverted the collection to its usual $2.99 price not long after. Thennn.... for some reason, Amazon UK decided to make it free. I wasn't crazy about this, but nothing I could do. It kept this way for at least three months. I lost money while the collection was free these three months, but it happens. I didn't understand why only UK made it free, but whatever. It was still paid in the U.S., Germany, France, etc.

Then in December, yay! Amazon UK, for whatever reason, changed it back to the $2.99 price. Whatever income I lost in the few months it was free has probably been made back and then some because of the steep sales. The recommendation algorithim, yep.

Free CAN pay off. 

4) Most of my top sellers (at least the past two months) are my novellas and short-story collections, and they're priced at $2.99 or 99 cents. I reckon price is a key factor here, but how key, I am not sure. If price was a huge, overwhelming factor, then "Cupid" should sell crazy well, right? Makes me think at least for short-story collections, the algorithms play a large part. (Again, this is especially true considering that before "Miss Lucy Parker" and "The Old Woman" went free, they barely moved any copies.)

It's different for novellas. "Love's Spell," when it was released, rocketed to become my all-time seller, outpacing the previous top seller, "Waiting," by more than twice. This was very heartening to me because it shows that novellas sell--just as well as novels or better. Of course, they're priced lower. In the case of "Love's Spell," the volume of sales way more than made up for the lower price.

5) You see that "Three's a Crowd," a new release, is my #1 U.S. seller this month but doesn't even make the top 5 on UK. Here's the thing: my new releases almost always skyrocket to the top of my sales charts on Amazon U.S. Not quite so in UK. I have a theory for this, but I may be wrong. Here's the theory: Because Amazon UK adds VAT and possibly other taxes, UK (and many other international buyers) buy at Smashwords. "Three's a Crowd" has been extremely popular at Smashwords. And over time, more people just kind of happen to buy at Amazon UK and increase the numbers. I don't know, but after hearing quite a few British readers say they buy at Smashwords rather than at Amazon UK, I think my theory has some weight.

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