If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

September Interviews

9/2 Dianne Freeman, A Lady's Guide to Mischief and Murder

9/9 Ellen Byron, Murder in the Bayou Boneyard

9/16 Marilyn Levinson, writing as Allison Brook, Checked Out for Murder

9/23 Rhys Bowen, The Last Mrs. Summers

9/30 Sherry Harris, From Beer To Eternity

September Guest Bloggers

9/19 Judy Alter

WWK Weekend Bloggers

9/5 V. M. Burns

9/12 Jennifer J. Chow

9/26 Kait Carson


For The Love Of Lobster Tales by Shari Randall is now available to download free for a limited time. Go to Black Cat Mysteries at: https://bcmystery.com/ to get your free copy! Thanks for the freebie, Shari.

Keenan Powell recently signed with agent Amy Collins of Talcott Notch. Congratulations, Keenan!

KM Rockwood's "Secrets To The Grave" will appear in the new SinC Chesapeake Chapter's new anthology Invitation To Murder, which will be released by Wildside Press on 10/6.

Congratulations to our two Silver Falchion Finalists Connie Berry and Debra Goldstein!

Paula Gail Benson's "Cosway's Confidence" placed second and Debra Goldstein's "Wabbit's Carat" received Honorable Mention in the Bethlehem Writers Roundtable 2020 short story contest. Congratulations, Paula and Debra!

Susan Van Kirk's Three May Keep A Secret has been republished by Harlequinn's Worldwide Mystery. The WWK interview about the book can be accessed here. We're so glad another publisher picked up this series.

KM Rockwood's "Burning Desire," and Paula Gail Benson's "Living One's Own Truth," have been published in the anthology Heartbreaks & Half-truths. Congratulations to all of the WWK writers.

Please join Margaret S. Hamilton's Kings River Life podcast of her short story "Busted at the Book Sale" here. Congratulations, Margaret!


Sunday, June 21, 2015

Kindle Press’s (Presumed) Long Tail

Earlier this week Kindle Press released Ant Farm into the electronic publishing world. To celebrate I held a virtual release party—a new experience for me. Unlike the physical release party I held for the publication of Bad Policy two years ago, this cost considerably less (the prizes were real, but the food was virtual and Facebook charged nothing for the “room” in which we held our conversations).

Also different: I sold no books during those two hours—although one ebook sold on Amazon shortly after we ended.

For traditionally published authors, presales and first week/month sales are absolutely crucial. Physical shelf space is a scarce commodity (scarcer as bookstores use more of their square footage for nonbook merchandise, coffee bars, and the like).

Only so many books can be featured in high sales locations (new releases, the bookstore’s staff “picks” on a table shoppers must pass). Make a big splash and your book continues to command prime store real estate. Make a moderate splash, and your book remains on the shelves. Not enough of a splash to scare a goldfish and your books are returned to sender, with negative consequences for future book sales by the same author.

This traditional approach is all about the head of the sales beast—the big rush at the beginning—and very little about the tail of the distribution.

Kindle Press with the Kindle Scout program takes a different approach: it gives away the head. [Skip the rest of this paragraph if you already know how the Kindle Scout nomination process works.] As part of how Kindle Press determines which books to publish in electronic format, each book is presented to the public for thirty days for people to nominate. If someone nominates a book that Kindle Press selects, then when the ebook is available for pre-sale, that person will get a free Kindle version of the book, with the expressed hope they will leave a review.

These free copies of the Kindle book are a significant portion of what would have been the distribution beast’s head. Given the extensive campaign I undertook to make people aware of the Kindle Scout nomination process for Ant Farm, there are very few people I know who read electronically who will not already be receiving a free book. No one who came to the virtual release party needed to buy Ant Farm; they already had it.

For someone like me with a small following (although loyal, thank you readers), the only way Kindle Press will recoup its upfront costs is through their marketing of Ant Farm. Not that I can’t and won’t continue to promote the book, but the choir to which I can preach already know the hymn. It is up to Kindle Press to find new churches in which to sing Ant Farm’s praises.

Picture traditional publishing as a controlled flood (an oxymoron?) They hold back a reservoir of books until publication date, open the sluice gates, and in a massive rush the books pour out, hopefully to be purchased by the buying public. If not, then the detritus from the flood is cleared away in bargain bins, sold to remainder operations, or recycled.

Consider the Kindle Press experiment as akin to a leaky faucet. It steadily drip—drip—drips its way to success. Oh sure, from time to time someone opens the faucet and lets it run wide open for a while, but even when that gush of promotion turns off, we still hear the steady drip, drip, drip as a book here, a book there finds its way electronically onto someone’s reading device.

Some of the Kindle Press books have taken off from the start—the faucet is wide open. Many of the romances have done particularly well, rising into the top 1,000 ranking of Kindle books sold, meaning many people are buying the books daily. Others books, started with the drips, but with a blast of Amazon attention suddenly sell a bunch before returning to the drips as the promotion ends.

The Kindle Press advance is $1,500. They also have their time and money invested in each book (editing, layout, overhead, etc.) Let’s say that’s another $1,500 (they won’t say). Since royalties are mostly at the 50% rate, it takes selling roughly 1,000 books to cover the advance and the estimated internal costs. (It varies based on the book price, but Kindle books have been initially priced between $2.99 and $3.99, with the average currently at $3.45). Recently a number of the Kindle Press books entered a month-long $2.00 promotion and sales for those books increased significantly, but at a smaller profit.

The Kindle Press contract locks authors in for two years. To cover the $3,000 initial outlay they need to average selling a bit less than one and a half books a day. Drip, drip, drip. To continue to control the book for the next three years means Kindle Press needs to generate royalties of at least $500 a year. A book a day will accomplish that. Drip, drip, drip.

After five years the author can exit the contract if Kindle Press has not paid at least $25,000 in royalties. I predict many books will not reach that payout. Regardless, let’s assume all a book accomplishes is to make enough sales to keep the author in the contract for the five years. That will be a minimum of 2,000 sales over the five years.

Rounding liberally, that means that book has gross sales of $7,000. Royalties are a something over $3,000 (reflecting transaction fees); gross income is the same $3,000. Profit is $1,500, or 100% after 5 years. Not a bad return on investment. And remember, that’s on a drip, drip, drip of sales—just slightly more than one a day. When one of the Kindle Press books has the faucet wide open, the profit margins for Amazon are quite high.

It is easy to understand why Amazon would like the premise behind Kindle Press. What about an author’s perspective?

I have a series. People who read my books like them (average reader ratings are well over 4 out of 5), but not enough people know of the books because most people don’t like them so well that they buy them for other people or insist that their libraries stock them. In what I consider a worst-case scenario, if Amazon only sells 2,000 books – those are 2,000 new readers (remember my old readers received the book for free). Some percentage of these folks will buy other books in the series. That means the distribution of my sales tail is even fatter than Amazon’s!

And if Amazon works magic and Ant Farm becomes a big seller, it’s all to our mutual benefit. What that means is I am not stressing out that as I write this Ant Farm’s ranking is just around 100,000, It’s only day three of a very long tail, and I am planning on enjoying the ride.

Oh yes, if you would like to add to my drip, drip, drip, here’s a purchase link for Ant Farm.

~ Jim


E. B. Davis said...

You've worked out the numbers, Jim, and since you have three books in the series, I'd say you'll do well. As a reader, I'm more inclined to buy a book with several books in the series. If I like the first one (and I like the price to be painlessly low) I will buy the other books in the series even if at a higher price. These days, I'd rather not buy paper. If I can get books on Kindle, that's my first preference. I can't believe what a convert I am. As a book-reading addict, the higher prices of traditional press books released on Kindle turns me off (and I know the authors can't control pricing).

When I hit in an author's name in Kindle Store search, I often hit on Amazon's suggested other books. I've found several series, some by tradition press, but many from published as Kindle books that I love. Ant Farm is a crafty book, having an interesting premise and main character. I think readers like me will read them like potato chips, more like crunch, crunch, crunch than drip, drip, drip! Good luck, and please report back how you are doing. We won't tell the IRS.

Jim Jackson said...

EB -- I have heard your comment before from readers who prefer a series to have at least three books, sometimes as many as five, already published before they will try it out. I'm such a slow writer that it will be another two years (at least) before there are five in the series.

Amazon has trained you well with their "suggestions." I do wonder at the devaluation of the written word. We willingly pay $7, $8, $10 bucks for a 90-minute movie, (not to mention what we pay for the popcorn and soda) but refuse to pay more than $2.99 for the reading pleasure a novel can provide for five, six, ten hours?

Given that I blog here on alternate Sundays, it is quite likely this is not the last of my Kindle Press blogs!

As for blabbing to the IRS -- I keep meticulous records and welcome an audit (other from the time it would take). If anything, I probably should be a bit more aggressive on the deductions I take. :)

~ Jim

Grace Topping said...

Congratulations, Jim, on the publication of "Ant Farm." And thank you for a fun online launch party. A good time was had by all. I'm still recovering from the limoncello.

Your blog about the Kindle program was very interesting and informative. Unlike E.B. Davis and her conversion to Kindle, I am still living in the dark ages reading paper. When I followed your purchase link, I was surprised to discover that "Ant Farm" is also available in paperback. Many of your followers may not be aware of that. I also saw that it is available for free to members of KindleUnlimited. How can writers make a profit when members can "Enjoy the freedom to explore over 800,000 titles and thousands of audiobooks on any device for just $9.99 a month." I'm beginning to wonder if printed book readers are going to keep publishing afloat.

KM Rockwood said...

Thank you for keeping us up to date on your journey with Ant Farm.

I'm afraid that we are grooming readers to expect to pay very little for books. Publishing is following in the footsteps of music, where these days only a few elite manage to make a decent living from their original works.

FYI, I haven't been to a movie since the last Harry Potter. While I could afford it, I don't see it as getting value for my money. I remember when the first movies were released for home use. They were priced well over $50, and very few copies were sold.

I look forward to your continuing commentary on how your series is progressing, both your writing and your business transactions.

Jim Jackson said...

Grace -- I'm so glad you enjoyed the online party.

You are correct that Ant Farm is available in paperback as well. Unlike the electronic version that can only be purchased on Amazon, the print version can be purchased from any independent bookseller and many online retailers.

Kindle Unlimited (and its competitors such as Scribd and Oyster & Apple I think has one as well) operate on the same principal as fitness centers. They rely on people signing up, but not taking full economic advantage for their unlimited free (after the monthly fee) offerings. It is yet unclear whether any of the subscription services are making money. For Amazon (and Apple), it is one more way to lock consumers into their buying sphere and can be used as loss-leaders.

Authors are compensated (whether fairly or not is for another blog) by subscription services. Payments differ depending on both the service and the deal they have with the publisher (or self-published individual for those who use Amazon's KDP program).

~ Jim

Jim Jackson said...

KM -- part of the book pricing problem can be laid at the doorstep of Amazon, which makes money based more on transactions than on pricing, and therefore wants low prices with many transactions.

However, even without Amazon, the ability of writers to inexpensively self-publish has changed the supply/demand curve for books heavily in favor of readers and away from authors.

~ Jim

Paula Gail Benson said...

Jim, I really appreciate hearing how the Kindle Press process works. I remember once having a discussion with an established author about who will be the new "gatekeepers" in a world of electronic publishing. Do you think reader opinion will take over where professional reviewers once controlled?

Jim Jackson said...

Paula, At least in the case of Kindle Press, their decision is not made solely on the number of nominations a book receives while in the Kindle Scout 30-day window. We know that because some books that have been "hot and trending" for almost their entire 30 days were not selected. Other books that were "hot and trending" less than half the time have been selected.

Clearly there is some editorial gatekeeper involved along with the public nomination process.

Professional viewers provided visibility (as do traditional best seller lists). These still have a place, but my sense is that user reviews are gaining in value relative to professional ones.

As they say at the commercial break, stay tuned... :)

~ Jim