Friday, June 23, 2017

2017 Smashwords Survey Helps Authors Sell More eBooks

Welcome to the sixth annual Smashwords Survey!

Each year for the Smashwords Survey, I analyze ebook sales aggregated across the Smashwords distribution network.

We're looking to identify potential data driven insights that can help authors and publishers make their books more accessible, more desirable and more enjoyable to readers. 

The results are often just as much a surprise to me as they are to you.  When I drill down and analyze difference aspects of the data, I don’t know if I’ll find a lump of coal at end of the trail or a pot-of-gold.  This year I discovered a lot of gold.

As you review the findings, please maintain a healthy dose of skepticism. The data represents the aggregate experience of thousands of authors and millions of dollars in book sales, but your results may vary.  Your book is unique.

The factors that cause a reader to discover, sample, purchase or enjoy a book cannot be fully explained by data.  Nor can data yet determine why one story or writing style is preferable to another.  

For example, if you were to ask a reader why they purchased a given book, you might receive an answer like, “it looked interesting to me.”  But why did it look interesting?  In all likelihood, not even the reader fully understands the conscious and unconscious factors that caused them to click on one book instead of another.  Was it the color combination on the cover image, the price, the author name, the position of the sun, the day of the week, what they ate or was it a convoluted mysterious witch's brew of thousands of simultaneous factors?  I suspect the latter.

It’s also quite possible you glean insights from the data that I and others will miss completely.  If so, that's great.  My goal here, as it is with everything we do at Smashwords, is to create tools and share data that give you competitive advantage in the marketplace.  It up to you to put the tools and knowledge to work.

I first presented the Survey results last month at the RT Booklovers Convention in Atlanta, GA.  Below I have embedded an enhanced Slideshare Edition of the presentation which contains additional information that was conveyed verbally in the live presentation.

Each year I mix things up by examining new aspects of the data.  This year, in an industry-first, I share data on ebook preorder adoption rates among authors across different genres and categories.

And then I go a step further by exploring the percentage of that genre's sales for the Survey period that were accountable to the books released as preorders in that genre or category.  My mind was blown.  It was as if bright light suddenly illuminated a dark corner of the universe.

On the pricing front, I found signs that many indies who are selling well at $2.99 should probably experiment with higher prices.  In previous Surveys, $2.99 and $3.99 were the sweets spots.  It looks like it's time to add $4.99 to that mix.

There's much more I want to share with you.

Inside the 2017 Smashwords Survey

Here are some of the questions we seek to answer:
  • What are the top fiction and non-fiction categories?
  • What romance categories perform the best? 
  • How do box sets perform, and which types of box set perform the best?
  • Do authors who release ebooks as preorders sell more books overall?
  • How do preorder adoption rates differ across genres (New!!) 
  • What percentage of overall sales in each genre for new titles go to books released as preorders (New!)
  • What are the pricing sweet spots for full-length fiction to maximize both readership and author earnings?
  • Do longer books still sell better?
  • Does FREE still work, and what about free series starters?
  • Do series books sell better than standalone books, and if so, by how much?
And here you go, the Smashwords Survey!




Sharing is caring!  Above in the presentation pane you see this share link.  If you find the Smashwords Survey useful, please click it to share it with your friends on Facebook and Twitter, or embed the full presentation on your blog using Slideshare's neat embed feature.  

Additionally, please also this blog post on social media, the address of which is:  http://blog.smashwords.com/2017/06/smashwords-survey-2017.html

The sales data is aggregated from across the Smashwords distribution network of major retailer and library ebook providers for the period between March 2016 and February 2017, the same period as the 2016 Survey.  Smashwords distributes to multiple retailers and libraries.  The largest Smashwords retailer is iBooks, followed by Barnes & Noble, Kobo, the Smashwords Store, Scribd, Amazon and several smaller outlets including public library aggregators such as OverDrive.  Since we only distribute a small fraction of our titles to Amazon, the results may not fully reflect how books behave at Amazon.  Use your own judgement. 

Support Future Surveys!

If you distribute with Smashwords, thank you!  You are directly contributing not only to our data, but also to our ability to continue bringing you this data. If you don't use Smashwords for ebook distribution, please consider consolidating your distribution with us.  We want your sales data, and we want to help you sell more books!  Click to learn how to publish with Smashwords and join over 130,000 authors and small publishers around the world who collectively publish over 450,000 titles with us.

25 comments:

Marie Seltenrych said...

Thanks so much, Mark. You have done a great job here. We need you as President! (Of Australia) ha ha. (or President of Authors)
I do notice that kid's literature is not a winner here. However, it gives a great overall snapshot of what is going on beyond our dashboards.
Romance and Box Sets seem to be the most loved out there.
Back to the drawing board!

We can never have too much data, so thanks for the great work you are doing and never seem to stop!

Marie :0

Rebecca Bielawski said...

Great job. Innovative and insightful as always. I must agree with Marie Seltenrych on the under-representation of children's books in the data. I always look, I never find. Also, many data points do not apply to children's books, infact, could skew data (eg. word count data analysis) But there's always something interesting to be learned in these surveys. Thanks.

Shelton Ransinghe said...

Excellent job, Mark. Very interesting to see the analysis. This is useful to understand the status of affairs related to Indipublishing in the great service you provide us. Thanks for publishing it.- Shelton

kayleighpatel said...

Great job with the survey! Is there a download link? The Slideshare version is cutting off the bottom part of the slides.

Pat Donovan said...


and promotion is the key.
getting word-of-mouth started on your efforts is the best (and probably only)
way to make things happen.

any DMR insights?

packrat

Maddy said...

Thanks, Mark. Great start to my day.

Floyd, KK3Q said...

Only seeing gibberish in the box, used two different browsers (Firefox & Opera).

Kathleen Rowland said...

Thank you, Smashwords and Mark Coker, for your insightful data. Your hard work is much appreciated.

J Van Stry said...

I would love to see these numbers normalized for non-romance titles, so those of us who don't write romance can perhaps learn something from them. Several of the things pointed to here, I know from personal experience do not work in scifi or urban fantasy.
Romance is a very different field, because the readership is very different.
So would it be possible to see the results without romance (the admittedly big dog in publishing) skewing the results?

Because for non-romance writers like myself, this really isn't very useful.

Thanks.

Lisabet Sarai said...

Thanks for an excellent, in-detail analysis, Mark.

Obviously I need to write a series LOL.

Karen Sarte said...

Mark, why do the number of titles distributed by Smashwords (slide 16) not match the data published by Bowker?

http://media.bowker.com/documents/bowker-selfpublishing-report2015.pdf

For example, according to slide 16, in 2015 Smashwords added 51.6k new titles (388k - 336.4k = 51.6k). Bowker's table on page 6 says Smashwords added 97.2k new titles in 2015. At the bottom of page 6, they write "2014 and 2015 figures provided by Smashwords on 2/27/2016".

Roughly how many copies would a book have to sell to be in the top 200 books on Smashwords?

Thank you for your annual survey!

p.d.r. lindsay said...

I am hopeless at being efficient and gathering data so I thank you, Mark for doing this. It helps!

Mark Coker said...

Thanks, everyone. Glad you're enjoying this.

@Marie, thanks for those kind sentiments. Will you come be president of the US? We need help, desperately.

@ Rebecca, I’m hoping for the day children’s books can hit our bestsellers. These books face a few challenges, some practical and some technical, that make it a little more difficult. But not impossible. Most ebook sales are adult fiction, since adults buy most books and fiction is almost 100% narrative so it works well as reflowable books. Romance readers have higher book consumption since they’re prolific readers, so that gives them some advantage along with the other advantages mentioned in the Survey. I meet a lot of children’s authors who struggle to realize the vision of their print book as a digital version, especially when it’s a children’s book that’s image-heavy, large format dependent and has text embedded within the images (some books do best as print!). But that said, with some creative reimagining, most children’s books I see could be realized as reflowable ebooks with a small amount of work. And then I could see series and free series starters working really well for parents who’d want to read to their children, or who’d want to let their children try a new author for the children who are ready to read. But all these “ifs” conspire to create friction that ultimately disadvantages many children’s book author. If only all kids had credit cards!

@kayleighpatel – YES! If you click the little “in” icon in the lower right of the embedded frame of the slides above, that will take you to Slideshare where you’ll see a button you can click to download the presentation. It’ll try to get you to “clip” it but you’ll see an option to download it anyway.

@ Pat - sorry, maybe I’m being dense and don’t understand your question. What’s DMR?

@Floyd, if the slides look like gibberish… hmm… Maybe your best option is to download the full presentation (instuctions in my answer to Kayleigh above). Sorry about that.

@Karen, Re: bowker, that’s probably based on how they do their survey. For that 2015 Bowker study, I think they looked at the number of titles we released that year, regardless of whether those titles are still active. In our chart, we report at the net number of titles released which = (new titles added – titles removed + previously removed titles that returned). That number is also displayed real time 24X7 on our home page. We can thank KDP Select for a lot of that churn. Re: sales of #200, sorry, that’s one bit of data we don’t share. We share more data than anyone but not that.

Pat Donovan said...

digital rights management. any comment?

Personally, I'm hoping schools go ebooks. That get the tech in their hands; asking a teenager not to entertain themselves with it too will be the worst possible kind of wishful thinking.

there's a story on hacking around school-guidance, snooping, evesdropping, censorship
and hacked texts here. Betcha.

not really SF tho, is it?

kevin willliams

Mark Coker said...

@Pat/Kevin, we didn't look at DRM in the Survey. All our books are DRM-free.

Scott Wittenburg said...

Thanks for all of the useful info here! I've already learned a couple of things I could do to improve my sales and I am so thankful for all of the hard work you put into helping us get a read on what's happening in the industry. I am one very happy Smashwords author!

Phumulani Ndlovu said...

Thank you so much for the eye-opening survey. It really gives a guideline that I can use in my work. Absolutely priceless!!!

Alan said...

any information on Non fiction? Or did I miss something in the survey other than non fiction is a small market?

Mark Coker said...

@Alan, I didn't dig deep into Nonfiction this year other than the top categories you see mentioned and the general percentages. A couple years ago we looked at price points for nonfiction (highest downloads, highest earning) and the big takeaway is that NF authors should not be pricing like fiction. The higher price points work better. Maybe I'll do more with NF next year. The challenge is that even with ~100 slides, there are still so many more questions I could have asked but not enough weeks in the year. I tried to focus on questions that would yield useful data for the greatest number of Smashwords authors and publishers, thus the fiction focus. Thanks for checking it out!

Alan said...

Mark...thanks for the reply. Any chance you could post the non fiction study again...or could you e mail it to me?
Again...thanks.
alan snedeker

Nokta E Kitap said...

Thank you, Smashwords and Mark Coker, for your insightful data.

wordwizardw said...

I was going to ask the same question as J Van Stry, but since someone else beat me to it, let me just say that many people would appreciate this info. Slide 32 indicates that Fantasy has 1/3 of the non-Romance sales, and adding in SF, which is often lumped in with Fantasy any way, brings SF/F up to more than 44%. It would be nice to show these categories some love in next year's survey! Please include Time Travel, which one of your slides lists as a separate category for some reason (It's Fantasy if the time travel doesn't have a plausible scientific explanation, and SF if it does.).

Moses Guvheya said...

Great work mr Mark i really enjoyed going through the survey. I got a lot of insights and challenges.I belong to the Christian category which is not reflecting very positively and I just feel I need to pull up my socks or should I say we have a long way to go as Christian writers to gain readership on these platforms. And if you allow me I have a pertinent preoccupation to present. as an African writer I see that the journey to international success is a very imposing one.firstly it is almost difficult to have an account on many of these platforms and secondly the payment system is a frustrating hustle. We are obliged to sell our books for free though i really appreciate your efforts at smashwords. If you could help sir.

Transcribe Interview said...

Great survey. Your hard work is much appreciated. Thanks for this report.

Kiwi said...

I read through this whole blog post. I am in the second volume of my series now. I'll make it around the recommended 110,000 words. I don't understand why romance is so popular though.