Last month something happened for the very first time: Christmas peak aside, I sold significantly fewer e-book editions of Mousetrapped than I had the month before. Overall my May e-book sales were down about 16%, or 122 books on my average monthly sales from January-April.
Talking to other self-published e-book authors it seemed they also experienced a dip, slowing or even stoppage in their sales, and as The Bookseller’s Futurebook blog reported, the traditionally published e-book market wasn’t throwing any parties either as their sales came back to down to earth soon after the Christmastime high.
Why has this happened? Is it a sign of things to come, or just an anomaly? Should I be filling out an application form for my local Starbucks (dream job for me; revenue loss for them) now that my future as a full-time e-book seller suddenly looks unsure?
Well, I think I’ll hold off on the barista training for the moment and I’ve no idea if this is a trend or a one-off fluctuation, but as for why this happened, I do have some theories…
1. I Wasn’t There
I was missing from the 19th of the month onwards and unlike previous vacations, I left the blog grow HTML-webs in my absence. (Normally I “re-play” popular posts.) This of course also meant that my Twitter feed and Facebook page were unattended too.
Could this have made a difference? Could the lack of new Google search results, posts and tweets have reduced the number of people finding out about Mousetrapped for the first time? If it did then I can’t really bring myself to care, because a girl needs a break every once in a while.
2. Flogging a Dead Horse
Maybe Mousetrapped has run its e-book course. Maybe everyone who (a) has an e-reader and (b) would consider reading a book like Mousetrapped has already done so – at least at $2.99. It’s a niche book (that’s why I self-published it in the first place) and maybe I’ve saturated its relatively small market.
If this is the case, then I’m not concerned. I’m approaching 6,000 sales and for a self-published travel memoir about working in Walt Disney World (among other things), I don’t think that’s too shabby. Plus it’s easy to forget – hell, I try to – that I released it in March of last year. March 2010. By the time the follow-up, Backpacked, comes out in September, Mousetrapped will have been on sale for a year and a half. So if things are starting to slow down now, I can’t really complain, can I?
Plus as luck would have it, I have a brand new travel memoir, a novel and essay collection all scheduled for release this side of Christmas, so I’m not freaking out just yet.
3. Equidistance from Two Highs
We really don’t know that much about e-book readers’ habits, do we? Do they tend to buy books every week, or download a bunch all at once that will keep them going for a while? Do they sometimes read print books but turn to their e-readers for special situations, such as traveling? Is there something that they do that ensures summer is the e-book low season, and Christmastime the high?
Why is Christmastime the high? Two things: it’s high season for books, and always has been. I once read a statistic that said something like 60% of all books sold in stores during the year are sold between October-December* and any year-round visitor to Waterstones on Cork’s Patrick Street could attest to that – coming up to Christmas you can’t move for the shoppers pushing each other aside for celebrity biographies and novelty reads; the rest of the year, you and the 3 for 2s practically have the place to yourself. It’s also now high season for Kindle (and other device) buying and giving. Existing owners might update their models, but the real bonus for e-books are the new adopters: the people who are switching from print to e-books (i.e. getting an e-reader) for the first time. As Simon Cowell thinks to himself when he sees a tween boy-band who can actually sing, CHA-CHING!
But here, in the summer, we’re as far away as we can be from both last Christmas and next Christmas. We’re potentially in a wasteland where last December’s new Kindle owners have had the novelty wear off, and potential Kindle owners are waiting for the price to drop or for Santa to give them a shiny new e-reader for Christmas. Therefore, e-book sales are down. Maybe.
*I could just be pulling this statistic out of my arse; booksellers, do correct me if I’m exaggerating.
4. New, Clearer Listing
A few weeks ago, I changed Mousetrapped‘s product listing on Amazon so that it reflected its subject matter better.
Mousetrapped, very generally-speaking, is about me moving to Orlando to work in a hotel in Walt Disney World. WDW is the size of two Manhattan islands and there are lots of hotels, restaurants, shops and other businesses that while being on the property are not owned by the Walt Disney Company. It’s still working in Walt Disney World and in my job we were even “Cast Members” and had to attend Disney-run training.
But there were people buying Mousetrapped thinking it was a behind-the-scenes Disney exposé (clearly missing the reviews, the downloadable sample, etc.) when it wasn’t, and I wanted to stop that happening. I left the blurb as it was but on the Amazon listing I added a table of contents and a little spiel explaining why the book is called what it’s called – it’s named after Chapter 3 in which I describe being geographically trapped in Disney World thanks to no money or car – and how the word ”Mousetrapped” doesn’t actually mean “employed directly by the Walt Disney Company.”
Now sales have dipped. Is this why? If it is, so be it. I’m not changing it back. I don’t want to “trick” people into buying a book that isn’t what they think it is, and not all the listings have been changed so that doesn’t really account for a dip across the board.
5. Amazon Sunshine Deals
This only just started, so they can’t be the reason why sales dipped in May. However if sales are down even more in June, I will certainly be blaming Amazon’s Sunshine Deals.
(Well, maybe just a little bit. We’ll see.)
As long as the big publishers are fighting amongst themselves over e-book prices, we self-publishers are doing a-okay because we can charge whatever we like, and what we like is $2.99 or less. This seems to be what e-book readers like too, so it’s all good. But now the big publishers are copping on, and have got together with Amazon to charge what has traditionally been self-publisher prices for some big publisher works. Over 600 of them are on sale for 99c, $1.99 or $2.99. If you’re interested in taking advantage of it, Sunshine Deals ends tomorrow.
(P.S: I just had a quick glance at the titles on offer and aside from some interesting non-fiction titles, pickings are slim.)
6. Much Ado About Nothing
Maybe this all means nothing. Maybe it’s just an unexplainable dip. We have a while to go before we get anywhere near pre-last-Christmas’-e-book-spectacular levels (I was selling about 180 copies a month, total, up until December 2010; since then it’s been 700-800) and anyway I’ve got plenty of things in the pipeline, namely Backpacked, Mousetrapped‘s “sequel”, and a novel coming in November. I’ve also got a couple of tricks up my sleeve, a kind of “Break Open in Case of E-book Sales Emergency” ideas box.
And if I learned one thing about self-publishing e-books, it’s that today doesn’t matter. This week might not even matter. You always have to look at your sales – and with them, success – on the long-term landscape. If you don’t, you might give up. For example one sale a day might make you want to throw your computer out of the window and go hide in a cave, but in five years that’s over 1,800 books, or an achievement to be extremely proud of.
So I’m not stressing about this. But I’ll let you know what happens.
UPDATE: Re: the comment from Chris below, the chart above shows all e-book sales by month since Mousetrapped‘s launch in March 2010.
Find out more about: my self-publishing adventures, Mousetrapped: A Year and A Bit in Orlando, Florida, Backpacked: A Reluctant Trip Across Central America or Self-Printed: The Sane Person’s Guide to Self-Publishing. Follow me on Twitter at @cathryanhoward.