Friday, March 29, 2013

How Ebook Sales Affect Traditional Sales

by Elizabeth S. Craig, @elizabethscraig

The series that I'm self-publishing had its start as a traditionally published product.

"Pretty is as Pretty Dies" was published by Midnight Ink in 2009.  The book earned out, but apparently wasn't considered a huge financial success by Midnight Ink, who indicated to me in 2010 that they'd rather not publish a sequel. I've never had hard feelings--publishing is a business. They need to make good business decisions or else they won't stay afloat. I was definitely disappointed, since I loved the characters, but I was too busy to be crushed.  I was already, at that point, working on the Memphis Barbeque series and was hearing that I might be considered for a second series with Penguin.

In both 2010 and 2011, I continued hearing from readers, asking when the next Myrtle Clover book was coming out.  I was buried in work at the time with the other series, but I hated telling them there wouldn't be more books in the series.  I did tell a couple of readers that...then I started telling them that I was considering putting more Myrtles out, myself.  My agent offered to shop the series to Penguin and St. Martin's, but I really didn't want to go that route because I knew it would take forever and the first book had come out in 2009. 

After dragging my feet for a while, I decided to take the leap into self-publishing.  It took a while.  During that time, I kept hearing of the success other authors were having with self-publishing and was kicking myself for not getting my rights back and finding the time to find editors, artists, and formatters.  Finally, I just gave myself a deadline.  I wrote to the publisher, asking for the rights to my characters back.  They returned them.  Then I put a team together and starting releasing Myrtles--the book that Midnight Ink had turned down, a revamped version of the very first book in the series, and a new book. 

While I was releasing the books, I ran sales on the self-pubbed items, frequently making one of the books free by making it free on Smashwords, then indicating to Amazon that the price was lower there.  Sales of the other books increased, I got a large number of reviews on a couple of the titles, and began getting more visibility with the Amazon algorithm.

I noticed that sales were also increasing for the traditionally-published, "Pretty is as Pretty Dies."  It was, after all, in the same series and introduced a main and recurring character in the series.  The sales seemed to be mainly Kindle sales and placed the book in the 25,000--35,000 Amazon bestsellers rank for many weeks...pretty good for Midnight Ink and pretty good for a 3 1/2 year old book. The book was garnering new reviews and interest...the book was enjoying a second life.

Then last September, I received an email from Midnight Ink.  I was curious, since I knew the sales for the book were suddenly strong.   Sadly, the email stated:

"As you likely know, sales of the book have slowed considerably to the point where we have decided to designate the book as out-of-print. This means we will be returning available rights to you and discarding the remaining inventory.

Prior to discarding the inventory, we are offering you the opportunity to purchase as many copies as you would like for 80% off of the original retail price plus freight. Please contact our customer service department at {redacted}to order your books. This is a one-time offer and your order must be placed by Friday, September 14, 2012. Any remaining inventory be shredded and recycled on Monday September 17, 2012. If you miss the deadline, you will be unable to purchase any copies of your book.

Midnight Ink hereby returns all international and domestic rights to you to the above named title with the following exceptions:

English large print rights (domestic and international)
Note that this rights return does NOT include rights to the covers, interior or exterior artwork. Nor does it include typography or electronic files."

No, I didn't buy any books at 80% off.  :)  What on earth would I have done with them--stacked them up in a closet?  And the book is selling really well as an ebook...that seems to be the format that readers want the book in. It was just a pity I didn't have the ebook rights to that book back. 

It was a little sad that my books were shredded and recycled.  :)

What's my takeaway from this?  One takeaway is that Midnight Ink did me a tremendous favor by refusing a second book--I've certainly done well on my own and who knows when I'd have taken the self-publishing leap without an unsold book handy?  Another lesson is that ebooks are a lot more popular than print (I can't really draw another conclusion with the data I've got--few wanted the print version and the ebook version is selling briskly.) Another is that we don't have to let publishers decide when our series are over (as long as we can get the rights to the characters back.) I've also learned that it helps to have a series if you're self-publishing...the individual book sales build off each other. I haven't noticed as much of an effect on the sales of my other traditionally-published books in other series.  And I've learned that--now, anyway--offering books for free means increased visibility and sales for related books.

Do you prefer series, as a reader? Have you tried self-publishing?  Run any deeply discounted sales? Taken a discontinued series and re-started it, yourself?