Flickr photo by Jenn Mau
Not long ago, David wrote a post in which he talked about how much he likes to get things done. And I can vouch that David is in fact a consummate do-er. A lot of the cool things related to Machine of Death have happened precisely because of his willingness to jump head first into projects, and Ryan and I have been happy to jump in behind and support him any way we can.
I often like to think back to the moment, about four days after we hit #1 on Amazon, when David told us that our agent had negotiated a deal with PGW to distribute Machine of Death to bookstores across the US and Canada. “To do that, we just need to sign the contract and print enough books to stock all those stores,” David said. “So to fund that we’ll each need to immediately fork over A SUM OF MONEY THAT COULD EASILY BUY YOU A NEW CAR but it’ll be worth it in the long run!” It still staggers me that there were three guys on the planet who were willing to pony up the cash needed to make it happen without a second thought.
Well, almost without a second thought. I admit that I did some quick calculations, literally on the back of an envelope that was (and still is) sitting on my desk, just to figure out how bad it would be if the whole thing went belly-up the day after I wrote the check. We’ve already sold ABOUT THIS MUCH, but won’t see any money until A LITTLE WHILE, and David wants me to pay HOW MUCH MORE? And, even if this works, we’re likely to get paid back A LONG TIME FROM NOW? Well, okay! I mean, it looked okay but it’s not like we had a business plan or anything. Business plans take too long to put together!
Yet despite this, I’m not the same kind of do-er that David is. I’m a lot more comfortable planning, preparing, reflecting, and measuring than I am rushing into things. If it were left entirely up to me, Machine of Death would be one-tenth as awesome as it is today.
On the other hand, I hope I have my uses too. At the end of last year, David handed me the electronic equivalent of a shoebox full of receipts, and I clicked around Wikipedia until I remembered enough about accounting to put them into some semblance of order. (We have a real bookkeeper who takes care of this now, thank goodness.) And for the past several months I’ve been tracking our sales, week-by-week, for all the various channels and formats that we’re available in.
This is the stuff I really enjoy. I’ve worked in direct marketing for the past nine years (still do, in fact), so I’m profoundly uncomfortable if I can’t see where I’ve been, where I am now, where I had hoped to be, and where I hope to go. Above all, Machine of Death is supposed to be fun, so I try to be more laid-back about it than I am about my “real job”. But still, I’m checking numbers and updating spreadsheets a few times a week. (Remember: This is what passes for fun with me.)
Over the past five months, we’ve amassed a pretty interesting data set — a tiny piece of which was already shared on this blog. I don’t know how actionable any of our data will be to anybody else since our sample is a single, uncommonly successful book. We’re not like most self-publishing writers since we do most of our sales in print — and a big chunk of those in bookstores. Meanwhile, we’re not really a small press either because we don’t have a calendar full of upcoming book releases. I have no reason to believe that any part of our experience is “normal” or easily repeatable by anybody else (or even by us).
Today, I’ll just share you with a single graph that shows our print sales vs. our ebook sales, month-by-month, since we launched. I’ll be getting into more detail about both of those formats in the next few days , but you can see that so far about 70% of the books we sell are good old-fashioned blocks of paper glued between sheets of cardboard.
One thing to note — partway through March, we dropped the price of our ebook to $5.99. As you can see, the split didn’t change much despite the drop in price, but it’ll be interesting to see if it does in the months to come. Personally, I don’t expect the price change alone to have much impact on what proportion of print books and ebooks we sell. For most readers, the choice doesn’t seem to hinge on a question of a few dollars of savings for one version or another. Instead, readers buy the version they prefer. Lowering the price on the ebook certainly generated publicity and a short-term bump in sales of ebooks. But publicity is publicity, and even talk about our ebook can (and does!) drive sales of the print edition.
I’ve been told that this 70% / 30% split is actually more weighted towards ebooks than the industry average. I haven’t looked for the industry numbers myself though, so I don’t know if this is actually true or not. And even if I did find the numbers, I still likely wouldn’t know how they were calculated or what they really represented. (I’d love to hear from anybody who has both an “industry average” and information on how it was calculated.)
“Print” and “ebook” are extremely broad categories that cover lots of different things, and somebody else’s “print” and “ebook” categories may not be similar to ours at all. (Our numbers are fairly straightforward if anybody wants to know what they represent. From October to February, “print” is a trade paperback retailing online and in bookstores at $17.98 — though often discounted by retailers. For the same period, “ebook” is the same title sold at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Apple for their respective devices for $9.99. In March, things change a bit so if you’re a stickler about clean data then you might want to ignore that month.)
To be honest, it’s not terribly important to me whether I ever know enough about the big pot of gumbo called “industry averages” to be able to compare Machine of Death to any other numbers. It doesn’t really matter whether I find out we’re selling more ebooks than other folks, or fewer, or just the right amount. I mean, it might be interesting to know, but there’s not much we can do about it. The proportion of ebooks vs. print books is driven far more by consumer preference than by anything we have control over.
I said before that we’re neither the typical “self-publisher” nor the typical small press. The best way I can put it is that we’re three guys who put out a book that lots of people have told us they really enjoy, and which we think lots more people would probably enjoy too. Our mission, as I see it, is two-pronged. First, to help new readers discover how great the stories in this book are. And second, to keep delivering cool stuff to the people who already know that. Right now, both print and ebooks (and both online retailers and brick-and-mortar bookstores) are helping us achieve both parts of our mission, so we’re going to keep investing in both of them for the foreseeable future.
We don’t pretend to be prophets or even savvy industry observers, so we don’t know when (or if!) ebooks will make print books irrelevant. Right now, people are still buying and reading both in significant numbers. Luckily, we happen to think that both print books and ebooks are supremely cool when they’re done right. So all we care about is doing them right — putting the best content in the best possible package, whether it’s a trade paperback, a hardcover, an ebook, or a podcast.
Heck, the podcast is a perfect example of how little we care about the outcome of any format war. Audiobooks account for a tiny sliver of the book market — something like 1% or 2% — but David has spent an enormous amount of his time and energy making our podcasts the best they can be. And then we give them away for free, because we just think it’s cool that they exist. (Yes, we hope new readers will discover us through the podcasts, but we also hope existing fans are enjoying them too!) If we really are witnessing the death of print books and bookstores, we’ll keep on producing print books for the same reason. Even if almost nobody wants to read them, we’ll still think it’s awesome to have them around, and that is totally good enough for us.
So today, 30% of our sales are ebooks and 70% are print. I don’t know what this means for the industry, but it’s really interesting information for us. If you look at total sales for the entire lifetime of Machine of Death, ebooks actually appear much less significant. Overall, they only account for about 15% of total sales. This is because October and December (the months with the lowest proportion of ebook sales) were also the months in which we sold the most books total. So when print was winning, it was really really winning.
Lifetime numbers are usually what I look at, so this month-to-month view was kind of an eye-opener to me. Print was a big part of our initial publicity push, but ebooks are clearly really important for our continuing mission. Almost one-third of new readers today encounter our book electronically. So the lesson for me is that even though the numbers don’t look that big yet, we can’t afford to look at our ebooks as second-tier products. They have to be able to delight our readers just as much as the print edition does!
I know that “ebooks are more important to ongoing sales than expected” is not exactly the sexiest conclusion to come to. In fact, it’s downright small-minded and nerdy. No doubt it would be way cooler if I could spin some grandiose prediction from our sales figures so far. For instance, if I could identify some trend and use it to name a date when ebooks will surpass print books in sales. But even if I could do that, it wouldn’t help us do a better job. At best, it’s a distraction. At worst, it might encourage us to think of print as an already-cooling corpse, and that would be a huge disservice to thousands of our readers who still consider print alive and well.
So, no big predictions here! Just a few numbers and some thoughts about what they might mean. If you’re not too disappointed, stay tuned and next time I’ll get into some more detail about our print sales.
The online science-fiction magazine Strange Horizons has a wonderful review of our book up today. It has some very nice (and specific) things to say about many of our writers, including Camille Alexa, Tom Francis, John Chernega, Julia Wainwright, Jeff Stuatz, Erin McKean, Shaenon K. Garrity, J. Unrau, Jeffrey C. Wright, Daliso Chaponda, and David Malki !
I’m especially happy to see our book reviewed by Strange Horizons, as I made one of my first short story sales to them way back in 2003. Here’s a short quote from the review that makes us blush every time we read it:
…This sort of Man vs. Fate dilemma has obsessed us since Sophocles, so it’s not shocking to report that Machine of Death hooks you from page one. But where this collection could have been a one joke wonder or merely skated by on its own cleverness, it turns out to be a lot deeper than that. A lot more intelligent. A lot less predictable than its theme of inevitability would have you suppose…
If it’s cheap, sadistic thrills you crave you’d do better to let Machine of Death alone and catch up on your Jersey Shore—but if you’d like to think as well as be mightily entertained, you’re in the right place.
Also: All ebooks are now only $5.99!
In other news, some folks have already noticed that our ebooks are now cheaper than they used to be. We’ve temporarily dropped the prices on all of our ebooks from $9.99 to $5.99. The reason for the price drop is tied to the mysterious countdown that David announced a few days ago, but I’m not going to spill the beans about that yet. There will be more information coming on that very soon!
As a reminder, here are the current varieties of our (temporarily cheaper!) ebook:
- Kindle version from Amazon
- Nook version from Barnes & Noble
- iBook from Apple’s iBookstore
- ePub directly from us
You can also get the ebook on Goodreads and read it in their ereader. We’re still waiting for Google Books to finish “processing” our file, but we hope that soon you’ll be able to read it there too. EDIT: I almost forgot! As always, we still have the free PDF as well, but the price hasn’t changed on that.
And some reasons to follow us on Facebook
We don’t always post full blog posts when we have little snippets of news, but we do sometimes put them up on our Facebook page. Our Facebook fans recently got to see some glimpses of new things we’ve been working on like this and this. We also ask for feedback sometimes on how we can do things even more awesomely.
So visit our Facebook page and be sure to “like” us! We are likable people, at our core. It is nice of Facebook to notice this.
Machine of Death is now available in Apple’s iBooks! You can search for it in the iBooks app on your iPad/iPhone/iPod Touch, or here’s a browser link (caution: the link will ask you to launch iTunes).
When everything exploded for us back in October, we were approached by not only print publishers, but also audio- and ebook publishers. We’ve explained already how we turned down inquiries from larger publishers for reprint rights to the book, and since we had planned all along to create a free podcast of our book, as well as give away the free PDF, that torpedoed any chances to partner with any professional audio- or ebook publisher as well. They would have insisted on exclusivity, which we weren’t willing to provide.
So, after hearing loud and clear from you that you’d like a Kindle version of MOD, we started looking into publishing ebooks ourselves. This was before we’d even released the free PDF, so the genie was still technically in the bottle — and we heard from ebook publishers and distributors warning us what we’d be missing out on by turning down their terms.
“We reach thousands of ebook sales partners,” they said. “Even if you do a Kindle version yourself, that’s only one of thousands of sales channels.”
“Are there really thousands of ebook sales channels?” we responded. “Why have we never heard of any but about five?”
Ultimately, we decided that while there might be thousands of ebook sales channels, we only cared about a couple of them, and we could manage a couple of them on our own. We ended negotiations with ebook companies, released our PDF, and looked into selling ebooks of our own in the few sales channels that make up the majority of the market.
Which ebook marketplace is doing the best?
Kindle versions have been our biggest sellers by far. I tried to find some survey data on the Kindle’s market share: last August an Amazon spokesman claimed they had 70 to 80 percent of the ebook market; those numbers were then challenged by publishing industry professionals who assigned Amazon 61%, followed by 20% for B&N’s Nook, and single-digits for everyone else.
The study reported results from very early in the iPad’s existence, so the landscape has surely shifted by now — in fact, Apple claimed 22% of the ebook market share as long ago as June 2010. The numbers get another crunch here with this startling opinion:
Several Publishers confirmed earlier this year and at the end of last year that Amazon had around 90% market share… The likeliest possibility is that not only did Amazon manage to sell Kindles it also managed to get a large chunk of iPad owners’ ebook purchases via Kindle for iPad.
Let’s see if our (limited, so far) experiences agree.
A breakdown by ebook platform
These are numbers from January 2011 — so the October blitz and the subsequent holiday season aren’t included. It’s still not a huge sample size, but it’s the closest to “typical” we’ve probably got so far.
Although Amazon announced last month that it’s now selling 115 ebooks for every 100 print books, we’ve still mainly sold print books — in January, at least 74% of all copies of Machine of Death sold were print books, and we know that number is low because it doesn’t include Canadian or all retail-store sales. We do, however, have accurate numbers on ebook sales:
• Kindle sales accounted for 84.5% of all ebook sales in January
• Nook sales accounted for 10.4% of all ebook sales in January
• The remaining 5% were mainly ePub sales through our site, although a few iBooks sales are recorded there too (the iBooks version only went live at the very end of January).
We abandoned our Kobo application after hearing of Borders’ financial troubles. We also have submitted our file to Google’s new ebooks program, but thanks to a hilarious comedy of errors that could only be resolved by us mailing them a CD-ROM (what year is this?) we are currently still “processing.”
This is only one data point, but the breakdown seems to be roughly shared among at least one other author who’s been kind enough to share his own experience:
Now, I’m not James Patterson, but I have sold several thousand copies of my e-books this year, and they are available at Amazon, B&N, Kobo, and Apple (also Sony, but too recently for me to have reliable sales data). And my figures back up Amazon’s; in fact, I sell more than 75% of my e-books through Amazon. Source: David Derrico
Advantages of a broad approach
We’re happy we took the reins into our own hands and didn’t bother paying an ebook distributor a commission to get us into 997 other ebook portals — I doubt any few increased sales would have covered what we’d lose to the commission. As long as there are a few market leaders, it’s easy for us to make most everybody happy: most of you who read ebooks have Kindles, but if you have a Nook or iPad, we’ve got you covered too. The Stranger’s Paul Constant also points out some advantages to the ePub format on the Sony Reader, and we’re happy to sell you a DRM-free ePub if you want one.
It’ll be interesting to watch over time if our ebook sales climb (or print sales decline) to move more toward parity with Amazon’s overall ebooks-vs-print-books ratio. Of course, that ratio is aggregate; it doesn’t address individual books. Maybe they’re selling 115 copies of every hardcore-erotica ebook for one each of every 100 detective novels.
maybe what we need to publish next is a hardcore detective erotic e-novel
Please find below the entirety of Machine of Death as a free, downloadable PDF.
Why are we doing this? Aren’t we worried about hurting our book sales?
In a word: no. You have proven time and again that you are willing to pay for content that you find valuable. You have shown that you are driven to share material that you fall in love with. And we are committed to ensuring that you can experience our work whether you can afford to buy a book or not; whether you live in a country that Amazon ships to or not; whether you have space in your life for a stack of paper or not.
Please, download, read, share and enjoy!
This is the double-page-spread version:
Link to Dropbox: http://machineofdeath.net/pdfspreads
This is the single-page-width version:
Link to Dropbox: http://machineofdeath.net/pdf
These files are DRM-free and released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives license. This means you are free to download them, share them, email them, copy them, print them out, seed them, torrent them, and generally send them about however you like, provided that the manuscript remains unbroken, that attribution is always given, and that all use remains noncommercial.
Many of the stories themselves are further released under the Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike license, which also permits non-commercial adaptation of the work into other media. See the back of the book for full copyright information.
EBOOKS. We are also pleased to bring you these ebook versions:
Machine of Death in the Barnes & Noble Nook Store –
Available for download right now. DRM-free.
Machine of Death in Apple’s iBookstore for the iPhone/iPad/iTouch – $5.99.
Available in all the markets that Apple allows us to sell to.
PODCAST. Starting today, we will be releasing about one story a week in audio as a free, Creative-Commons-licensed podcast. We’ll also be posting each episode here on the site. The first one’s up now — you can go listen right this second!
To subscribe in iTunes: http://www.itunes.com/podcast?id=402077546
(Please use this link rather than the direct feed if you can, it helps the iTunes servers track how popular we are!)
However, if you don’t use iTunes, the direct podcast feed works fine! It is:
http://feeds.feedburner.com/machineofpodcast. Plug that into your favorite podcasteater!