The CEO of Smashwords, Mark Coker, is a man who is dedicated to the idea of democratizing publishing. His insights are enormously helpful for writers breaking into the publishing scene, and Smashwords' annual surveys provide valuable information about strategies for epublishing success.
Below are some of the findings from the 2015 Smashwords survey. You can read the full survey (with an informative slide show) HERE.
Key Findings of the 2015 Smashwords Survey
For the first time we analyzed the percentage of books born as preorders (as opposed to simply uploaded the day of release) and compared the sales of preorder-birthed books to non-preorder books. During the survey period, less than 10 percent of books were born as a preorder, even though this feature has been available to Smashwords authors since mid 2013. Yet despite the low usage, two thirds of our top 200 bestselling titles were born as preorders.
2. Series with free series starters earn more money. For the first time we analyzed the difference in sales between series with free series and starters and series without free series starters. We looked at our 200 bestselling series with a free series starter and our 200 bestselling series without free series starters. Then we added up the numbers and compared them. First we looked at the average. The free series starter group earned 66% more
3. Free still works to build readership. For each survey year, we've looked at how free ebook downloads compare to paid downloads using iBooks as our apples to apples comparison each year (bad pun, sorry!). In the 2014 Survey, we found that free books got 39 times more downloads than priced books, down dramatically from 91x in 2013 and 100X in 2012. I expected the power of free to fall further this year, given that this secret - which I've been advocating for nearly eight years - helps authors earn more money. The result for 2014? 41x. The effectiveness of free increased despite the glut of free books.
4. Longer books sell better than shorter books. This finding is consistent with each of the prior year's surveys, though as I mention in the presentation, this year's finding comes with a lot more caveats. In a nutshell, I suspect the rise of multi-author box sets, often at deep discount prices, is probably throwing off the data this year, and as I discuss in the presentation, some of the dynamics will cause it to understate impact of longer books and some will cause it to overstate it.
5. $3.99 remains the sweet spot for full length indie fiction. For the third year in a row, authors sold more units and earned more overall income with books priced at $3.99. This is significant because it counters the concern of some authors that the glut of high-quality will lead to ever lower prices. For great authors, readers are still willing to pay. The pricing, earnings and unit sales data we share has been remarkably consistent now for four years, especially when you consider how this translates to a competitive advantage for indie ebook authors compared to traditionally published ebook authors.
6. 99 cents is still good for building readership, but not as good as $2.99 and $3.99. And from an earnings perspective, 99 cents underperforms the average of all other prices by about 65%.
7. Avoid $1.99. For the fourth year in a row, $1.99 was a black hole in terms of overall earnings. On a unit sales basis, although $1.99 books outperformed all books priced $5.00 and above, it dramatically underperformed on overall earnings, earning 73% less than the average of all other price points.
8. Bestselling authors and social media. Bestselling authors are more likely to have a presence on Facebook and Twitter, and more likely to have a blog. Not a huge surprise, though it's worth noting there are plenty of successful authors who have minimal presence on social media.
1. Romance. 2. Erotica. 3. YA and teen fiction. 4. Fantasy. 5. Mystery & detective. 6. Gay and lesbian fiction. 7. Science fiction. 8. Historical. 9. Thriller & suspense. 10. Adventure.
10. Top 10 Non-fiction categories during the one year period: 1. Biography. 2. Health, wellbeing and medicine. 3. Business & economics. 4. Self-improvement. 5. Religion & spirituality. 6. Relationships and family. 7. Sports and outdoor recreation. 8. Education and study guides. 9. New age. 10. Computers & Internet.
You can read the full survey along with an informative slide show HERE.