How to Sell Your Book on the iBookstore - why does this work?
My own experience strays from conventional "wisdom". iBookstore outsells every other outlet by 4-1. And I'll get into this below - the key questions are 1) How come? 2) What can we do better? 3) WTF - where's Amazon?
The test was simple: Format and throw a dozen or more books at all the top distributors and see what they did with them. These included Amazon, Kobo, B&N, Apple, Google Books, and aggregators Smashwords and Lulu. All got epub-formatted books.
Results after a month:
Amazon - 11,
Kobo - 21,
iBookstore - 45,
B&N - 0,
Google Books - 0,
Lulu 1 (a print version),
Smashwords - 3.
( Notes: a) This report isn't fair to Smashwords. First, they only started accepting epubs a week or so ago, and second, they are the most restrictive about what I can send there. b) Lulu also acted as aggregator for iBookstore and B&N.)
The outlier is iBookstore. What are they doing so very right for a self-published writer compared to all the rest?
To begin with, each book had been published as both PDF and print version on Lulu, starting as early as 2006. The books were simply re-formatted for epub and given new titles, covers, descriptions, and tags as needed. Pricing was generally kept at 2.99, and a couple at .99 - these are the 2 price points which used to work on Amazon during it's hey-day of KDP Select (before they changed the algorithm - see: storify.com/robertworstell/... )
Studies show that Amazon isn't what it used to be. Statistics are doing their usual song-and-dance, but tell that the big box giant may be around (or even below) 50% at this point, down from their peak of 90% just a few years back. Might be time to leave the walled garden...
How to Beat Amazon at their own Game (or game Amazon...)
When you look at that article, you see that around May 2012, Amazon shifted it's algorithm so as to de-emphasize both low-cost sales and free downloads on their KDP Select scene. Since none of these books were on that program, this shouldn't have been a factor. My low sales on Amazon are simply based on being your typical invisible new author. Best sales were from my one re-titled "How to Completely Change Your Life in 30 Seconds", which is 4-1 over anything else on Amazon and Kobo.
Here's the pages for each of where I am or should be getting sales (doesn't exist on Smashwords). Open them all in tabs (or windows) so you can spot the differences:
None of them have reviews. And per "conventional wisdom", this is the problem right there. Nope. How come I sold 19 of them on the iBookstore, 8 on Amazon and 0 on Nook (B&N)?
As well, how is it that I sold another 26 other books on iBookstore which were all priced higher ($2.99)?
It's the layout. iBookstore gives you no ratings if you don't have any, and also no "Customers also bought" if they didn't. However, what they do right is to give the "other books by the same author" as the default display. (Lulu has this, also, but you have to scroll way down to find it bottom right.)
Amazon and Nook make you click a link to find author's books. iBookstore shows them right there - about 5 of them.
1. New books (and authors) do best at Apple, least well at B&N. Amazon apparently depends on tricks like their exclusive KDP Select to get a new and unknown book moving. Meanwhile, you are losing sales you could have had if you post a book only with them.
2. A deep "back bench" will give you better results at Apple. Meaning that you can, as was reported in the Storify article above, stick to writing more books to get a higher average income. Again, this was the same 14 books at each bookseller, which isn't what your average newbie author is going to have laying around.
(A point here - more than half were based on re-edited/compiled Public Domain works, so this also points to the author links iBookstore includes as adding to sales. Smashword strictly won't deal with PD or PLR works, so this basically kept them out of this study.)
What could be done to improve this scene?
The second influence, apparent after the Amazon KDP Select failure, was to find out what should be done to market books.
Again, the winning ticket is to understand, but ignore what passes for conventional "wisdom" - and look to underlying natural/historic systems for answers.
That public domain books are selling at all has to do with the title/cover/description/tags/pricing upgrades. Categories mostly were the same. So an author has to spend a key bit of time on these in order to have an impression worth buying. Quality of the writing could affect on the preview as well as subsequent sales.
Outside of that, we have to look to evergreen marketing approaches for explanation. And these are most recently championed by Mark Coker in his books and blogs on ebook marketing.
1. Get there and stay there - Once your book lands at Apple, don't remove it.
2. Link to Apple in your promotions (most authors who self-promote only put Amazon links out there.)
3. Sales lead to more sales, which means: a) you are building your audience, as each reader can add several more; b) each sale raises your sales rank in Apple's eyes; c) their merchandising team will see this increase and supplement it (see below); d) you wind up in their "customers who bought this" section, which is more visibility.
Merchandising teams are always looking for ways to move their stock. The "end caps" which are in stores, exist on-line as "customers who bought this" and also special mention on "new and notables". Key point is to build a fan base at that distribution point - which goes back to never taking your books out of circulation, and always pointing traffic to that distributor. Fans will also propel sales of new books. If you're using Smashwords to distribute into the iBookstore, then they'll pitch a new book of yours to the Apple team - if your earlier ones sold well. A last point (beyond never badmouthing any distribution line, which is common sense and common courtesy) is to tweet @iBookstore with a link to your book, saying something complementary about them or the fans there.
In his Secrets book above, the key takeaway is to get your book in front of as many eyes as possible. This is the same thing which drives McDonald's, Wal-Mart, and any successful franchise or chain store success. There are lots of related details, which fill up the rest of the book, but that is the key point we can rely on. Historically, it's a given: more eyeballs = more sales.
But why is iBookstore such a success?
It's pretty simple - they have a lot of devices out there, which can all now show books through their built-in iTunes apps.
For any author, the real takeaway is to ensure your book looks and acts great on a smartphone. It's got about a 50% chance of winding up on one.
Now, these above also go into Android systems, which are on far more devices. But Google hasn't apparently gotten very serious about selling ebooks there. However, putting your books on Google Books will give more links to your distribution points, making these easier to be found. So maybe getting sales there might be an added bonus?
The strategy for self-publishing authors becomes:
1) Write a damned good book. Copy-edit it even better.
2) Carefully get a professional cover, emotion-evoking descriptions, accurate categories and tags, correct pricing for that book.
2) Post it every on every outlet you can for sales. (Means ignore Amazon's exclusivity program.)
3) Link to all these distributors everywhere you can.
4) Of your social media efforts, be sure to include tweeting @iBookstore with the link - on top of (and before) everything else.
5) Spend the bulk of your time writing the next damned good book.
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PS. It's not that any of the rest are doing anything wrong. Each are taking care of business in their own style - and each should get all the books you can publish there. Apple is more new-author friendly, is all. And you won't find me complaining about any book sales, the once I didn't (yet) get are still out there...
And if you want to see the line-up of books I submitted to these guys: