New PDF Ebook Sales Data And Problems

I started selling a new ebook three weeks ago, procrastinated posting this week until I could pull some data together and resolve some customer service issues. I used Microsoft Word from Office 2007 to produce the PDF file, which worked out pretty good, and I didn't employ any copy protection this time around. After discussing it with my lawyer, I went with a "click" agreement on the order page that states:

Your paid download of this ebook from Foner Books grants you a non-transferable license to retain an electronic copy of the PDF file for reading and to print one copy for personal use in your home or business. You may not create copies of this ebook or excerpts therof, whether electronic or printed on paper, for sale or distribution.

The order process is pretty balky, I'm using PayPal for the payment processor and E-Junkie for the download service. I looked at a couple other download services, but their legal agreements struck me as bizarre, like insisting they could do anything they wanted with your ebook content for the sake of promoting their own business. If somebody gives me a lead for a better method that I end up using, I'll offer a free Foner Books T-shirt as a bounty:-)

In the first 20 days, I sold 30 copies, with exactly half of them being purchased by US residents. The majority of the non-US sales were to UK and Australia, but included single sales to Austria, The Netherlands and Ireland. I was slightly surprised by the 50/50 split, because a strong majority of my web traffic is from the US. It's possible that the weak US dollar made the $13.95 ebook look very inexpensive overseas, but I suspect it has more to do with higher ebook acceptance outside the US.

The 30 ebook sales have already resulted in two claims being filed with PayPal, though it's impossible for me to know whether they were actually fraudulent usage of accounts or buyer's remorse. In one case, the ebook was never downloaded, so I refunded that one immediately, in the other case, the ebook was downloaded from E-Junkie twice, so I'm going through the dispute resolution process to see what happens.

In three more cases, the customers went for days without downloading the ebook, so I wrote them directly to ask if there was a problem. One e-mail bounced, so I just issued a refund. One downloaded the e-book right after I wrote (I pointed out that the buyers should check their bulk or spam folder to make sure the download link wasn't trashed) and the other wrote back to admit confusion with the whole process. I resent him the E-junkie link to download the ebook, and he succeeded.

My goal when I started out was to sell one copy a day, so I'm happy enough on that account, but I wonder if the balky ordering process is costing me sales. I've fooled around each week with a different sales pitch and progression to the order page, but I haven't seen that make any difference in the sales tempo. I think it goes back to the concept that there are buyers and browsers, and the people who want to buy the ebook will jump through a couple hoops to get there.


Bryan Rosner said...


1. I absolutely despise the paypal / outside download setup you are using. I think it is clunky and unprofessional. I use Yahoo! stores which is just a tad more expensive but very professional, streamlined, and integrated. No paypal, no outside website, etc. You can fool around with it on my website and pretend to order something. It has a slick integrated download thing too for downloading e-books.

2. It scares me a bit that your PDF is unprotected, a few of the best books in my niche got out on the net and are now completely valueless. Or I guess you could look at it like they have more value now because everyone knows the book and the author? That's for you to analyze.

3. $13.95 is too cheap. I would go with $19.95 or even $22.95. I have done some pretty extensive experimentation with price sensitivity curve stuff and turns out in almost any case, the lost sales from charging a bit more come no where near cancelling out the increased revenue. In today's inflated society, $13.95 is like a few gallons of gas or a hamburger. How many pages is the book?

3. Last thought: something other than copyright piracy which has deterred me from E-books is the fact that you don't enjoy the same distribution. Of course there are some places that distribute E-books, maybe amazon being one of them, but the paths to that part of the amazon store are nowhere near as well troden as the paths to the hard-copy part of their store. Also along these lines, I think people are more likely to keep, recommend, and value paper books than e-books. A paper book is harder to throw away, harder to file away, and easier to recommend. Personally I have noticed this in my own life. I have downloaded a few e-books which even though valuable I can no longer find -- they are somewhere in stacks of paper around my house. Yet your book, POD publishing, is sitting right on my front shelf. A "real book" just feels easier to keep. This is a dogma which has existed for centuries and no matter how much you have it figured out in your head that e-books are good, your audience doesn't and won't for a long time think that way.

Anyway, just a few rambling thoughts.


Morris Rosenthal said...


1. I'll look at Yahoo stores, I agree almost anything would be an improvement.

2. I have a legal post in the hopper that may help explain it, but the summary is, "been there, done that."

3. I have considered going up on the price, but for the moment, I have to keep it under my paper book prices to prevent PayPal from adding shipping and handling charges due to the way I set up originally.

4. I'm entirely indifferent to distribution for ebooks. With my website as the sole source, I can easily change the content or the price without having to mess round too much.

I do plan to get a paper book out in a month or so, but I intentionally led with the ebook to see how the dynamic changes when both are available and promoted through my site.


Sander Stoks said...

I've read through a lot of postings on the forums over at, and it seems your price would sooner be considered too high.

People seem to feel "a few dollars" is a good price for an ebook. Even if you don't use any DRM, people apparently feel it's way too risky to spend a lot of money on an electronic book shelf since paper books keep their value for a much longer time. Of course, focuses on mobile ebook reading devices, whose life time is probably even worse than a generic computer's.

My paper book sells for $22.99, and I ask $5.99 for the ebook version. I haven't really started marketing the ebook version yet, but I've sold a handful of copies. I also use PayPal, and use my own site for downloading (I generate a special PDF with the name of the buyer on the title page, as a kind of "social DRM"). See my site if you like.

Morris Rosenthal said...


Never heard of mobileread, will have to check it out when I have time.

If my ebook was a thrown together collection of this or that, I might consider selling it for a few bucks. But it's a 180 page technical book and I'm not motivated to give it away.

My pricing on ebooks in the past, when selling restricted files with full, clunky DRM, was $14.95, and I was netting over $500 a month without impacting paper book sales, which were priced the same. So this ebook is already being sold at a big discount. And I don't think there's any risk in holding onto a PDF.

I tried the link to your site, didn't work. Feel free to send it to me directly. Are you generating the PDF automatically (on the fly) or are you generating the PDF and emailing it as an attachment when you happen to get online and see the e-mail? I considered doing that, but decided I wanted the immediate shipping of a download site integrated with PayPal. Not sure it's that important.


Bryan Rosner said...

It all depends on the value of what you are selling. I think I could sell my books for $75/book without taking much of a sales hit, but instead I sell them for $35 on my website and $46 on amazon (although, per amazon's perogative, they have been discounting lately, which is fine with me as me and the customer win, while amazon eats the difference).

The point is that I sell info on recovering from Lyme disease, and I would call this "inelastic" demand, meaning that people will buy it pretty much no matter how broke they are or what the economy is doing.

I think Morris' laptop book is one step down as far as inelasticity goes, but still very valuable -- a new laptop is far more pricey than spending a few dollars on the book and maybe a replacement part.

Further down the ladder are books on things like bird watching, hunting, etc., which do need to be priced fairly low because the demand is highly elastic.

Lastly, you have books about things that are totally irrelevant, maybe a book on how to categorize family photos. These require the lowest price.

I have no problem charging what I do for my books because I know the info in them is probably worth 10 times what I charge.

Just some thoughts.


Sander Stoks said...

Hi Morris,

I recently got a new IP address; perhaps not all DNSes have been updated yet. In a few days should be updated everywhere.

My price point was set with piracy in mind. The idea is that you are basically competing with "free", even with your own books. I find this apalling, but I realize "we producers of content in the internet age" have to live with this fact and somehow incorporate it in our business plan. What I understood is that if your own selling site turns up in a quick Google search _and_ it is priced below the point where it's considered "worthwhile" to look on the darknet for a pirated copy, _and_ it's "easy" to order and download the ebook, _and_ it's not encumbered with DRM so that people can't read it on their device of choice, they may actually buy it. I'm not making $500/month with this ebook yet though, so perhaps I'm wrong.

As for the technicalities: Upon successful PayPal transaction, the buyer is redirected to a specific page on my site. PayPal offers an API to retrieve the buyer's name via a transaction ID, so I generate a new PDF with this name embedded. This takes about a minute or so (my server is not that beefy), after which I simply present a link where the buyer can download the book.

Also, the ebook version is specifically formatted for an electronic reader with a small screen (8"), so it's not the same PDF as I send to Lightning Source.

Morris Rosenthal said...


Everything is price sensitive. Start by assuming a million dollar price tag for your books, you won't sell any copies. At a hundred thousand, doubt it, etc. Somewhere, probably under $100, there's probably an ideal price, but one would have to be a pretty large publisher with a lot of patience to find that price, because you'd need large sample sizes.


Morris Rosenthal said...


I'm not in competition with pirates, I'm in competition with my paper books. There's no stopping some forms of overseas piracy, but the number of people who would be likely to leave my order page to go check a pirate site for my ebook before buying is tiny, if not vanishingly small. In my experience, people who are willing to pay for something will pay, and people who aren't won't. The price has some influence on whether the potential buyers will buy, but it doesn't turn them into illegal downloaders.

Interesting approach using the PayPal API. I try to stay away from programming these days so I'm sticking with turnkey for the time being. And on the reader topic, the particular ebook I just started selling can't be reformatted for smaller sizes, the flowcharts which are native 8.5" x 11" would be too small to read, and panning is a horrible solution.

Morris said...

Morris: Just wanted you to know that I read and appreciated every word of your book, "Print-On-Demand: Book Publishing." Not only does it contain great information, it is well written, practical, and specific. I liked the book so much that I have listed it on my storefront, and I am advertising it as well on my website: Keep up the good work.

buzz said... is a great way to get the PDF E-book to the purchaser. I've been very happy with it.

Morris Rosenthal said...


Thanks, that's one I hadn't come across. But I have to admit that I'm now pretty happy with e-junkie, selling 4 or 5 ebooks a day and haven't seen the download problem since I cut over to their "Thank You" page that includes the link on-screen.


Phil Davis said...

First of all, great article and great comments. I've never published an ebook (being in the print business) but I just told all the members in our community to come read this. Basically, why shouldn't we publish ebooks. It's just one more tactic to use. 30 books in 20 days is more than many self-publishing authors will sell. And you exposed your book to international customers, another huge point. Thanks for sharing.

Morris Rosenthal said...


You're very welcome. You might want to steer them to some of my more recent posts on the subject,

publishing ebooks with e-junkie and paypal


international ebook sales