eBook Case Study And Experience Selling eBooks

First, I should point out some major differences between my own eBook sales and selling eBooks for Kindle or iPhone. I am selling PDF files using eJunkie as the download service and PayPal as the credit card processor. This is a very different than selling to registered customers who are buying yet another eBook for their sunk-cost device with a single-click through from a trusted big name vendor. It also means that my eBook sales have zero dependence on the cataloging or ranking of a retailer site. This case study is a follow up to an earlier post in which I tried to establish if eBook sales were hurting print sales.

I chose the awkward time period of this case study, May 9th to Dec 31st of four successive years, because the eBook edition of my business title went on sale May 9th of 2008 and I wanted to compare apples-to-apples as much as possible. The reason I give paper book sales data for two years prior to the release of the eBook is to show that a downward trend was already in place for this eight year old title. In addition to actual eBook sales, I show Ingram sales (which represent the majority of paper book sales for this title), Amazon Associate sales (direct buyers from the FonerBooks website) and the number of hits on the order pages for the book. Now, on to the sales data:

Period May 9 to Dec 31st, Paper $14.95 (Amazon $13.45), eBook $11.95:

2006 – 807 Ingram, 0 eBooks
2007 - 694 Ingram, 0 eBooks
2008 – 498 Ingram, 159 eBooks
2009 – 569 Ingram, 165 eBooks

Now the combined unit sales and a look at the website marketing, including Amazon Associates sales and hits on the order page(s) for the book:

2006 – 807 unit sales, 183 Associates, 5,348 Order Page
2007 – 694 unit sales, 160 Associates, 4,648 Order Page
2008 – 657 unit sales, 83 Associates, 4,691 Order Page, 777 eOrder Page
2009 – 734 unit sales, 97 Associates, 5,115 Order Page, 805 eOrder Page

Perhaps the economic events of 2008 had a direct impact on the sales for this title about starting a business. It’s also important to note that two directly competing titles appeared on Amazon in late 2007. The sell through for the eBook, once customers click through to the eOrder page and are confronted by the license agreement and the PayPal symbol, is higher than 20% for both years. The Amazon Associates sales for the paper book dropped by almost 50% when I started selling eBooks direct, yet the eBook sales nearly doubled the lost Associate sales. International eBook buyers who suddenly have a low cost way to get the book account for part of that difference.

The main sales drivers for this title are the extensive excerpts available for free on the FonerBooks website and its visibility on Amazon (paper book only), which was built over the years. The book seems to be widely available through piracy sites, and likely was before I even began selling an unprotected PDF version. I haven’t gone through the exercise of trying to download pirated copies because I don’t put that much trust in my antivirus software and I don’t find it beneficial to my mental health. Going by Google's auto complete results, there are plenty of people looking for a freebie on file sharing sites (my more popular titles also show similar queries, including the word "free"):

The experience of selling eBooks using the simple combination of eJunkie and PayPal is working very well. Of the 1207 eBooks sold (four different titles) in 2009, there were a total of eight PayPal disputes initiated, less than one tenth of one percent. Six of the eight disputes resulted in somebody getting a free eBook, whether or not it was the intended customer isn’t clear. PayPal labeled two as “bank returns”, two as “temporary holds” that apparently became permanent, one as “non receipt” (I assume they couldn’t find the file on their hard drive) and one as a credit card company “charge back” which resulted in a $10 loss. Two of the disputes were resolved in my favor. I also issued six refunds unilaterally after noticing customers never downloaded the eBook they had paid for, and I don’t believe I ever heard from any of them. The only other overhead has been regular requests, perhaps one a month, to replace lost eBooks. Overall, I may spend fifteen or twenty minutes a week managing the eBook sales. The graph shows a strong seasonality to my eBook sales, I wonder if other publishers have seen anything similar?

I also started selling my most recent print title as an eBook for the first time this month, and overall eBook sales are up around 40% over the previous January. This should give me some data to contrast with the book published earlier that year, when I started selling the eBook a couple months before releasing the print book. Now that I’m selling three eBooks on a related subject, I’ve started seeing triple orders, one a week so far. When somebody purchases an eBook, comes back a half hour later and purchases the next one, and then returns an hour after that and purchases the last one, I take it as a vote of confidence in the quality. Only one of the three eBooks makes any mention of one of the others, and that’s at the very back, so it’s not a question of push marketing.

Readers may also be interested in a full life cycle, six year case study for a POD book I posted a few months ago. Also note that Andrew Savakis of O'Reilly has published several interesting number posts on O'Reilly's eBook sales in the past couple months, along with an argument that smartphones are the future of eBooks.

O'Reilly Tools of Change for Publishing Conference 2010


Mike Piper said...

"Perhaps the economic events of 2008 had a direct impact on the sales for this title about starting a business."

That was my experience. The sales of each of my two small business tax-related books dropped by approximately 50% between Sept 08 and Oct 08. They both picked back up again in Jan 09.

Meredith Greene said...

We also write eBooks and ell them online interdependently via our website; we use a combo of Payloadz ans Paypal for seamless delviery.

We began selling five eNovels at $6.99 each in January of 2008 and sold just under $1000 worth that year, enough to claim on our taxes. In 2009, howeve, the amount sold dwindled to less than half the volume of the previous year but we made up for the stagnation by offering month-long $1 promotion sales.

On the other hand of eBook sales, titles sold through the Kindle Store seem to have finally picked up after a year of sitting on page 7,234 of available books. We also contacted Scroll Motion to have our eBooks put into Iceberg for iPhone, hoping that this will generate more sales. We've also brnached out to Lulu eBook creation though--like Kindle and Iceberg--this will mean yet another percentage comes off the top.
Despite the tough economy leading more folks to buy the vastly less expensive eBooks, the average consumer is yet reluctant to part with their money; the libraries however are gaining popularity.

Morris Rosenthal said...


Thanks for sharing. I looked into PayLoadZ before choosing eJunkie, I didn't like PayLoadZ's legal agreement. When I contacted them about the bizzare claim of rights to use whatever content they wanted without prior consent, they blew me off, so I haven't had anything good to say about them:-)