As Once Upon a Mulberry Field approaches the six-month mark since its publication date, I think it’s time for me to take a bird’s eye view of my eBook sales to try to understand this relatively new market. Being an unknown debut author, I’m aware that whatever data I can gather on my book to this date will be rather limited and unique to my own situation, but I still want to examine the numbers and see what I can learn from them.
Mulberry Field debuted in February in both paperback and eBook editions. As an eager newbie to the industry, I had decided, maybe unwisely, to experiment a little and not to enlist right away in the exclusive KDP-Select program with Amazon. So I came out with 2 eBook versions: the Kindle (or Mobi) version, which was assigned an internal control number (ASIN) by Amazon-KDP; and the epub version with its own ISBN (as required by some distributors) for the non-Kindle world.
Having heard how tough it might be to qualify for the Premium Program at some online distributors, I played it safe and hired a highly-recommended contractor to convert my MS-Word manuscript into the appropriate Mobi and epub files. I was also advised to use Smashwords as my distributor and let them interface with the more fussy customers (Apple-iTunes, Baker & Taylor) and the myriad of online eBook stores—except for three, which I was told I should deal with directly, without Smashwords as the middleman. The three exceptions were: KDP (Amazon), NookPress (Barnes and Noble), and Kobo (which used to belong to Border book stores). The argument was that these three outfits have simple submission guidelines, which I myself could easily follow and carry out without enlisting the (paid) service of a third party. After all, a penny saved is a penny earned. And so that was exactly what I did.
It might be worth mentioning that while it took me less than 24 hours to submit and go live on KDP, Nookpress, and Kobo, it would take Smashwords more than a month (doing heaven knows what on my behalf) to qualify my eBook and take it live on Apple-iTunes and Baker & Taylor. So there must have been some validity to the advice I received earlier.
With the background thus laid out, let’s take a look at my eBook sales so far and see what kind of story they may reveal. This is all the more important since there’s been a definite crossover in Mulberry Field total sales from paperback to eBook, which happened as the sales transitioned from my personal support network to the general reading public out there.
As expected, Kindle (Amazon-KDP) gets the lion’s share of the sales at 81% of the total. Apple-iTunes and Nookpress compete neck and neck for a distant second place at 8.3% and 7.1%, respectively. The remaining 3.6% is divided between Baker & Taylor (whom the public libraries buy from), and Scribd (an all-you-can-read book rental that will now have to compete head on with the brand-new Kindle Unlimited). Noticeably absent from this picture is Kobo, which netted zero sale over the past 6 months. This might also be related to the rumors I’ve heard from my writer friends that their eBook sales at Kobo have mysteriously dwindled since the Japanese conglomerate Rakuten bought control of the company in 2012.
It thus appears that Amazon-KDP still dominates the eBook market, a position that will only get strengthened with the arrival of Kindle Unlimited. So for new authors, the issue boils down to this: Should they forego the non-Kindle market right out of the gate and sign up exclusively with KDP-Select so they can take advantage of the promotional tools that come with it? Or should they just test the whole market and try to seize all sales opportunities, and then depending on the results, transition to an exclusive deal with KDP-Select down the road? In which case, what would be an optimum transition period? 3 months after the book launch? 6 months? A year? Is it ever too late to switch?
I hope other writers will chime in to share their thoughts and experiences on this matter. Every book is different for sure, but there’s always some information we can glean from each new situation.