Does Discount Book Promotion Work?
Monday, January 18 2016 @ 02:15 PM CST
Contributed by: Andy Updegrove
It seems as if more and more entrepreneurs are jumping into the book promotion e-newsletter business. The good news is that there are many services to choose from. Predictably, the bad news is that most produce few sales, and sometimes none at all. As with almost everything else in the self-publishing world, there’s no convenient source to consult to find out what works, and what doesn’t. In this post, I’ll provide the results of my own experiences as a starting point for others to work from. I’ll also provide advice on how to choose the services that may work best for you, and how to get accepted by the most competitive services.
Does Size Matter? First of all, let’s describe the product we’re looking into. In most cases, it’s provided by a vendor that has, through one means or another, compiled a list of addresses to which it sends book promotion notices. That list may be made up entirely of subscribers that opted in, or it could be a database of unknown provenance that someone bought, and which contains the addresses of those recipients that on any given date haven’t been asked to be removed. Obviously, there’s quite a different sales potential between those two lists.
The newsletter owner may send a single newsletter to the entire list, or it may have a categorized lists, the product of subscribers indicating which genres of books they’d like to buy. So a list that says it will send a newsletter to 10,000 recipients who are interested in your book’s genre is likely to be more useful than one that sends a single newsletter to 10,000 readers of all tastes.
The result is that while claimed numbers of recipients are important, they’re only a starting point for making a choice. My experience suggests that often the correlation between list size and sales is weak.
Perhaps most importantly, most lists will include free offers as well as discount offers. If most of the books are freebies, the chance of someone buying a promo book may therefore be lower. The relative prices of other books are also worthy of note: if most of the discount books are at $0.99 and you are priced at $2.99, your book isn’t going to look as appealing.
In addition to its newsletter, each service will post the books from that day’s newsletter(s) on its website. Some will also tweet the book. And a few provide packages that are more extensive, including (for example) your book at their site for a period of time and/or a period of sustained tweeting. I suspect that these extra services aren’t very effective, but I don’t have any data to back that up.
Exclusivity: Groucho Marx famously observed that he wouldn’t want to belong to any club that would accept him as a member. That’s a good line to keep in mind when you investigate a promotional service. If you can book a date the same week that you’re trying to do so, the service obviously isn’t doing well on the supply side, and therefore isn’t likely to be showcasing books of a very high a quality. So as a generality, the longer you have to wait to get a spot, the more likely it is that it’s a spot worth waiting for.
For the same reason, you’d like to get a placement in a newsletter that is very picky about the quality of the books that it accepts, and the pickier the better. The reason is that it probably has more subscribers that buy more books. .We’ll talk about how to get accepted by a service like this farther along in this piece.
Price: There are a few common price points among the services, but there are substantial differences between the pack and the outliers. The majority have a single service that costs around $25; some will offer a discount (e.g., $18.50 for your next placement) to get you to come back. Others charge more, and some offer a variety of packages at a range of prices.
Surprisingly, price doesn’t always have as much to do with results as you might expect. EReader News Today (ENT), generally thought to be the second most effective service, is a comparative bargain, with costs ranging from $25 to $50, depending on the genre of your book.
Many services have additional options. For a higher fee, for example, ENT will make your submission its “Book of the Day,” and give it more prominent placement. Others might write a blog entry about your book for an extra fee. Still others, like BooksButterfly, have prices that vary by the number of subscribers your book is exposed to.
The wildly more expensive service is BookBub, where the costs vary by genre, (and reader base), ranging from $80 (humor) to $940 (Crime Fiction) for a single day’s placement in the US, UK, Canada and India; 80% of the genres cost from $200 to $730 for a book discounted to $0.99. You can, however, apply for placements by country for much less (and presumably with proportionately fewer sales). Prices for just the UK for a book discounted to less than £1, for example, range from just $10 to $110.
According to the same chart linked above, BookBub is one of the few services where you stand a chance of making money rather than losing it through a promotion. For example, a worldwide thriller ad would cost $740 and would be sent to 2,560,000 recipients – more than 25 times more subscribers than any other service I’m aware of. BookBub says that on average, that same Thriller ad would produce $2,740 in sales. Even if your book was priced at $0.99 at Amazon, you’d more than break even. If fact, you’d be likely to do better, since the average quoted includes sales of books at higher prices ($1.99 and $2.99).
Making a Choice: Put all that together, and here are some ways to tell if a given service is good for you:
- Be sure the service provider quotes an actual number of subscribers, and compare it to services you know can produce results, and with others from a price comparison point of view.
- Subscribe for the service providers’ free newsletter, and compare the prices of the books they list. If the service has almost all freebies and you want to run a discount, that service may not be for you. Some services don’t show whether a book is free or at a price. Instead, they provide a buy button that takes you directly to your book page, making a purchase only one more click away, and making it harder for a subscriber to screen books by price. That’s a good for discount authors.
- Check out whether the service categorizes its newsletters by reader preference. It makes sense to assume that someone that gets a newsletter with two or three books in her favorite genre is more likely to buy one than if she gets a daily newsletter with fifteen books, only one or two of which are her favorite genre. And a long newsletter is a lot less likely to get skimmed by someone having a busy day.
- Be sure the price makes sense, but don’t depend on getting your money back.
Getting Chosen: As noted, a site that takes every book isn’t worth spending money on. So how do you make the grade? Here’s what promoters look for (you can often find a given promoter’s criteria at its site, which is a good sign):
- Does your book have a dynamite cover? This may be the single most important criterion
- Does it have at least 5/10/more favorable reviews (see the site’s criteria)
- Does it have at least a 4.0 star rating at Amazon?
- What is its Amazon rank on the day you apply for the ad?
- Is it available through channels in addition to Amazon (e.g., B&N, iBooks, GooglePlay, Kobo, etc.)? Some services don’t care; others (like BookBub) do
- Is your book priced right for that distributor (usually, $0.99 is the price that’s easiest to get accepted)
- Can you be flexible with your timing? If so, it’s easier for the service to fit you in
BookBub has a tips article at its blog that provides a more extensive list of what it looks for, and you would be wise to try to score as highly as you can on each category regardless of which service you’re submitting to. Interestingly, none of the newsletter sites I’ve visited mention your book’s Amazon rank as a gating factor. That said, it appears from my own experience and that of other authors I’ve talked to that a book with a rank indicating some degree of sales is much more likely to be picked than one languishing below 500,000 in the “all books” list.
What are Promotion Goals? Before you start your campaign, you should decide what your priorities are. They might include:
- Getting the largest number of potential readers possible, so that your book has the largest chance of going viral, leading to further sales (if so, you might want to try a free promotion, but note that downloads don’t equal readers, and you may get more people reading your book at a discount)
- Boosting your page rank at Amazon so it will be more visible (if so, you will likely want to try to stack a number of promotions on the same day so that the sales compound)
- Generating sustaining sales (if so, you would want to space your promotions out over time)
- Having your promotion pay for itself (if so, you may need to spend more, and restrict your promotions to services with the best results)
Of course, your newsletter promotions should be well-integrated into your other marketing efforts so that they coordinate to maximum effect.
Designing a Campaign. So – you’ve written a new book, you’ve decided what you want to achieve and you’re ready to start. How do you do that?
Make sure that all of the elements of your presentation are professional and effective: cover, website, product page at Amazon, blurbs, and so on. Your cover is particularly important, so don’t scrimp there.
Next, you need reviews. Of course, since you’ve read the list of gating criteria above, you already know that you’ve got a chicken and egg problem. Before you can promote your book through newsletters, you’ll need to have sold books and gotten reviews. Amazon makes it even harder, because if you give away review copies, Amazon might decide not to list the resulting reviews, so a good idea is to line up your reviewers, and then discount your book to $0.99 so they can buy your book inexpensively.
Once you do have at least five reviews (ten would be better, and strongly advised by some vendors), pick your target services, and check their criteria. If you already have a high Amazon rank, you can go straight to the best services available that you’re willing to pay for. If you haven’t been able to boost your sales, then you can work your way up by starting with the easier of the sites to access, running several promotions on the same day.
A day before your combined promotion day, register your book at ENT, so that they’ll check your book out when your book’s rank is peaking, or not long thereafter. In the days leading up to your ENT promotion day, pull out all the stops on your other marketing activities so that your book peaks at as high a rank as possible. And the day before your ENT promotion runs, register your book at BookBub.
It’s important to note that you shouldn’t stop there, unless you’re lucky enough to have your book really take off. Otherwise, you should consider laying out a schedule for the next twelve months that runs promotions at appropriate intervals at the newsletters that work best for you, based on a budget you can afford. But be aware: the players are changing all the time, with the effectiveness of some services waning while others wax. The moral is to monitor your results closely, and adjust who you use accordingly.
Which Services Work Best? With that by way of prelude, here are the services I’ve tried, along with their prices and my results. In reading these results, keep in mind that sales may differ somewhat based on the day of the week your sale runs (I’m told by one provider that you should avoid weekends), the genre of your book, the mix of books in the newsletter the day it runs, how much impact your other marketing efforts are having, and other variables. Where I’ve used a service more than once, I’ve provided all results.
|EReader News Today (cost varies by program and genre)||
Book of the Day
Cost varies by program
28 (boosted by other efforts)
|Bargain eBook Hunter (HotZippy)||$22.50||5|
|The Books Machine||$20||1|
|My Book Cave||Free||1|
|ManyBooks||$19 (discount from 25)||1|
Conclusions: If you do the math, you’ll see that I sold 287 books. Since each sale was at $0.99, that means that these sales generated about $86, against total costs of about $425. The closest any of the promotions came to breaking even was the ENT sale, where a $60 investment yielded about $25. Unfortunately, none of these promotions, or even all of them combined (together with my other marketing efforts) resulted in a sustained daily sales rate. So from a near-term perspective, the cost was a total write-off.
Note that the economics change dramatically, however, if you have a higher priced book, and discounted to $2.99, which would earn you a 70% royalty on $2.99 rather than a 30% royalty on $0.99. Had I made the same number of sales at that rate, I would earned a profit. So authors with name recognition and the ability to command higher prices might do much better than I did, despite the fact that some of the sites charge more to list higher priced books.
The long term conclusion remains open, although still poor from the return on investment point of view. Poor, because even if every book was read and every reader bought a second book, I’d still be behind financially, and my chance of a breakout remains low.
Looked at from that perspective (and on a sample set of exactly one), using promotional newsletters as a sales tool doesn’t appear to be worthwhile. Based on what I’ve learned so far, I’ll likely restrict my use of this tool to ENT and (assuming success in getting accepted) BookBub.
If you’ve tried this approach before, I’d love to hear how you’ve done, and which services worked best for you. And if you’ve found this piece useful, well, The Lafayette Campaign just happens to be on sale today for just $0.99. And if you haven't become a Friend of Frank yet, well, for Pete's sake, what are you waiting for?
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