New Author Earnings report. And…very good for indie #authors

The friendly folks at Author Earnings have taken it upon themselves to measure how much we’re making-at least if you’ve published anything, which I have not (yet- stay tuned, yung’ns). And a look at this says that if you’re an Author Going On Your Own (AGOYO), the bag is mostly good, but some data is still incomplete, IMO.

First, the bad: Indie book sales per title dropped from a high of $4.26 in October 2014 to $3.87. Some people might say this is great, lower prices=more sales, even if you give away the occasional freebie.

BUT (and there’s always one of these) the average e-book sale price of:

small/medium publisher- $9.53, down from $10.81 in October 2014

Amazon Imprint- $4.29, up from $3.95 in February 2015

Big 5 publisher: $9.83, higher than $9.58 in February 2015.

So while the authors who actually had their book published “legitimately” saw there average price per sale go up, indie sales went down. This isn’t great, because this is the average price for what people actually paid, sans freebies. A lot of this is due to authors who can “box” their books, 3 for 99 cents. This may drive total sales, but the cost per e-book is dropped way down. So what’s the actual sales volume?

may-2015-combined-titlecount

Small and medium indie publishers really took it here!

may-2015-combined-unitsales

201505-marketshare-trend-unitsales-datefix

This chart is significant. For the first time ever, 2015 saw the year where Indie sales actually surpassed the collective sales of the “Big Five”. But this is what happens when you charge $12.99 for an e-book, which is merely a digital file. B&B understands the need to pay for more than one editor, book cover designer, etc., but that is a LOT for an e-book. The authors least bothered? Those who earned success in the pre e-book era (pree-book)

Screen Shot 2015-05-03 at 3.28.19 PM

This is one of the charters I was looking for. Rather than a pie chart which just compares slices of pie versus the total sum, this one shows that every day, indies are selling about 370,000 books, about 100,000 more than “Big Five” published authors. Figure in the high pricing of the e-books.

Author Earnings has their own take on it, which you can read on your own. Here’s the B&B spin:

First, AE is missing one thing- total sales split between the bestsellers and total. The reason we need to see this is to know how much bestsellers are bringing up the market. While 370,000 a day is insanely good, what if the top 25 indies are selling 60% of that. Suddenly the numbers don’t look so appealing to the rest of us. The same with the other published- how many sales are by the bestsellers, versus the rest? I’d like to see that. I have a feeling more than half of total Big Five sales are from the big names and not the midlisters.

Now, to play devil’s advocate, the trad-pubs still have a lot to offer. Since many people still buy print books, medium and larger publishers still have that market cornered since most indies are not very good at handling their own shipping and distribution network. Book translations? Big pubs can take care of that faster than you can, and at no immediate cost to you (though the QUALITY of translation remains to be seen). Want to see your movie on the big screen? While a small number of indies have made it, the largest share of books-to-movies comes from trad-pubbed books. The biggest blockbuster franchises, besides 50 shades, are all trad-pubbed. Indies make a lot of money by quantity more than the other models have.

But the reality is in: cheaper, affordable e-books, written by people who have great stories and were simply not given the time of day by lit agents or publishers, are what readers crave. Authors who can connect with a loyal audience do much better than those who barely acknowledge their fans, except maybe for the occasional retweet or Facebook like. Authors who offer some promo item, whether a “buy 2 get 1 free” deal or a piece of merchandise with every print sale, can engage much faster and more efficiently than when your work is being managed by someone who has one too many authors to promote, and all of them are more famous and respected than you. Also, I am still amazed by how incompetent the publisher’s marketing is. The number one challenge is not to redistribute the wealth, but grow that pie of people reading for pleasure. Put me in charge and you will see book sales increase as I go out to engage kids and adults who might try a book 5 hours a week instead of more Netflix shows.

Finally, to  quote from Author Earning’s October 2014 report:

“What the data tells us, then, is that self-publishing is just as viable as any other form of publishing. Perhaps more so. No one can halt your career because an early title underperforms expectations. You get to hire the editors and cover artists you want to work with. You get to write whatever you want and publish whenever and however often you like. And you can publish every which way. Self-publishing used to close you off to other avenues, now it simply opens them up. Many authors publish in several ways simultaneously.”

“Every author will need to find their own path. There is no one right answer. If there’s anything the data tells us, it’s that readers are starving for great stories at fair prices, and whoever can deliver that consistently has a chance at earning income doing something they love. Maybe not a great chance at earning a full-time living, but a better chance than at any other time in human history. And that must be celebrated, however you crunch the numbers.”

So if you are indie or represented by a small/medium publisher, you could pop the bubbly right about now. While I do not cheer for the demise of the larger publishers, they had it coming. Without being able to tell the reader why one story was better than the other, their high-priced model faltered. Without being able to properly measure quality and an author’s ability to generate sales volume, rather focusing on the already-built “platform” which the author had without the publisher’s help, they struggled to move books. Without the appearance of customer-friendliness as opposed to selling to bookstores and wholesale distributors, they saw their numbers fall.

So if you’re indie, congrats. If not…I sincerely hope your book is getting turned into a movie or tv show soon. Like this author, whom I like a lot.

all graphs in this blogpost were originally published by AuthorEarnings.com

Can an Author be Successful Without a Huge Social Media Platform?

Could Steven King  land a book contract today for his debut novel without celebrity status or being know by the “in-crowd?”

photo credit: blogs.denverpost.com

As I have discovered since I decided to try to have my novel published, publishers care A LOT about an author’s social media platform in order to drive sales. Now I happen to be a public relations pro and so building a platform, however cost-effective at this time, is not a problem for me to want to do and do well. Many authors, however, are not very good at doing this, and thus is one reason I provide helpful tips on social media strategies (and coming soon, media appearance tips) to anyone who reads this blog or follows me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Having a social media strategy is a good thing. As an author you have to be able to sell yourself and it is unreasonable to think a publisher or agent will just book your tours, get you media appearances, or market your book while you kick back and do nothing but sign copies between working on your next novel. However, I agree to some extend with comments made by Seth Godin, founder of the website squidoo.com. At this week’s Digital Book World 2015 conference he said (emphasis mine):

“Not all of your authors want to be good at social media. Not all of them have something to say when they’re not writing their book,” he told publishers.

In Godin’s view, the emphasis on building author platforms has gone too far. If so many authors now approach social media as a part of their jobs in the digital era, it’s at least partly thanks to their publishers, who have assiduously told them it is. But the problem is that it often looks that way to readers.

For one thing, that can make it hard to build a following, Godin says, and for another, doing so isn’t just about driving engagement on social channels, anyway.

Establishing and maintaining a loyal audience is by its nature a long-term investment, and what loyalty looks like online can sometimes differ considerably from what it looks like offline, “where the real work” gets done.

Godin points to Bob Dylan, who isn’t particularly active on social media but still has a vibrant and profitable career. “The long-tail rewards people for whom there’s passion from a few,” he says. “The Monkees had a TV show, but Dylan’s still around.”

Is this not an accurate observation, or what? It’s the quality of the book and the personality of the author which sells, not just how many social media followers he/she has. For example, Steven King (pictured above) had exactly zero (0) Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, or Vine followers when his first book Carrie was published in 1973. Did he end up being a colossal failure because he couldn’t tweet or post to his 35,000+ fans to buy the book? Of course not. He built his reputation on being an excellent writer (my favorite King book is Firestarter) and by the time he joined Twitter he was able to secure fans based on a previously built reputation.,

Contrast this with the Jersey Shore castmember Nicole “Snooki” Polizzi, who published A Shore Thing in January 2011 and sold a whopping 9,000 copies in its first month, and not much more after that (note: I actually read a full chapter of this book). The reason? It really was NOT well written. Believe me.

So assuming that because an individual has online popularity, whether via television or social media, will mean lots of sales forever is mistaken. The problem is, if the quality is sub-par, even a person’s fans will not buy future copies and thus harm his/her future sales and writing career.

Now having said this, I agree with publishers and agents that authors should have social media platforms and be regular users. The reality is, we live in the age of the internet and this is where people find you and me. Thinking you never have to market your book yourself is asking for too much from a publisher or agent. The difference is that I agree with Seth that publishing good quality literature will drive up a person’s popularity and as long as the author is willing to be a self-promoter, that has to matter more in the long-run than just expecting people to have a built-in platform based on popularity somewhere else, which is a short-term strategy.

Note: for non-fiction authors you must have credibility, whether via popularity a la Bill O’Reilly, or by being respected in your field of study a la Noam Chomsky. However, in the end it’s the content that sells and not just the platform. If O’Reilly was really that bad he would not have a list of bestsellers in his Killing series.

So going forward here’s to writing good quality literature and being a willing self-promoter, while recognizing that quality drives sales better in the long run than short-term fame.

Speaking of social media, please follow me on Twitter @sammydrf and my youtube channel Samuel Ramirez.

Also please subscribe to my blog for new posts, which generally come out Tuesday and Friday (or whenever I feel the need to post extra)

Happy New Year! My Blog’s Resolution

Happy 2015! I want to end the year with one final blogpost to welcome in the New Year and mention what I will be writing about more of in 2015:

  • More social media tips. I’m becoming more of an expert on this from my work and from reading books from industry experts. Check these out if you’re trying to build a personal platform and boost your online presence.
  • Tips on how to use data analytics (Google and otherwise) to better measure results and find out what works and what doesn’t.
  • Better ways to market and advertise.

Whether you follow my blog because you’re an author looking to build an online platform, or a social media/PR professional looking for more tips on branding and using data analytics for work, you should expect more posts from me and more things you can take away.

As always, please subscribe to my page and follow me on Twitter @sammydrf.

Happy New Year!

How “The Shazam Effect” changed music- and could change book publishing

There was an interesting article in The Atlantic earlier this week called “The Shazam Effect.” For those of you unfamiliar with the term, Shazam is a tech start up founded in 2000 by a Standford Ph.D. named Avery Wang who wanted to develop a service which could use a cellphone to identify any song within the phone’s range using an algorithm which created a unique acoustic fingerprint for each track, turning each song into a piece of data which could be read by the Shazam program. 500 million downloads later the program is used by music industry executives to determine not merely what songs are popular, but which songs will be hits with the right marketing effort in the future based on early-detection. Read the following (edited for length) and for those of who who like reading substitute “music” for “books”, “songs” for “self-published novelist” “artists” with “authors”, “hear” and “listen(er)” with “read(er)”, and “labels” or “music executives ” with “traditional publishers”:

“By studying 20 million searches every day, Shazam can identify which songs are catching on, and where, before just about anybody else. “Sometimes we can see when a song is going to break out months before most people have even heard of it,” Jason Titus, Shazam’s former chief technologist, told me.  Last year, Shazam released an interactive map overlaid with its search data, allowing users to zoom in on cities around the world and look up the most Shazam’d songs in São Paulo, Mumbai, or New York. The map amounts to a real-time seismograph of the world’s most popular new music, helping scouts discover unsigned artists just as they’re starting to set off tremors.

Shazam searches are just one of several new types of data guiding the pop-music business. Concert promoters study Spotify listens to route tours through towns with the most fans, and some artists look for patterns in Pandora streaming to figure out which songs to play at each stop on a tour. In fact, all of our searching, streaming, downloading, and sharing is being used to answer the question the music industry has been asking for a century: What do people want to hear next?

It’s a question that label executives once answered largely by trusting their gut. But data about our preferences have shifted the balance of power, replacing experts’ instincts with the wisdom of the crowd. As a result, labels have gotten much better at understanding what we want to listen to. This is the one silver lining the music industry has found in the digital revolution, which has steadily cut into profits. So it’s clearly good for business—but whether it’s good for music is a lot less certain.

Next Big Sound, a five-year-old music-analytics company based in New York, scours the Web for Spotify listens, Instagram mentions, and other traces of digital fandom to forecast breakouts. It funnels half a million new acts through an algorithm to create a list of 100 stars likely to break out within the next year. “If you signed our top 100 artists, 20 of them would make the Billboard 200,” Victor Hu, a data scientist with Next Big Sound, told me.

Last year, the company unveiled a customizable search tool called Find, which, for a six-figure annual subscription, helps scouts mine social media to spot artists who show signs of nascent stardom. If, for example, you wanted to search for obscure bands with the fastest-growing followings on Twitter, Find could produce a list within seconds.

To get a song on the radio in the first place, music labels confront a paradox: How do you prove that it will be a hit before anyone has heard it? DJs consider unfamiliar songs “tune-outs,” because audiences tend to spurn new music. In the past, labels sometimes pressured or outright bribed stations to promote their music. Songs became hits because executives decided they should be hits.

But radio, too, has come to rely more on data, and now when label executives pitch a station, they’re likely to come armed with spreadsheets. The search for evidence of a song’s potential has become exhaustive: you can’t just track radio data, or sales, or YouTube hits, or Facebook interactions, or even proprietary surveys and focus groups. To persuade a major radio station to play a new song, labels have to connect all these dots.

The Hot 100 matters because it doesn’t just reflect listener preferences, it also shapes them. In a groundbreaking 2006 study on the influence of song rankings, three researchers at Columbia University showed that popularity can be a self-fulfilling prophecy. The researchers sent participants to different music Web sites where they could listen to dozens of tracks and download their favorites. Some sites displayed a ranking of the most-downloaded songs; others did not. Participants who saw rankings were more likely to listen to the most-popular tracks.

The researchers then wondered what would happen if they manipulated the rankings. In a follow-up experiment, some sites displayed the true download counts and others showed inverted rankings, where the least-popular song was listed in the No. 1 spot. The inverted rankings changed everything: previously ignored songs soared in popularity, and previously popular songs were ignored. Simply believing, even wrongly, that a song was popular made participants more likely to download it.

Everyone I spoke with about the Hot 100—label and radio executives, industry analysts, and other journalists—agreed with Jay Frank’s assessment that consumers have more say than they did decades ago, when their tastes were shaped by the hit makers at labels. But here’s the catch: if you give people too much say, they will ask for the same familiar sounds on an endless loop, entrenching music that is repetitive, derivative, and relentlessly played out.

Because the most-popular songs now stay on the charts for months, the relative value of a hit has exploded. The top 1 percent of bands and solo artists now earn 77 percent of all revenue from recorded music, media researchers report. And even though the amount of digital music sold has surged, the 10 best-selling tracks command 82 percent more of the market than they did a decade ago. 

And not only are we hearing the same hits with greater frequency, but the hits themselves sound increasingly alike. As labels have gotten more adept at recognizing what’s selling, they’ve been quicker than ever to invest in copycats. People I spoke with in the music industry told me they worried that the reliance on data was leading to a “clustering” of styles and genres, promoting a dispiriting sameness in pop music.

In 2012, the Spanish National Research Council released a report that delighted music cranks around the world. Pop, it seemed, was growing increasingly bland, loud, and predictable, recycling the same few chord progressions over and over. The study, which looked at 464,411 popular recordings around the world between 1955 and 2010, found that the most-played music of the new millennium demonstrates “less variety in pitch transitions” than that of any preceding decade.

The problem is not our pop stars. Our brains are wired to prefer melodies we already know. (David Huron, a musicologist at Ohio State University, estimates that at least 90 percent of the time we spend listening to music, we seek out songs we’ve heard before.) That’s because familiar songs are easier to process, and the less effort needed to think through something—whether a song, a painting, or an idea—the more we tend to like it. In psychology, this idea is known as fluency: when a piece of information is consumed fluently, it neatly slides into our patterns of expectation, filling us with satisfaction and confidence.”

You can see what data analytics can do for music, you can imagine what they can do for books.

Imagine major publishing companies using data algorithms to predict what self-published author or book might be the next big hit. Rather than let the market decide, they take someone with potential and make sure he/she is shot up to the top based on data and the assumption people want more of the same. Since most people prefer things they already know, they will support whatever is considered “popular”. So if the major publishers decided a particular book should be popular, they can simply bump it to the top, knowing the book-buying public will buy a print or e-book copy because they think everyone else is. The power of peer pressure, combined with people’s comfort in seeking out things we are familiar with and enjoy, could continue moving the literacy world in the same direction as the music industry: Authors will be chosen based on potential popularity and fitting their books into a formula for what people want, which means make sure your books look like everyone else’s with only minor differences. Those who are “chosen” will earn even more of the take on book revenue because they will perpetually be near the top. Only now people will be chosen by data analytics rather than someone reading the slush pile.

This could be a boon to self-publishers, who with a little marketing, social media presence, and luck, could be plucked from relative obscurity and made into the next big thing. Agents will have an important, but diminished, role in finding new talent because the publishing companies will just pay a tech company for this service. In this system agents would focus more on the contract and business side and less on presenting an author to the editors and publishers.

However, this system would further increase the disparity between the top and the bottom, as anyone showing even a modicum of talent will be whisked to the top just as the music industry has been successful at doing. And we all know there is a reason authors on a major bestsellers list stick that achievement on their books.

What do you think about this article? Could reading become like listening? Books treated like the music industry treats authors? the gap between the wealthy few mega best-sellers and everyone else continue to grow? Or are reading and listening too separate for this ever to happen?

The image is owned and copyrighted by The Atlantic.

How the (bored) internet community can make or break your book or business

I can’t wait to finalize my recap of the election results (which I will put at the bottom of this e-mail) but I saw this story in the New York Times and I think if you aspire to have a successful book or business or anything else, you might want to pay attention as to what can make (or break) celebrity status. Article truncated for length:

“While political analysts spent Wednesday interpreting the significance of the midterm elections, social media pundits obsessed over the meaning of Alex from Target.

Alex is Alex Laboeuf, a 16-year-old from Texas with Justin Bieber-ish looks. He became the latest Internet sensation after a photo of him working at a Target checkout counter went viral this week and teenagers — both girls and boys — started gushing over him. By Tuesday, he was flown to Los Angeles for an appearance on “The Ellen DeGeneres Show.”

But why did he thunder to online stardom? Was it a marketing stunt by Target? A hoax by a couple of bored teenagers? Or was it absolutely nothing at all?

“There is a whole attempt at making sense of this now,” said Andrew Lih, a journalism professor at the American University School of Communication. “But I can’t find any. The Internet is more and more like your local high school where inexplicably the crowd picks something that is not that interesting and elevates it to popularity status.”

Social media pandemonium over Alex started last Sunday when a young woman named Abbie posted the photograph on Twitter. The image acquired its own hashtag — #alexfromtarget — and Alex, who started with 144 Twitter followers, now has more than 600,000.

The Alex phenomenon became the subject of news articles on the websites of Time, The Washington Post and CNN over the last two days. The Dallas Morning News tried furiously to confirm just which Target he worked for.

Various Internet memes ensued. Some began snapping photos of other teenagers in jobs, for example: Kel from Good Burger and Kieran from T-Mobile. There were Alex imitators posted on the video service Vine.

Ms. DeGeneres was confused as everyone else by Alex’s popularity. Do you have any skills like singing and dancing, she asked?

“I can apparently bag groceries pretty well,” he said.

Late Tuesday, CNET reported that a marketing start-up, Breakr, was taking credit for Alex’s rise. On its web page, Breakr offers this opaque definition for its business: “helping connect fans to their fandom.” In a post on Tuesday on LinkedIn, the company’s chief executive, Dil-Domine Jacobe Leonares, wrote: “We wanted to see how powerful the fan girl demographic was by taking an unknown good-looking kid and Target employee from Texas to overnight viral Internet sensation.”

Breakr’s claim then set off a whole new round of articles suggesting that the whole Alex phenomenon was the product of these crafty marketers.

It also compelled Target to issue a statement.

“We value Alex as a team member and from the first moment we saw this photo beginning to circulate, we shared that the Target team was as surprised as anyone,” the company said. “That remains the truth today. Let us be completely clear, we had absolutely nothing to do with the creation, listing or distribution of the photo. And we have no affiliation whatsoever with the company that is taking credit for its results.”

Alex and Abbie, the young woman who supposedly first posted the photo of Alex, also disputed Breakr’s account and denied they were part of any publicity stunt. This caused Breakr to “update” its LinkedIn post to say that neither Alex nor Abbie were part of any scheme, that it occurred organically and the company “jumped on it” to draw attention to its services.

“I didn’t know the pic was taken or tweeted until my store manager showed me,” Alex wrote on Twitter late Tuesday.

“This just shows you it is another Tuesday on the Internet,” said Sree Sreenivasan, chief digital officer at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “There is all these important things going on like the election, but some portion of the Internet is paying attention to something else.”

What you have here is a normal 16-year old handsome boy who was doing his job- and then for really no reason whatsoever the interent decided he should be made into an internet celebrity. I have no objection to Alex’s 15 minutes of fame; in fact, he didn’t even ask for it! But this shows you the power of the internet and also the problem with trying to develop a personal brand when sometimes you can just post a photo or write something and the (bored) internet users decide to give you a few minutes of fame.

This is a great Public Relations lessons because there is a difference between developing a brand and “getting lucky”- sometimes there is just chance as to what your consumers will want and find interesting. Things which seem clever or creative may win awards but not get you much traction; things which are totally boring might get you somewhere.

There is one other point to be made: take a look at the bolded comment on “the internet is like high school.” I wonder- what if, instead of spending time and effort focusing on a 16 year old Target employee, those people making this photo viral spent time, say reading? Or developing a business plan? or studying? Or taking a dance class? If authors want to increase book sales we’re going to have to convince people that reading a book is a better use of their time than hanging around the internet looking for the next fad opportunity.

Bonus Tip: Try tweeting a photo of a tuna sandwich with the hashtag #ThisIsMyTunaSandwich and see if it gets thousands of tweets and goes viral. If it does, you have to thank me.

photo credit: Abcnews.com