eBook Sales Are Dead & Connecting with Readers

authors panicking about sales despair-2019938_960_720“My sales have flat-lined. Nobody is selling any books.”

“There are no readers left. We’ve swamped them with too many free books.”

“Print is more popular, eBook sales are dead.”

Have we officially entered the season of dread and negativity? Is there no positive energy left in IndieBook Land? I heard variations of the above statements recently and I didn’t like it. And, I don’t agree.

Amazon gift cardI ran a contest the other day. It was simple. Click on a free eBook then email me the title and you’re entered to win one of two $10 Amazon gift certificates. I sent it out in a newsletter that also advertised a bunch of free eBooks from various authors. I wasn’t sure whether ten bucks would be enough to entice readers to enter but I thought I’d try anyway. It was enough. It worked. The results were really interesting.

The open rate for my newsletter was 70%, and the click rate was just a shade under 40%. Those are strong numbers. I’ve never sent out a newsletter with those kinds of returns. And, there was more. I sent the newsletter out late on a Saturday evening. Typically I try for early in the week, and earlier in the morning, but I had no choice on this one. I was fulfilling a commitment to send out notice of a group promotion that I was involved in and I was running late. It had to go out. So, I sent it. The title of the newsletter mentioned the contest, so that was the draw. The entries began arriving immediately. I had a pile on Saturday night and they kept coming the next morning. I had two consistent days before they started to taper off, but even five days later, I was still receiving entries. And, the positive returns continued. The newsletter that kept giving gave me even more.

The readers who emailed me their entries talked to me. Some just sent the title of the book they had downloaded, but many of them sent me messages. I’m lucky, I do receive emails from my readers from time to time and some interact with me on Facebook as well, but these were new readers. I expanded my subscriber list recently and the folks who emailed me were new, random readers, and some of them wanted to talk. It’s sometimes easy to forget that we’re dealing with actual people instead of numbers that occasionally increase the totals on our KDP dashboards. Here are some of the messages I received.

“I’m on a limited budget. Thank you for sending me the links to the books.”

“I had already downloaded Pam of Babylon, and now I’ve found another that I liked. Thanks!”

“What a great project for us. I’ve already got lots of books from these giveaways.”

There were other messages too. Sometimes there was just a “Thank you” and other times they told me who they were and where they lived. I posted the link to my Facebook page and invited readers to friend me so I made a few new friends also. It was like a huge infusion of positive energy and it reminded me that there are readers out there who want to know more about our work. And, they read our books, too. These folks weren’t just filling up their Kindles. They knew about some of the books advertised and some of the authors, too. The contest drew them out and allowed me to have a bit of a dialogue with them. Without it, there would just have been clicks and perhaps the odd review or peripheral sale. This was better. This was real.

So, discard your tinfoil hat. We’re still on the correct path. All is well. Real, living, breathing readers are out there waiting to feast their eyes and minds on our words. And, if we look hard enough, we’ll find them. And sometimes, if we’re lucky, they might just talk back.

Author: Martin Crosbie

Martin Crosbie is the administrator of BookDoggy.com and writer of seven published novels. His self-publishing journey has been mentioned in Publisher’s Weekly, Forbes Online Magazine, and Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper. You can learn more about Martin on his Amazon author page.

30 thoughts on “eBook Sales Are Dead & Connecting with Readers”

  1. I’m still new enough at this publishing business that a single sale is the difference between a good day and a bad day, and I can jump between 1000 page reads and nothing from one day to the next.
    Yesterday was a good day, 1000 page reads and 2 pre-orders of my upcoming release, the day before that was dead.
    I’ve been doing all I can on my limited budget to keep attention on my books and generate interest and sales but it’s difficult.
    It’s easy to become disheartened, but I’m fighting to remain positive, and looking forward to a big group promotion I have coming up next week, which I’m certain is going to make a huge difference.

      1. I have to admit to having high hopes for it, it’s being run by a group set up by Carole P Roman, who was recently featured in Forbes and has been interviewed by KDP because of her success in the indie publishing biz, and is being helped by a number of blogs. She has helped to establish Navigating Indieworld, which started as a guide book but has grown beyond that to include a group on Goodreads, a Facebook Group, Twitter and many other things.

  2. Hi Martin! Thanks for sharing your experiences. I think you’ve hit on something that will make a difference for indie authors in the future…the relationship. Readers want to connect with authors and their characters. And it’s my belief that the author that takes the time to interact with their readers is the author that’s building a solid foundation foe the future. Readers are people. They love our stories. Aso authors our job is to love the reader back.

  3. You are the model of reader interaction… and from my own experience, that’s exactly what sells books, and good writing brings the readers back. Thanks so much for the ideas, and for your continuing inspiration and hope!

  4. Interesting. Except the examples of the opposite abound. The feeling people have is a great silence is descending, not only on the ebooks front. Somehow the internet seems different in the last couple years. So much of it seems to be regurgitated content. And don’t forget most of the web is zombie-land, dead or dying sites that get fewer than 4 visits a month and the writer long ago gave up trying to connect. I get the sense 80%+ of the web are just idle sites. I find I’m unsubscribing from author mailing lists constantly, several a week b/c the content doesn’t justify receiving emails from writers trying hard to find things to say to keep a ‘relationship’ going with his thousands of indifferent subscribers. I do believe things are falling apart somewhat in media-world generally. LOL

    I stopped all my writing 27 days ago and it’s been a wonderful time of relaxation and getting my mojo back. For me the BIG hurdle that I couldn’t overcome was trying to increase (for my books) visibility, traffic, and downloads (even when Free), and finally the blowback from that decimated my desire to write, at all, ever, world without end. At first I thought I’d take a 1-month hiatus, but I’ve felt so great this past month I’ve changed that to 3 months.

    So I’m inclined to say something is happening in media generally, but especially in ebooks. Though on the other hand this past month I’ve primarily spent ‘reading glorious reading’ of a dozen or so ebooks in different genre folders in my kindle. Wow, I love having copious free time now to read like I used to read.

    I hope ebooks surge again in public consciousness, but for the past year at least if feel like there’s been a definite fall-off.

    1. You’ve got to do what’s best for you. I can’t produce the way some writers do and I have other things going on in my life so I do get breaks. And, I enjoy them. Good luck with your recharge, I’m envious that you’re able to spend some time reading.

  5. Dear Martin,
    Congratulations on your successful(?) promotion.

    How many books did you actually sell?

    Sure you may have got nice messages and increased your email list but did anyone actually pay you any money to purchase one of your books? Not in the distant future – I mean in the week after you gave away your book plus a chance to win $10 for downloading it free?

    Seven hundred and thirty-seven people entered my last Goodreads book giveaway. I got zero sales from that promotion and maybe two reviews.

    I just recently participated in Smashwords Read an E-book Week promotion and offered [one of my novels] free along with deep discounts on the other three books in my ECO-WARRIOR series. Smashwords just deposited $1.95 in royalties in my account.

    We need to stop being delusional and that includes me. Free on the internet and elsewhere is equated to no value. There’s no downside to downloading a free book, and in your case they might win a $10 gift certificate. There’s no guarantee, morally, ethically, implied or otherwise that they’ll read your book – now or in the future. And guess what, the vast, vast majority don’t.

    I don’t want to discourage people from continuing to write. I don’t even want to discourage you from continuing to self-publish, why shouldn’t you, everybody else does.

    I do want to encourage you to continue to write and improve. Thinking you’re a success by having people to down load a free book and have a chance at winning a $10 gift certificate is not going to make you a better writer.

    Writing until your good enough that someone is prepared to pay money to read it, well, now you’re getting there.

    That’s better, that’s real.

    1. I’m happy to talk about “real” Rod.

      My goal for the past ninety days has been to grow my subscriber list. I have a new release coming out on April 4. It’s book three of a trilogy, and I want to maximize the launch. So, I give away a short story collection. The collection includes the first chapters of each of the first books in the trilogy. It’s been a super effective way of finding new readers. The newsletter that I sent out with the contest helped me find readers that are interested in the type of books that I write. This is different from an Amazon free promotion where I expect to see a bunch of page-reads and sales following the promo. My goal was to connect and engage and it worked.
      There were over one hundred free books available in the promotion and the goal was to encourage readers to check out the books. And, again, it worked.

      And no worries, you won’t discourage me. I’m very fortunate, I sell books every day and I did see a slight uptick after the newsletter went out. With an Amazon free promo the results are instant. With this one it seemed to take three or four days before the increase happened. It was minimal. I probably sold an additional seven or eight books across the board.

      And, you’re right, we need to take a look at our product. If we run a Smashwords or Goodreads giveaway and it isn’t effective we can only blame the format so much. Especially if others are seeing success by doing the same thing. At some point we need to examine our product and see if we’re producing something that readers are interested in.

      I never thought I’d say this, but sometimes it’s not just about selling books. I hope that helps you Rod.

  6. Thank you Martin, this was an interesting experiment. Mind you, isn’t it is paying readers to download free books? By itself it’s not a sign of a great recovery in e book sales.

    1. Thanks Neil. I asked readers to check out the books, not necessarily download them. The idea is that the reader will do a little exploring and want to know more about the writer’s work.

  7. Martin- this is a great idea. Thanks. I’m guessing that you just ran in the honor system when it came to readers downloading some of those free ebooks you advertised (?)
    I think I may give this a try on my Instagram. I’ve built a nice relationship with many other writers and readers as well. I think this would be fun.

    1. Hi RB. The entrant didn’t necessarily have to download the book. I just wanted them to check out the work. And, they did. Good luck with your contest.

  8. I do enter giveaways, although mainly Goodreads ones. I have bought free books to give authors a try, but I find that I read very few of them. My Kindle is jammed with freebies, often sent by authors whose newsletters I’ve got from entering some contest or even taking part in a social media event. The majority will not get read, I suspect. I tend to gravitate to authors that I read reviews about or know from their small publishers. I try to pay at least 99c or 99p at least since books cost to produce – even ebooks – as I know as a writer. I have even started reading a fantasy series from a mainstream publisher as it was so well crafted. I’m not saying I’ll never ever again download a freebie, but my habits have changed. And there will come a day when I’ve published enough to consider giving away my older work for free…or an Amazon gift card if that makes sense.

    1. Hi Mit. I’m using Mailerlite to send out my newsletters. I created the newsletter myself. I think the key words in the title were “win an Amazon gift certificate” and “free eBooks”. I hope that helps.

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