Three Reasons Your Book Might Not Be Selling

bad book salesOne of the most common questions I see in writing groups and author forums is, “Why isn’t my book selling?” There are, of course, any number of answers to that, including, “It’s poorly written,” “It’s poorly formatted,” Your cover is awful,” and “You have to advertise.”

There are also, however, some potential reasons outside of an indie author’s control.

One of the most recent reasons has to do with audiobooks and Whispersync. Many indie authors have audiobooks produced through ACX, which are then sold on Amazon, Audible, and iTunes. Whispersync is a feature from Amazon that enables the reader/listener to switch seamlessly from the Kindle eBook to the audiobook. For example, if you stopped reading your eBook at chapter ten the previous night, you could pick up right where you left off and listen to it on the way to work.

Cool, right?

It was especially cool when the Kindle eBook owner could buy the audiobook on Amazon for $1.99. Initially, authors griped at the low price, but the benefit to having that low price was that many authors took advantage of the deal, and authors received royalties on both the eBook and the audiobook.

Recently, however, at some point over the summer, that special deal went by the wayside. Now Kindle readers who want the accompanying audiobook must pay $7.49 in many, if not all, cases. That’s still a deal – many eBooks are in the upper teens and lower twenties. But it’s a long way from $1.99.

There was no official announcement, or at least not one anyone with whom I associate has heard. But both authors and readers, on Kboards, as well as Reddit, and on the now-defunct Amazon forums, have noticed. Goodreads users have also noticed.

If you don’t believe the price hike has negatively affected sales, pay special attention to those reader discussions. See all those readers saying they’ll no longer buy the audiobook?

That helps explain decreased audiobook sales, but what about eBook sales? Indies Unlimited relies on facts, not speculation, but this is a topic that’s gotten a lot of coverage over the last year or so. Authors all over the internet noticed a drop off through 2016, leading into 2017. Not a small one, either. More like a fall off a cliff.

While rumors and speculation are everywhere, there are some interesting articles worth a read. Data Guy, the anonymous co-founder of Author Earnings, discusses the drop here, noting that while indie eBook sales have dropped, sales from Amazon publishing imprints have grown a great deal. Isn’t that interesting?

Data Guy discusses several theories for the drop, one of which includes, “Amazon tweaks and optimizes their retail website, merchandising algorithms, and nightly recommendation emails on a continuous basis. Perhaps they’ve recently adjusted one or more of those in a direction that gives higher visibility to paid-for publisher featuring of traditionally-published eBooks?”

The Passive Voice blog shared a more recent Data Guy post, prompting Data Guy to join in on the comment section, where he reiterated the drop off in sales and stated:

“I think what happened is that the indie share of Amazon sales was getting too ridiculous (closing in on 50% of all Amazon purchases). So Amazon decided to pull some algorithmic merchandising levers behind the scenes (in their nightly marketing emails, for instance) to start pushing traditionally published eBooks at customers more aggressively (traditional publishers would probably say, ‘more fairly’).”

Cate Baum at Self-Publishing Review explains more about the Amazon algorithm here.

She also discusses what she calls MAMM (Make Amazon the Most Money), and states this is Amazon’s “one objective.”

She explains: “So if your book is 99 cents, but another book is selling at $2.99 but not as many as you, it’s likely Amazon will recognize the $2.99 book higher in rank because it makes Amazon more money.”

Price hikes, algorithmic changes to push readers toward the big publishing companies, algorithmic changes to favor higher priced books in the ranks. Any or all could lead to the drop so many of us witnessed over the last year.

What can we do about it? Fret. Worry. Obsess. Or just keep writing.

Author: Melinda Clayton

Melinda Clayton is the author of the Cedar Hollow series, as well as a self-publishing guide. Clayton has published numerous articles and short stories in various print and online magazines. She has an Ed.D. in Special Education Administration and is a licensed psychotherapist in the states of Florida and Colorado. Lear more about Melinda at her Amazon author page

36 thoughts on “Three Reasons Your Book Might Not Be Selling”

  1. Thanks for the article, Melinda. One of the presenters at the Surrey International Writers Conference said that one million books were published last year. That also could account for the drop in sales. Less to go around for all.

  2. That makes a lot of sense. No way will amazon upset the traditional publishers, they would think it a nightmare if they ended up selling more indie books than the big names, it would be bad for business. Sadly there’s nothing I can see that we can do about it though.

    1. I don’t think there is anything, unfortunately. I think Amazon is going to structure things in a way that will make them the most money – of course. That’s what businesses do. But it’s hard for self-published and small-press authors to compete.

    2. I disagree with your statement about upsetting the traditional publishers. Amazon said F U to the publishers for years to the point that several pulled their books from Amazon and they all sued Amazon and eventually won. It’s why you see the Price set by publisher on the price listing.

      Amazon doesn’t care about anybody but themselves and getting more customers at any cost. I’m pretty fearful of Amazon and what they will be like when they get a virtual monopoly in more areas. They already have this in E-Books and E-Book readers hence why they now starting to do whatever they want and not much anybody can do.

  3. A bricks and mortar store would do this, too, sort of. Bob Smith’s 99-cent book that nobody’s heard of isn’t going in the front window while the latest J. K. Rowling and James Patterson books are shoved into a dusty shelf in the back corner. I keep thinking that selling books way under the prices of mainstream publishers’ books just screams “indie.” And that’s worse now that the term “indie” is being increasingly used as synonymous with “self-publishing” even though that’s not the original meaning of the term. “Cheap” may not be making us money anymore–if it ever did.

    1. “Cheap may not be making us money anymore ….” I’ve had that same thought. I’ve even seen some best-selling indie authors raise their prices to be more aligned with traditionally published books. From what they’ve said, it hasn’t hurt sales. But they’re already best-selling authors, which makes a difference.

  4. Look on the bright side. The harder it is to sell as an Indie, the quicker the “one-book wonder” amateurs fall out of the system, realizing they’re not going to make money. Then the authors willing to put the proper time, effort, and heart into it will do better.
    One day.

  5. Amazon controls too much in the market place. Now they’re taking on prescription drugs? We all saw what that did to the stocks.

  6. Thanks for the article. I’d missed the Data Guy analysis of the situation. That’s interesting to know. When you’re self-published, it’s a bit isolating, and easy to think what’s happening with sales is simply happening to you, when it’s really a huge trend. So, this was quite helpful in terms of market context.

    1. Thanks, RJ. I think what I found most interesting about Data Guy’s analysis was that Amazon imprints are jumping ahead in sales while other sales are declining. That shouldn’t be surprising, but I was still surprised.

  7. There is something we can do!
    Consider this: there are a lot of us. Most of us read books. And so, we can use our own buying and reviewing power.
    Personally, I read a lot of books–indie books, and I give them 5 star reviews. Also, I click “Yes” on the 4 and 5 star reviews and “No” on the others. There are a lot of entertaining books out there that have not had a sale lately. I stay away from the big publishers, as I don’t need them. There are plenty of Indie books to keep me happy and busy turning pages for the rest of my life. (When I am not writing or publishing, of course.)

    1. I’d tread very carefully here. Actually, I’d completely advise against it. Amazon doesn’t allow anything it considers to be manipulation of their review system. This includes agreements to swap reviews with other authors. It also includes what they call “rank manipulation.” In other words, voting up or down on a review in order to attempt to manipulate sales. Either activity could get an author’s account banned. This will help explain more:

  8. Dorothy May Mercer, does this mean you would give five-star reviews just because the book is an Indie? Even if the book is not that great? That makes the review fake and fake reviews are not helpful to anyone long term. I have made it a policy to never solicit reviews. Then every one I do get, I can honestly claim is unsolicited. If we all team up and give one another reciprocal five-star reviews, it might be pretty easy for Amazon to discover that trick and it’s neither honest nor fair to readers. These ideas only add support to the move to stop all authors from reviewing altogether and I’d hat to see that happen.

    1. All good points, Tui. At the end of the day, we have to remember reviews are for readers, not authors. As much as they help us, the point of a review is to tell other potential customers about the product – the good, the bad, and the ugly. I’d much rather have someone bypass one of my books due to what they read in a negative review than have them buy it based on only positive reviews, read it, and then hate it and feel duped.

  9. The best of times, the worst of times. Amazon is where we all need to sell, yet they make it a Sisyphean task for the independent authors and publishers. Thanks for the great information.

  10. The only thing I can see for authors to do is push other marketplaces than Amazon. Tweet that your books are on Kobo or Smashwords or somewhere else. Limit your pushing of Amazon’s copy. Write up easy ways to transfer DRM Free EPUB’s to a Kindle so readers can get it anywhere. Of course this requires your books to be DRM free. But DRM is a trap for both the author and the reader, it’s why Amazon will have this 80% monopoly for a long time to come and they can do whatever they want to Authors and Readers alike.

  11. “Authors all over the internet noticed a drop off through 2016, leading into 2017. Not a small one, either. More like a fall off a cliff.”

    Yes, I saw a drop off, but not necessarily a fall off the cliff. At one point, my goal was to earn $50,000 a year from my ebooks. I actually attained my goal in 2015. But since then my earnings have fallen to around $30,000 to $35,000 a year. I know that I have the talent and creativity to get back to $50,000 a year in earnings for ebooks. It doesn’t necessarily mean I have to “just keep writing.” In fact, I have to just get back to “creative marketing.” Creative marketing has nothing to do with social media or a number of other strategies that the so-called “book marketing experts” advocate. Creative marketing is about doing all the things that my competitors are not smart enough or creative enough to come up with. For the record, although my ebook sales have dropped off, my print sales are still holding their own, earning me a little over $200,000 a year, primarily from one book first self-published in 1991 and another book first self-published in 2003. This proves that word-0f-mouth advertising is the best marketing tool an author has at his or her disposal but it requires that an author write a blockbuster book that pulverizes the competition.

    1. I apologize if my comment came across as glib. I don’t mean literally all we need to do is keep writing. We obviously have to continue to explore marketing techniques. My point was simply that sitting around and fretting over sales isn’t going to help sales. This is a career in which we continually have to explore and adapt – otherwise, we’ll get left behind.

  12. This is one of the best articles I have seen on this topic. Your assertions that Amazon will do whatever it has to to make the most money is dead on. They are not afraid of nor do they want to help ANY publisher. They just want to do what they have to in order to maximize their position and profits. NICE WORK. This article taught me a lot.

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