Monday, October 26, 2015

Let's Talk Numbers: The Nice Dragons MEGA Fall promotion!

Hi folks, Travis here with another look at numbers!

After much talking about the benefits of The Kindle Big Deal vs BookBub, we finally lucked into a BookBub promotion for Nice Dragons Finish Last! Do you want to know what happened?

TL;DR - BookBub is awesome! (But you all knew that already.)

We also might have promoted it in a few other places as well. Ok, like 9 other places. Literally over a million emails were sent out and millions of web/social impressions were gathered. If you subscribe to a bargain book mailing list, you probably saw Nice Dragons up there at some point.

And how did all this promo work out? Splendidly!

Let's Talk Numbers: The Nice Dragons MEGA Fall promotion!

What did we do exactly?
  1. Nice Dragons was on sale for $0.99 via a countdown deal from Sept 27th to Oct 3rd... plus or minus some hours here and there.
  2. Sept 28th was the BIG DAY and we advertised the sale on the following places,
    1. BookBub
    2. FKBT.com
    3. Booksends.com
    4. Read Cheaply
    5. ManyBooks.net
    6. Genre Pulse
    7. eBookSoda
    8. BargainBooksy
    9. Reading Deals
    10. Choosy Bookworm
  3. Total cost was about $500 total.
Once we'd locked in the BookBub promotion dates, I carpeted the town for marketers. Most indie book advertising services only accept books that are on sale and require at least 60 days of normal price prior to application, so I wanted as many as possible for this $0.99 'cause it'll be 2-3 months before we could do another one.

Why hit up so many sites at once? Well, as Derek mentioned in his guest post, A Salesman Is You, it often takes multiple interactions to get someone to buy. I figured that since many of these book sale email lists have overlap, that that overlap might work in our favor.

Anyway, I'll stop teasing you all and get to the fun stuff. Results!


How Did We Do?

I'm not gonna beat ya'll to death with graphs this time. Here's the raw numbers in a nutshell,



What you see here are average books per day for Nice Dragons before, during, and after the $0.99 countdown deal and all its promotions. As well as the same for average KENP read during that time.

On the right is my analysis of how many extra books we sold, which is the real measure of what we bought. All in all it was about 1600 books, almost entirely Nice Dragons, and a very happy number indeed. 

This is fantastic performance. BookBub listed the average performance for a $0.99 Teen and Young Adult sale at 730 copies sold. Again, we did more than just BookBub, but I'm still happy to have beaten that number. Lemme tell how sad I'd be if we hadn't. (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻

KU sales weren't really affected, which was a little surprising. I was hoping the high sales rank we hit (#85!) would have also affected KU, but the blue line didn't even budge.


You can see a slight rise in overall Rachel Aaron KU borrows around the time of the promotion, but TBH, it doesn't show up when I apply my usual methods of baseline extraction and comparison. Statistically speaking, this bump could be entirely coincidence.

Even stranger was that my initial analysis showed no increase in sales of One Good Dragon. At first, I thought that this was because I was just analyzing things too soon. It takes time for people to open and read Nice Dragons, after all. A few days later, though, it hit me that I'd just done things wrong.

What about One Good Dragon?

Unfortunately, the numbers above aren't really fair. This is only month 3 for One Good Dragon, which means we're not in the long tail yet. Sales are still dropping very quickly on a month by month basis. To account for this, I used a smaller window for determining what the 'standard' day was like,

See how OGDDA 'before' has dropped to 18 per day?

So, we tentatively sold 95 copies of One Good Dragon so far as a result of the promotion. This is still pretty shaky stuff, though, so I don't put too much stock in this number.

Anyway, given how much time it'll take for people to read their 99c Nice Dragons and then possibly move on to One Good Dragon, I don't think I'll be able to find out more than this in terms of carry-through. Still, its good to see. 

(Update: I redid these numbers for Books Sold from 9/27 to 10/26 and OGDDA was up by about +100 copies. Looks like the follow through really will take months to play out)

Those are the results, but the real question is, "what did we learn from this?"

What We Learned

In total, our deal was emailed out to 1.7 million subscribers and racked up something like 5 million impressions. Of that number, 1.2 million of those came from BookBub, showing it is still the titan of book selling and the principle driver of all the numbers seen here today. Email lists sell books, and BookBub is king of that right now. But since that's kind of common knowledge already, I don't think we can count it as a lesson learned!

What I feel is important for you all to take away here is how big these numbers had to be. Over all, we sold ~1600 extra books over this #0.99 promotion. Don't get me wrong, 1600 is a lot, but the conversion rate is roughly 900:1 emails to sales and 3000:1 for impressions to sales (or 0.1% and 0.032% if you will). Given how well groomed and well targeted these emails were (and how well NDFL did according to the listed Bookbub average sellthrough for the YA list) I'd say that these are good conversion rates, which should tell you something about the numbers game we're playing.

This conversion rate is why I'm not impressed when marketers say things like, "We have 50,000 Facebook likes" or "Over 100,000 email subs!" Those are much bigger numbers than we've got, but in this sort of situation, those are small potatoes. As the numbers clearly show, it takes a lot of zeros to create a valuable, measurable effect in sales. BookBub is king because it has millions in its email lists and that's what it takes.

To put all of these services into a financial perspective, I refuse to pay more than $0.20 per 1000 impressions. Even that is kinda crappy and we're not doing it regularly. They have to be high quality impressions, too. Not something scattershot like, say, a newspaper ad or something. Anything less is simply not worth the money.

(Note: Emails have a higher conversion rate, so we'll pay more per 1000 emails.)

Now, of course, these are just our numbers and YMMV, but I hope our experiences help you make a good decisions the next time you're looking to purchase ad space or a promotion. Ebooks can sell well via traditional advertising like ads and emails, but it still takes BIG numbers to make these forms of advertising work. Don't get suckered into paying for a list that's too small!


Which promotion services are best for you?

Obviously, if you can get a BookBub, then great! You'll probably have a good time and sell a lot of books. What about these other people, though?

Long story short, they are effective, but they are 10x smaller than BookBub in most cases. However, they are also easier to get and they are less expensive ($10-20 vs $200-500). If you are just starting out, you have to fight for every single reader. Ten here, twenty there. That's how most careers get going.

Rachel achieves impressive numbers, but it took 8 years of relentless writing and promotion to get there. (Does anyone remember us standing in the DragonCon badge line handing out samples of The Spirit Thief?) She isn't entitled to continued great numbers, either. Each and every book she writes has to fight the battle for the hearts of its readers, both returning and new. There are a lot of authors out there who take their readers for granted, which makes me sad (and enrages Rachel). This is why we refuse to put out a book that we aren't proud of. Its not that authors deserve readers, its that readers deserve good books for their time and money. That is the service the author provides: quality reading entertainment. If we ever fail to achieve that for our readership, then we don't deserve to be in business.

In Conclusion: A++++ Would Buy Again

Would I do things this way again? Absolutely. We aren't picky and we don't take our sales for granted. It took me a full week of work to line up all these promotions, and it was totally worth it. I'm proud that I was able to help get Rachel more readers!

With our mega-NDFL promotion, we did things about as well as they can possibly be done I feel. We had an amazing book (500+ reviews! 4.6 stars!), with a deep discount (4.99 down to 0.99), and we had overlapping lists (repeated customer pings). So I feel that this is a really solid look at the potential provided by these kinds of book promotion services.

I hope that today our numbers have helped you out some as well. To BookBub or not to BookBub isn't really important (its always "YES BOOKBUB"). What's important is the perspective on these kinds of book promotion services so that you can figure out how best to use them to sell your books.

Good Luck!
-Travis

22 comments:

Rebecca Chastain said...

What do you consider an "impression"? Is that things like the ad sites Facebook/Twitter followers?

I love the $.20 / 1,000 impressions ratio. I've been working on my own ad campaign and trying to determine what makes a worthwhile investment.

Thanks for continuing to share so much author-business information. I find it enormously helpful!

Travis Bach said...

@Rebecca an impression is a pair of eyeballs basically. This is a term I'm taking from the pay per click world. If the ad is shown to someone, that's an impression. If they click on the ad, that's a click, not an impression. If they buy something, then that's a conversion.

Impressions are sort of the poorest measure of the performance of an ad. That's why they have such huge numbers haha. Anyone can sell impressions, but only a few can reliably sell affordable conversions.

Shawn Manaher said...

Travis / Rachel - thanks for including Reading Deals in your promotion list! We're really focusing on building out list and are seeing some pretty good results. I hope we were able to contribute to your successful promotion! :)

Travis Bach said...

@Shawn Thanks for having us! As you can see, things went very well. ^_^

Peter Llewellyn James said...

You sold 1600 extra copies of the book at $0.99 each. Assuming you got the 35% rate from Amazon, that would have generated $554.40 in income for you. The campaign cost $500, plus one week's worth of effort from Travis which has to be worth more than $54.40. So the sale was a financial failure. The average books per day sold went down after the sale, implying that the sale attracted buyers who might otherwise have paid full price.

The only way you could have benefitted from the sale is if it generated extra good reviews during that period, and I don't see that statistic anywhere. My takeaway from this article is : discounted sales campaigns aren't worth the effort...

Rebecca Chastain said...

@Peter, I think you may be taking too narrow a view of this. For one, Travis says this was a countdown deal, which means the profits were 70% of each sale even though the book was $0.99. Which means the profit from 1,600 sold was $600 ($1,100 gross minus $500 cost of ads).

Second, the sales of OGDDA were up by 100 more than expected (per the updated text) by the end of the month. Those books sold at full price, so that's another $350 (70% of 4.99 x 100) made off this one ad run.

Third, those fans are going to look through the rest of Rachel's books and possible buy others, but most likely, more readers are going to be hooked on the series for the full-price book 3.

@Travis--Thank you for the clarification on impressions!

Travis Bach said...

@Peter - Rebecca has the right of it. I should have clarified about the countdown deal royalties. Thanks Rebecca!

Pharosian said...

Thanks for sharing the numbers! Very interesting. Also good to know that payment remains 70% during the Countdown deal; I didn't know that before, either.

Do you plan to run a similar campaign for OGDDA at some point?

kai herbertz said...

Dear Rachel and Travis,
thanks a bunch for the numbers and the links to these sites. I'll check them out, since I do believe that those kind of deals are worth it.
All the best,
Kai

Travis Bach said...

You're welcome!

I wasn't planning on promoting ogdda this way no. Its always felt really strange to me to try this with a book 2. Though I can't really say I have anything to back that up with.

Travis Bach said...

So, I can't let lie unaddressed the assumption that a break-even promotion would have not been worth the effort. Its totally worth the effort. True, my hourly rate on immediate ROI would have been $0/hr if things had been the usual 33% royalty. BUT, spending a week to get up to 1600 new readers is TOTALLY worth it.

I would do that 52 weeks a year if it was possible. I would happily employ a person to do that full time if such a lever existed and worked every time.

Reader acquisition is hella hard. Its hella expensive. This promotion was a WILDLY efficient method of getting new readers. Normally we pay dollars per reader, this promotion was readers per dollar. Absolutely fantastic!

We paid ~$500 for this. To achieve the same effect through other advertising venues (like AMS, Adwords, or other ad packages) would probably cost between $16,000 to $40,000+.

These email promotion lists are the bomb by comparison to what else is out there.

Jeff Nine said...

Travis, this is really helpful. I've got one question related to promo while in KU (Amazon site wasn't clear)...

Can you offer free review copies to reviewers, or give away free copies for newsletter signups, while in KU? Or is that considered a breach of exclusivity?

Travis Bach said...

Thanks!

My understanding is that you can do review copies but reviewers need to state that they received such.

https://kdp.amazon.com/community/thread.jspa?threadID=270895

I do not think you are allowed to distribute copies of a kdp select book for any other reason though. Enforcement of minor things seems lax, but its in the "don't gamble what you can't lose" category IMO.


Jeff Nine said...

Thanks. That's what I figured, but wasn't sure. Appreciate the help & the blog.

Stray Disciple said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Peter Llewellyn James said...

Travis says that 'spending a week to get up to 1600 new readers is TOTALLY worth it.'

But surely the point of selling books is to make money, not just get new readers. If you end up with 1600 new readers and the promotion has cost you more than the additional revenue made, you are going backwards. None of the metrics given above about new readers and impressions and conversions are meaningful. The only one that counts is how much extra net revenue the author makes.

As far as I can tell from your revised numbers you made $950 but only by failing to cost Travis's work and failing to account for the fact that some part of those 1600 readers might otherwise have paid full price.

Does Travis work for free for all authors?

Travis Bach said...

(I thought that replying to a gmail comment notification would auto-post my response. I guess not. Here is it again)

These are good questions, but I think you're not thinking about this right... or at least the same way I do. Which may or may not be right haha.

First - $950 for a week of work. If that was infinitely repeatable, I'd be making roughly $45,000/yr doing that. So its definitely worth my time IMO just for the money. That's what I used to make as a programmer. This is very short-term cost-benefit evaluation though.

Second - we would have sold about $330 worth of full price NDFL without the kindle countdown and promotions. Instead those same sales earned $66. So really the direct profit from the promotion was as follows. I hadn't considered this in my original calculations, so good point.
+$1270 from NDFL sales
-$264 from reduced NDFL royalties on normal sales that would have occurred anyway
+$350 from bonus OGDDA
-$500 from direct costs for advertising
Total: $850 in profit. So still pretty good. (also for above argument, this would be $43,000/yr)

Third - I would strongly disagree that revenue is the only thing that counts. Its the opposite IMHO. Sales don't count for much, but readers count for a lot. We don't want to sell books to everyone. We want to sell books to the people who will enjoy them. We want readers. Readers are the fans, readers tell their friends, readers send Rachel awesome emails, readers make fan art, and fanfiction. Readers are awesome! Commercially speaking, readers come back for the sequel, readers are word of mouth marketing, readers might buy Eli or Devi, readers post to social media, and they write reviews. A single reader is worth so much more than just the royalty on a sale. The long term viability of Rachel's dream to make a living write what she loves relies on readers... not on sales.

(there are lots of book sales tactics we could use and very specifically do not. They bring in sales but not readers, they damage the brand, they annoy people, they undermine the business long term.)

We probably gained 100 to 300 readers with the promotion. That's fabulous! There's not a lot of events I can point at that did the same. Release more books is #1 far and away the best way to get more readers but, fast as Rachel is, new novels only come so often. What else can be done? Interviews, podcasts, blogging don't come close. There are some notable exceptions. like the Sword & Laser podcast, but they aren't something we can make happen.

Ultimately, what we can make happen is marketing, but its wildly inefficient. My experiments spent $20-$30 per full price book sale and that's my best so far with traditional marketing (though more experimentation is DEFINITELY needed). Even assuming a generous 50% of sales through those ads become readers, it would take $4000 to $9000 spent on traditional advertising to get the same number of readers we likely got with this promotion.

So making a profit to get readers? I am super pumped! That's crazy talk!

I could go on, but I think I've exceeded blog comment territory. This is a great topic though, sales vs readers, so I'm thinking that I'll spin this off into a blog post.

Great questions Peter, thanks!

Peter Llewellyn James said...

I think the discussion goes to the question of why Rachel writes. You say:

"The long-term viability of Rachel's dream to make a living write what she loves relies on readers... not on sales."

I would say the long-term viability of her dream relies on being able to pay the bills by selling books. Unless of course her dream is a self-indulgent, romantic, starving-artist-in-a-garret sort of dream.

Every author relies on sales. Every publishing business relies on sales. Because sales means revenue.

I look forward to reading your blog post on this...

Travis Bach said...

Sales are important for that, absolutely. I guess what I'm trying to say here is that, long-term, sales come from readers. Healthy, sustaining, growing sales requires a healthy, growing readership. From a cold commercial view, the 'value' of a reader is far beyond just the purchase price of 1 book.

Take OGDDA for example. How many people read it who haven't read book 1? Not many. Probably less than 1% of its sales. How many people buy NDFL and also buy OGDDA without first reading NDFL? Again, probably almost 0. Readers of NDFL though, my data suggests about 80%+ of them go on to read OGDDA. That's fantastic!

Heartstrikers is going to be a 5 book series, so same questions for books 3,4, and 5. Without readers, the whole series is dead and we're chasing that starving artist thing. Fortunately, it doesn't have to be that way as we're in a market that rewards what Rachel's writing.

My focus on readers over sales is very much an investment mentality. I care most about the long term potential and what that means for the writing career. We basically invested $500 in the promo to get more readers. Do that often enough and long enough and it gets impressive. Its also much more stable than churning out throw-away novels just trying for a hit, or writing disposable novels, etc...

Athena Grayson said...

Did I miss something in the post where there's a limit on the measurement of its effects? The effects of this promotional push aren't done playing out. Sales are still racking up based on the book's Amazon ranking, and the long tail--as readers make their way through the book and pick up the next one in the series--hasn't begun to suss out yet.

Travis Bach said...

I didn't talk about that much because, well, the effect on long tail for any given event is SO subtle, that I can't measure it. Long tail seems to be controlled less by overall sales and more by things like the inherent commerical potential of the work and of the author's market position.

For example, just an update to the numbers here. The sales boost to ogdda vanished about 2 weeks after the mega promotion and its sales volume returned to the pre-sale levels. It still looks like we sold about 100 bonus copies of ogdda thanks go the promotion.

We all think that sales rank brings in mega sales but, and I should post about this, we often get that causality backwards. By itself, sales rank doesn't seem to bring in tons of buyers. This comes from those times we enjoyed a large sales rank boost from kindle unlimited and saw a very minor corresponding increase in actual sales.. And visa versa.

In the end there's tons of stuff I can't measure. Word of mouth would be one for example. Value of impressions. People loaning the books to others. Second or third degree effects. The movement of people between series. Traffic from also boughts.

Despite all that, we still learned a lot here. Its the foundation of many future decisions and strategies.

David said...

i think the most important number is 0, 0 new books i've read since OGGDA. come on Rachel Aaron and while you're at it tell your rival Rachel Bach to get those fingers typing.
each time you release a new book i tell all my people about how awesome the latest title is. insta-advertise.
sorry if this was a little to desperate.