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2016 Smashwords Survey Reveals Insight into the Habits of Bestselling Authors

19 April 2016

From Smashwords:

My goal with the Survey is to help Smashwords authors and publishers identify opportunities to reach more readers.

The Smashwords Survey takes a data-driven approach to identify potential best practices that can give you an incremental advantage.

The Survey also helps us identify habits of the most successful authors.

. . . .

Key Findings for 2016 Survey

We looked at actual retail sales over the 12 month period between March 2015 through February 2016.  Here are the key findings:

  1. Fiction dominates – 89.5% of our sales were fiction titles.  Despite fiction’s dominance, a number of non-fiction titles were among our top performers of the year.
  2. Bestsellers have a greater social media presence – It’s not a huge surprise, but better-selling authors are much more likely to have a social media presence in the form of author web sites, blogs and Facebook and Twitter presence.
  3. Romance dominates – Romance continues to dominate sales for Smashwords authors and publishers.  Romance accounted for 50% of our sales during the survey period.  Writers in other genres and categories can gain much inspiration from romance writers.  Romance writers are typically ahead of the curve when it comes to adopting new best practices, and certainly this is underscored by their early adoption of series writing, free series starters and preorder usage.
  4. New adult romance had the highest average earnings per romance title, but that’s only part of the story – For the first time ever we looked at the relative performance of different subcategories of romance.  While New Adult, YA and contemporary had the highest average earnings per title within romance, when we examined median performance we found that subcategories of Sci-fi romance, fantasy and erotic romance earned the highest median yields per title.  If folks find this analysis useful, maybe I’ll do similar analyses of other popular genres.

. . . .

7. Pricing sweet spots – For the last few years, $3.99 was the sweet spot for most indie fiction ebooks.  It was the price that maximized both unit downloads and earnings.  For the 2016 Survey, $2.99 barely edged out $3.99 for the greatest average unit downloads.  However, we observed some shifting on the earnings front.  $3.99 retained the mantle for the average price that generates the highest earnings, and $4.99 came in as the second best price, beating out $2.99.  I think this speaks to a growing number of professional indie authors finding success migrating to slightly higher prices.  In general, most indie authors of full length fiction are probably best served at $3.99 to maximize earnings and unit sales.  You’ll also see that some strong performing non-fiction titles skewed the earnings data for the higher price ranges.

Link to the rest at Smashwords and thanks to SFR for the tip.

Self-Publishing, Smashwords

5 Comments to “2016 Smashwords Survey Reveals Insight into the Habits of Bestselling Authors”

  1. It would be good to see these pricing discussions broken down by genre so that they were actually… actionable.

    Romance (50% of the pot) tends to be less expensive than some other genres and no doubt drags down the average. I want to be pricing near or above the sweet spot in my own genres, where my readers are.

  2. Interesting. Sounds like you could slap ‘2015’ or even ‘2014’ on there and the results would be about the same.

  3. Sigh. It’s important to always take these Smashwords reports with a whole pound of salt — because Smashwords doesn’t sell at Amazon, the biggest market for indie ebooks. The phrase “Bestselling Authors” should have an asterisk next to it. It actually means “Bestselling at Smashwords, Apple, Kobo, B&N, Overdrive, Gardners…but we have no idea if or how well they’re selling at Amazon.”

    So I would be wary about taking the recommendations in this report and applying them everywhere. Yes, absolutely, you can price higher at iBooks and Kobo, because Apple and Kobo customers are much less price-sensitive. But if you raise your prices at Amazon, you might watch your sales ranking go straight off a cliff. The Amazon customer is extremely price-sensitive — and Smashwords has zero insight to offer on the best practices of Amazon bestselling authors.

  4. Aleksandr Voinov

    The trouble with Smashwords is that I sell maybe 2 copies of my books per month at SM. I arguable sell more by hand-selling to friends and family (who’re already jaded by my productivity OR want those books for free).

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