If you're pressed for time, here are the highlights. Details with graphics, data, analysis and conclusions follow:
- Cheap books are not likely to be read soon after downloading: 32% of the people who download 99p/99c books usually read them right away, but 68% don’t.
- More than half of us will never get around to reading all the books on our eReaders: 53% of readers admit that there are books on their eReaders that they’ll probably never get around to reading.
- We're eBook hoarders: Nearly a third of us have more than 50 eBooks waiting to be read.
- More than 40% of book buyers read mostly on-sale books: 99c/99p or less books account for nearly all the books in 20% of readers’ eLibraries. Another 22% read mostly on-sale books.
- Two thirds of people read a full-price book soon after they’ve bought it: In contrast to 99c/99p books, which are read promptly by 28% of people, 67% of those who buy full-priced books read them soon after they’ve bought them.
The full story
As a full-time author, I earn my crust from writing, so selling a lot of books is a good thing. But what I really want to do is build a loyal fan base of readers who’ll remember me the next time they’re looking for a book, and who'll look out for my next book because they enjoy the stories I write. Selling loads of eBooks boosts my bank account, but does it actually increase my fan base and exposure? That depends on whether the books that are being bought are also being read or whether they get forgotten on readers’ Kindles.
The US BookBub promotion was a success by any measure, with 3,400 eBooks sold in 4 days. Once I got over the euphoria of seeing my book amongst Amazon.com's top 20 bestsellers, I then developed repetitive strain injury refreshing the book’s Amazon page, waiting for reviews to come in. And the reviews did come in… 12 of them in the next three weeks. So that got me thinking: Did the other 3,388 people who bought the book have nothing to say about it? Or was it that the vast majority of them haven’t read it?
To try to get an idea about the answer I created a short survey for eBook readers to take. It’s not perfect* but it might give us a clue about what readers do once they buy an eBook.
I could have asked just one question: If you bought two books, one at 99p/99c and one at full price, which would you be most likely to read?
But the answer would probably have been: both, eventually. And that wouldn’t tell us what we really want to know.
99c/99c books are not likely to be read soon after downloading
32% of the people who download 99p/99c books usually read them right away, but 68% don’t. Taking my BookBub example, that means that 1,088 of my 3,400 BookBub-promoted books were likely to be read soon after downloading. Not bad!
Now, I know (because I’m a geek who keeps track of such things) that a little over 1% of people who read my books leave reviews, so I should have seen 10 to 15 reviews for my book. And there have been 12, which tells me that the survey results are probably reasonably representative of eBook readers.
More than half of us will never get around to reading all the books on our eReaders
Even if 68% of people who download on-sale books aren’t reading them right away, they’ll probably get to them eventually, right? Well, maybe not. 53% of readers admit that there are books on their eReaders that they’ll probably never get around to reading.
As authors, of course we hope that ours won’t be one of them! But a lot of eReaders are pretty crowded with unread books.
Nearly a third of us have more than 50 books waiting to be read on our eReaders
It seems that a quarter of us keep tight control over our to-be-read pile: 24% of readers have less than 5 unread books on their eReaders. But almost half of us have more than 20 unread books on our eReaders. So now that we don’t need to have the shelf space, are we becoming book hoarders? And more importantly for authors, what does this mean for the chances that our books are being read?
But surely higher book sales compensate for the lower reading rate?
“Ah!” I hear you say, “but more people download cheaper books, so even if most don’t read them, the actual number who do will still be at least as high as those buying the book at full price.” That’s true, if people do buy at enough 99c/99p books to compensate for the proportion that they don’t read. But do they?
Smashwords looked at this question in its 2013 study: http://blog.smashwords.com/2013/05/new-smashwords-survey-helps-authors.html. It analyzed a sample of over $12 million in sales for a collection of 120,000 Smashwords ebooks from May 1, 2012 through March 31, 2013. Smashwords aggregated its sales data from across its retail distribution network, which included the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and Amazon (only about 200 of its 200,000 titles were at Amazon, so Amazon purchasing habits were under-represented). Data and statistics are rarely perfect!
The Smashwords data showed that people don’t buy more books at 99c than they do at $2.99 or $3.99; in fact they buy slightly fewer (but remember, Amazon is under-represented). The "cheaper books = more sales" dynamic starts to show when compared to the higher price points – 3.9x as many 99c books are bought as $10+ books.
We don’t have data to know how price affects sales volume exclusively at Amazon, but I do have my data for my own books. Over the past few years I’ve had most of my books in the Kindle Monthly Deals promotions that Amazon runs in the UK, and on average I sell 6.8x as many books in those promotions as when they're not in the promotions. However, these books are heavily marketed by Amazon during the promotion period. They appear along with just 99 other books on the website’s dedicated sales page and emails go out directly to women’s fiction fans with links to the book’s Amazon page. So it’s hard to know how much of the additional sales volume is because of the price and how much is because Amazon pushes the book in front of its millions of customers. What is true is that most books whose prices are reduced to 99c/99p don’t get the benefit of the Amazon marketing machine.
More than 40% of book buyers read mostly 99c/99p books
99c/99p or less books account for nearly all the books in 20% of readers’ eLibraries. Another 22% read mostly on-sale books.
Two thirds of people read a full-price book soon after they’ve bought it
In contrast to 99c/99p books, which are read promptly by 28% of people, 67% of those who buy full-priced books read them soon after they’ve bought them. This might be because they searched for the book they wanted to read next and bought it, or maybe because they want to read the book they’ve just paid full price for. We don’t know.
I guess the main conclusion that I drew from these results is that because two-thirds of 99c/99p books aren’t read when they’re first downloaded, I need to make sure that enough additional books will sell to compensate for the lower reading rate. How to do that? Well, that’s another question altogether!
I hope you found this interesting. Please don’t email/tweet/FB me to take issue with the survey design or results. I put it together to help me answer a question I had, and am sharing the results because several people have asked for them. Do feel free to share the information if you’d like to.
*This is a small-scale survey, meant to be a snapshot rather than a statistically robust study: 391 people, who are men and women of different ages from different countries, responded in a 24 hour period. They self-selected to answer the survey when it was posted on Facebook and Twitter. According to statistics bods, a sample of 384 makes for a statistically survey size that is representative of the US and UK eReading population.