30,360 copies of Coffin Dodgers

It’s been a while since I shared figures about Coffin Dodgers, so here’s an update for anyone interested in the ins and outs of self-publishing.

Total sales of Coffin Dodgers are sitting at 30,360. That breaks down as 13,660 paid copies and 16,700 freebies; as more and more authors (and publishers) use free copies as a promotional tool, the power of the freebie is fading. When I gave away free copies in February I gave away 3,500 books and sold 8,978; when I did it last month, I gave away 948 and sold 364. Obviously Coffin Dodgers has been out for a while, so that’s a factor, but other people in the ebook game tell me that they’re seeing similar patterns with new titles.

It’s possible to spot a few patterns in the numbers too. They plummet whenever Amazon does a big Kindle promo – who’s going to try unknown authors when people you’ve actually heard of are just as cheap? – and there are noticeable peaks and troughs after good and bad reviews respectively. Kindle borrowing is becoming a thing – last month there was one borrow for every 10 sales in the UK – and refunds remain a very small but slightly annoying thing (am I the only person who reads samples before deciding to buy?).

I’m hardly rolling in cash here – typically I’ll bring in £100ish per month from book sales – but of course that’s cash I wouldn’t have at all if my book was just a manuscript sitting on a hard disk somewhere. It’s nice to see the book find an audience, and I’m still keen to finish the sequel.

I do wonder about the economics of it, though. Like many new ebook authors I’ve found that free promotions are the best way to get much-needed visibility to drive sales, and I’ve found that pricing above 99p kills those sales dead. That’s fine by me: I don’t expect people to pay the same as they’d pay for a guaranteed hit such as the new Ian Rankin, and I’m not pricing so low that I’d need to sell 10 billion books to afford a loaf of bread. However, if free promotions are becoming significantly less effective (which they are) and name-author books are dropping dramatically in price (which they are – seven of today’s UK top ten Kindle books are just £0.20 each, including Life of Pi) then the “give lots away then sell lots at 99p” model could be doomed.

That’s interesting, because at 20p – a royalty of about 7p per book, less VAT and other charges – you need to sell huge numbers of books just to cover your basic costs. Writers are usually the worst editors of their own work, and a quick scan through the Kindle pages demonstrates that they’re often pretty crappy cover designers too. If the going rate for an ebook drops to 20p, you’d need to shift 10,000 books just to cover the cost of your cover and a very quick edit. How many self-published books are going to sell in those quantities?

It’ll be interesting to see how this all pans out.