1st Month Postmortem: Pig and the Box

MCMMonday, March 2, 2009

Part of the fun of trying something new is finding out what fails. This year, I'm getting 12 cracks at "something new", so I want to make sure I can help other people out there learn from my mistakes. I'm going to be doing postmortems on all my books, giving you some insights into their business plans and how they worked out. I'll probably do 1, 6 and 12 month posts for each title, just to track progress (but avoid writing these things as my full-time job). First up is The Pig and the Box, probably my most popular project of all time.

The Plan

The Pig book was basically a re-release with a built-in audience, so there wasn't as much pressure to promote it as there usually is. I switched from CreateSpace to Lightning Source so I could finally get proper distribution (selling outside Amazon in the US is vital for me, being Canadian and all). I got a quote for the back cover from Cory Doctorow. I was going to sell the print book for $8.99 and give away the PDF as usual, all under a Creative Common Noncommercial-ShareAlike license. I was going to hope that Boing Boing would pick up the news as they did when I first wrote it, but if not, I had a press release ready and a YouTube trailer that might draw some more traffic. I wasn't looking for a new audience so much as trying to catch the original audience that hadn't had a chance to buy my book the first time around (because it took me so long to get it ready).

The Goals

Because of my relatively low expectations, I wasn't counting on a major success with the Pig. I looked at my numbers and decided to aim for 111 print copies and 10 eBooks sold by the end of 12 months. If I could do that, I'd have $1.46 in profit and could call it a victory.

The Pricing Structure

Printing with Lightning Source (LSI) is cheap and effective, but it does have costs. Each of the Pig books costs $3.88 to produce. When you sell through the Amazons and Indigos of the world, you also give away a portion to the cover price, in this case, 40%. So once you figured it all in, my $8.99 book was earning me $1.51 per copy. It's not a huge sum, but the problem with Print on Demand is that you don't have the ability to match a mass-market book of the same type, so if you want to compete price-wise (which is vital to your survival, I would think), you need to hope to make up in volume of sales.

The eBook was very different. I was struggling to decide how much to charge for the eBook version. On the one hand, it's essentially a donation-with-download scenario because you can just as easily download the PDF on the same page for free. But you don't want the eBook to appear worthless. But then how much is it WORTH? What is the value of the writing and drawing inside the pages? Do I take the $8.99 and subtract $3.88 (print costs) and charge $5? It seemed a bit steep, so I decided to create myself an arbitrary rule for pricing eBooks: list price minus $6. $2.99 it is. If nothing else, it was a good place to start my eBook adventure.

The Other Costs

I'm lucky to be a "jack of all trades" type, so I can produce for myself things that others would typically spend money on. First and foremost, I made my YouTube trailer for free, which was a huge savings. I wrote my own press release too, but the service I used to distribute it cost me $99. I know there are cheaper alternatives, but this one seemed to be the best bang for the metaphorical buck.

There's also the set-up cost at LSI, where you get your proof and they register it for distribution around the world etc. That comes in at $92.88 per book. Unavoidable cost, but worth it.

I also had incidental costs in buying, signing, and shipping promo copies. That added another $45 to the total, but largely because I was shipping things overseas a lot. I probably won't be doing that again (cost per signed copy = around $8 to me, all told).

The Results

On the first day, I had about 150,000 downloads of the book (I'm only counting the English version here). The next day, there was a massive fall off, down to 50,000, and it basically continued on a sharp decline to its current level, at roughly 100 copies a day. All told, about 300,000 downloads in 30 days.

Book purchases were a bit less consistent, and even harder to report because LSI doesn't give you day-by-day sales figures. I was dutifully reloading their reports page every morning so I could be sure I caught the ins and outs, but there were a few days where I forgot to check, and it appears those days were the "big purchase" ones. So all you're going to get is this: first week, I sold 25 copies. Second week, 41 copies. Sometime in the last 2 weeks, I sold 3 more. For a total of 69 copies, or $104.19. There's actually another purchase in there from a vendor that has yet to start selling the book, but I won't count that until next month, despite the fact that the money is already in the bank. Without that, I'm still 41 books short for the year.

eBooks were even more scattered. I sold 5 in the first week, and another 5 from weeks 2-4. So I've met my eBook goals for the year, bringing in $25.73 (after PayPal fees).

Finally, donations were brisk but good. I earned $75.13 in straight donations through PayPal, which is probably the best feeling of the lot. It's someone who purely just wants to say "thanks", and doesn't want anything more in return. But I digress...

Grand total for month one of The Pig and the Box is $205.05. Not to sound pessimistic, but that's probably going to account for more than 80% of my yearly total on this title. But it's very close to covering my production costs, so as long as I can sell a few more copies here and there in the next 11 months, I think I'll call this a success. A very slight success, but all the same...

Lessons Learned

I'm going to cover my looking-forward observations in another post, but there are a few fundamentals I can jot down here. Most importantly, I will not be doing a press release for my other books. Regardless of the cost (from $0 to $99 and beyond), I get no results from traditional marketing channels. The theory behind the press release is that news markets would see it and decide to run a story about the book, but not a single one did. More than that, I couldn't even get my local paper to consider reviewing the book (lack of major publisher killed my chances). By contrast, one mention on Boing Boing basically fuelled all my downloads and purchases, and it was free (if somewhat unpredictable as a marketing outlet).

Another thing I've talked about before is the "review my book" aspect. If I'd openly courted reviews from the PDF readers on Amazon or Chapters/Indigo, I probably would have locked a few more sales by this point. I basically need to do more to profit from the uninformed masses that wouldn't realize my books are out for free on my site (or who don't understand PDFs). The best way to do that, I've found, is to have reviews of my books online. It's like word of mouth, but detached. I should have had a plan in place for that at the start, but I missed the boat and so far haven't been able to convince any of the stragglers to give me 5 stars on Amazon out of the kindness of their hearts.

Regionally-speaking, one thing I should have discovered earlier was that Indigo/Chapters doesn't automatically adopt the Ingram catalogue as it's released (all other booksellers seem to). I had to fill out a special Excel file and send it to them, wait a few days, and then the book appeared on their site (and in their physical store computer system). I lost almost 3 weeks on that problem, only because I assumed they were more automated than they are. Very important thing to know, going in.

What's Next

I've got "Percy's Perch" coming up, which is similar in scope to the Pig book, so I will be trying a modified version of this model soon. I have a few ideas about how to improve things, which I'll detail in my next post, "Fixing the Pig Book Model"...

All content released under a Creative Commons BY-NC license except the contents of "TV" section, which belong to their respective owners.