March Sales Report: A Bumper Month & Some Old-School Piracy

It’s that time of the month again when the slate is wiped clean and Amazon makes us sing for our supper anew.

All those beautiful sales vanish from our reports, replaced by a taunting brown streak – which only disappears whenever things get moving again.

Checking those sales numbers can be addictive, particularly when you are on a run. Less so when Amazon’s customers appear to be boycotting your books.

But enough of that, March was great. A bumper month even. Before I go any further, I have the usual alternative reading for those averse to sales talk and number wrangling.

British science fiction author Ian Watson has an extended essay on his website detailing his experiences of working with one of the most fascinating creative minds of the 20th century: the brilliant, mercurial Stanley Kubrick. Set aside half-an-hour, it’s a real treat.

On to the numbers. Here are the last six months:

October: 157 ($285)

November: 261 ($560)

December: 259 ($665)

January: 299 ($765)

February: 301 ($735)

March: 484 ($870)

After redistributing some late reporting Smashwords sales (including my first at Kobo!), February actually nudged ahead of January, keeping my seven-month streak of pretty much unbroken growth intact. That should come to an end this month; March will be difficult to match. Either way, I’ll cross 3,000 paid sales this month – probably even this week.

The St. Patrick’s Day Blowout almost exactly accounts for the increase on February. As my two participating titles were reduced to 99c for the promotion, royalties per-book were significantly lower, meaning that income (a more important barometer for me) didn’t rise as dramatically. That doesn’t mean the exercise wasn’t worthwhile. Without it, there may have been a big dip this month.

I had a new release in December, and sales and ad spots in January and February, then the blowout in March. I have nothing at all planned for April, so a drop is more than probable. Perhaps even a significant one. Then again, I said that last month and still managed to pull a rabbit out of a hat. My expectations are set at the appropriate level, but maybe I’ll cook up something.

The strange thing is that sales always follow the same pattern – no matter what I do – a slow start, a fat middle, and then they just die in the last week of the month. Can’t figure that out.

Again, the vast majority of sales were Amazon US (the main focus of the St. Patrick’s Day promo event).

Smashwords numbers are incomplete (I only have Barnes & Noble for part of March, and little else), so hopefully they will rise some, maybe even taking me over 500 sales for the month.

Beefing up the non-Amazon column are paperback sales through Createspace and The Book Depository (the latter being a far bigger seller), and direct sales to independent bookstores – something I hope will be a big growth area for me this summer. More on that soon.

I also opened my own e-bookstore last week. If you want to know how that’s done, I blogged about it here. It’s relatively straight-forward and the great thing is I’ve already been paid for the (small handful) of sales I had in the last ten days of March. How cool is that? I’m hoping that this will become an important channel for me in the future too.

The Euro Kindle stores were a wash for me last month, but that should change with the release of my first translated title – also coming out in paperback. The whole translation project will be picking up steam over the summer, and I should have several titles in several different languages by end of year.

The English paperback edition of Let’s Get Digital will be out very soon. I’m just waiting on a cover. I’m excited about that, but was less happy to hear that someone had beaten me to the punch.

Old School Piracy: An Unauthorized Paperback?

A pirated paperback edition of Let’s Get Digital has been on sale on Amazon US and Amazon UK for at least a week. I only discovered it today when Author Central decided to link the pirated copy to my (genuine) Kindle edition.

While this move alerted me to the fraud, it also gave legitimacy to the pirated edition, as well as the benefit of my 74 reviews in the US, and 14 in the UK. A quick call to Author Central today got the editions de-linked. And the (slower) legal process of getting this book removed has been put into motion with Amazon’s Copyright Agent.

Worryingly, the “Look Inside” feature on the pirated book displays the Kindle Version (because they had been linked). This could cause customers to think they are either getting something official, or something formatted far better than the pirate version is likely to be.

I also contacted the seller directly – a company called Book On Demand Publishing – via their contact form on Amazon Marketplace. They claim to be a “self-publishing service” and don’t know who is responsible for the book!

Frankly, I don’t trust them and don’t believe them. They seem to have zero web presence. They said they would take down the pirated book straight away, but haven’t done so. And the email was barely literate.

Their Amazon UK Marketplace listing has 104,517 titles. Much of this seems to be content farm crap – “books” scraped from Wikipedia etc. (e.g. this Stephen King Vampire book). However, there are also many titles which have been simply pirated (such as this one from Faber & Faber). There’s a handy search box, in case you want to nose around.

In case anyone thinks that the above is in contradiction with my stated views on piracy (i.e. much of piracy can’t be considered lost sales, that which can is countered by convenience and price, and there isn’t much you can do about it anyway), let me explain why this is different.

First of all, this is a paperback edition listed on Amazon with a $20 price tag. As such, it’s existence directly affects my ability to sell my own work, and is trading off my hard-won reviews.

Second, it’s likely a shoddy edition given that it’s scraped from an e-book, the cover is awful, and I doubt it is properly formatted etc. However, it’s presented as a legitimate book on Amazon (and not one of ten thousand in a torrent), damaging my “brand” as an author/self-publisher with its shoddy presentation.

Third, there are simple steps I can take to guarantee its removal, even if the wheels don’t turn quite as quickly as I would like, unlike the whack-a-mole of trying to eliminate digital piracy.

This “publisher” is clearly a waste of space, spamming the Amazon listings with junk books and pirated material. Amazon pledged to take a closer look at their operation.

WordPress Stats Go Global

Let’s not end on a nasty note. March was a record month for this blog with over 40,000 views. That’s especially pleasing because my two previous record months were artificially boosted by having posts featured on WordPress.com’s homepage. March managed this without that help.

WordPress has added a country breakdown to the stats page. Here’s last month:

If any of you guys have a friend in Greenland or Kazakhstan, could you do a bro a solid and get them to color in some of that gray?

UPDATE: Amazon’s legal department have responded to my request and have initiated the process to remove the unauthorized paperback editions from their various websites, and that they should be gone in a few days. Impressively quick (a matter of hours), but I do hope they take a closer look at Book On Demand Publishing – who have over 100,000 such titles on Amazon.

UPDATE 2 (Tues): Both unauthorized paperback editions were gone when I checked this morning. I’m impressed by the speed that Amazon’s legal team dealt with this situation, once they were made aware of it. Some questions remain about the systems they have in place to detect this kind of thing, and there are some suggestions in the comments below.

Note: The above figures have been revised. I thought I had earned $780 this month. That was a miscalculation. I actually earned over $870, beating my previous best by $1.61. That record had been around since August; it’s nice to break it.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is a 34-year old Irish writer, living in London, who spends most of his time travelling the world, collecting stories. He is the author of the South American historical adventure "A Storm Hits Valparaiso" and the short stories "If You Go Into The Woods" and "Transfection" as well as the popular self-publishing guide "Let's Get Digital: How To Self-Publish, And Why You Should."
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38 Responses to March Sales Report: A Bumper Month & Some Old-School Piracy

  1. mo79uk says:

    Well done. :)
    I purchased the paperback of ASHV after sampling it on the Kindle. Read a third of it so far, really easy to get into. I didn’t download it as I wanted to see the quality of print-on-demand, which is impressive.

  2. Jaye says:

    Yet another interesting market report, David. Thank you so much for posting these. They are inspiring. I’m starting to get some work up and running, but so far I’m just “stocking the shelves” so to speak. I want five or six titles live before I start doing any real promotion.

    That piracy blows me away. The sheer gall of people never ceases to amaze me. I’d been under the impression that Amazon had automatic searches for copyright infringement in place. Now I know better and that’s a good a thing to know. I hope when you get those people to take down their pirated copy, that you write about the process and the hoops you have to jump through. This isn’t something at the forefront of most peoples’ minds.

    On the other hand, your writing is valuable enough to steal. Heh.

    • Yeah, it has been an interesting experience. Amazon clearly need better systems in place. I don’t expect them to catch every single copyright violation from the off, but I think a publisher with over 100,000 titles should have been spotted before now, and dealt with. Surely they keep an eye on who their largest publishers are? Wouldn’t that be in their interest? Shouldn’t uploading 100,000 titles trigger some kind of closer look?

      If anyone else is affected, the first thing you need to do is to make sure none of the pirated copies are linked to your genuine editions. This book looked legitimate because it had all my reviews, my author name was hotlinked to my Author Central Biog, and with one-click you got to the (genuine) Kindle Edition.

      Calling Author Central will de-link them – and they can also handle the UK. I just hope the legal process of taking the book down doesn’t take to long (Author Central couldn’t give me a timeframe) as I’m launching my own paperback as soon as the cover is finished, which shouldn’t take long now.

      However, despite the de-linking, you can still view the genuine Kindle edition when you click to Look Inside, and my author name still links to my Author Central Page. And, of course, it’s still on sale.

  3. WiseMona says:

    Wow. That pirated book story worries me a lot…and that was for a print version.
    I am going to see the first print out of my book this week David and then shortly after that
    I will be rolling out the eBooks. Thanks for this and all the other great posts. I have learned so much from you and Konrath. I hope, now, to put it all into good practise!

    • As long as Amazon take care of it reasonably quickly, it won’t be too bad. I was quite angry earlier, but have calmed somewhat. I have no idea how long the process of removing the book will take. I just hope they deal with it quickly.

  4. Stacey James says:

    Thank you for sharing this, I appreciate both the sales report and the heads up on the piracy- as unfortunate as it is, I can’t believe some would have the audacity to try such a thing:(

  5. Another great post about sales. I’m looking forward to your post about this next month, and hope you do better than expected, always great when another author is honest about sales and all that…

    Armand Rosamilia

    • Oh, next month will be my anniversary. A year of monthly sales reports. Maybe that will be the last one. I think it has proved it’s purpose. I’ll still share all the stuff I’m trying, what works, what doesn’t, and how my books are doing, but maybe I won’t run the numbers like this each month. I dunno. We’ll see.

  6. patricefitzgerald says:

    Dave, you are the best! You are one of the main reasons I got into indie publishing, and I am so glad I did!! Fantastic information here, as usual, and great encouragement — along with some grim but important reality.

    Congratulations on your well-deserved sales success. I just added up my own numbers and was pleasantly surprised. In total (almost entirely since 12.23.11, the fateful day I first went free on KDP Select) I have sold 2,400 books, had 860 borrows, and seen 40,000 downloads! And that’s pretty much all due to RUNNING, the only full-length novel I’ve published to date.

    So it’s possible to get the stories out to readers, sell in reasonable numbers, and make money! All of which you demonstrate regularly on your blog.

    Cheers to you! (And hey, if you’re going to continue to write about exotic historical events, you might want to delve into the nuanced differences between Austria and Australia, mate.) ;-}

  7. J.D.Hughes says:

    The memoir of Kubrick by Ian Watson was fascinating and will take its place in my library of great directors. Kubrick along with Hitchcock, Lean, Nic Roeg, Alexander McKendrick. Michael Powell, Carol Reed and John Boorman were my idols as a young photographer starting out in the film industry and it’s a great delight to find yet another piece of information. Thanks a lot, Dave, for pointing it out.

  8. It appears that the pirated UK paperback has been temporarily removed from sale. Now neither US or UK pirated editions seem purchasable. That’s a start. I hope they remove them completely soon enough.

    • Amazon have informed me that they have initiated the process to remove these unauthorized editions from their various websites, and that they should be gone in a few days.

      Impressively quick, but I do hope they will look at their systems, and especially that they take a closer look at Book On Demand Publishing – who have over 100,000 such titles on Amazon.

  9. Way to keep swinging, Dave! I’m planning a post this week about my *first* month selling on Amazon. I learned a lot.

    The thing about content scrapers is: they expect it to be taken down quickly. All they need is a neverending supply of content (which e-book self-publishers provide) and a quality-free, ungated publishing system (which Amazon provides). The persistent rumor is that this stuff makes up as much as 40% of all e-book sales on Amazon, units-wise.

    • Thanks James.

      I would be very skeptical of the 40% claim in relation to actual sales. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if this crap made up a significant portion of the books for sale.

      Amazon needs to do better here. There are a number of potential solutions. A one off uploading fee of, say, $20 would severely reduce the viability of this kind of stuff. The guy who pirated me would face a $2m bill just to upload all his books.

      Aside from that, I think Amazon needs to ask themselves how someone can list 100,000 books on Amazon without triggering any kind of alarm. Amazon are famous for their focus on customers. Surely the existence of this crap makes for a poor user experience – especially in cases like this where the pirated version got linked to a book which is very visible.

      • I’m skeptical too, and you said what I meant: units for sale.
        I’d like to see an entry gate of some sort too. I don’t think it’d have to cost–it would just require some verification steps and a blacklist. Or as you described, a daily/weekly publishing threshold (unless you established some sort of corporate account with reliable info).
        I think there’s a business opportunity here, too–a service that watches over self-published works and alerts us to copyright scammers.

      • Sorry James, this one ended up in the spam bucket (ironically).

        Apologies for the sales/for sale confusion. I see we are on the same page. I’m trying to understand Amazon’s thinking. Do they not care because this crap is all down the bottom of the rankings and is rarely seen by anyone? Perhaps. But when they start automatically linking it to genuine work, then it becomes a lot more visible.

        When I worked for Google, we had systems in place which flagged inappropriate advertisers and ads (and the sites they led too). Naturally in an open system like that (somewhat akin to KDP), some stuff will slip through the cracks – we were constantly refining it to get smarter at catching the bad stuff without blocking the genuine stuff. I’m presuming Amazon does something similar. However, where they really slipped up is not noticing one company with 100,000 books. I just don’t get that. We always monitored who was uploading lots of ads because they tended to be either (a) a big customer who should get a little extra attention or assistance or (b) someone up to something they shouldn’t be.

      • An upload fee is not a bad idea, although it should only be one-time. So not for revisions you need to make for typos or updates/new editions.

        Google charge a small fee to Android developers to reduce rubbish apps in Android Market, (now renamed to the Google Play Store).

  10. Love the posts David, and good luck with the pursuit of the unauthorised thieving bastards (hu-um, excuse me) and keep up the good work. Look forward to whatever you write next and wish you well in your sales!

  11. Neil says:

    David,

    Congrats! I’m happy to see the sales go up. When is you next book due? ;)

    There will be frustrations. Deal with them and build.

    FWIW, I’m loving my new Kindle touch. The K2 had an ignoble end. I’ll blog about it once I’ve had some time to ferret out how a few functions work.

    Neil

    • We are looking at early July. I would like it to be sooner, given that much of the hard work is done, but I’ve got to move house (and country!), find somewhere new to live, find a new job, and my editor is booked out until June anyway. I might squeeze out a short or two inbetween now and then. We’ll see. The second half of the year should have more releases, but I’m a little hampered at the moment, unfortunately.

  12. I’m not enamoured of your $20 upload fee suggestion – it would hurt us Indies (who don’t all have your sales) and be as bad, in its own way, as enforced DRM. As to Amazon not catching it, perhaps it’s because he/it is a “publisher”. When I tried to upload a novel under its pseudonym the Amazon jaws snapped shut mid task and I had to scan & email the rights-reversion letter from the publisher to prove that I was Tyler Brentmore before it went live. I was impressed. Some flags work.

    • Linda, I’m not totally fond of the idea myself and I’m open to alternatives. I think even a modest fee of $10 per upload would dramatically alter the profitability equation for these pirated and Wikipedia-scraped “books” but I can understand the objections to any such fee. Amazon seems to have decided that it’s not profitable to proactively do anything about this stuff. If that’s the case, then it needs to be stopped at the front end. An upload fee seems like the most obvious way, but, as I said, if someone has a better idea, I’m all ears.

      The early warning system you describe appears to have been relaxed recently (or so I’m told by authors who publish others regularly). The description of this book even said that it was a replication of the e-book. They put a publication date of 1901 down (when my Kindle version was published in July last year). And don’t forgot that this publisher uploaded 100,000 books without triggering any alert in the Amazon system. So, it must be said, that whatever system they have in place is grossly inadequate.

      • I agree that Amazon failed miserably with yours, and with yours then who else’s? And I’m sorry that I’ve no better solution to offer. I just think that an upload fee system will start a far wider financial encroachment.

  13. Kirkus MacGowan says:

    Howdy, David. Just wanted to say gratz on the continued sales growth. Looking good. :)

    I’d heard of pirating eBooks before, but now paperbacks? Sad. Hope everything works out!

  14. Jim Bronyaur says:

    Great to see those figures rising, David!!!!

    We had our best month in March too… hoping it all keeps on carrying on.

  15. Pingback: Piracy Piracy Everywhere « DaveSinclair.com.au

  16. Congratulations on your sales, David. That’s crazy about the pirated ebook (never seen someone turn them into paperbacks before). Hope it all turns out all right.

  17. Awesome on the sales! But I’d be flaming mad if someone pirated one of my prints. Some of my used print books from my old publishing house are listed at $47 each on Amazon. Crazy! I hope nobody pays $47 for one of my books.

  18. Congrats David. Keeping our fingers crossed all the way.

    I am quite a bit concerned with the piracy issue. A little while back there were incidents where the work of some erotic and romance writers were stolen. The perpetrator(s) stole the content, slapped on their own cover and name, and uploaded it to Amazon. In some cases they at least changed the names of characters. Just the idea of this happening pisses me off. See: http://tinyurl.com/83asoaf

    Having your work freely available on torrent sites is one thing. Stealing your content and selling it under a different name is a completely different animal, as is false links to your work, like in your case, David.

    I don’t know. Im trying to think of solutions here, but so far a small upload fee, or something to that effect, might dissuade the mass uploaders at least. It could be seen as a deposit and refunded later. I don’t have extra cash floating about and I’m not terribly happy about the deposit idea, but piracy does have the potential to do a lot of damage.

    My 2.5 anyway.

  19. I am glad to see you doing well in your sales. I am about to try my hand at e-publishing and your blog is super helpful so far.

  20. omnifish says:

    It is unprofitable for Amazon to police pirates. It would mean they need a human or something to check every single book. Extra hoops mean extra costs. Short of uploading fees to slow the ease with which pirates can steal and publish, I can only think of another way: an improved search function. Google allows you to search whole sentences in a book. I recommend authors google random sentences of their books to make sure that only approved websites are hosting their content. Amazon could do something like this, and maybe leave it authors to discover the pirates themselves. Perhaps developing this sort of robust search mechanism is too costly. I don’t know. Customers might like it too. It’d would help to find sources for obscure books.

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  23. wordwan says:

    An interesting question, as I dealt with an author on Amazon who had some vendor selling his book, per se. And he hadn’t agreed to this guy ‘having’ his book but the fellow had problems getting Amazon to get the guy to stop. I think the account was called “anybook”.

    Wouldn’t Amazon be wondering why you aren’t being paid a royalty for your paperback book ON the website? Or am I thinking this wrong? Should I be presuming that the paperback version of your book was POD? So why wouldn’t Amazon have caught them on THAT note?

    Again, Amazon worries me. Big time.

    Heather
    wordwan

  24. wordwan says:

    And while I am here, what’s your take on James Patterson having so many ‘free previews’ on Amazon? With lots and lots of chapters.

    http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_ss_i_3_12?url=search-alias%3Ddigital-text&field-keywords=free+preview+kindle+books&sprefix=Free+Preview%2Cdigital-text%2C272

    This is the guy who was complaining about the state of the book publishing world. Should I be thinking all he was doing was ADVERTISING for James Patterson?

    Yeesh.

    Heather
    wordwan

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