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.