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Ebooks vs. paper books

Wetknee books"I'm curious about your book experience. After doing many ebooks and one big book what is would be your preference for future books? Are you finding that sales are still doing well for all your books or are there standout ones?"
--- Mikey

I know this question isn't really homesteading-related, but several of our readers have self-published ebooks and/or have been holding out to sign on with a publisher, so I thought the topic would be helpful for more than just Mikey to hear about.  I also highly recommend ebooks to homesteaders as a potential income source, so even if you haven't written one yet, you might want to take note.

Of course, this post is also partly because I just wanted a chance to crunch data.  After all, I let a publisher take The Weekend Homesteader and run with it as an experiment to test this precise question.  And no experiment is worth much without a conclusion.

First, a caveat: I don't actually know how exactly many paper books I've sold and how much I've made from the operation.  I won't get my first statement and royalty check until next month (yes, that is 19 months after turning in my manuscript).  I'm also a bit fuzzy on how much I'll make per book --- I think it's about 65 cents, but that depends on how each book was sold.  (For comparison's sake, I make 35 cents every time one of my 99 cent self-published ebooks is sold and 75 cents every time one of my $1.99 ebooks is sold.)

Book sales

What I do have is Bookscan data about The Weekend Homesteader from Amazon's Author Central website.  (They warn that the data is usually underreported by about 25%, so I'm correcting it slightly in the calculations below.)  In the chart above, you can see that I sold a lot of books for a couple of months, sold only a few when my first printing ran out and we had to wait on the second set of books to arrive, and then, after another couple of months of high sales, settled in to selling about 50 books a week.

Books over timeSelling a lot of books during the launch then a slow-but-steady stream later seems to be the case with my ebooks as well.  The chart to the left shows estimated income from my paperback (in bold) versus all of my ebooks over their first 13 months in the public eye.  As you can see, my best-selling ebook --- Trailersteading --- actually made significantly more than my paperback did during that period (and I didn't have to wait a year and half for the money).  My other ebooks didn't make quite as much as my paperback, but on the other hand you have to keep in mind that the paperback is equivalent to 12 ebooks, so I figure I made a lot more per word even with my moderately-selling ebooks.  (As a side note: data for ebooks that have come out in 2013 hasn't been added to this chart --- $10 Root Cellar looks like it might give Trailersteading a run for its money.)

Book sales by yearBut did the paperback boost my "brand" enough that it was worth taking the per-word hit?  The chart to the right looks at ebook sales two years before, one year before, and then during the time my paperback has been out.  Although it looks like the paperback might have increased ebook sales during the launch period (which is also when Trailersteading came out), if anything, it decreased sales later in the year.  That's because once my publisher's version of The Weekend Homesteader became available in ebook form, my individual-month ebooks were no longer eligible for Amazon's KDP Select program, which is a real money-maker.  Plus, I'll only get about 65 cents if someone buys the publisher's ebook or paperback, while I'd make $4.20 if that person instead bought all 12 months straight from me.

So, to answer Mikey's question, I don't plan to publish any more print books with a publisher anytime soon --- in this digital age, it doesn't feel like I really need a middle man.  (And wouldn't you rather spend $1.99 for an ebook than $13.50 for a paperback?)  Perhaps if I was the kind of person who liked to go on tour, having a paper book would boost the brand enough to make the it worthwhile, but since I'm a confirmed hermit, ebooks seem to work better for me.

Which is not to say I regret publishing The Weekend Homesteader on paper --- if nothing else, it probably reached a lot of eyes my words wouldn't otherwise have appeared to.  And I always like experiments!  But for those of you who are on the fence about uploading your words straight to Amazon, I say go for it --- you probably won't regret it.

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Personally I'm on the fence w.r.t. e-books.

Of course you cannot beat the production cost of an e-book. :-) That is the biggest plus for authors, I think. And the most popular e-book format (epub) is basically just a bunch of webpages in a zipfile. So you can put in links to other sections et cetera. Those are definite advantages for some kinds of book, especially reference books.

But I want to be able to read away from my computer...

Last year I had the opportunity to use an ipad for a couple of days. It's nice but I found it too dense (in the sense that its weight is relatively high for its size) to hold for an extended period.

Even an e-reader is just not the same as a real book. Where e-readers shine is the capability to take lots of books in a small package. So they are nice when travelling. But the layout and typography of a real book can be much better.

A definite plus for e-books that I should mention is the availability of many public domain titles from Project Gutenberg.

Given the availability of print-on-demand hardware (like the Expresso Book Machine), you might want to consider making your books available through that route for those that want a printed copy without you having to run big risks.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Nov 17 13:38:32 2013

"in this digital age, it doesn't feel like I really need a middle man"

I'd agree with that. But it has to be said, you still have one .. its name is Amazon.

Comment by Sun Nov 17 14:09:47 2013

Roland --- I know what you mean --- as a reader, I like reading fiction on ereaders (vastly better than a computer, by the way), but prefer paper for non-fiction. I probably will eventually do some print-on-demand for my ebooks so they can be available on paper for readers like me, although it does drive the price way up.

Joey --- You're totally right. I guess I should have said, "I only need one middle man." I think traditional publishing is so bad for the author because there are so many middle men --- the publisher, the printing house, and then the website or store that sells the physical books. While some people would argue that each provides a valuable service and should be kept in business, I prefer being able to sell my ebooks for $1.99 nearly straight to the public.

Comment by anna Sun Nov 17 14:31:37 2013

Some middle-men do add value, I think.

There is value in catching mistakes. Generally for the technical work that I do I tend to have another person check it. Especially if the complexity goes up. This is because I noticed that after I've been working on something for a considerable amount of time I will just not notice some errors anymore.

In your reviews I've seen you remark that some self-published books could have benefitted from proper copy editing, both for brevity and style.

So in the authoring process copy-editing is a worthwile addition, IMO.

Comment by Roland_Smith Sun Nov 17 15:30:09 2013
Thanks Anna for sharing your experience. This is quite helpful.
Comment by Mikey Sun Nov 17 16:02:44 2013

So I have to ask: do you sell a PDF version of the e-book directly from your site? I can't speak to the homesteading vertical, but organic/health/traditional foods vertical is booming with PDF e-book sales priced much higher than $1.99.

Our approach has been to sell PDF versions only for the first 6 months to a year and then convert to Kindle and iBooks to gain a wider audience at a lower price point.

Comment by Daniel Dessinger Sun Nov 17 23:04:17 2013

As a professional freelance copy editor, I agree with Roland. Copy editing is a necessity. As with other necessities (e.g., personal hygiene), not all people who need it feel that it is necessary. Because of my editing skillz, my perspective is similar to what it feels like to be a person who owns a truck and has a lot of truck-less friends. Favor requests abound. That said.... Anna, if you ever want another set of eyes to look over a book... OR, if you know other homesteaders with e-books, who want another set of eyes to look over their books....

Saying this as a person who knows nothing about computer programming or website creation, it seems like it wouldn't be too difficult to put together a site that functioned as a much lower overhead middle man. I'm offended but not surprised that you make so little per paper book, but I feel like you should make even more with an e-book. Do you think that you benefit from people "window shopping" on Amazon, or do you think that a lot of the purchases come from people who know the blog? If your customers are from the blog, put up a store here and let us give you a full 1.99! Wetknee Independent E-book Store and Publishing Extravaganza!!

Regardless, I was pleasantly surprised when I was wasting some time in a bookstore while stranded with a dead car in Omaha this summer. I went to the gardening/self-sufficiency/homesteading section and saw "Weekend Homesteader" on the shelf! I made sure to set it on the shelf so it was facing outward instead of being stacked anonymously with the other books.

Comment by Stephen Mon Nov 18 10:55:01 2013

Roland --- You're totally right about copy-editing being very useful. However, as Stephen mentions below, it's pretty easy to contract that sort of business out. And from my own experience (from and what I've read on the internet), basic copy-editing is all you get even from a publisher nowadays --- the time of an editor helping you turn a manuscript into a masterpiece appears to be over. :-/

Daniel (and partly Stephen) --- I'm interested to hear about your experience because mine was very different. As I explain in this post, I actually make more money from lower-priced ebooks because they get snapped up. In fact, I barely made any money on my ebooks when they were offered only on my website either at a low or high price --- the Amazon marketplace middle-man definitely seems to be worth giving them a large cut.

Stephen --- As I mentioned above, using Amazon does seem to be worth it due to the much higher number of books sold. And if I increase my price to $2.99 or above, I'd get 70% instead of 35% (but minus a delivery charge that gets pretty hefty if a book is image-heavy) --- I've just been afraid to add that extra dollar onto the price tag. Maybe one of these days I will....

I've been looking for a good copy-editor to clean up my ebooks. Want to email me your rates? (

Thanks for moving my book to the front! :-)

Comment by anna Mon Nov 18 11:24:42 2013

Saying this as a person who knows nothing about computer programming or website creation, it seems like it wouldn't be too difficult to put together a site that functioned as a much lower overhead middle man.

Building a website is one thing. Building an interactive website that is secure is something else. Building a website that is secure for payment processing (I'm assuming you want to get paid :-) ) is a whole other level. You'll have to meet the requirements that banks and credit card companies expect. If online payments were simple, people like paypal and amazon wouldn't have a business. Doing it yourself is beyond the capabilities of small businesses. So most use an external payment processor. The payment process is quite involved, and security is paramount. First because you could loose your customer's trust, and second because you are responsible and liable for security breeches.

Comment by Roland_Smith Mon Nov 18 18:29:12 2013

One very unique homestead, $1,500 per acre, the opportunity of a lifetime