Are Disappointing Holiday Sales and KDP Select Connected?

Oh, Santa may have brought you some stars for your shoes,
But Santa only brought me the blues —
Those brightly packaged, tinsel-covered Christmas Blues.

–David Holt and Sammy Cahn, “The Christmas Blues”
Santa didn’t actually bring me the blues. It’s been a generally nice holiday season — national tragedies notwithstanding.

But he also didn’t bring me stars for my shoes. What Santa really brought me was a conundrum. With it being the holidays I was hoping for stronger sales than what I’ve been getting. I could get upset about that, but I’m choosing instead to wonder what’s happening, why, and if there’s anything I can do to change it.

A little background first. October was a good month. In fact, it was a record month for sales. November was even better. In terms of overall numbers, I looked to be building some momentum. They were nowhere near making this a sustainable operation yet, and even a struggling midlister would probably laugh. But when you’re going from nothing a year ago and then only a couple sales a month, semi-regular purchases build some hope that you’re starting to put a foundation on your business.

Moreover, I released a new novel in November, and it sold right out of the gate. It was easily the best launch of any of my four books to date. So I really started thinking I was getting somewhere, no matter how slowly, and I figured the holiday shopping season would help push me further forward.

But after strong sales in the week leading up to Thanksgiving, everything came to an abrupt halt on Turkey Day. I didn’t really expect anything on the holiday, but Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Sunday, and Cyber Monday all went by without me moving a single copy of anything. Then on Tuesday, I started selling again.

But much more slowly. I put together a five-day streak of sales and then went dark for almost a week. It’s been hard to make a sale since then.

Sleeping Beauty CoverOn the other hand, I’ve run two very successful free events through KDP Select. I offered “Sleeping Beauty” free the Monday after ABC’s Once Upon A Time had its mid-season finale and again a week before Christmas as a holiday promotion. The first event moved an impressive 183 copies. Yesterday’s was even better with 239. Those are just U.S. numbers. It #21 on the World Literature > Mythology list and #23 on the Contemporary Fantasy one.

And “Sleeping Beauty” remains my bestselling book overall. But at the moment it’s only sold four copies this month. Worse, after a strong two-day debut, Red Dragon Five didn’t sell anything until yesterday. I was briefly excited to see a sale of a novel during the free event of a different book, but it was returned almost immediately. Not sure if someone bought it by accident, but it was pretty disappointing to be teased like that.

So what’s going on? Why do my sales have the Christmas Blues?

Is it the economy? Retailers have reported disappointing holiday sales this year as consumers worry about us going over the fiscal cliff.

Is it the material? Books, especially eBooks, make great post-Christmas gifts. You get an Amazon gift card as a stocking stuffer or you get a Kindle Fire HD, and then you go shopping for books. Maybe sales will rocket up on the 26th.

Or is it KDP Select? There are numerous websites dedicated to informing readers about free books for their Kindles. I used several of them for the last two promotions for “Sleeping Beauty” and had very successful giveaways.

But does this mean consumers have decided they don’t need to pay for eBooks? Do they figure they can just wait for books to be free?

The idea behind the free giveaway is to give some readers the material for free, so word of mouth will spread, and, assuming the book is good, they’ll write a review that will help it sell. I’ve now run four free events for “Sleeping Beauty.” I’ve given away 1072 copies in the U.S. alone.

But my results are pretty mixed. I have yet to earn a single review after a free event. Nearly 1100 people have downloaded the book, and none of them has taken the time to write a review. That’s a pretty poor return on investment.

On the other hand, “Sleeping Beauty” is my bestselling book, hands down. It started selling in measureable numbers after its first free event. That also helped ignite new sales for State of Grace. I believe the free events have raised my visibility and consequently raised my sales numbers.

But not to a sustainable level. Not even approaching a sustainable level.

So what do I do? Should I continue as I have been? I am building things (at least I was before Christmas season), so maybe I just need to think, “slow and steady wins the race.” Or maybe I need to try something new, because I’m still not successful enough to complain about my taxes.

I’ve got a lot of thinking to do over the next few weeks. I have one more free event scheduled this year. Then I’m going to have to decide if I think giving books away en masse is bad for business or not.

I’m pretty sure KDP Select free events are impacting my business. The question is whether it’s positive or negative.

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2 thoughts on “Are Disappointing Holiday Sales and KDP Select Connected?

  1. Just as a further anecdotal point for you to consider:

    I haven’t done any KDP Select for TALES OF THE FAR WEST (since it’s on sale at Apple and Barnes and Noble as well), and my sales have been steady month-to-month for the past 6 months or so. Kindle sales have plateau’d at around 2 units per day, ish. That’s holding so far through December as well.

    So, as Alice says, curiouser and curiouser.

    • Interesting. I’ve been slowly experimenting with Select, because my sales at B&N were completely dead, and those at Smashwords (and its affiliates) were no better than what I’d been getting through Amazon prior to enrolling in Select. I still have some things on sale at those other stores, but sales remain moribund.

      Anyway, after I’ve recovered from the holiday rush, I’ve got some thinking to do about the next step.

      Thanks for the comment, Gareth!

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