What with the growing concern that indie authors are facing more price competition from traditional publishers, many authors are looking to get the most bang for their promotional dollar. That's why when a post came across my desk last night which questioned the effectiveness of Bookbub, a book-focused promotional mailing list, I immediately started looking into the matter.
Renée Pawlish, writing over at her indie publishing blog To Become a Writer, raises questions about Bookbub and hints that there are behind the scenes rumblings. She doesn't get into specific figures, but it was enough of a teaser to get me interested:
By now I’m sure just about every indie author has heard about Bookbub. I seemed to have heard about them later than others, but I’ve used them a few times now for advertizing. And although their results are better than anywhere else, I believe that there are some concerns with their site.
This isn't the first time I have read someone questioning the value of Bookbub or the service they offer. Jane Litte, writing over at Dear Author, noted about a month ago that discounted ebooks (like the ones that Bookbub often promotes) aren't getting her attention (as a reader and buyer) quite so much anymore. She's simply seeing too many good deals:
A few on the Kindleboards have reported more diminished success with Bookbub, a newsletter that broadcasts sales and freebies to an audience of hundreds of thousands of subscribers. I’ve come across a couple of author posts that suggest that free and even 99c promotions aren’t working as well as they might have in the past even though promotional pricing is more popular than ever.
To me that confirmed my own reading habits of buying and then hoarding at 99c. At some point, I wonder about the 99c efficacy. But price promotions like this will continue unabated. Even more stingy publishers like Random House and Penguin have started discounting the first in a series to promote an upcoming book and readers are beginning to learn the signs. A recently reduced book signals a new release.
But as more and more books are being discounted including ones by big publishers are discounts teaching readers to wait and diminishing the likelihood readers will take a chance on full priced books by new authors? In other words, is a discounted book the only way to introduce a new author?
So is Bookbub becoming less effective? I'm not an author and I've never used the service, so I can't speak from experience. But I can note that the service still has its proponents over on KBoards.
Bookbub had its supporters among indie authors, with several on KBoards noting that their book had placed high on the Kindle Store's best-seller list as a result. Jack Killborn has even shared actual sales data; he reported that in the 4 days following a promotion on Bookbub (and a related promotion on the competing BookBlast service) he "cleared an extra $2460" after an investment of $600.
Even the major publishers like it. BB Griffith points out that at least one email last week included authors with major publishers like Penguin Random House and HMH. Heck, even the occasional Amazon author has made an appearance (though it's not clear to me whether the promoted title was indie or published by Thomas & Mercer).
Okay, so discounts are working and everyone is using them. So what's the problem?
That, actually, is the problem: both indies and traditional publishers are using discounts. The excess of discount offers is encouraging readers to, in the words of Jane Litte, buy and then hoard their purchases. It's encouraging the purchase of a book but not encouraging readers to connect with authors. Or as a friend told me on Twitter:
@thDigitalReader readers hoard cheap/free books. But hoarding doesn’t create a fan, & creation of fan is what’s needed to stick.
— Angela James (@angelajames) December 12, 2013
The point I am trying to get at is that long-term success is dependent on making a real connection between the author/series and the reader. Many people (including both readers and publishers) are saying deep discounts sales are failing in this regard.
Arguably this is a sign that services like Bookbub are only short term solutions, and not a tool which authors and publishers should rely on in the long run.
image by normanack