Since the beginning of Indielisters, I’ve been waiting for a data analyst to parachute in to provide helpful insights for our authors. Ladies and gentlemen, she has arrived! (Minus the parachute.) On today’s guest post, author whisperer and data analyst extraordinaire Lori Puma helps us make sense of the numbers.
Should you run a book promotion? The data behind 874 promos run by indie authors says they work.
After your promotion ran you may have asked yourself: Did I get a good deal?
- What kind of fees are typical?
- How many downloads should indie authors expect?
- What’s a good cost per download?
- For a particular genre, should you expect better or worse cost per download than a typical indie author?
These are the kinds of questions that the Indielisters database was designed to answer. More than 125 authors have shared their results from 874 promotions between August 2013 and July 2017.
Before we look at that data, let’s give an enormous thanks to all the authors who shared their experience. This post wouldn’t be possible if they hadn’t shared their results.
Are book promotion campaigns worth it for a typical author?
There are tons of blog posts sharing a case study of a single author’s results from a campaign run on book promotion sites. For example, here’s a case study of a young adult book that ran a deal on BookBub, a free Kindle promotion for literary fiction, and a children’s author running a 10-site promotion.
What’s typical across the 320 campaigns in the Indielisters database?
Before we can answer that, we’ve got to say what we mean by “campaign.” Some authors entered data for a single promotion site such as BookBub. Other authors entered data from multiple promotion sites all stacked together.
Let’s define a few terms
- Campaign – can be either a single-site or a multi-site promotion (It’s however the authors entered their results)
- Single-site promotion – refers to results where only one promotion site was used
- Multi-site promotion – refers to results where more than one promotion site was used
- Individual promotion – refers to a single promotion site no matter how results were entered
What does a typical campaign look like?
If we look at the median values (which are better at reflecting typical experiences than the average when you have a lot of small values and a few very large ones), a typical campaign costs $35 in fees, earns 109 downloads, and sees a cost per download of $0.21.
Are $35 in fees worth it to get 109 downloads? Ultimately, that depends on whether or not those 109 people who download your book go on to buy more books from you in the future. We don’t know the future, so let’s see how results on Indielisters compares to other kinds of advertising. For example, the latest data on the average cost of Facebook ads notes a cost per click of $0.35 globally and $0.26 in the US.
In other words, $0.21 per download is less expensive than a Facebook click.
Should you run a single-site or a multi-site campaign?
Now that we know that book promotion campaigns are cost competitive compared to other kinds of advertising, let’s dig into the details of what kinds of campaigns work best. It’s easier to set up a promotion that runs on a single-site rather than coordinating an effort across multiple promotion sites. Is the extra work setting up a coordinated campaign justified?
The majority of Indielisters results (66%) are from a single-site campaign. Since these campaigns make up the majority of the Indielisters database, the numbers from these single-site campaigns are very similar to the results for all campaigns. Among the 211 single-site campaigns:
- Median fees paid were $35. (Range $0 to $580)
- Median downloads were 109 (Range 0 to 40,000 with 21 campaigns having 0 downloads)
- Median cost per download was $0.17 (Range <$.01 to $50)
The remaining Indielisters results (44%) were from a campaign that ran across multiple sites. Among the 109 multi-site campaigns:
- Median fees paid were $83. (Range $0 to $1,500)
- Median downloads were 221 (Range 0 to 62,000 with 1 campaign having 0 downloads )
- Median cost per download was $0.29 (Range <$.01 to $6.67)
What does this mean?
Multi-site campaigns will cost you more in fees paid and are likely to bring you more downloads, but the cost per download will likely be higher.
If you’re focused on getting more downloads, go for the multi-site campaign. If you’re keeping a close eye on your cost per download, go for a single-site.
Do promotion sites work better for fiction or nonfiction?
What genres do book promotion sites work best for? Authors have a choice between listing their campaign as Fiction and Nonfiction. Most of the campaigns with genre information were for Fiction (89%).
There were 245 campaigns for Fiction with a total of 745 individual promotions. Fiction campaigns were slightly more expensive than the typical Indielisters campaign with a median $40 in fees. But they earned more downloads (171 for Fiction vs 109 for typical) and had a lower median cost per download of ($.0.18 for Fiction vs $0.21 for typical)
There were 30 campaigns for Nonfiction with a total of 83 individual promotions. Nonfiction campaigns were slightly less expensive than the typical Indielisters campaign ($32 in fees vs $35) with more than double the downloads (239 for Nonfiction vs 109), and a substantially lower median cost per download ($.04 for Nonfiction vs $0.21 for typical).
Promotion sites are clearly working for Nonfiction with a cost per download of $.04.
Although Fiction campaigns had a higher cost per download, they’re still competitive when compared to the $0.35 cost per click global average on Facebook.
What fiction genres get the best campaign results?
Do all fiction genres get similar results? Indielisters have the option to choose between 12 different fiction genres:
- Action and Adventure
- Contemporary Fiction
- Historical Fiction
- Literary Fiction
- Science Fiction
- Thriller and Suspense
- Young Adult
Currently, there is no way to specify a primary genre, so a campaign can belong to multiple specific genres.
Among the Fiction genres that had 12 or more campaigns, six genres had a cost per download that was much lower than the typical campaign. Romance, Young Adult, Historical Fiction, Mystery, and Science Fiction all had a cost per download of $0.11 or less. Fantasy, Thriller & Suspense and Action and Adventure a higher cost per download compared to a typical campaign.
When it comes to downloads, Science Fiction was the clear loser with median downloads of 82 across 27 campaigns and Historical Fiction was the clear winner
with median downloads of 736 across 14 campaigns. Action and Adventure was the most expensive at median fees of $125 and Science Fiction was the cheapest at a median of $20 in fees.
Key Fant. = Fantasy, Roman.=Romance (includes 4 “romantic comedy”), YA= Young Adult, Hist.=Historical Fiction
How do the top campaigns compare to the typical campaign in a genre?
For the genres with higher cost per download, how do the top campaigns compare to the downloads, fees, and cost per download compare to the genre as a whole? For the six most popular genres – Fantasy, Romance, Thriller and Suspense, Mystery, Nonfiction, and Science fiction – I compared the downloads, fees paid, and the cost per download to the genre as a whole.
In the Fantasy genre, the top 10 campaigns had 13x as many downloads as the Fantasy genre overall (2,794 for Top 10 vs 213 for all Fantasy) because they’re using more than 3 times as many sites. These campaigns cost nearly 3 times as much in fees ($141.50 for Top 10 vs $51.50 for all Fantasy). Those higher prices created a significantly lower cost per download ($0.04 for Top 10 vs $0.25 for all Fantasy).
In Romance, the Top 10 campaigns are using more expensive promotion sites. Both the Top 10 and all Romance authors use an average of 2 sites per campaign. The Top 10 Romance authors are paying 4 times as much in fees ($175 for Top 10 vs. $40 for all Romance) to earn 34x as many downloads (12,500 vs 369).
Thriller and Suspense
In Thriller and Suspense, Top 10 campaigns are knocking the socks off of the rest of the Thriller campaigns in terms of cost per download ($0.01 for Top 10 vs $0.47 for all Thriller and Suspense). The top campaigns are using more expensive promotion sites ($92.50 fees paid for Top 10 vs $44 for all Thriller and Suspense).
In the Mystery genre, Top 10 campaigns earned 3x as many downloads (2,277 vs 736) for 1.5x the fees ($53 vs $35). The Top 10 also cut the cost per download in half ($0.03 for the Top 10 vs. $0.08 for the all Mystery)
In Science Fiction, the Top 10 campaigns earned 18x the number of downloads (1,521 for Top 10 vs 82 for all Science Fiction) for about 3 times the fees ($55 for Top 10 vs $20 for all Science Fiction). Those more expensive sites cut the cost per download by a third ($0.03 for Top 10 vs $0.11 for all Science Fiction).
Nonfiction is a bit different from the other genres. The top 10 Nonfiction campaigns are paying less money in fees($50 vs $118.50, yet generating 7x as many downloads (1,782 vs 240) for a fraction of the cost per download($0.03 vs. $0.51).
What’s the secret behind the campaigns with the most downloads?
Is there a secret to running a campaign with high downloads no matter the genre? Does price matter? Do you need to be a best-selling author first? How important are reviews? Does BookBub explain the results? I looked to see what might explain the difference between the Top 10 campaigns by downloads compared to “the rest” of the campaigns in that genre.
Across the board, Top 10 campaigns featured books with more reviews and that were offered for free.
For most genres, the Top 10 campaigns were run by authors who had published more books and by authors who ran a deal on BookBub.
In Fantasy, the Top 10 campaigns ran on 3x as many promotion sites. An average of 10 individual promotions per Top campaign compared to an average of 3 individual promotions for “the rest”. The Top 10 campaigns also had nearly double the number of reviews (average of 48 vs. 28), were more likely to be for a book priced free (80% vs 31%), and were more likely to use BookBub (40% vs. 1%).
All 10 of the Top 10 Romance campaigns were for books priced free compared with only 40% of “the rest”. The Top 10 campaigns were more likely to come from bestselling authors (40% vs 23%) who had published more books (6 on average for Top 10 vs 4). Once again, BookBub played a role, 50% of the Top 10 ran a campaign that included BookBub compared to 8% of “the rest”.
Thriller and Suspense
Most of the top 10 Thriller and Suspense campaigns were priced free (80%) compared with 8% for “the rest”. The Top 10 campaigns had nearly twice as many reviews(average of 72 for Top 10 vs 38). You won’t be surprised to hear that the Top 10 campaigns were also more likely to use BookBub (30% of Top 10 vs 4% of “the rest”).
All but one of the Top 10 campaigns in Mystery were for a book priced free. Only 35% of “the rest” had a book priced free. The top books also had nearly double the number of reviews(46 on average vs 28). Price and reviews seem to be the main difference. The Top 10 used slightly more promotion sites (5 vs 4), but published the same average number of books, have a similar percentage of bestselling authors (20% for Top 10 vs 15% for “the rest”) and none of the Top 10 ran campaigns used BookBub.
What stands out between the Top 10 Science Fiction campaigns apart from “the rest” of the Science Fiction campaigns are the percentage priced free and the reviews. 90% of the Top 10 campaigns were for a book priced free, whereas only 1 out of the 17 “the rest” campaigns (6%) were. The Top 10 campaigns had more than 5x as many reviews on average (46 vs 9). The Top 10 campaigns also came from authors who had published more books, and who were twice as likely to be bestsellers.
Nonfiction is the only genre, where the Top 10 campaigns come from authors who have published fewer books on average. Similar to other genres, the Top 10 campaigns were nearly 4x more likely to be for a book priced free (90% vs 25%), were more likely to use BookBub (20% vs. 0%) and were for books that have more reviews (48 on average vs 26).
What have we learned today?
- Trying to decide between running book promotions and running Facebook ads? While your results may vary, an Indielisters campaign had a median cost per download of $0.21 compared to a Facebook cost per click of $0.35 globally and $0.26 in the US.
- Single promotion site or coordinated multiple site promotion? Multi-site campaigns brought authors more downloads (median of 221 vs 61) but they were more expensive in terms of fees (median of $83 vs $25) and had a higher cost per download than single-site campaigns (median $0.29 vs $0.17).
- Do promotions work for Fiction and Nonfiction? Among authors running campaigns for Fiction the cost per download was $0.18. Authors running Nonfiction campaigns are crushing it was a cost per download of $0.04.
- Fees paid, downloads earned, and cost per download all varied by genre. Fees ranged from $20 (Science Fiction) to $125 (Action and Adventure). Median downloads ranged from a low of 82 for Science Fiction to a high of 736 for Historical Fiction. The median cost per download was highest (worst) for Thriller’s at $0.47 and lowest (best) for Romance and Young Adult at $0.05.
- In the top 5 Fiction genres by number of campaigns run (Fantasy, Romance, Thriller and Suspense, Mystery, Science Fiction), the Top 10 campaigns by downloads tend to use more expensive promotion sites compared to other campaigns in the same genre. For Nonfiction it’s opposite. The Top 10 campaigns by downloads used less expensive promotion sites
- Want to run a campaign with massive downloads? In Nonfiction and the top 5 Fiction genres by number of campaigns run (Fantasy, Romance, Thriller and Suspense, Mystery, Science Fiction), the top 10 campaigns were much more likely to be for a book that was priced free and for a book that had more reviews on Amazon.
Got questions? Comments? After reading this post, are you going to try anything different with your next book promotion campaign?
Want even better insights based on more data in the future? Join Indielisters for free and start sharing your results!
Lori Puma is a freelance data analyst, who loves helping authors attract more readers. Her data analyses have earned millions of views and been published on sites such as the Washington Post, Los Angeles Times and Mashable. If you’re an author thinking about your next book promotion, check out Lori’s free guide on what to put in place so that your next promotion helps you attract lifelong readers and generate repeat sales.