I’ve been reading The Four Hour Workweek – recommended, with cautions, by an old friend of mine. Some bits of it resonate more than others, but those bits that do…
For example, the Pareto Rule, or the 80/20 rule. Eighty percent of outputs come from twenty percent of inputs. This goes for profits, for aggravation, and so on.
I’d heard about this back in my economics classes as well, but hadn’t paid much attention to it. But now with the rise of eBooks, there’s a perfect way that the Pareto Rule comes into play.
The Pareto Rule explains sales in the digital marketplace.
A while back, a small publisher was looking for an (unpaid) intern to find new marketplaces to sell eBooks through. I knew this was a bad idea at the time (I didn’t take the position), but really couldn’t explain why. I’ve had this reaction to Smashwords as well – their big shtick is distributing to lots of places at once.
But now I can tell you why I had such a strong reaction to both. The Pareto Rule explains why this point of view is crap.
The Crimson Pact (as well as my own short stories and “So You Want to Make an eBook?“), have all mostly sold through Amazon, secondly through my own store, then Barnes & Noble, and then everyone else. The 80/20 rule is definitely in effect.
There’s nothing inherently wrong with distributing to those other stores – not at all. The question is “How much energy do you really want to put into it?”.
The answer to that damn well better be less than the amount of payout you’re getting back from it. Otherwise you’re totally wasting your time – and in this digital economy, time is the only scarce resource.
Well, yes… I'd agree that there is definitely a point of diminishing returns – specifically, a point at which the meager profits from a particular sales channel are not equal to the investment of time, money, and energy required to make the ebook available there in the first place.
… but on the other hand, the "investment model" of digital publishing changes the landscape somewhat from a traditional marketplace. As you've pointed out before, once you put an ebook up on an online bookstore, it can generate steady (if small) sales for *years* without any additional effort on your part.
Is the tipping point of diminishing returns higher for the digital publishing marketplace than in others? If so, then where (thinking long term here) might that tipping point of unprofitability lie?
Is putting an eBook on Kobo unprofitable in the long term? I doubt it.
Is putting it on Smashwords unprofitable? Maybe.
Is translating it into German and putting it on Amazon.de a waste of time? Yeah, probably.
I'd say the biggest issue isn't whether or not one has to get into the other stores – but how fast one has to get into them. With the eBook eBook, I was quite keen to make sure my store, Amazon, and B&N were all ready to go. Kobo will happen, as will the iBookstore… but it's much, much lower on my priority list.
Where this factors into something like Smashwords (or any other distributor) is the tradeoff you make with them. Is a 15% take of all channels worth the added exposure of the other channels? I'd argue it's not worth the time and energy to format to their specifications and to give up that degree of control. Others feel differently – but it's something that isn't being logically considered.
Or to put this in non-Smashwords-oriented terms: If your choice is between getting into another tiny eBook market or writing another page on your new story… write the damn story!
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