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Anatomy of an eBook Launch: Raw Numbers

On January 24th, I officially "launched" my eBook Writing Idiomatic Python. I had no idea what to expect and even less of an idea about what I should do to promote it. So I did the easiest thing: posted to reddit (/r/python to be specific). Aside from a post to hacker news not about the book itself and a single tweet, posting on reddit was the only thing I did.

And that was enough.

The post got a few upboats and stayed on the front page of /r/python for 5 days (and was the top post for about 2 days). The traffic, from reddit alone mind you, sold a lot of books (the exact numbers are discussed later).

Some Raw Numbers

Between the 24th and 29th, I received 10,002 page views during 6,052 visits from 4,848 visitors. As you can see below, the majority of these came during the first two days (1,570 visits on the 24th and 1,896 on the 25th).

Missteps

When I started, I only offered PDF versions of the book ($8.99) with payment via credit card. Much of the early feedback fell in to one of three categories:

  • I want to buy the book but can't pay via credit card. Can you enable payments via (PayPal, Google Checkout, etc)
  • I want to read the book on my mobile device. Can you offer the book in the epub format?
  • I want to buy both versions of the book, but $18 is more than I'm willing to spend.

Needless to say I got right to work. By Friday morning I set up PayPal and Google Checkout as payment options. A few hours later, I offered a bundle of all versions and all formats of the book for $12.99 (roughly 50% more than the cost of the book in a single version/format.) Both of these helped, but one had a considerably larger impact.

The 'bundle' option quickly became the most popular. I was now making 50% more per sale.

I had effectively increased the price of the most commonly purchased item from $8.99 to $12.99. Apparently, either a lot of people wanted the contents of the bundle or, more likely, the bundle's price was very attractive compared to a single version.

Sales Numbers

Total Sales: $2,526.65

Free copies and returns

As I specify on the landing page for the book, I'm happy to send out free copies of the book to those without the financial means to purchase it. To date I've given out roughly 30 free copies in various versions/formats. Everyone has been quite appreciative and I've noticed I get the most feedback from those who got it for free. I have no idea why that is, but I enjoy the feedback.

Has this materially impacted sales? Possibly, but the effect is likely minuscule. I know the number of free versions I sent out, so that accounts for all possible lost sales (unless seeing that I offer a free version stops some people who would otherwise have purchased it. Not likely, but stranger things have happened).

I also offer a 30 day money back guarantee. To date I've had (and successfully processed) 3 return requests. Doing so is quite painless through both of my payment gateways. Again, I know the exact impact this policy has on sales and am happy with it. I'd much rather return money to someone who didn't find the information helpful than have a bunch of random, tech-savvy people pissed at me.

In summary

Let me get this out of the way: these numbers are far better than I expected or hoped for. Clearly, if I had more free time leading up to the release, I would have done more marketing. But, as with the book itself, all of this is done in my spare time (I have a full-time, non eBook writing job). Given the amount of effort I put into marketing, I'm frankly astounded at the results.

Obviously, sales have been dropping off sharply as the traffic from reddit fades. That's fine. In fact, the whole point of this is to: a) help people learn Python and b) build a source of passive income. Aside from additions and updates to the book itself, my profit per month from this project will simply be a function of the effort I put into sales/marketing (modulo some small number of sales I would get by doing nothing).

Passive income is a powerful idea and has been discussed ad nauseum, so I won't beat a dead horse. Until you actually see passive income flowing into your bank account, though, it's difficult to appreciate just how incredible a thing it is.

One more thing: because of this project, I've gained a lot of email newsletter subscribers. Hopefully, these (wonderful!) people will at least take a glance the next time I release a project. That makes the whole "initial marketing" thing a lot easier...

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