January “SSH Mastery” sales, by the numbers

I’ve promised several authors to share the results of my self-publishing experiment with SSH Mastery. I don’t have complete data yet, but I do have sales numbers for January from Amazon, B&N, and Smashwords.

Some caveats here:

  • This includes only “SSH Mastery.” I have removed my fiction from the totals. (Fiction sales are considerably lower, but growing.)
  • February’s initial results are much lower than January’s. January’s sales are obviously to my “hard-core fans” and people close to the community.
  • My expenses aren’t yet totaled, as the print version isn’t available yet. I expect them to come in at roughly $3000. The majority of this expense is the class I took to learn how to self-pub properly, which is a one-time expenditure. A business person would argue that this expense doesn’t count, as it should be spread across multiple books. But as an author running a test project, I have to count this expense somewhere, so it’s attached to this book. Also, these expenses are only cash out of pocket; they assume my time is free.
  • On a related note, an accountant would probably find my reasoning naive. I already have two careers (writer and engineer), I’m not going to add a third.
  • I’m not going to regularly report sales numbers to the general public. I will say when I break even.
  • Before I published, I expected to make most of my sales through Amazon, then Barnes & Noble, and then Smashwords last. I had no idea of how many sales I would make, but I figured they’d be in that order. Let’s see how this compared to reality.

  • Amazon Kindle: 123 books sold (92 US, 12 UK, 14 DE, 2 FR, 1 IT, 2 ES), for a total of $810.27 USD at today’s exchange rates. (Amazon reports European royalties in euros or pounds.)
  • Barnes & Noble: 4 books sold, for $25.96 USD.
  • Smashwords: 76 books sold, for $607.65
  • Total: 202 books sold, for a total of $1443.88
  • Some interesting things here:

    I’m shocked at how low Barnes & Noble sales are. The book was available on B&N a couple days after Smashwords and Amazon, mainly because getting the book through B&N’s internal systems took longer. Apparently my readers don’t use the Nook.

    Smashwords sales as a proportion of total sales is much higher than I expected.

    Averaging the royalty per book is also interesting.

    Amazon: $6.58/sale
    Smashwords: $7.99/sale
    B&N: $6.49/sale

    You’ll hear lots of commentary about how Amazon offers a 70% royalty on ebooks. This has all sorts of exceptions and exclusions, where you’ll only get a 35% royalty. My effective average royalty at Amazon is about 65%, so that’s not bad.

    Barnes & Noble, at just under 65%, offers the worst net royalty.

    Smashwords: I love you. Just saying. My core audience really wants the book as PDF, and Smashwords offers PDF, epub, mobi, and all the other big ebook formats with one purchase. And they pay me the highest per-sale royalty. I still haven’t gotten the book through Meatgrinder into the other channels they feed, such as iBooks and Kobo. Once that happens, I expect to see their percentage rise. I wouldn’t be surprised if they overtake Amazon.

    The real lesson is: sell your work through all available channels. You can’t tell who will buy what from where.

    22 comments to January “SSH Mastery” sales, by the numbers

    • Wu

      “Apparently my readers don’t use the Nook.” – Or they don’t like buying the stuff from B&N. I got my copy from smashwords, then uploaded it to my nook :P.

      For me, it was a matter of the variety of formats. smashwords was the perfect choice because I was able to get (for example) a pdf copy to carry on in my books repository in my laptop. Getting it from B&N means getting it in “nook book” format (whatever that is).

      Oh, and after read almost the whole book, thnx for such a good book.

    • Adam Thompson

      From the book page: “I am not recommending Smashwords over the other retailers”… why not? As a reader, not an author, I would be happy to see “I recommend Smashwords because they pay me slightly more than the other retailers.” I’m waiting for the dead tree version to arrive anyway, but all other things being equal (which they usually aren’t), I would prefer to buy my book from an outlet that ensures the author gets paid well enough to write the next book. (Case in point: this is why I bought >$1k of fiction in ebook format from Baen last year.)

    • Adam, terms of service for ebookstores. If I was to recommend one over another, the one that I dissed might decide to cut me off for ToS violations. Any ebookstore can squash me like a bug.

      Would they? Doubt they’d even notice me. But I’m just a bug.

      Mind you, I could, say, publish my financial results and let readers make their own choices. But that’s not me recommending one over another. That’s readers making their own informed decisions.

    • Thanks again for the data, Michael. Your experience with this book exactly parallels my experience with all my non-fiction books. Kindle first, Smashwords second, and B&N a distant, distant third.

      And thanks to Adam Thompson, too, for suggesting we should overcome our timidity and actually tell readers that we get paid more from Smashwords—and they get multiple formats, too. I’m going to suggest something like that on my website.

      And Wu’s comments on B&N are also right on. I get the impression that B&N is trying to prevent authors from listing their books, and then, if they manage to blunder through the maze, to prevent readers from finding them and buying them. Phooey!

    • Micah

      The real question — and I suppose it’s a bit personal — is whether the sales justified the effort? Or to put it a bit more objective, in terms of sales per hour, is this book close to some of your books published by No Starch Press?

    • Micah,

      That’s the real question, yes. And the answer is: insufficient data. Publishing is a long game. I won’t know for a good year or so. I can guess, but that’s not knowledge.

    • Wu,

      Thanks for buying the book. Glad you enjoyed it!

      ==ml

    • Mark

      I guess I was one of the few people who bought it from B&N. I considered getting it from Smashwords for the PDF but in the end it was just more convenient to buy it from my Nook. I’m nearly done with it and have learned many really useful tricks. I hope the sales keep rolling in.

      I can’t wait for the print version. It’ll look nice sitting next to my copy of Absolute FreeBSD and Absolute OpenBSD (once the 2nd edition comes out).

    • Mark,

      In truth, I don’t care where you buy it. I just want people to buy it. I’m mainly providing these numbers for all the people who ask me how the experiment.

      And you want both the print and ebook versions? You are my new favorite reader! Thanks you!

    • Got my copy from Amazon, so I’m one of the German buyers ;-)

    • Interesting data. My Smashwords sales are very low, but B & N performs fairly well and of course Amazon is the biggie where we all want to do well, so I tend to promote what I think is best. I would have thought pdf’s were nowhere, but of course reading devices haven’t achieved full market saturation as of yet. On Smashwords, I can’t tell exactly what format people actually buy. How did you get that information?

    • Louis,

      If you buy at Smashwords, you get access to all formats in 1 purchase.

      When I got to tech conferences, my fellow attendees frequently say that they’d like ebooks, but only in PDF form. Kindle & Nook are REALLY poorly suited to tech books (so far). Most IT books are almost unreadable on dedicated ereaders. So I steer those folks to Smashwords.

    • Hi Michael,
      I write fiction in two genres and this was forwarded by one of the listservs I belong to. I’d be very interested to know how (or what) you did to send readers to Smashwords. It was the first site I uploaded to and, although I’ve had some “sales” most of them are courtesy copies I’ve given out for review or as winners in contests. My sales are not skyrocketing on B&N but Amazon is slow and steady. BTW, Matt Olander’s my son-in-law and when I saw the BSD I knew you were legit!

    • Kia Jones

      What about the kIndle Select Program? My borrows are picking up. I get quite a few sales on Barnes and Noble. Hardly any on Smashwords…Just experimenting with nine short stories and two full length novels. Can you sell your titles on kobo and apple without going through smashwords.

    • Kia Jones

      What about the kIndle Select Program? My borrows are picking up. I get quite a few sales on Barnes and Noble. Hardly any on Smashwords…Just experimenting with nine short stories and two full length novels. Can you sell your titles on kobo and apple without going through smashwords.

    • Michele, when people ask where they can get PDF, I tell them Smashwords. And keep an eye on that Olander guy, I’ve always thought he’s a shifty character. :-)

    • Kia, I see no reason to do the Kindle Select program. It would cost me half my revenue. You can get into kobo and apple without smashwords, but smashwords is much easier and less expensive.

    • [...] Lucas published his sales numbers so far for SSH Mastery.  (reviewed by me here, totally worth buying)  The interesting takeaway [...]

    • Russ Crossley

      Hi, Michael:

      Congrats on the sales, and thanks for posting the results.

      You may want to try putting the book on XinXii, Omnilit and Drive Thru Fiction as well as the other sites. I’m not certain what the sales numbers might be but they all allow PDF versions. This seems to be a popular format for your readers so it might be worth a try. BTW all three are free so no cost to you to try. .

      Take care and I wish you many sales.

    • [...] the other retailers. But if you want PDF, that’s where you can get it. Coincidentally, I make more from Smashwords sales than those at any other [...]

    • random

      Buy a subscription to 2600 magazine, then you can advertise the book for free in the classifieds.
      Every country has it’s own digital sales sites, Canada/UK/Australia.. sell worldwide through them.

      The cheaper you sell on amazon, the more sales you get. Anything worth reading in the $.99-$4 range sells hundreds of thousands in my experience: http://www.thestar.com/entertainment/books/article/1239628–homolka-e-book-a-publishing-breakthrough

    • Random, unfortunately, the $0.99 thing only works for novels. A technical book of the type I write, if it hits best-seller status, will sell roughly 5,000 copies. And I’m not reliably a best-seller.