Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Barnes & Noble's new ad portal too rich for my book

Ever since I opted back out of KDP Select on Amazon last November, I've been searching--fruitlessly--for ways to kick-start my sales on other platforms. I've had sales here and there in the past on other retailers, in between my KDP Select stints (which require exclusivity to Amazon for ebook sales). Barnes & Noble's site is one I've had a trickle of purchases in years past, but since making my books available for the Nook this past fall, the royalties there have added up to a nice, round number.

The roundest.

Yes, zero. Zip. Zilch. Nada.

So when I saw Barnes & Noble was offering a new advertising option, I was intrigued. I have had some success with Amazon's pay-per-click ads, particularly for my third novel, Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed. If B&N was going to offer something similar, at perhaps a slightly lower price point, considering the relative unit-shifting potential compared to Amazon, well, that might be just what I needed.

Um ... not quite.

For starters, B&N is offering their ads on a Cost Per Impressions basis. They break it down as $12 per 1,000 impressions. An impression is a view. That means your ad will be displayed and a user can click on it or ignore it, and it will cost you the same either way. Amazon, on the other hand, sells its ads by the click. If your ad is displayed an no one clicks it, it doesn't cost you anything. Of course, if no one ever clicks it, Amazon will eventually stop serving your ad up, handing that real estate to another book that users might click on more frequently, earning them some cash.

If readers clicked on the ads every time, B&N's charging strategy would be great for authors. But most users skip right by them. They might not even notice them. (Quick: Name all the sponsored books that appeared the last time you visited a page on Amazon or B&N.)

I've been playing around with Amazon's Sponsored Product ads since early November. I've created ad campaigns for all four of my books, three of which are still running. In that time, my ads have been displayed 280,472 times, as of this afternoon. My click-through rate (CTR) is 0.18%. It's been better for the campaigns I've done for Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed than for the others. I've done three campaigns for Sorry, with increasingly stronger CTR. It's climbed from 0.31% to 0.69% to 0.92% as I've refined the key words and nudged up my bids.

On Amazon, you bid for relevant keywords, which can be phrases or names of authors in your genre or even titles of books in your genre. The theory being, if readers search for author Stan Smith, and your book is similar to Stan Smith's, readers might see your book and decide to buy it. The more precisely you can target, the more likely you are to reach interested, willing buyers.

But even still, with my absolute best campaign, more than 99 percent of readers didn't bother to click on my ad.

To be fair to Barnes & Noble, their FAQ indicates their ads will appear on their category pages. So if a buyer is browsing the Crime Thrillers page, and your book is a Crime Thriller, your ad could appear at the bottom of the page, along with a handful of others. It's possible this may result in a higher CTR.

I'd love to test it out. But I won't.

The reason I won't even give it a try is B&N's lowest price point is $300. So the $12/1,000 impressions they tout is the breakdown on their bottom-tier package of 25,000 impressions for $300. (They go up to 1 million impressions for $7,000, if you want to go all-in.) There is no guarantee anyone will click on your ads or buy your book. Using my most successful campaign as a baseline, let's imagine I got a CTR of 0.92% on 25,000 impressions. That would mean 230 clicks. And if every click resulted in a sale, that would be an incredible bargain for advertising. If you assume a 70 percent royalty and price your book at $3.99 as I do, that would mean $632.50, or $332.50 clear after the $300 charge for the ads. A higher per-unit price could net even more of a windfall.

Unfortunately, not everyone who clicks buys. From my Amazon stats again, out of the 280,472 impressions my ads have received, they've been clicked on 494 times. From those 494 clicks, I've had 30 orders. (I've temporarily abandoned ads for the worst performing book, which sadly is my newest release. I will try again when it has more reviews, as I do think this makes a difference to potential buyers.) That breaks down to just over 6 percent of clicks resulting in a sale.

If we aim high and just go with the best performing book, Sorry I Wasn't What You Needed, the numbers are 178 clicks (combined, over three campaigns) and 21 sales, for a purchase rate of 11.79%. If we use that rate on the theoretical 230 clicks we'd get off 25,000 impressions, that nets us 27 sales. And 27 sales of a $3.99 ebook would result in $74.25 in royalties. For a net loss on a $300 ad expenditure of $225.75.

So while I'd love to experiment with B&N's new ad program, just to see how it compares, I can't.

Unless it significantly outperforms my BEST campaign on Amazon (by at least 4x), I would lose money, and likely a lot of it. If they were to, say, offer a mini-package in the neighborhood of $50, maybe I could swing it, in the name of science, to see what happened. As it stands now, I can't go there.

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