If you're thinking about self-publishing, make sure you don't forget to look beyond the borders of the United States.
I started selling the electronic version (only) of my EPUB Straight to the Point book when it was published in late 2010. The print version was available through my publisher, Peachpit Press, and through traditional and online booksellers. The response was very encouraging. The first thing that I noticed was that people were buying the book from far away. A fair number of my first sales were from Australia, South Africa, and Europe, where it might have taken the print book several more weeks (months?) to arrive.
In February, 2011, I published my first miniguide, Fixed Layout EPUB. Originally, I envisioned it as an update to EPUB Straight to the Point, and so I decided to offer it for free to anyone who had already purchased that book. For those who were just interested in the Fixed Layout EPUB miniguide, they could buy it for $4, and then apply the $4 to the purchase of EPUB Straight to the Point. I sent out an email to all of the people who had bought the book directly from me. It got a huge response, and indeed, I continue to get a few requests for the Fixed Layout miniguide pretty much every day.
Between May and December, 2011, I published three additional miniguides, Audio and Video in EPUB, Read Aloud EPUB, and most recently From InDesign CS 5.5 to EPUB and Kindle. I love the idea of writing very short, focused, timely, inexpensive guides on the latest ebook production techniques. I don't have to spend months and months, and the information is fresh. Instead of giving these away, I have sold them for nominal amounts that make it easy for people to keep up to date with the latest EPUB information. With each new book, I send out a mailing to everyone who has bought any of the previous ones. They have proved very successful.
I never meant to self-publish. But the more books that I sold directly to readers, and the more names and emails that I collected, the more it seemed to make sense to continue to offer EPUB information to these folks. As a long time user of FileMaker, I've been able to massage my data to see just which books people are most interested in, and also where I sell the most books. I love looking at this information so I thought I'd share it with you. If you're a self-publisher, look closely at how many readers are NOT in the US. Click on the graphic to magnify.
Indeed, more than 50% of my readers are outside of the US. More than 30% are in Europe. Almost 10% in the UK alone. Notice that although everyone says that Spain is full of pirates, there is little difference between sales to Spain and to France, which is similar in size. I am convinced that the way to compete with pirates is not on price, but rather on service and ease of use. Oceania, between Australia and New Zealand makes up amother 7%, Canada 5%, Asia 6%, and a sprinkling in Africa, Central and South America, and the Middle East. (Yes, my regions are pretty arbitrary.)
Now you see why I talk a fair bit on Twitter and in my blog about marketing outside of the United States. Ebooks are clearly a worldwide phenomenon and particularly for my readers, timeliness is one of the key features of my books. But neither Amazon nor Apple sell all over the world.
I didn't want to limit myself to the US, and I also definitely didn't want to depend on a single retailer. So I decided to sell my books both through those channels, and also directly to readers, using a fulfillment service called Kagi, based in California. Kagi stores my book files, charges customers and collects sales tax and/or VAT, and then emails a unique download link to each customer. It's not perfect—I've heard complaints that the system is sometimes slow—but it's definitely a start. And I love being able to get my files up just when I want to, without having to get Amazon or Apple to approve them.