iUniverse: Best-Sellers or Bottom-Sellers?

iUniverse has today revealed its bestsellers for the month of January. Some time ago (2008), we examined book ranking and what kinds of books sold best when published through some of the larger author solutions services. Here is the top ten for iUniverse for January. I have included the current Amazon ranking as of today.

1. Spinning Tails, by Jan Hornung (2003); (History). More than thirty writers contributed stories, poems, and insights that represent myriad adventures, heartaches, ecstasies, horrors, and wonders that helicopters have to offer. Helicopter history, winged wisdom, and flight facts are scattered throughout the book.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #4,090,914 in Books
2. The 45 Second Presentation that Will Change Your Life, by Don Failla (2009); (Business). The 45-Second Presentation that Will Change Your Life is a virtual training manual on network marketing.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #190,417 in Books
3. Research Strategies, by William Badke (2008); (Business). Now in its third edition, extensively revised and 32 percent larger than the second edition, Research Strategies is your indispensable guide to informational research. With his concise, empathetic, witty manner, William Badke shows you that research does not need to be painful.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #51,112 in Books
4. The 10Ks of Personal Branding, by Kaplan Mobray (2009); (Business). In this inspiring guide, learn how to focus your life’s goals with your life’s actions to create a powerful package called “you.”
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #113,330 in Books
5. The Tao of Montessori, by Catherine McTamaney (2007); (Education). Evocative and unique, The Tao of Montessori offers a quiet balance to the noisy demands of teaching and parenting, through a special blend of encouraging verse.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #43,891 in Books
6. The Transform Diet, by Brett Salisbury (2008); (Health). The Transform Diet is a blueprint on eating correctly. Salisbury shows how specific foods prove to harden the body, while others do not.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #769,738 in Books
7. The Respect Dare, by Nina Roesner (2009); (Relationships). The Respect Dare is a 40-day devotional guide that will take away the mystery that is keeping you from speaking the language of respect with your husband. It provides real-life examples from women who have developed closer relationships with God and their husbands.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #15,150 in Books
8. Making News, by David Henderson (2006); (Media). From the perspective of an accomplished expert, and with advice from leading journalists, Making News provides a deeper understanding of how the news business functions, how journalists judge the value of a legitimate story, and how you can communicate with the media to achieve outstanding results.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #179,793 in Books
9. The Monfils Conspiracy, by Denis Gullickson and John Gaie (2009); (True Crime). Highly detailed and meticulously researched, The Monfils Conspiracy reveals the true story of a botched case that landed six innocent men in prison.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #68,755 in Books
10. Becoming a Justice Seeking Congregation, by William K. McElvaney (2009); (Religion). Designed as an ecumenical study guide for local congregations, clergy groups, and seminarians, Becoming a Justice Seeking Congregation addresses the why, what, where, and how questions related to practicing justice. It provides a fresh invitation for the church to work for systemic change in the world.
Amazon.com Sales Rank: #369,598 in Books
Firstly, we are dealing with some difficult dynamics. iUniverse are presenting the above top ten based on all sales; to the author, through their online bookstore, other online distribution channels, and, if was the case, through brick and mortar sales channels. The Amazon ranking I have included is for sales ranked as of today, and based on data extrapolated from the links below.

http://www.fonerbooks.com/surfing.htm

There is much talk about how Amazon arrives at the rankings of books you see online, and it is fair to say, at best, it combines a multitude of factors from frequency, volume and consistency of sales. Amazon are reluctant to fully explain their own rankings, but analysis by publishers and the links above have led me to this approximate average of books sold based on Amazon ranking.
rank
copies per week
1300
100
1400
90
1500
80
1700
70
10000
60
20000
45
30000
30
40000
25
50000
20
60000
17
70000
15
90000
13
100000
10
200000
7
300000
5
400000
3
500000
1
600000
0.5
700000
0.4
800000
0.3
900000
0.2
1,000,000
0.1
I do not present the above as any exact science of Amazon book sales, but merely a general guide.
There is much talk about how Amazon arrives at the rankings of books you see online, and it is fair to say, at best, it combines a multitude of factors from frequency, volume and consistency of sales. Amazon are reluctant to fully explain their own rankings, but analysis by publishers and the links above have led me to this approximate the average of books sold through their international sites.
What is immediately apparent is that iUniverse’s top ten is considerably at odds with the Amazon rankings. Their no.1 is actually the lowest on Amazon at the moment, and in theory, has not registered a sale in February at all! To be fair, Spinning Tails may be selling by the truckload through Jan Hornung’s own website, or many brick and mortar stores. It is the oldest published book on the iUniverse top ten (2003), and I would have expected a degree of steady sales for such a book.
The highest ranked book is ‘The Respect Dare’, by Nina Roesner, a self-help relationship book. By our own analysis, it is selling 50-55 copies per week. But, again, it would be foolish to simply say, online sales are 3 to 7% of all book sales, depending on genre and territory, and so, this book must be selling in excess of 1000 copies across all sales streams and outlets per week. We would expect self-published books to have considerably higher sales online, as against bookstore sales. Indeed, for many self-published books, we may be looking at an entirely inversed market—90% online and 10% through the author and bookstores.
At this point, I would rather set aside ranking and sales and focus on the kinds of books in this iUniverse top ten, because I believe it reveals far more about self-published books and books published using author solutions services.
Let us look at the genre split of the above ten books,
1. Business 3
2. History 1
3. Education 1
4. Health 1
5. Relationships 1
6. Media 1
7. True Crime 1
8. Religion 1
And now, the year of publication,
1. 2009 5
2. 2008 2
3. 2007 1
4. 2006 1
5. 2003 1
The above data suggest the same trends since the last time we looked at book rankings on titles by author solutions services. Fiction does not work well with self-publishing and it is dominated by self-help and business orientated books. Also, older books (2003, 2006 in the above top ten) will continue to sell using POD, but in extremely low figures, never making then viable for a traditional publisher, but perhaps significant enough for a self-published author.
As an aside, I ran the bestsellers for iUniverse today as a comparison to their January list. It did not surprise me that only three of the original titles above remain in that top ten!
Fiction fares a little better when you run Outskirts Press and look at their top ten best sellers through Amazon. I won’t reproduce the data, but you can take a look for yourself here.
I talked to a few UK and US publishers last week about Amazon sales and its ranking system. Many were derisory and suspicious about the Amazon ranking system, yet, they all admitted to checking their titles there regularly. One publisher told me not to even entertain a title if its ranking was more than four digits over a week.
What the above does suggest, for the most part, is that self-published titles barely register a blip on the radar of acknowledged published books, and the vast majority of sales occur outside of what would be considered normal channels. But then, we exist in a publishing industry where Nielsens Bookdata does not tract e-book sales or any independent retailer without proper point of sale scanning terminals. It’s a murky world out there, and I don’t believe the publishing world is getting a true reflection of where they are or should be—no more than self-published authors know how much inroads they have made into the industry itself and where exactly their place is within it.

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