Thursday, January 20, 2011

Do paid ads cause more sales?

Paid advertising is one obvious way to try to increase sales of your ebooks. I’ve tried Bing, Google, Project Wonderful, and Kindleboards. I compared these paid advertising opportunities in this post and this post.
Unfortunately, conversion rate data is unavailable for ads placed on the first three because we can’t put ad service-specific conversion code on Amazon webpages. Kindleboards, however, does provide conversion rate data, which can give you a very concrete way to grade your ad results on their website.
However, with no conversion data for the other ad services, I have to look at other traffic data to estimate ad efficiency and return on investment. One way to estimate this is to look at my daily ad expenditures and chart that with my daily royalties.
So, did my paid advertising efforts cause increased sales? Let’s check the following chart (click chart to enlarge):

While causality is hard to determine, it does appear that there is some correlation between ad expenditures and royalties from book sales. For example, it seems like my ads between November 28 and December 9 did cause some increase in sales. The same with Dec 30 to Jan 6.
Oddly enough, greater expenditures in advertising (note the 3 huge spikes in ad expense), don’t seem to correlate to similar huge spikes in sales. Those three spikes indicate the days when I spent a lot more money on ads for sites with larger average pageviews/impressions. However, these sites are not targeted to my book genre. What this tells me that the higher cost for less-targeted, higher impression sites do not give as good a return on investment.
The lesser ad expense spans, such as Dec 30 to Jan 6, indicates where I targeted my ads to lower pageview/impression sites specific to my book genre (science fiction, cyberpunk). In these cases, I saw more correlation. This tells me that targeted ads are much more efficient.
Of course, the obvious question is, why not put ads up on websites with high pageviews/impressions AND that have a science fiction fan base? Well, when I find one of those that doesn’t have a $3,000 buy minimum, I’ll do exactly that. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.
Although I only have a couple months of data, there certainly does appear to be a correlation between paid ads and sales. While this may seem obvious, the question is can I earn more in royalties than I am spending in ads? The Dec 30 to Jan 6 data seems to indicate yes. I’ll just have to work at it.
If you can afford it, you should consider experimenting with paid ads, but just on targeted websites. Project Wonderful is a low-cost ad service option to find targeted websites.
Paying for ads on high-traffic sites that don’t have visitors interested in your product doesn’t seem to be worthwhile.
(My next post will examine correlations between blog pageviews and sales.)


  1. Good post. This is something self-publishers really have to think about.

    It seems like the cost of advertising is going to rise as more people are willing to shell out money to do it, though. Like any sort of (capitalist) economy, it will get harder for the new guys to find that sweet spot for advertising.

    Or, do you think the rush in new e-books will open up new opportunities as new sites are formed for those sci-fi fans? Which do you think will grow faster, new sites or the number of people willing to pay for advertising?

    J. E. Medrick

  2. I did a promotional run with Apex Reviews. It was VERY inexpensive. I did see a return. The promo cost me $49. because they were running a sale. Even got a book trailer out of it. (I don't like book trailers but it came with all the other stuff.) The main idea was exposure in this case. Some advertising is 'exposure' meaning you're doing it to get the name out. I also did it because I had not released anything or done much promotion so it was a good time to do it and get as clean a result as possible. It's hard to draw direct correlations if there are other things happening - including heavy blog posting or site posting - at the same time. My other purpse is to 'relaunch', as I'm going to release an indie book this Spring.

    I've had some success with other things like site based adds, and many of them were in the 50 to 100 range, but it's very hard to draw a direct link because at that time, and even now, my sales data comes through in pieces and on a lag, with all vendor sites feeding in at different times. (My two books with are with a small digital press so I'm on a monthly royalty statement). Where I did see direct impact, blog hits (my only way to really see what was happening in real time during add release). In theory your site or your blog can drive sales. Years ago, there was this 100/10/1 belief - hit 100 people, get 10 interested enough to check your stuff out, and at least 1 should buy. I don't know if that applies today, but high level it's a good thing to think on - so if you can layer inexpensive exposure like a track over three months, and during that time make sure you're on your game with your blog, maybe offer something on your site to increase engagement, you might hit the magic spot? It's hard to say. I'm lucky in that I write romance so there are already outlets on line that do ads and don't cost an arm and a leg. Sci fi is a tougher nut to crack. One thought - I used to post on this board devoted to Boba Fett. It was for seriously insane die hard fans of the character, and crossed all age groups, and international boundaries. Anything remotely Fett was chewed up by that crowd, so even though Lucas didn't want to know it existed, the fans (Fett Fans love/hate Lucas) because of the reviews and postings, actually got his product sales.

    So fandom boards where the rabid people go (I'm one so I can say that - and I mean it with much love too) might be good to add in if you're not already there. Your stuff reminds me a lot of the shadowrun books I used to read, are there boards for fan dom for that kind of stuff that you might be able to hook to? sponsor? Post on? That might reach an audience you're not currently hitting.

  3. Thanks for the post Derek! I love the way to look at things with such a scientific, detailed approach.

    I hadn't really thought about doing much paid advertising when I release my book, but if it works and I could recoup my investment, then I should probably do it. I am just grateful that there are people like you out there that are doing these experiments, so that when I get to that point all I have to do is come over to your blog and get the sites that work. I will still have to do a little bit of experimenting on my own because my genre is different than your, but you have provided me with a great launching board.

    Thank you!

    Angeline Kace

  4. You know what might be worth a look? Webcomics. Project Wonderful has a ton of them, and several get hundreds of thousands of pageviews. Or a site that gets 50k could be cheap but effective, right? There have got to be at least a few that overlap with your target audience. Do webcomic readers buy e-books though? I raised the question on Kindle Boards:,49708.0.html

  5. JE, I believe that demand for ad space will increase faster than supply. So, prices for ads will go up. Look at Kindleboards and Kindle Nation. They already charge $35+ and are booked for months ahead of time.

    However, the reason I'm extolling the virtues of Project Wonderful is to try to get other authors to put up ad boxes on their blogs/sites so that there is more supply of places to advertise. I'll do a post next week trying to convince everyone to add PW ad box to their sites.

  6. Ursula, I will check out Apex Reviews. Thanks! Problem is, even $49 is a big expenditure for me.

    I have found a couple cyberpunk messageboards to post on, including one for Shadowrun. Not sure if I got any sales from that, though. They do not have huge memberships. I need to find some more scifi sites.

  7. Angela, I'm glad you like my posts and I'm glad I can help. I'll do a similar post about blogviews causing book sales next week.

  8. Ed, all my ad expense on Project Wonderful is on webcomic sites. I have found a few that give me good CTR and CPC. For science fiction, I have not found an ad service better than Project Wonderful. They have a large number of science fiction and fantasy webcomics on which you can advertise your ebooks.

    Here's a link Ed's thread on Kindleboards: Where Should Indie E-Book Authors Advertise?

  9. Have you tried posting a note in the Amazon kindle forum? I was blown away this week when I put up a note about a .99 on my ebooks, after after selling ZERO books throughout October, November, and December of last year, I'm suddenly selling like mad. I was stunned. Give it a try.

  10. Brian, thanks, I'll give Amazon kindle forum a try.

  11. I hear you re; cash.

    Another thing you could try - facebook 'like' some comic cons. Two in my area are ToyCom and Albany Comic Con, for example. ToyCom (my husband and his friends do this one) is really low traffic, but the other one has a lot of posting and links and people connect that way. Hugh Sci Fi stuff, and you may reach people that wouldn't normally otherwise cruise boards or groups. Lots of CosPlay people. Folks who are "INTO" what they are into.

  12. Derek,

    What about unpaid advertising? By that I mean commenting on other folks' blogs, forums, etc. Those cost nothing and if you can't get folks to travel back to your blog, you can pick up some sales that way. Also, have you considered using any of the affliate advertising programs like Amazon?

  13. I've found the same problems with my limited advertising budget. Targeted ads are effective but expensive. Impressions are cheap but don't translate into sales. In my experience I've gotten the best bang out of forums. You can target your audience by going straight to them.

    I'm only a month into this, though. I don't have many sales going on. It's easy to see the effect of going into a forum, and within a few hours having a sale or two. If I wasn't so busy getting more books ready to publish, I'd probably be spending 2or 3 hours a day on the forums, just because it seems to work so well and it's free.

  14. Great post and info, Derek. I think you hit the nail on the head about targeted ads, which can be very hard for authors with less popular Kindle genres. Unless you can get the right amount of readers/fans to promote your book for you, I think marketing is the single greatest problem for newbie self-publishing Kindle authors.

  15. @Jamie - I've discovered the same thing with forums. I have threads on kindleboards, nookboards, mobilereads,, B&N book club, and Amazon US and UK kindle discussion forums. I try to post there at least once a week to bring my book Bloated Goat to the top of the heap. My exposure might last from a few minutes to a few hours (depending on how fast the board is being updated) but I usually get a sale or two.

    Derek, I know you have a thread on kindleboards, but you should try the others, too, if you haven't.

  16. Ursula, thanks, I’ll try those cons as you suggest.

    PJ, I’ll be posting about results with unpaid advertising such as forums and other blogs later this week. Yep, I’m on the affiliate program.

    Jamie, yeah, I don’t have much time for forums either. It takes long enough to stay on top of my blog and read a few others.

    Manley, thanks for the list of forums. I had not heard about some of them. I will go start some threads about my books.

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