The Humble Indie E-Book Bundle’s sale period is over. It raised over $1.2 million on over 84,000 sales, with an average purchase price of $14.28—an altogether impressive amount. Participating author John Scalzi has a couple of post-mortem posts on his blog looking at the reasons for it.
Scalzi sees the keys to the Humble E-Book Bundle’s success as being the Humble Bundle brand reputation based on past success, a well-curated bundle featuring titles with mass geek appeal, the absence of DRM, the charity involvement, its overall uniqueness, and the pay-what-you-want and limited-time-offer gimmicks. All these factors combined to make the bundle more successful than other attempts have been, and set a high bar for other would-be bundlers to match.
Now, this one particular formula isn’t the only possible formula for ebook bundling success, but inasmuch as I think all of the factors in the formula contributed to its success, I wonder how much fiddling with the formula will increase the difficulty for success. Could a major publisher create an attractive eBook bundle without, say, incorporating a charitable aspect, keeping DRM and establishing a lower bound price of more than a penny? Sure, and I would be very interested to see how it would play out; my own opinion is that it would probably not work as well. Likewise, a charitable organization which created a bundle which did everything the Humble eBook Bundle did, but which did not have authors who were well-known or had significant online footprints might also find its bundle facing a steep path to success.
The last sentence in that paragraph pretty much describes the other attempts at Humble-style e-book bundling we’ve seen tried in the last few months—a lack of major names has meant a similar lack of major success.
In another post, Scalzi discusses the financial returns he expects to see out of the bundle. He pulls a few random guesses out of a hat for figures, suggesting that if nobody fiddled with the default fund-allocation sliders he might expect to receive something like $78,000. But he expects that most people who did choose to fiddle with the sliders would have done so in the charities’ favor, and notes that he would be happy if he made $20,000 out of it before taxes when all was said and done.
That $20,000 would represent a considerable discount to the $58,000 he would make if he sold even half as many books at regular prices as people bought bundles. (His book was only in those bundles whose purchasers paid more than the average.) Which is about what I expect to be the case for all the bundles—the people involved in any bundle, whether they’re game developers, musicians, or writers, aren’t going to make as much as they otherwise would, because people are buying their titles at a huge pay-what-you-want discount.
But, Scalzi notes, the Humble sales apparently haven’t affected his week to week sales figures for Old Man’s War while the Bundle sale was running. They were extra sales, not substitutions. And some of the people who read the book from the Bundle will go on to pay full price for other books in the series, making Scalzi more money that way—and more people will have heard of him overall. And also, it helps raise money for worthy charities or advocacy organizations (I’m not sure I’d really call SFWA a “charity”).
He suggests authors coming into a Humble Bundle shouldn’t expect to make a fortune, but should do so out of a desire to help the charities raise money and raise their own profile as a writer, and they should select titles (such as first books in a series) that will help both the bundle and themselves.
Speaking for myself, I think the Humble Bundle was a great experiment, and I hope it shows the way to more new and different ways of selling e-books. It will be interesting to see what the publishing industry makes of it. (I wonder if Mike Shatzkin will have anything to say about it in future columns?) Will there be another Humble Indie e-book bundle? Will the Humble Bundle expand into other media? (A Humble Movie Bundle maybe? Perhaps with Sita Sings the Blues and other permissively-licensed titles?)
Whatever happens, a lot of people out there may have found some interesting new authors, and I would expect to see at least some bump in sales for all the authors who participated. We’ll just have to wait and see.
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