Thoughts on Self-Publishing my Swift Playgrounds Book (and a Price Drop)

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Pricing stuff on iBooks isn’t easy. iBooks doesn’t get nearly the volume or traffic that Amazon does. The Amazon marketplace uses some reasonably easy to follow unofficial pricing rules for self publishing: the magic point is $2.99 because you can earn 70% instead of 35%. Length, quality, name recognition, etc. help bring you up to a max of $9.99.

(Also, the bigger your book, the more you’re hit with media delivery charges on Amazon. This doesn’t affect iBooks at all.)

I conducted a relaxed survey of self-published books on iBooks. My market research indicated that Apple tech titles sell for $1-$2 for every 12 pages. The higher end is reserved for more polished works with brand name authors.

Playground Secrets has about 128 real world pages, so this week I raised the price at $9.99. This was at the lowest end compared to the competition. I did this in the name of “business sustainability”, which has been all the buzz this week. (For example, check out the comment from Dave1964b on this article I wrote about selling in the Mac App Store.)

You know what happened next. Sales plummeted even though actual visits to the iTunes product page were up. I’m now bringing the price down again, back to $6.99. The lowered price should propagate soon, so if you don’t see it yet, check again in a few hours or over the weekend. (Update: New price is live.)

Playground Secrets has always been a passion project, something I wrote because I loved writing it, not something I would normally be able to sell through a traditional publisher. Going it alone this way is teaching me a lot of lessons. All my previous self-publishing was with Steve Sande, who is now tied up with work over at AppleWorld.todayWaves hi to Steve.

Here are some things I’ve learned in no particular order:

  • Apple’s “push an update and it goes live within 24 hours” is one of the best things ever to happen to books and authors and readers. I love being able to fix errata and send out updates with just a minute or two of work.
  • Amazon is a far better choice for topics that are hot when you have a big pre-existing audience. For little books that need to find their readers, discovery is not much improved, and for Apple-specific development books, there’s a modest advantage to iBooks.
  • Amazon has a far greater reach for non US/Commonwealth/Europe customers.
  • No matter how many times you put spaces into your book description, iTunes Connect will strip them back out.
  • We’re living in a post-ISBN world for self-publishing. All the bother Steve and I went through to get those ISBNs a few years ago is now history. I remember a snowstorm in New Jersey that once prevented our books from going live because we couldn’t get through to Bowker.
  • You do need a US Tax ID (SSN or EIN) and a checking account to set up business with iTunes and/or Amazon but that’s about all.
  • To prepare decent-looking books for publishing on either Amazon or iBooks, make sure you have a copy of either Word or Pages and Calibre. Toss in a manuscript, add a cover, push convert. Done. I tried using iBooks Author but it involves too many compromises at this time for me. (Here’s a free test book I published.)
  • Formatting code snippets is hard. Even now, I can’t get iBooks to properly display all my monospace font elements. I’ve spent as much time or more on formatting ebook text than on the text itself. For the most part I think the book looks really good on most ereaders but places where code drops back to proportional serif fonts drive me crazy.
  • Doing your own proofing and copy editing without a friend to trade-off with isn’t fun. I much prefer having either a coauthor or a writing buddy to help with this. (If you’re available, send me email!)
  • Both Amazon and iBooks allow you to publish ebooks without DRM.  This permits readers to use Calibre to move material easily between reader applications. Marvin is my favorite iPad ebook reader out there right now, and I appreciate when I can use it directly.
  • I love my little slow creatures on this Swift book. You can buy stock art for about ten bucks on Getty’s iStockphoto site. They’re perfect for putting together self-pub covers.

iBookstore link: Playground Secrets and Power Tips

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