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“What is AALBC like as far as pricing and visitors to their site actually making purchases?”

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FB Post: “Goodreads Ad: Yesterday, I pulled the plug on my Goodreads display ad for my novel. After a couple of months of using two different ads, there were only 10 clicks. I only paid for the clicks, not the views (which they say were lots). I bid between $1.00 and $2.00 per click. It was good to experience but I'd rather spend my ad money on AALBC and getting in readers' inboxes.”

Question in Response:  “What is AALBC like as far as pricing and visitors to their site actually making purchases?”

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I was tagged and asked to respond to this question on Facebook.

Anyone who knows me, also knows I'm not a fan of content providers (bloggers, writers, journalists, etc) posting their content on Facebook.  I've learned that doing this, over the long term, is a losing proposition.  Today, too few of us understand this, and collectively we are worse off.  Ultimately, I believe we will learn this lesson, but not before a lot of money and potential has been lost.  Most importantly however, this type of text would be impossible to post on a Facebook comment and good luck trying to find it or share with with someone in the future, or someone who is not on Facebook.  Ok, I'm stepping down from soapbox...

I'm answering this question here, because it is important.  I also believe other authors in the same situation or completely new to online advertising can benefit from my posting a response here rather than on Facebook.  I also hope this will help authors who advertise their books online to more effectively gauge the success of their campaign--whether it is here on AALBC.com, on social media, or some other website. 

In an ideal world, before a book is published, one would determine whether there is indeed a market for the book, evaluate how much it would take to reach that market, and determine if the cost of reaching that market exceeds the expected revenue generated from that market.  If the anticipated costs exceed the expected revenue, the book is not published.

I doubt many authors, who publish their own books, think about the process in this fashion.  I can tell because many authors I speak to exhaust their budgets producing the books, leaving nothing left for promotion or advertising.  Read more about what make a commercially successful book.

In the traditional publishing model, publishers would take a chance on a well written book, by an unknown author, because other successful books would subsidize these riskier titles.  Of course we know books by African American writers rarely enjoyed this form of support, but that is an entirely different subject...

While the self publishing revolution has increased the number of books in the marketplace, many, if not most, are commercially unviable.  We all know simply publishing a book is not enough for it to sell. Advertising will help (see axiom #1 below) but it will not guarantee book sales, particularly for a commercially unviable book.  

For the sake of this discussion I'm ignoring whether a book should have been published and considering them as is.

Axioms (concepts that should go without saying) 

  • Axiom #1: No one will buy your book, if they do not know it exists.
  • Axiom #2: Unknown authors have to more aggressively market their books than celebrities and famous authors.


There two major factors that determine the effectiveness of a online advertising campaign.

  1. Quality of the Underlying Product (the Author's Responsibility)

    For a book this will include; (1) the reputation and name recognition of the author; (2) the quality of the book cover or banner and; (3) the readers interest in the subject. In general, an advertisement for a book with an ugly cover, by an unknown author writing about a subject no one cares about will perform worse than a book with an attractive cover, by a well known author writing in a popular and timely genre or subject.  

    Notice I did not mention anything about quality of writing.  One can not determine the quality of a book's writing solely from the banner or book cover image.  That information is best conveyed on the landing page; where readers who click an advertisement are sent.  

    The landing page must continue to engage and sell the book to the potential reader.  Readers should have access to a detailed description of the book, reviews from reputable sources, a book excerpt, information about the author and more.  Needless to say, a link to purchase the book must be easy to find.  The landing page can be your website (usually a good idea), or the site where the book can be immediately purchased.  
  2. Quality of Website You Are Advertising On

    Websites that provide advertising can be gauged on; (1) the number of visitors; (2) their visitor demographics; (3) the types of and placement of advertisements available; and (4) the nature of the content provided by the site.

    The more traffic a website has the more opportunities they have to display your banner (a single display of an ad is called an impression).  

    The more impressions a site can generate, the greater the potential it has to get visitors engage with an advertisement, most often this is measured by a visitor actually clicking on the advertisement and taking some action, like visiting the advertiser's website.  The potential of a website to get a visitor to click an advertisement is a function of the 4 factors described above.

    The clicks a website is able to deliver is usually measured as a ratio of the number of clicks on an advertisement over the number of impressions delivered.  The is called the click through ratio or CTR.  For example, If an advertisement is displayed to 100 visitors and one of them click the advertisement, the CTR would be 1/100 of 1%.  This would be considered a relatively high click through rate.  

    Typically advertisers, like the guy who made the original Facebook post above, will compare different advertising campaigns, across different websites by comparing the cost per click (CPC). For example, lets say an author spent $100 on an a banner advertisement, and the ad was clicked by 100 people.  The CPC for this ad would $1.  

    Far too often, advertisers--even major publishers, do not evaluate or even examine this data.  They can be swayed by websites that deliver a lot of impressions but generate few clicks.  This could result from; (1) ads that are poorly placed on the website; (2) a poor match between the demographics of the website and the advertised product or; (3) the advertised product itself (as described in "Quality of the Underlying Product above").

    Advertisers, who do not examine their advertising campaign statistics can also be fooled by a website's popularity.  A site popularity does not automatically translate into clicks.  

  3. What Makes AALBC.com Unique

    This is really where I finally begin to answer the question posed.  All of the stuff I wrote above simply provides a context for my response.
    AALBC.com has a very narrow demographic, we have sold 10's of thousands of different titles on the starting with our first online book sale in December of 1997.  

    We have the ability to place a wide variety of advertisements.  Our large book cover ad type is unique industry.  In fact Facebook rejects most book covers, as advertisements, because book covers often violate Facebook's text/image policy.

    While we can not come close to delivering the number of impressions a social media site like Facebook might, we kill them on CTR.  A far higher percentage of our visitors will click our advertisements than will click an advertisement on Facebook.  It is not uncommon for 10% of our visitors to click an advertisement, single digit CTRs are typical.  On Facebook I've seen CTR of less 0.01%.  People seem to have trained themselves to ignore Facebook ads--even those placed directly in our feeds.  Facebook is also used by visitors you are using the Facebook mobile ap.  These visitors are completely engrossed looking at friends photos, and are less likely to click on an ad which requires the browser to be launched, taking them away from their nephew's graduation pictures.

    There is an advertisement running on AALBC.com right now (I took the following screen shot as I'm writing this) which has 25,109 impresions.  The CTR is 5.62%. 


    You will also notice that the number of clicks is 1,410.  This ad was sold for $449 for one month.  If the ads stopped right now the cost per click would be less than 32 cents.  Already this ad is more efficient than can be expected from most other platforms, but this add will be running for another 10 days and the cost per click will continue to go down, making it a very cost effective ad buy.

    Now that AALBC.com has sent 1,410 visitors to this author's website, it is the author's responsibility to close the sale.  It is also the sites responsibility to look at conversions.  They are called actions.  Actions are also be looked at as a ratio of actions per click.  Lets say that 10% of visitors to a website actually took an action like joining a mailing list or purchasing a book.  

    Some authors may say well I made $5 for the 10% of visitors (141) who came the website.  Therefore I made $256 on the advertisement (141 books and made $5 per sale or $705 less $449 spent on the ad).  But this is just one way of looking at the effectiveness of an advertisement.

    Advertising build name recognition.  There is value in having 1,400 visitor come to you site--even if they do not spend a penny.  Perhaps they joined your mailing list and purchased 15 copies our your book, at a local bookstore, six months later because they discovered your work months earlier on AALBC.com.

    Often authors I work with don't have $449 to spend on promoting their book over a 30 day period, but I can work with you even if your annual budget is $449.  

    Advertising on a site that actually cares about your product is important.  Often I will rework a banner ad, provide recommendation for an authors landing page, and even work with authors on pricing, placement, bundling ads, barter and more.  This is not a place where you upload your banner, input your credit card information and are forgotten, as an advertiser on AALBC.com you are building a relationship with AALBC.com and a community of readers.  At the same time supporting a platform dedicated to supporting your work and the work of others like you.

Drop me a line or post any questions who have below.  


Edited by Troy
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Guest Emanuel Carpenter

Good post Troy.  I gotta say, it feel weird to post on the site again.  I haven't posted here since the Thumper's Corner days.

I agree with most of what you said here.  There are three things I'd like to add:

If you're going to place a display ad (picture ad) on a website, try your best to have your ad include a call to action. A picture of a cover alone doesn't necessarily convince a prospective customer to click through.  For the same sized ad as just a book cover, you can shrink picture so that you can some text.  Text could include the words, "Click here to buy," or "Save 32% Today Only," or "Download the 1st chapter."  Give prospective customers a reason to engage with your ad.

Secondly, impressions are SO overrated.  They simply mean that the page was loaded.  There is no guarantee that your ad was seen (the user could have pictures turned off on her browser) or the reader could be so engaged in other content that she didn't even notice your ad.  If you can help it, don't pay for impressions, pay for clicks.  And make sure the publisher is someone you can trust.  They could have a trained monkey clicking on your ads and draining your bank account.

Your display ad should have one of three objectives: 1. Create a prospect to advertise to at a later date.  Getting a prospect to sign up for your e-newsletter is a great way to accomplish this goal.  You get permission to advertise to him.  He gets more and more familiar with your brand.  And he could become a guaranteed sale for future purchases, like sequels or merchandise related to your book.  2. Get the prospect to engage with your brand. Giving a potential buyer access to your first chapter, a video of you speaking at an event, or even an e-book download can accomplish this.  You cannot achieve #1 or #2 if you send your prospective readers directly to an online bookstore.  3. Conversion, better known as a purchase.  While getting the prospect to buy something might seem to be the obvious goal, you could lose the opportunity to upsell and cross-sell to this new customer when he goes directly to Amazon to buy your book.  This is why it is crucial that authors maintain a website or at least a free blog.  If you have a website, you can install a free tool like Google Analytics and see where your traffic is coming from.  You can't do that with a free blog.  And when you send your potential customers directly to Amazon, they're not sharing that customer's valuable information.  But that's information you could use to sell him more now or in the future.  

I'm encouraged that some indie authors are at least spending some money on advertising.  I see the ads all the time on sites like this one.  I remember when most self-pubbed authors budgeted just enough for the production of their books.  After that, their strategy was all about word-of-mouth, luck, and hope.  Now more indie authors are starting to realize they need to compete with larger publishers and better-known authors.  Advertising is a way to do that.  


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Well Emanuel these forums are very different today (chucks, the entire web is different).  There are just a handful of regulars, and while lurkers still out number posters, there are less of them too.  I'm hoping the fact that the site is now mobile friendly, and remains a superior platform for more substantive conversation, that the number of participants will begin to grow over time.  I'm going to more actively promote the discussion forums moving forward.

Have you ever tried to place an ad on Facebook with a call to action as you've description?  Facebook is very restrictive on the amount of text you can place on an ad.  Text can not take up more than 40% (I believe) of the space on the image.

In general, call to actions are a good idea.  Authors have an option to include a call to action both on the image itself and in the accompanying text.  

Emanuel do you want to experiment with you book on the homepage?  Is there a call to action that you would like to add?  We can see how that improves CTR.

AALBC.com is a bookstore.  When you go into a bookstore you know the books are for sale, the prices are generally not prominently shown unless there is a sale or something special happening.  Ads on AALBC.com are analogous to lightbox displays, window placement, or promonent placement on a book store's shelf.  These are all forms of paid advertisement.  Customers don't mind this or even contemplate that these are paid placement. 

Now if you went into a bookstore and saw an advertisement for a washing machine you would probably be confused by what was happening, and perhaps put off by it--unless there was a legitimate tie-in to a book

The same is true of advertising books on non-book sites, like social media.  Despite all the special targeting, by geography, age, interests that you can do on social media, CTRs are still very low on social media (at least lower than AALBC.com), because, people are on social media to do what people do on social media.  

People are not on social media to shop for washing machines, or books.... If you wanna buy a book you go to a bookstore.

Also, authors (anyone) can setup a free website and install a CMS like Wordpress or Joomla, and use Google Analytics for free now.  It would take about 10 minutes to set everything up.  I use http://domainsforauthors.com/ with my students each semester.  If one wanted to register a domain name the total cost could be less than $1 per month.

The problem is not the cost or effort of setting up a website, it is getting people to visit it.  

Despite all the hype about technology enabling individuals, technology has really just made it a lot easier for the largest corporations to manipulate us, sell to us, and to eliminate any competition individuals might pose.

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From a reader and prospective buyer's point of view I can only speak for myself. I prefer illustrated cover designs as opposed to those with real people posing on them.  What I immediately check out is the book's synopsis.  This tells me all i want to know.  How well and concise it is written indicates to me whether the author has skills. But the book's subject matter is what ultimately determines whether or not I want to buy it.. A long author's bio  that reads like a resume is also a red flag because it is usually more than I want to know.  

I have had results in unloading books by simply having a few copies readily available for the people who, when they know or find out that I am an author, are curious about this.  If they immediately have a copy  of the book in their hands and there's chance of getting it autographed, they will buy it if the price is no more than $10.00.   

Bottom line, I don't think a book cover and a lot of promotion can turn a non reader into a reader.  Exposure may catch the eye of avid readers but they still gravitate toward well known authors.  Fortunately for me, writing books has never been a profit driven venture.  Actually, I guess that's unfortunate for me.  LOL

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