Singles vs. Collections: One author’s findings

You know, I just have not had good luck with selling collections.  I have no idea why!  In two and a half years of publishing, my single short stories always sell better no matter what genre/pen name I write them under.  I’ve tried everything from snazzy new covers to paying for features.  Nada.

It’s not that they don’t sell.  It’s just that they don’t sell as well as the singles.  I have a handful of 99 cent short stories that always seem to sell every month consistently.  Small numbers, yes, but consistent.  This has never been the case for a collection.  Even collections that contain those same stories.  Nothing seems to catch.

At first I thought maybe it was the price so I toyed around with that.  Still nothing.  You would think that a person willing to spend 99 cents on a 4,000 short story would be willing to spend $1.99 on a package deal.  You can’t even get a coffee at Starbucks for so little!

This used to frustrate me to no end.  But it is what it is.  Part of being a publisher is keeping track of which product lines sell and which don’t.  I still put together collections for readers to have the discounted package option.  I just don’t hold my breath over the sales numbers I’ll see.

Anyone else have this same experience?

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10 thoughts on “Singles vs. Collections: One author’s findings

  1. I haven’t made my short stories available as single purchases. They are either in ezines, magazines or anthologies, or in my collection. I do notice that short story collections provoke far less interest than novels though. Nevertheless, my love of the short form shall not waver!

    • As an author, however, you can make a living off of them. It’s just a different game and one that requires constant publications.

  2. I’m curious if genre or the distribution channel plays a role. Although the data is incomplete, there does appear to be different demographics for the various e-book retailers.

    I’ve always purchased collections, because until recently, that was the only option. Now, I am more likely to purchase individual stories as I come across them or hear about them. And I just don’t hear about collections as a rule; it’s always the one or two stories that get the attention and even at a package price, I think readers (me) prefer to purchase those specific stories.

    With that said, if I read a few stories and like them and the author’s voice, I am more likely to go pick up the collection(s). I also think that when it comes to readers who love short stories, price is less of a consideration. Since they can inexpensively purchase all of the stories they are drawn to individually, there isn’t a reason to necessarily search through collections to see if any of the stories appeal to them – it’s more work.

    Another aspect to consider is that collections typically come out a year or more after the shorts are originally published, so by that time, the author’s fans may have already purchased all or most of the collection’s stories, so there’s no reason to buy it. And individual stories are probably more attractive alternatives when searching for new authors.

    We’ll have to see how this changes in the future as more readers switch to digital publications and short fiction becomes a larger market – I think it will.

    • That’s a good point about buying the stories that appeal to them rather than in bulk. Like beer tasting. Six beers that the brewer already chose for you vs. getting to choose your six.

      I’ve found that certain genres do seem to be more popular on different channels. For example, most of my scifi stories sell primarily on iTunes and Sony.

      • That’s a great observation Alain. Since most e-book retailers are proprietary and require specific devices, I think it will be interesting to see how different readers’ tastes and therefore book preferences will develop over the next year for each retailer, especially since short fiction appears to be a growing market.

  3. I’m going with singles at the moment. KDP has kind of breathed new life into short stories, elevating them to the status of downloadable music singles, I guess. Literary agents rarely touch short stories and prior to KDP the only markets for them were magazines and anthologies. It’s all change now.

    Here’s some interesting further links. First “the problem”:

    http://thebookanalyst.co.uk/2013/05/16/short-stories-dodo-poetry-emmaus-askance-competition/

    And, tucked away in the body of an excellent post for all self-pubbers, “the solution” (if Amazon agrees a price shift!):

    http://davidgaughran.wordpress.com/2013/06/02/15-ways-amazon-can-improve-kindle-direct-publishing/

    • Really interesting links! I completely agree with David in that they need to stop penalizing short story writers. It’s making both ends lose money. Being about to set stories at $.49 would be amazing. And if we could do it at the 70% price point we would earn aout the same.

  4. I am working on a collection of short stories that have a common theme. I am in the process of deciding which ones will go in to the book. However, last week I wrote a new one so I am thinking I want that one in there.

    As far as sales go, I have two shorts in KDP Select priced at .99 (one is 2500 words; the other 6000) and I have seen ZERO sales. Of course I am not promoting them very heavily so that may be the problem too.

    • You should try taking the short stories out of select. I get almost nothing on Amazon for that length. I’ve had way more success on iTunes, Sony and Kobo.

  5. My experience is hugely mixed and, to me, shows that there is no easy answer.

    I have a short story of 2000 words that has sold lots and lotsin the UK and nowhere else. I also have a collection that’s coming up to 4000 sales (OK, not earth shattering, but very satisfying).

    On the other hand, I have another short story (well reviewed) that when it sells a copy I almost fall over it’s such a rare thing and other collections that rarely get a look in.

    My feelings is that it’s about luck and timing to some extent and that it’s hard to push them too hard. There’s the forum at Amazon, but that’s mainly full of self-promotion (and why not?), but that’s not breaking in to the other audience.

    One thing I thought might make a difference was being in anthologies. I’ve been in quite a number (maybe 20), including 2 of the Best British Crime stories. I have no evidence to suggest that any of those, even those with the biggest circulation, has made an impact either.

    Competition wins might make a difference, but again my experience doesn’t back that up too well and I suppose that it’s the biggest of competitions that make the most impact.

    Just thinking aloud and maybe not very constructively. Still looking for the best route, basically.

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