Monday, 21 May 2012

The lifecycle of an eBook: are all buyers born equal?

Are all eBook buyers born equal?
We know customers have their niche preferences, and hopefully we've begun to target the customers who read our genre/ specialism.
Traditionally taught 'customer relations management' would suggest there are 5 types of consumers:
·         Loyal customers - few of them, but profitable. Not price sensitive.
·         Discount customers - these are our free/ 99c hunters.
·         Impulse customers
·         Needs based
·         Wandering customers

I think this model is a bit outdated personally as it does try and nail down unpredictable people into neat categories, but it's the same model considered by big business.
So, disregarding that the model tries to pigeonhole a bit much, is there anything we as authors can learn from it? I think there is some value here.

Loyal customers are wonderful for authors. They evangelise our works, suggest them to friends, buy the sequels, see the movies and keep coming back for more. Of course, it doesn't take a genius to figure out these guys are god's gift to authors. The most important thing to note here is that once you have a loyal following, they are not price sensitive. You can easily add a $1 per book, and none of them will bat an eyelid. If I get a large following, I would have no qualms about going from $2.99 to $3.99 - it's still a bargain (though, I think the influx of new content will push prices down anyway, it's basic supply and demand - but I'll save that for another blog post!).
Discounters - You won't get these guys without giving them a discount. Ever. If they want cheap, there's plenty available on Kindle. On a typical day 500+ eBooks are up for grabs completely free. A savvy consumer never needs to pay for an eBook. Our only hope here is that they pick us up cheap/ free, and fall in love with the work (and thus become loyal customers who will pay full whack for book two). Here, the crack cocaine principle is in play.

Impulse shoppers - They don't want something specific. They want to be shown all the goodies, then pick one on a whim. Amazon does brilliantly at handling these customers. With sort by average ratings, movers and shakers list, new and noteworthy list and the bestseller list they are well catered for. The challenge is getting on the list. Once you are there, it's much easier to stay there. Otherwise, the only way to reach them is to be as visible as possible.
Needs based customers - They buy for a purpose. Quite often they buy nonfiction work (and don't mind paying for what they need). I can't think of a way to specifically reach these guys (comment if you can!). Other than making your stuff as useful as possible, and labelling it clearly (through tags, reviews etc) there isn't much you can do. Kids books might be an exception here as parents buy for kids, so you can make it clear you will meet their needs by providing a safe, well written product for them.

Wanderers - Not, not a sports team. They love to browse, but mostly window shop. They are typically the least profitable types who are new to an industry (so, for eBooks, it's probably all those who've just got a kindle and have no idea where to start buying content). Again, not much we can do other than emphasise the positive and hope for the best (which we were going to do anyway).

Those are our five traditional groups, but I think profiles of book buyers can be seen a bit differently. We get:

'New author hunters' who look out for the undiscovered gems. They love being the first to read someone new and brilliant. They often go on to become loyal readers ("You like Daniel Campbell?! I've been reading him for YEARS!"). I suppose the closest label traditional business thought has for this group is 'investors'. In gadgetry these are the 2% or so of the population that scream "Look at my new iPhone/ Android/ Tablet/ etc" five seconds after launch.

'I'll try it when others have told me it's safe' types. These guys don't mind risking a pound or two, but they buy stuff that's already been validated by the new author hunters. They go in for books with a few good reviews that are at a good price. Sometimes it pays off, sometimes it doesn't. These guys are the 'Early adopters' who look for the utility value of a product, i.e. how good a book is, rather than kudos of being the first to own/read it.

'Early majority readers' - As reviews, plaudits, awards, newspaper articles etc dribble in, these guys jump on the bandwagon. This is the 'surge' we often see on eBooks that have been out for a while as they gain critical mass. They're very anxious about buying a turkey - they want to know they're buying quality. They don't buy indie eBooks straight away, but are happy to pick them up once they become the in thing.

'Late majority readers' - Like the early ones, but a bit slower on the uptake. They need more of their friends to have jumped on the bandwagon before they'll join them. These guys won't get you the number #1 spot but they'll keep you there. They hate quality issues, and are much more price sensitive. They might buy book one in a trilogy when the last one comes out, knowing it's a bit cheaper.

'Very late adopters' - These are the holdouts. They'll buy your book... once it's a film. They don't go looking for popular books, but wait until they can't ignore it any longer. This is the back of the long tail. However, they can become aggressively loyal once they do become part of your readership.

I suppose if I had to put a guess on what proportion of the population fit these groups I'd probably say 2%/15%/33%/33%/17% in top to bottom order. With the long shelf life on a eBook it's likely to be cyclical - especially as new customers join the market by buying into eBook technology. Foreign translation can also help you start all over in a new, and growing market. The USA is ahead of the curve, as is Britain while Australia is a little behind on uptake and the Indian and Chinese markets are behind the curve. There a literally billions of potential customers for an eBook - so there's a niche for virtually anything.

What stage is this cycle is your eBook at? Do you agree with the model? 


  1. Oh yes, the first group - like those people of one's teenage years who only bought an album if it no-one else had heard of the artiste/band..! We need them now, oh, how we need them!

    I will pay you £20 to change that to "You like Terry Tyler? I've been reading her for YEARS!" Might work better than the Jackie Collins type "Who is Terry Tyler?" type mention (no, of course I don't do that!).

    Mind you, that wouldn't work, either, now, because anyone who thinks 'Hmm, wonder who Terry Tyler is?" will then read this comment and discover my act of blatant desperation.

    Damn good post as usual!

  2. I'll tell you what, I'll use the "You like Terry Tyler? I've been reading her for YEARS!" as my advertising slogan for this post for the afternoon. It'll still be dead obvious, but it might just intrigue a few people.

  3. you guys are so good at this. We're really lucky that we have the loyal readers (our FB friends) who read everything we write, which to us, is more important than the impulse buyers, who might buy it but never read it.