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Sometimes I talk in general terms on this blog but every now and then I like to just lay my cards on the table and be completely transparent and tell you the specifics of an experience that happened to me and my company. It’s one thing to talk about eBooks outselling printed books but I wanted to share our experience going digital with one title in specific.

Back in 2008, Hilarity Ensues, one of the imprints of Priced Nostalgia, put out a book called Through the Flashlight’s Beam: a collection of classic scary stories for reading aloud. It’s a high quality glossy hardcover (our only hardcover book may I add) and has nice little details like Gothic filigree on the corners (you can browse through it on Amazon if you want to see what the inside looks like). The book itself is a year round product but has particular appeal around Halloween.

A few months after it was released, we thought about doing a paperback version for the following year but the idea was shot down. Because of the nature of the content, we felt that it wouldn’t hold the same appeal as a paperback. The Gothic details would look silly and the book wouldn’t be as durable which was an issue since your being able to take it camping and read it every year to your family or classroom were part of our marketing strategy. Not to mention that we’d actually make less on a paperback edition for seemingly no gain. No paperback.

A few months after that, I suggested we try it as an eBook. This was shot down even quicker than the paperback idea. So much of the appeal of the product was in the presentation, people argued. It HAD to be a physical book, especially a hardcover. An eBook version would strip it of it’s desirability.  They felt strongly that there was no appeal for this title as an eBook and that even offering an eBook version at a discount would cheapen the value of the product. This was 2009 and it’s a little amazing at how much more mainstream eBooks are now even just two years later, my team was still poo pooing them at that time.

Obviously, I didn’t agree. So, since the only “risk” of trying an eBook version was the time it took us to format the content for the Kindle, we decided to try it. (Also, I own the company so good luck trying to stop me from what I feel like doing. ;-)) One big advantage right from the start was that, even with a price that was 1/3 the hardcover price, we still made only 10 cents less a copy then we did on the hardcover which was a big deal since there were no production costs and we didn’t have to stock any physical inventory. From a money standpoint, a sale via eBook or a sale via hardcover almost didn’t matter… either way we made about the same money. From a work standpoint, the eBook was “set it and forget it” since Amazon handled all the delivery and production of the eBook after the initial set-up.

We released the eBook in the summer and did pretty much no marketing for it since no one really believed in it but me and the others were even making me start to doubt myself. Then we literally forgot about it. It was our only eBook title back then so we weren’t logging into the KDP as often as we do now so we had no idea if it was selling or not. Then one day we got a deposit from the KDP and I was like, “For what? We have an eBook?” and when I logged in to check it out, I was floored.

We did much more marketing for the hardcover. There are a lot of extra details to the hardcover that give it greater appeal. We didn’t even release the eBook version anywhere near Halloween when it would get the biggest bump and in the first month the eBook sold more copies then the hardcover had sold in a year. To this day, we still offer the hardcover version but the eBook outsells it every time.

As sales of the eBook increased, they did so exponentially like our increased sales rank helped generate more sales. Another crazy thing? Sales of the original hardcover started to increase even in the off-holiday season and even when we did no marketing for it. The only logical reason I can see for this is that it’s the increased exposure of eBook that’s bringing buyers to the hardcover.  And while the hardcover usually only sells around Halloween, the eBook sells pretty consistently year round.

Now the obvious point we have to make here is that the hardcover is 3 times the price of the eBook so price may be a big factor. But the physical product has appeals that the eBook doesn’t and it appears that some people are still willing to pay extra for those. The fact that sales of the hardcover also increased, to me, means that price can’t be the only deciding factor here.

But from our standpoint? We make almost the exact same money either way so an eBook product meant increased profit from a product without much additional work. Amazon handles delivery, returns, refunds, and orders so we can just literally sit back and wait for checks when it comes to the eBook.

We did this eBook experiment when the book was only a few months old but imagine if we’d done this with something from our back catalog, a book that was either out of print or hadn’t been selling well anymore? You better believe we started converting as many of our titles to eBooks as soon as possible and are finding similar results. It’s not just hype… an eBook really can result in more sales than the physical product for sometimes less work and close to the same profit.

Something to think about…

Want a copy of the book we’re discussing above? Priced Nostalgia is running a Twitter contest for Halloween where they are giving away copies of the hardcover edition of  Through the Flashlight’s Beam: a collection of classic scary stories for reading aloud. The contest is free to enter and runs through 10/21/11. Find out more here.