SPS-236: COVID-19: How it Impacted the Indie Industry – with Alex Newton


Data guru Alex Newton from K-Lytics joins the show to talk about the sometimes surprising, sometimes predictable effects COVID-19 is having on the book selling business.

Show Notes

  • Data as a form of currency
  • How data helps ensure there’s an audience for your books
  • The impact COVID-19 has had on indie publishing
  • The surprising resilience of print sales
  • The book categories that surged in popularity during lockdown
  • Have audiobook sales increased?
  • Trends noticed in pricing
  • Details on what will be covered in Alex’s July 29 webinar for SPFU

Resources mentioned in this episode:

PATREON: Self Publishing Formula Show’s Patreon page

SPFU: For a limited time join SPF University* (*not a university) for free. Lifetime access to monthly webinars on subjects related to being an indie author.

MERCH: Are you a ligneous beetle or a yawning hippopotamus? Get your SPF hoodies and t-shirts in the brand new SPF Store.

EPISODE TRANSCRIPT:

SPS-236: COVID-19: How it Impacted the Indie Industry - with Alex Newton

Speaker 1: On this edition of The Self-Publishing Show ...

Alex Newton: When Coca-Cola launches a new flavour, they wouldn't do so without asking some consumers first. And you should think the same way about the book market, in essence, if you approach it from, like, a publisher mindset, almost.

Speaker 1: Publishing is changing, no more gatekeepers, no more barriers, no one standing between you and your readers.

Do you want to make a living from your writing? Join Indie best seller, Mark Dawson, and first time author, James Blatch, as they shine a light on the secrets of self-publishing success.

This the Self-Publishing Show. There's never been a better time to be a writer.

James Blatch: Hello, and welcome. It's the Self-Publishing Show with James Blatch-

Mark Dawson: ... and Mark Dawson.

James Blatch: And I think my tummy rumbled just at that point, and I do apologise if you were listening on headphones.

This is the show. We're here on Friday. We have an interview with Alex Newton in a moment, and we're going to take a look at a statistical look at COVID, how it's impacted here, and the takeaways. Because we are not out of this by a long stretch; certainly, looking at the American figures at the moment, South America as well, we have someway to go. And who knows, there may even be a second wave.

So just being business savvy about what's happening, and what areas perhaps you can focus on is, I think, going to be the takeaways for today's interview, coming up in just a moment.

Also, there will be a webinar to go with this. So that will be part of the SPF University, not a real university. That's coming up on Wednesday July 29th. So that's next Wednesday if you're listening to this on the Friday that it's released.

If you're not already in the SPF University, you can go to selfpublishingformula.com/spfufree. It's free for everyone, and once you're in you're in for life, during this period of lockdown and COVID. Once we start coming out of that, that will go back to being a premium add-on for a course purchase. But, for now, you can go to selfpublishingformula.com/spfufree.

And join us on on Wednesday night for some really good analytics with Alex.

It is a dry subject, no question about it, but goodness me, Mark, how important is it to understand genre and categories when we're marketing our products, our books?

Mark Dawson: It's very important. And although it is dry, remember this is going to be leavened by Alex's famous Germanic sense of humour. The Germans are famed for their sense of humour aren't they, James?

James Blatch: They are. And we roar with laughter-

Mark Dawson: Alex is a very funny guy.

James Blatch: Alex is a very funny guy. And actually, he lives in Switzerland now; he's neutral on the whole subject of humour.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: And other things. Good.

Mark Dawson: You've conveniently forgotten we've got four Patreon subscribers to thank. So I'll do two of them, and you can do two. Okay?

James Blatch: Yeah. Have you chosen your two, have you?

Mark Dawson: I have, yes. So thank you very much to Glen Nock and Rob Nesbitt, thanks for supporting us on Patreon.

James, over to you?

James Blatch: Thank you so much, Mark. I, also, would like to welcome from New York, Kelly Paralski ... I think I said that okay: Paralski. And also ... This is a difficult one-

Mark Dawson: Good luck!

James Blatch: Yeah, thank you. Diglan O'H'Aodha. No, I don't know. Oh my goodness, someone made those ... Catherine's made this up.

Mark Dawson: No, no, I'm sure-

James Blatch: So, Diglan, I do apologise. It's O'H'Aodha. O'H'Aodha. O'H'Aodha.

Mark Dawson: I have never seen a surname quite like that before-

James Blatch: I've never seen that-

Mark Dawson: ... but thank you very much to Diglan and to Kelly, we're very grateful. And apologies, it's par for the course now, we are going to massacre people's surnames.

James Blatch: Kelly Paralaski is now a walk in the park, compared to Diglan O'H'Aodha.

Mark Dawson: Yes.

James Blatch: O'H'Aodah. It's a bit Game of Thrones isn't it, O'H'Aodah? O'H'Aodah.

Mark Dawson: Let's move off that, you've already offended more than enough for one episode.

James Blatch: Diglan, do drop me an email, explain to be me, and be brutal, how much I murdered your name, and I will give you another shout out with the correct pronunciation. I'm sensing some Gaelic influence in that name?

Mark Dawson: Yes. I think so, too.

James Blatch: Okay. Look, let's talk to Alex Newton. Alex, as you may know, runs K-Lytics. He does explain at the beginning what K-Lytics is. But he basically is a detail man, a data man, and he used data to tell stories about our industry, and provide very useful streams of information that enable us to really market our books.

But we wanted to talk to him, with the view he has of what's actually happened with book sales, about COVID and its impact on the industry in which we are, and we're selling into.

So here's Alex Newton.

Alex from K-Lytics. The man with two names, actually, Newton, and the original German?

Alex Newton: Yeah. Which is Neuehaus.

James Blatch: Neuehaus.

Alex Newton: And nobody can pronounce it, nor spell it.

James Blatch: I like it. Neuehaus is a good name. But anyway, you've made it easy for us, because you know that we're simple creatures, particularly in Britain, where we just shout loudly at people who don't speak English; that's how we're taught in schools. So thank you for making it easy for us.

Welcome back to the Self-Publishing Show, Alex. You are the data guy at the centre of this publishing universe, and, well, publishing revolution, and it's fascinating talking to you. And no more interesting time, than on the back of a massive disruption to world economies. And self-publishing, and publishing generally, has not been immune from what's happened with COVID-19, but it's perhaps not had the devastating effect that it's had in other industries, such as the service industry. And that's what we going to, I think, have a look at with you.

Why don't you start by just reminding us of who you are, and who K-Lytics is?

Alex Newton: Well, of course. First of all, great to be back on the show. We've working together, now, for a couple of years.

And yeah, how did I get into all this? I wanted to publish, myself, some years back, in the big Kindle gold-rush times. But being a data person, I've worked for big companies all my life, analysing data and solving complex problems. Looked into all this Amazon data, and found, wow, there is something to be said about data.

So we started doing these, basically, reports about genres, about categories, some almost six years' back, now. And we've been tracking them ever since, every month, thousands and thousand of books, to generate insights to make your publishing and writing decisions, hopefully, easier and faster. So we dig through all this data. Why? So that you don't have to.

James Blatch: Superb. And the data, as long as you understand how to use and apply it, it can be a very powerful thing.

We hear this talked about all the time, "It's a data world," and often it's talked about in quite negative terms, actually, people who are talking about Facebook privacy and stuff, "Data is the new currency." But there's a strong element of truth in that isn't there?

Data is a form of currency in our world now.

Alex Newton: Well, it is a form of currency. And sometimes, I, myself, I don't like these big terms, such as "big data," and "deep analytics." Because, in the end of the world, I've been doing this for 25 years, and what you do is, okay, you look at large amounts of data and try to find patterns in it.

I refer to myself, also, more like a strategic market researcher. Because when Coca-Cola launches a new flavour, they wouldn't so without asking some consumers first. And you should think the same way about the book market, in essence, if you approach it from like a publisher mindset, almost.

James Blatch: Yeah. Which is something we do talk about all the time, that the publishing industry has, perhaps, traditionally asked authors to do things the wrong way around, where they write their book in isolation, and then having completed the product, then try and sell it to the industry.

Whereas, as you quite rightly say, Coca-Cola wouldn't launch a drink, General Motors wouldn't launch a car, Hoover wouldn't launch a vacuum cleaner without doing a tonne of market research. So by the time they've built the product, they know they've building a product that there's demand for.

Alex Newton: Absolutely.

James Blatch: We tend not to do it that way round, traditionally, in publishing, we just write what we want and then hope that somebody wants it. But you are giving people the ability to really steer the creation of their products ... And I'm going to call it that, because it is a product ... steer the creation of that to a demand area in the market.

Alex Newton: Exactly. And obviously, we don't advocate the approach where people only look at the numbers and then try to, whatever, write Amish romance, when they have no clue about how to write it. So it's still about marrying your love, passion and knowledge about a certain genre, area, with market niches, and pockets of demands that hopefully are not overcrowded.

James Blatch: I am in love with Amish romance.

Alex Newton: Oh, me too. It's on my shelf.

James Blatch: I still feel the big Amish love story is yet to be told.

Alex Newton: That is true. Although, I'm more into Amish cyberpunk, which is like the next big thing.

James Blatch: Yes. Love it.

Okay. Right. Let's move on to our subject in hand, which is, really, looking at the data and trying to work out what happened, and is happening still.

We're recording this interview at the beginning of July. I've no idea, really, when it's going to completely ... It's tailing off. Well, you've just been on holiday in Europe, I'm about to go on holiday in Europe, which was unthinkable six weeks' ago. But we don't know if there's going to be a second wave. So I'm not going to say we're looking back at the end of this process, we're looking back at the end of the first ... certainly, the first peak.

What effect, what impact did you see COVID-19 having on self-publishing?

Alex Newton: Well, there were multiple effects, about genres, about performance, about categories, about the whole industry. And I think it's good to start, just to take a backseat for a second, and say, "What happened in overall consumer retail during that period?"

Obviously, in the middle of March, things were were still going well ... There is a market research agency that measures weekly U.S. retail consumption at the point of sale, out there in the shops, every week, and compares it, how these sales do compared to the prior year. March 14 this year, things were still in the positive. And then, obviously, we know retail sales with the lockdown took this huge hit with, I think it was like, end of March, -31%, in the U.S.. And then, April was really bad, with -25, -20%.

But then, in May - and I think that is the big surprise that everybody has to look at - is back in May things broke even again, compared to the year prior. And now, in June, we saw in U.S. retail, like, the June 20 week, U.S. retail sales were 20% up, compared to the same week a year ago. It's almost like people are rushing out there, "Lockdown is over, let's purchase things."

And we saw an almost similar pattern in book sales, especially if we start with the print sales. And that was, first of all, the first lesson I had was that print sales were much more resilient to this whole crisis than we might have though. Right? Because, by March, sales had dropped quite considerably, -7% print sales, for example, in the U.S., versus the prior month, in 2019, the same month. But then, already, in May, sales were up 8%.

And guess what? In June 2020, almost as we speak, sales were up 13%. And this last week, if we only measure the week, print sales were up, more than 20%, versus 2019. And I think that's quite amazing.

So we saw a dip in print sales, we saw it in overall retail, but we now see a rebound, which is, like, unprecedented. I was really surprised to see it.

James Blatch: I know you're not an expert in the non-publishing world, but you were referring to retail figures from the States.

Is it going to balance itself out, so those dips that we saw, ultimately, if you look at the six month average, is it going to look pretty similar to the six months of last year?

Alex Newton: Well, if we just look, for example, at the cumulative, the first six months, now, from January to June, if we take print sales in the U.S., print book sales, they are actually 2% up-

James Blatch: Wow.

Alex Newton: ... versus 2019. And I think that says something.

James Blatch: Is that because of print on demand? And I guess, buying online, Amazon managed to keep itself going, in fact I think it scaled up during the COVID crisis?

Alex Newton: The whole thing was overall increase in demand for books. And we'll talk in a second about e-books, which saw an astonishing spike in sales and demand, overall, for electronic reading for the devices, and also for the reading.

So why does it happen? First of all, people were at home. What do you do at home? There is only so much Netflix you can watch. And particularly, we saw things like books about homeschooling, kids' books, teen/young adult books; these were the big genres, and we'll have more data in a second. But that is what happened.

And it's almost, if you sit at home and you cannot go out there, and to the shops, and suddenly you can't go out there, you may binge buy whatever you buy, whether it's books or e-bikes, and whatever it is. Not e-books, e-bikes; that's by the way a true story, it's an industry that's really benefited from all this.

James Blatch: Yes. A good investment area at the moment. Mark Dawson has bought a very expensive e-bike, so he's part of that revolution.

Okay, well, let's move on to e-books. You gave me just a little preview there of KDPs, how they've fared during COVID.

I think the overall impression is they did very well?

Alex Newton: Yeah. It's always a double-edged sword, because you have to look at this from, first, the overall Amazon, or market perspective, then from the individual author perspective.

So the first thing we need to note is that, well, it's now month of July, and the numbers have been out for May. The May 2020 KDP Select Global Fund has been 32.2 million dollars for that month. Now, that was the third highest ever royalty payout, like, three months in a row, and the highest ever.

So from a first point of view, you say, "Oh my God! This is really great." But in talking to authors, you can look at this a bit like, well, is the glass half full or is it half empty? Because by the same token, during the months March, April and May, the individual payout per page read, the famous KENPC rate, dropped from, I think in March it was 463 per thousand pages read, right down to 420 for a thousand pages read; so that's a 9% drop that individual authors felt.

So when we look back into the data, over the years, it almost seems that Amazon, when the market grows fast, they're never as fast in adjusting the individual payouts to the authors at the same pace. So, while, for the individual authors, the page reads were not satisfactorily paid, the overall market grew, and quite considerably so.

If we just look at the KDP Select Fund, the year to date, it grew by 21% of so; it's now accumulative for the year, 120 million, versus 145, 146 for the same period last year. So, actually, humongous growth, I'd say.

James Blatch: That's really interesting, and that bodes well for the future.

So I had this conversation with Mark, and he said, "Well, people are reading more, because they're in KU, and they're locked indoors, so they're reading more, which is why the payout was less."

But I also notice that there's been a very aggressive promotion campaign from KDP to sign new people up to Kindle Unlimited, with two months' free, I think, which is the biggest offer I've ever seen them run. They've probably had thousands of people ... Well, it stands to reason, from your figures, that people are joining KU.

It's simply a case of the existing people reading more, more people have joined KU, and hence the funders is swelling.

Alex Newton: Yes, that's presumably a combined factor of more people joining. Actually, when we look during the period at the Amazon bestseller list, but not for books, for electronics, and all the Kindle Fire devices during the lockdown, yeah? Had to get these things for the home-schooling of your kids, you download books, you join Prime, you may join KDP, they had the big promotion; so I think there are a whole bunch of things working together in that increase in demand.

James Blatch: Yeah. Good. Well, as I say, that bodes well for those people who, as you say, saw 0.0045 something, become 0.0042 per page; and yes, that makes a few hundred dollars' difference a month to authors who are turning over a bit of money. But if that's more people joining, particularly on those free months, a couple of months' free, you are going to a have a percentage of them will carry on and will feel the benefit. As long as they read your books, Alex?

Alex Newton: Yes. Hopefully so.

James Blatch: Good. Okay, so during lockdown, we know, then, that there was a resilience in the print side of things, and an uptick, without question, in the electronic side of things.

What were people reading?

Alex Newton: Well, that was, I shouldn't say a "fun" story, during a crisis or a lockdown, but it was fun to observe and analyse, let's put it this way. Because the first thing which was quite striking is the first thing that people read had to do with their immediate survival interest, I shall say. So we saw categories which are totally obscure, like medical e-books, internal medicine, infectious disease, improve their sales rank by 460% up.

A similar category that was out there was health, fitness and dieting, about respiratory ailments, respiratory illnesses; these were categories where usually the top 20 best sellers rank around, whatever, 120,000 down there in the store, and all of a sudden you have them shoot up into the top 5000, top 3000, you name it. So, one, was that.

What we then also observed in the non-fiction area, also an interesting phenomena, was everybody was chasing, "Where do I get the masks if we now have to wear masks?" So there is actually a category, medical e-books, reference books, instrument and supplies, which is like a non-category, and that shot up, all the way up, where people were researching how to get equipment.

So once the immediate survival interest was satisfied, the next ... Well, it was also the immediate survival interest for parents; books about home-schooling increased 30 to 30%, improved in sales' rank, over the last year. So everybody was trying to get settled down.

But then, I think, as things started to get a bit more boring ... And by the way, obviously, travel books, exactly the other way around. So I have, actually, for those who watch on YouTube, I have an exhibit here in front of me, Travel: Europe, Italy, France, which usually is always high up there in the travel books, and it just took a huge dive.

So these were the immediate things that were happening. What then went on in the story was, well, how do you fight the lockdown blues? Right? So people were getting bored, and you see, all of a sudden, categories such as gardening and horticulture, vegetables, shoot up in the ranks. And then with a bit of a delay, at least a temporary improvement in things like motivation, self-help, fitness books, you name it.

So let's put it this way, and we'll get into a fiction a bit later in the talk, but the real drastic swings were all happening in the non-fiction area, up and down.

James Blatch: Yeah. And so, the people who'd written How To Survive a Pandemic, or How To Make a Face-Mask, or How To Home-School Your Kids, and had those books sitting there gathering dust for a few years, they were ideally placed, and suddenly were cashing in, through no fault of their own, cashing in on this.

What about people who went chasing the wave? When they saw the wave coming, scrambled to repurpose their existing content, or get something out there. Was that a trend? Was that happening?

Alex Newton: It was happening, but we also looked at the sales, and the long story short, ambulance chasers really failed. It was interesting to observe, because once you type "Corona" or "COVID" into the search bar, all of sudden you now got lots of suggestions, ranging from Coronavirus For Kids, to Coronavirus Days; very obscure search results' suggestions.

And then we looked at how many books were actually published during the months of March and April, that had "Coronavirus" or "COVID-19" as a keyword, or a title? And guess what? Usually, during January, it was 60 titles, then in March, 873, then more than 1200 in April; so everybody tried to jump on the bandwagon, but it's fair to say that all of these books, even the highest selling ones had sales' ranks of what, around 300,000 on the store.

So whenever we have a next pandemic, which I hope we won't, don't spend time writing the five hundredth How to Grow Vegetables During Coronavirus Crisis, or change your keywords to that matter. People are not stupid, and these things basically don't sell.

James Blatch: Okay. Well, let's talk about what did sell, a bit more, in turn. You mentioned fiction, there.

Mark and I had this conversation at the beginning, and we thought that it was quite unsettling, it was unsettling, and some people took it harder than others. But I like to think I'm a fairly even-keeled kind of guy, but I felt unsettled at the beginning, where suddenly you had your Prime Minister with a very serious face, saying, "Stay indoors. Keep indoors," and all that stuff.

And I felt that people would not be reading dystopian, bleak, apocalyptic books. I think they would be moving towards happier, sunshiny, either romance or even thrillers, but thrillers that are not related to this kind of global meltdown.

I wonder if, in the longer term, the next couple of years, a bit like Japan, post second world war, where post-apocalyptic crept into almost facet of Japanese culture in the 50s and 60s. I wonder if we will now see a resurgence of that? And that's just me spit-balling. Was there any evidence that people went happy, blue skies at the beginning, or ...?

Alex Newton: Actually, yes, there was. Aside from an overall shift in many genres towards the e-book format, the next question was, once you settled down on the format, saying, "Okay, now I have to read e-books," the next thing is, what do you actually read? Especially if it's for your pastime, and trying to get out of the day-to-day turmoil of the crisis.

There were a couple of things to observe. First of all, the only one genre that really took a huge, huge jump were children's e-books, right? That was the one big winner during the time. In fact, the search interest for kids' e-books, by the way, increased by tenfold, during a period of two weeks, on Google.

James Blatch: Wow!

Alex Newton: So that was the one big winner. And all of a sudden, you did have ... I even have the screenshot, the first of May 2020, you had The Bad Seed, a kids' e-book, was the number one, store-wide, in the Kindle store. And the whole thing was plastered with kids' books, both in print and e-book. The Very Hungry Caterpillar made it into, I think, the top 10, or the top 15. So the books that we read when we were a kid, James, right?

James Blatch: Yeah.

Alex Newton: So that was fairly amazing.

Now, the swings in the big genres, like romance, mystery/thriller/suspense, sci-fi, the one that took a bit of a ... They all took a little dip; romance, history, due to that increase in non-fiction and children's e-books. Sci-fi too, and fantasy took actually the biggest hit, although, relatively speaking, they stayed up there in the top 3, top 4, top 5 genres on the Kindle Store in April.

So when we then move forward to, it's now July, yes, kids' books were all up there, but they went back into their natural position, if you will, by July 2020. So here in 2020, although, even in July they're still before non-fiction. It remains to see what, then, will happen to sci-fi and fantasy.

Your question about, "Well, was it more dystopian, was it more the happy things?", there were a couple of observations. Actually, the overall dystopian category for adults did not do so well. But what happened is that, during the time, the overall dystopian romance category, The Hunger Games stuff, had been on a four year decline. And then, during the crisis, Suzanne Collins finally launched a sequel, the next in the series, and that then lifted the whole dystopian romance, teen/young adult category, up.

So I think it had nothing to do with the crisis whatsoever, but a renewed interest by readers. That was one thing that was happening.

The second that was happening is people were putting safe bets in what they read, right? So that classic I never had time to read, but now I really want to catch up and read the book. So we saw a lot of books that were selling in the past, and were deemed to be "classics," or "new classics," they've done well. And within romance, yeah, escapism, clean and wholesome, wholesome romance did incredibly well during the whole crisis. So we did see a couple of these things happening.

James Blatch: You've talked about print being resilient and e-books having a good time of it.

We haven't mentioned audio yet, and I'm wondering if there was shift between formats, proportionally?

Alex Newton: Well, there was a shift. But, also, interesting to observe was that ... And you know, we showed these type of analysis, where we looked at the penetration of various formats in the Top 100 bestseller list, over the years. And there was always this picture in 2017, where, already, back two years, three years, the format share in Amazon bestseller lists was, like, Kindle e-books, extremely high in romance, extremely high in mystery/thrillers/suspense, and also in sci-fi.

And then, already, before the crisis, that had increased quite considerably in other genres. And also there were audio books, by the end of 2019, with a considerable increase in all those Top 100 bestseller lists, so squeezing print in the middle.

And then, when we move forward, and we reran the analysis in April 2020, we saw that, basically, all genres gained in e-books, but the audio side actually lost a little bit. So I don't know why.

My hypothesis, audiobooks are still pretty expensive, so during the time where you watched your cash a little bit, or quite considerably for many, that may have been one factor, especially if you're not on a subscription. And the other thing is if you don't have long commutes, driving to work, you're no longer listening to the audio.

James Blatch: Okay, so you mentioned some of the genres that have done well.

Are there any others we haven't talked about that have done quite well, that people, perhaps, could be writing into now?

Alex Newton: Yeah. I mean, first of all, overall, mystery/thriller/suspense has been, after a short blip, especially now in June, July, has been doing well again, and there has been an overall increase, actually, over the last 18 months. So I think you also have to look at what's been happening as a trend through the crisis, rather than only during the crisis. So MTS books have been doing well, within those ... I think also, not as a surprise, techno-thrillers have been doing very well during that time.

But, also, in many cases, these were trends that already started before the crisis. So, take techno-thriller as an example, they had a big increase in sales between 2015 and 2018, then they took quite a bit of a dip, had like one-and-a-half years of not so good sales, and now they're on the incline again. And sometimes it feels, the crisis for some of these trends almost acted like an accelerator, reinforcing a trend that has already been there.

James Blatch: Is your hunch that we've picked up more readers as a result of COVID?

Alex Newton: I do think so, because, just from a demographic point of view, especially with teens, it's proven they read more during the crisis. So from the overall demographics' point of view, with teens reading again, at least during that time, I think we got more readers on board.

And as you mentioned earlier, with the big promotions that Amazon got for the devices, and for KDP, I think we picked up more readers.

James Blatch: Good. Well, that's definitely a trend we're all interested in.

Let's talk about pricing. We haven't mentioned pricing yet. Did you notice any trends in pricing?

Alex Newton: Yes. And here, I think, the good news is the laws of supply and demand seem to be working. And again, you have to distinguish the individual author, who sits there in his writing cave, doing the next promo, and pondering, "Oh my God! My rate has dropped. Shall I lower the prices?" So from an individual point of view, prices may go up or down, right? But the question is, what's happening in the market overall?

Now, we talked about, almost 20 minutes, how demand overall has increased, so why, if demand goes up, should prices go down? And they didn't. In fact, for example, in romance; romance, which we all know is one of the most price-competitive genres, we in fact saw an overall 18 months' increase in prices, and again, March, April, May, June, July, just reinforced the trends. And the average across the Top 100 in romance are now, you know, closing in on the $4.50 mark, while, a year back or so, that was clearly much further down. And we all remember the times when prices where just around the $3.00 mark in romance. So price is up in romance.

E-books, for mystery/thriller/suspense, pretty stable prices. And in sci-fi also, there we saw actually an increase in prices during March, April, June. Now, in July, we've got a bit of a drop down, but that may also be seasonal.

James Blatch: Okay. Fascinating stuff. We should mention, there are some slides, if you want to hop over to our YouTube channel, you'll see some of this in graphic form.

And if it really has whet your appetite for this, we are going to feature you, Alex, on a webinar. You're going to come and join us in the SPF University on the 29th of July. So we'll make sure this podcast episode goes out, perhaps, a week before.

What are you going to do in that webinar?

Alex Newton: In that webinar, we're going to take a step back, and basically we're going to look at, okay, how can Amazon data help me with my publishing decisions, with my book marketing? So we'll go deep into topics such as categories, category trends, how to read data on individual book pages across whole categories, how to do your research; and basically puts some meat to the bone when it comes to this illusive term, write to market. Well, we obviously have the data that really equips you for doing such a thing, but also for your more technical decisions, how to find top-selling cover art, how to find keywords, top categories, all these nice things.

But also from a longer-term trend perspective, so not just tactically, in that very one second, but how do you read through trends that happen over a longer period of time?

James Blatch: Excellent. That sounds like a really, really worthwhile webinar.

One of the problems with talking to you, Alex, is I want to open my Amazon dashboard on the other screen and start working, because I always have ideas. You've triggered areas that, I think, I should be doing more on that area, and trying to get my campaigns better. But the work that you do in assessing and finding those keywords, finding the genres, pitching your book, it's key work.

You can't do that when you've got your dashboard open in front of you. You have to do that in slow time, before you get to that point, to plan. And it's really useful hearing this stuff on the inside.

We should say, if you want to be involved in that webinar, if you go to selfpublishingformula.com/spfufree, all one word. And for a very short time, a very short period, onwards, unless COVID goes mad again, it'll be the last time you can join the SPFU University for free. Get inside. And that's July the 29th we will be talking to you, Alex.

Fantastic. You'd better give us a little plug about K-Lytics. Because it's a service ... I know Mark is circumspect about the services. But you can imagine, once a week, we probably get an email from someone saying, "I've come up with the most amazing thing every author's going to like, and all you need to do is tell everyone about it, Mark, please?" And Mark looks at it, and says, "Yeah, I don't think so."

But K-Lytics came along, and Mark is definitely a convert. I'm privy to some of the back-channel conversations you're having at the moment; there's some exciting stuff going on between you and Mark at the moment, which will become public at some point.

Talk to us a little bit about K-Lytics, and what the service does, and how people can subscribe?

Alex Newton: In essence, we look at the performance of thousands and thousands of books, every month. Why? So that you don't have to. Because if you're in your writing cave, alone, and you just look at your books, your portfolio, you may draw conclusions, but if you have the power of big data, very often you get to different conclusions. So basically we track those, we aggregate the data, on the level of categories, and of what we call "virtual bestseller lists," our own bestseller lists for certain genres and niches. Because we all know the search results presented by Amazon are sometimes not that accurate, let's put it this way.

So, in essence, what we do is we provide individual genre reports, which are, like, 70 page reports that try to contain everything you need for the marketing in certain genres, or making up your mind about what to write. And for the very professional authors amongst you, we also have a monthly database of all the Kindle categories, with their complete performance overview, from sales rank, to pricing, to level of competition in the categories.

And with that, we hope that you can make better and faster publishing decisions and marketing decisions. And I look forward to showing you, obviously, the in-depth view of it in the webinar.

James Blatch: Superb.

And I don't think we've talked about the detail yet, but I suspect there'll be a little offer involved in the webinar, for the people who come along to the webinar?

Alex Newton: And we will.

James Blatch: Good. We'll have that. So come along, get an offer, and get involved in K-Lytics, and sell some more books.

Fascinating stuff. We live in interesting times, as the old Chinese curse goes. But we have to keep our eyes on the market at all times, not just during COVID. There are trends that occur throughout the year, over the years. You've talked about some of those you saw happening between '13 and '15, and how they're on the resurgence. Understanding your market is a key part of being an business person as well as an author.

Alex Newton: Absolutely. So as we said earlier, at the beginning, Coca-Cola wouldn't launch a new flavour without research, so let's bring this philosophy of it, into the book market and self-publishing industry as well.

James Blatch: Superb. Alex, thank you so much for coming along. We'll speak to you on the 29th.

Alex Newton: Thank you. And see you there.

James Blatch: There you go. There's our German friend, in Switzerland, Alex, always welcome on this show.

And we are going to have Alex on for some live training, next Wednesday the 29th of July. If you go to selfpublishingformula.com/spfufree, if you're not already in SPFU. If you're enrolled in any of our courses, you will be in SPFU. You should probably, by now, have had an email telling you that this webinar is on, and you can come and join us.

You can ask Alex about anything on the night, so if you've got some burning questions about genres, or categories, or anything like that, or those hot genres; if you're looking at the moment, thinking, I'm going to write in a new genre, what's hot? He is the man to answer that question.

Talking of which, I need to ask you a question. Are you doing a follow-up to The Cabin In The Woods?

Mark Dawson: No. I might do a follow-up to The House In The Woods.

James Blatch: The House In The Woods? Do you know, as I said The Cabin In The Woods, I thought, that was that horror film, wasn't it?

Mark Dawson: Yeah.

James Blatch: I think we both watched that at the UFC. The House In The Woods?

Mark Dawson: Yeah, I am. That's on my list. It might be the next book I write. So it's going to be called, A Place To Bury Strangers, I think, which I think is a pretty cool title.

James Blatch: That's a very cool title.

Mark Dawson: Yep. I've got an idea for it. So that will be the one that I do next, I think.

James Blatch: Good. That's you moving into a genre. Which I think is a commercial decision, as well as something you wanted to do artistically?

Mark Dawson: Oh yeah. Very commercial.

James Blatch: You certainly have looked at people who are selling large numbers of books in that genre?

Mark Dawson: Oh yeah, absolutely. There's no question, and we've mentioned Louise already. Barry Hutchison, there's J. D. Kirk, doing really well. Plenty of authors in that space who are ... Especially in the U.K., it's very big in the U.K.. So, yeah, that was a combination of, I would like to write that kind of book, and I know there's a big market for it.

James Blatch: And you mentioned Jasper Joffe earlier, Joffe Books, he has quite a few authors who write into that area.

Mark Dawson: He does. He does, yeah.

James Blatch: And he does very well indeed.

Mark Dawson: Yep.

James Blatch: Good. Okay. Well, look, I should be sunning myself, as this is on. Are you going away as well?

Mark Dawson: I am. I'm going to Lowestoft. So you're going to France, I'm going to Lowestoft.

James Blatch: Yeah.

Mark Dawson: So I won't be sunning myself. I'll probably be dodging seagull poo, probably, and rainclouds. But yes, have a lovely time in France. I'll be thinking of you as I shiver on the beach.

James Blatch: I'll be on the Cote d'Azur. You'll be on the end of the world, as it's called. It's as far east as you go in the U.K., Lowestoft, isn't it, I think?

Mark Dawson: It is, yes.

James Blatch: Next step, Holland!

Good. Very interesting. But I'm back for the webinar, and I can't wait to get Alex onto the SPFU as one of our guest lectures on Wednesday. So hopefully we'll see you then.

James Blatch: And until then, all that remains for me to say, is it's a goodbye from him ...

Mark Dawson: And a goodbye from me. Goodbye.

James Blatch: Goodbye.

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