“Election” Results

Last week Subterranean Press and I did an experiment, by taking “An Election,” a short story SubPress bought from me, posting it here and running ads in it for SubPress product. When one publicly announces one is running an experiment, it’s fair to then also publicly present the results of the experiment for people to analyze and discuss. So here are some stats, etc to chew on.

First, numbers-wise, the story was seen and at least partially read no fewer than 25,828 times as of this morning, going by the number generated by WordPress’ stats package. Per my earlier discussion of how WordPress generates stats information, I consider the WordPress stats in this case to be a lower bound rather than the true number of readers, which I suspect based on experience is somewhat higher; if I had to guess, I’d go with something in the 35k – 45k range. But in terms of visits I know the story got, 25.8k is confirmable, so let’s use that.

How does 25.8k views in eight days compare to how the story might have fared elsewhere? It’s hard to make exact comparisons, but here’s some data on two points:

* In 2008, when I published “After the Coup” at Tor.com, that story was visited 49.5k times in two weeks. That was part of the debut of the entire Tor.com site, which didn’t hurt in terms of exposure. I also think at this point, most people acknowledge Tor.com as the most-visited sf/f-related online site which regularly publishes short fiction.

* The current circulation numbers for the largest SF print markets in the US are 15,491 for Fantasy & Science Fiction, 16,696 for Asimov’s and 25,418 for Analog. One wants to be careful comparing direct views on a Web site to general circulation numbers for various reasons — for example, not every one who reads a magazine reads every story, which means you may have fewer actual readers than the circulation… but more than one person will read each copy, which means you may have more readers than the circulation number, too — but circulation numbers are a reasonable baseline for estimation.

So, 25.8k views in eight days compares reasonably well with both top print and top online sites, in terms of getting the story read to a large audience. So in that respect I think we can declare the experiment a success.

I asked Bill Schafer, publisher of Subterranean Press, for his thoughts on its success in terms of advertising, etc. He said:

I’m plenty happy with it. We saw a small but noticeable spike in Kindle sales of the advertised titles. And really, I did it mostly because it was a new way to get the SubPress name out to readers. Business overall is good, which is the best way to quantify the stuff we’re trying.

So it’s a success on that end as well. And of course I’m happy with it, not in the least because selling the story enabled me to get a new computer monitor. So overall, I think we can say our little “Election” experiment worked pretty well.

BUT: is this sort of thing replicable? It’s one thing to something like this one time and get attention for it, on the grounds that it’s something new — as far as I know no other science fiction author has been paid pro rates by a publisher to publish his fiction on his own Web site — but it’s another thing to do it again and get the same sort of numbers.

The short answer to this is “we’ll have to try it again and see how it goes,” but the slightly longer answer is that there is another similar data point that suggests it might be doable. About a month prior to “An Election,” I posted a short short entitled “When the Yogurt Took Over.” I posted it for my own amusement rather than trying to sell it (I mean, it was really short, and also about yogurt taking over the world), but over the course of eight days, it racked up 26.4k views, i.e., numbers very similar to those garnered by “An Election.” While not definitive, it does suggest that fiction presented here will perform within a certain bound, as long as, you know, it’s entertaining. And that’s good to know going forward.

The next question, as you might expect, is whether I plan to make a regular habit out of this sort of thing. And the answer there is: Who knows? One, I don’t write all that much short fiction — usually a story or two a year. Two, it’s almost always on commission, so it typically already has a home. Three, most publishers, I expect, want to bring work they purchase into their own magazines or sites; SubPress in this sense was throwing an idea against a wall to see if it would stick. It worked for SubPress but then SubPress had books it wanted to advertise. Most short fiction venues don’t have the same dynamic going on, as far as I can tell.

I’m certainly not opposed to doing this again — just ask me! — but I suspect this will be a rare treat rather than a regular sort of thing. On the other hand, regardless of whether someone is paying me or not I like trying out things here, and it’s not entirely outside the realm of possibility that I’ll put something up here just because I feel like it. So again, we’re at: Who knows? Just keep dropping by and we’ll see what pops up for you.

25 thoughts on ““Election” Results

  1. Page views are interesting, but from an advertiser’s perspective (well, someone who was formerly employed in the ad industry) what I’m curious about it the click through rate on the Sub-press ads, and the conversion rate (purchases) made by those who clicked through. it sounds like what Bill was going for more was branding, rather than conversion sales, which makes sense.

    Now, if I was to ponder strategy for this sort of thing, I’d think about long term testing of what sort of ads get a better click though, what’s called A/B testing, where you rotate ads in a block. I’d also experiment with what’s being offered in the “landing page” for those ads, and see if that affects conversions. But that’s more involved ad geekery than most people want to bother with. It’s the sort of time consuming work people hire ad agencies to do, who then end up using hardcore analytic tools, and expensive ad serving solutions.

    Anyhow, I loved the stories. Thanks for posting them.

  2. Since you mentioned him, I just feel the need to say that Bill Schafer is a good guy. Not that I have similar contacts with other publishers as I’ve had with him, so they could all be mensches, but in my contact with him he was super nice and helpful and conveyed the sense of a stand-up guy.

  3. John @ #3 – Absolutley. Even a more negligent form of ads on the site is going to eat up your time.

    CJ @ #4 Minions or not, it would still be a drag on his time. It’s a lot of work no matter what.

  4. I read both stories, as I would read anything from an author I like that looks interesting; I regularly read the stuff posted on the SubPress website, and occasionally at Tor.com. I am a book collector and sometime seller, and have in most cases opted to purchase a book hardcopy even if it’s also available online–the Sub stuff is a perfect example–but more than anything else, I’m a reader, and whatever it takes to get good fiction out there, I’m for that.

    I visit Whatever as much as I visit any non-news (and non-eBay) site. The fiction makes the site more interesting to me, and I would not opposed to any approach that facilitated more fiction, including any of several ways that would allow the author to buy more computer monitors as a result. If you control the content, and it’s content that people want and you can make that work for you, well, excellent.

    And maybe there’ll be an ink, paper and boards short story collection somewhere down the line that I can buy a signed/limited edition of. Too.

  5. Josh Jasper, CJ:

    And anyway, I’m saving my minions for something special. SOMETHING VERY VERY SPECIAL. BWA HA HA HA HAH HA.

    Damn it, I have to remember not to type every thought that’s in my head.

  6. Hm…I can see that it would be a lot of work, but as you have such a wide fan base along with a slew of halfway to extremely intelligent people you could easily have something regularly posted.
    If on a day or in a month you don’t feel like writing a new story, put up a picture or a topic and let your readers post. I’ve only been seriously following you (your blog) through the past year and I have seen how you inspire and excite people with the simplest of topics.
    Whatever you choose, just have fun, stay interesting, stay interested. I think that is when your readers enjoy everything the most.

  7. Actually, you’ve developed a new way to monetize your fan base.
    I hope that means you’ll be publishing more short fiction in the future! :)

  8. John, one counterpoint to reader numbers. I didn’t visit the site at all, I was having a bad day headache wise so reas it entirely on my feeds page, which has a dark background low contrast.

    Given you release a full feed, It’s a fair estimate that a larger number of people would’ve read it off site than on. And that’d include the ads. Didn’t click them as, well, no ereader apart from the netbook, and UK based with no money.

    Josh, is clock throughs still what web advertisers look for? Surely advertising should be much more about brand awareness? I’m now, significantly, more aware of SubPres as a company, and, if able, more willing to put money their way when I’ve got it. Authors are more likely to know they’re a good publisher, and put work their way that they can make money off as well.

    Click throughs has always struck me as a poor metric for ad success online, I rarely buy something on first awareness, and I can’t click through an ad on TV or print.

  9. Matt @ #12 – Click throughs are useful, because it shows not only who looks at an ad, but also who thinks an ad is interesting enough to click on and find out more about what’s behind it. An ad with a low click through rate is probably not a good one, even if it only leads to an ad page without direct sales. They’re not the end-all be all, especially in a branding campaign, as Sub Press was doing, but they’re a lot more important than most people think.

    If you get more sophisticated about it, some advertisers have advanced cookies that will track if you’ve seen an ad, and then went to a company’s web site on the same browser without clicking through. That technology is a bit worrying to some privacy advocates, though.

  10. You might consider selling your own short fiction on your site. Probably all 25, 000 wouldn’t be willing to pay you fifty cents for a story, but half might. Think of the monitor you could buy with 25000/2 x $0.50. :-)

  11. It’s easier to be paid up front by someone else than try to get a bunch of folks to do micropayments. Also, I try to save up reader good will for charitable endeavors, like Clash of the Geeks.

  12. John, I read Whatever through the LiveJournal syndicate feed. Am I automatically counted in these page views, or should I, going forward, click through to the actual Whatever page to be counted properly? I mean, for purposes of SubPress knowing the “real” count and all, because I liked that experiment!

  13. I have no idea what the correct answer to all of these dilemmas are, so forgive me for not giving you any valuable advice. That said, I thought the Yougurt thingie was better than the Election whatsit.

    That is all,
    Jack Tingle

  14. I wonder how big of a percentage of people who viewed it actually read it to the end, and how many will return for more free content. I think free content is a great idea, in theory. But I noticed something that happened to me with other author’s free works (John Ringo): once I started getting them for free, I stopped reading them. Not that their content got any worse; it was more I was so busy, and had so much other stuff to read that I pushed back the free stuff in favor of books I paid for. That continued until I had forgotten about the author for a while (or altogether.)

    Just saying: people don’t value stuff they themselves don’t pay for. And that could be detrimental to an author’s popularity.

  15. Scorpius:

    “Just saying: people don’t value stuff they themselves don’t pay for. And that could be detrimental to an author’s popularity.”

    I do hope you recognize the irony of suggesting such on the blog of a New York Times best selling author, which receives tens of thousands of visitors daily (not counting RSS reads), all of whom come to read free stuff. Especially when that author has published two pretty successful books consisting of blog posts, and two very successful novels which were originally posted here.

    As regards my short fiction, I’ll note the large majority of it is available for people to read for free online (I got paid for almost all of it, however). It doesn’t seem to have been detrimental to my popularity in the least.

  16. So while your short story output is not exactly prodigious, over the years, I imagine you have built up a pretty good set. Has there ever been any talk with your agent about a collection in the future? ‘Cause that would be awesome.

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