Sales Report on My First Download
I'm going to lay bare the numbers on my first mainstream magic download. How many I sold, and how much money I made. Whether you are a creator, or simply curious, I feel it's important to share a peek behind this shroud of mystery in the magic marketplace.
I'm doing this for creators
Especially if you've yet to jump into the pool with your first release, this will help you move ahead with eyes wide open. Then, you can look at my experience to see how it compares with yours. Cold hard numbers are very helpful rather than guessing in the dark, which wil easily lead to the incorrect assumption that everybody else must be doing better at this than you.
And for magic buyers
We create things for you, and you might like to know what the deal is like on the other end of the transaction. It may paint a different picture than you imagined. Many folks, I'm sure, don't want to know how the Weller sausage is made, but you must be here driven by your curiosity... a good thing! I appreciate you wanting to learn more about this industry of ours.
A Look Through The Square Hole
The product in question is The Square Hole, a print-at-home item which lands somewhere between puzzle, optical illusion, and magic trick. Due to the ambiguity of its nature, and lack of a real wham-bam visual magic moment (it's best served as a one-on-one experience) I had fairly low expectations when I first made it available to my fellow magicians. Sure, I was thrilled with it, but I wasn't sure if it would similarly inspire my fellow magicians. Driven by this lack of confidence, I made two decisions when I packaged this as an item;
A demo video with nothing to hide
Magic demo videos are notoriously bad about teasing only the best parts of a trick. They show the moment of levitation, and cut out the bit where you have to say "hang on, just let me put my chewing gum on this lamppost here." We've all fallen for this in the past, but hopefully we don't let ourselves get burned by this tactic too many times. (Rule of thumb: If they don't show the full performance, you can assume the get-ready and/or clean-up is ugly)
I digress. I wanted to make sure I showed the full performance even though allows viewers to "figure it out," which hurts sales. Most magic is sold as a toy, and not knowing how it's done when you buy it is a big part of that fun. I purposefully burst that bubble because I didn't want to get feedback like "What? There is no trick to this!"
You can take a look at the demo video that was sent out to all the magic shops:
A price with low expectations
I decided to price this item at $7 USD, which is below the average trick download at $9 to $12. Again, primarily due to the preemptive defense against "that's it?" reactions but there is also a bit of strategy, which I'll dig into further along when I start talking about my goals and objectives.
But first, a quick look at how the magic industry works
This is the story of four people; the magic creator, distributor, retailer, and customer and how magic tricks go from one end to the other.
The creator is the one who invents a magic trick. They have the ideas, create prototypes, refine (hopefully!) and eventually have an idea worthy of becoming a magic product. In some cases the work might end there, and they sell the raw idea to a manufacturer. However, in my case, and with most other independant creators, it falls on me to take it from raw idea all the way to a packaged project ready for store shelves. In the case of my product, that means I also filmed and edited the tutorial video, edited the demo video, created the printable templates and created the marketing graphics. If not for my own experience as a media-savvy graphic designer, it would be a heckuva lot for one person to tackle.
The distributor runs a warehouse. They purchase these finished products from the creators, gather them all together, then ship them out to all the individual magic shops. As a middle-man they provide the benefit of simplicity on both sides. The creator ships one big box of stuff to them, and magic shop retailers can "one-stop-shop" from all the creators in one place. The digital download side operates exactly the same way. I upload my video files to the distributor, they make it available to magic shops around the world, and they track all purchases made through retailers.
The retailer, your favourite magic shop, has an account with the distributor. They get access to the live feed of new magic products. That means within a minute of that new product being posted it will show up on magic shops around the world, automatically. (Some shops prefer to curate their catalog, but most just turn the hose on full blast.) For digital downloads the product is instantly in stock and available for sale. The retailer website would be integrated with the distribution system such that a new order is placed, and a webhook call is made to authorize the download purchase and create a unique link for the customer to download.
The customer need not worry about any of this stuff. They just see the product, click "buy now" and they can be downloading the files right away.
How the money gets shared
For as long as I've been in magic (a few decades) there has been a standard agreement of a 40/20/40 split between these people. The creator gets 40% of the purchase price, the distributor gets 20%, and the retail shop gets 40%. It's important to keep in mind the creators share of 40% must also cover all production costs. So if you've ever complained about not getting printed instructions, consider that printing comes out of the pocket of a creator working on a very tight budget.
With that split, for every purchase of my $7 Square Hole, I get $2.80. Which reminds me... let's get to the point of this story and the stuff you really want to hear!
Let's Get To My Numbers
The Square Hole went live on the distributor's new product feed on June 5th, 2023. Within a day I started charting on the Best Seller lists at the biggest magic shops!
Wow! You just want to know; after releasing this best-selling magic download to the world, how many new swimming pools can I buy? I was more surprised to learn how many sales it actually takes to qualify as a "best seller".
I don't have hard facts on this, but I believe the magic number is... as little as 2 or 3, on a slow day, to sneak onto the bottom of the list. The thing is, I only know the total number of sales, but I have no data on which shops the sales come from. However, I was watching close and refreshing a lot on the first few days and my name started to appear on the "best seller" lists with a surprisingly low number of total sales. It's also very short term, I believe calculated by the hour, so you can be listed there one hour and gone the next. The take-away here is that being on the best seller list is a particularly fleeting accreditation, it would be more accurate to call it a "trending" list.
Here's the day-by-day breakdown showing the number of sales per day, starting from launch day.
The peak, on day four, with 24 total sales corresponds with the day Square Hole was featured in the Vanishing Inc. email newsletter, and it jumped to number one on the list. I'm not sure who made that decision, but I thank them for highlighting me from the deluge of new products that week!
I was prepared for the general downward slope of this graph, knowing that magic products have a very short shelf-life these days. Even Richard Sanders, a genuinely best-selling creator, says of market attention span "you only get two weeks!" I'm now in week twelve of this product and my daily average is zero sales.
In total I've sold 184 downloads through this mainstream distribution, which turned out to be well above my low expectations. At $2.80 per unit I've earned a grand total of $515 (plus twenty cents!) so far.
I get access to an online dashboard with the distributor where I can check on all this sales data. At the end of every month (plus a couple weeks processing) they automatically send out a PayPal payment for the amount due to me. So I can expect to get a slowly diminishing payment to the tune of $20-ish bucks for the next few months. Perhaps I'll be able to update this later on with the "long tail" report.
Is It Worth It?
The near universal answer from all but the most agressive of magic creators is; if your primary goal is financial gain, then inventing magic ain't the job for you! I've gone through this existential crisis before with my work around here with Tips & Tricks and all the signs point to this being a hobby, not a business, in that it takes more time and effort than it's worth.
I didn't track the amount of hours put into the creation of this product, but the pay is most certainly lower than the "you might as well flip burgers" poverty line, especially since the reward is not at all guaranteed, and being my first release I have no idea if this is above or below average.
But I wasn't in it for the money
First off, before I released Square Hole through this mainstream distributor I had already launched it through my Tips & Tricks Newsletter which includes all my biggest fans who purchased it directly from me. (thank you!) I sold far fewer downloads, but got 100% of the proceeds. (one direct sale is worth three in the wild) I promoted it privately for two weeks, and basically squeezed out all the juice I could on my own.
My top priority for this worldwide distribution was just that... getting my product, and my name, out to strangers who had never crossed my path before. I priced it to be a low risk and a pleasant surprise. While it's un-trackable my hope is that a good number of those people will enjoy my tutorial, make an effort to learn more about me, find their way into my little oasis of magical delights, and become subscribers of my newsletter.
That is my primary goal for nearly everything. Once people join my newsletter I can deliver magical value every week, and grow our relationship over time. People have started as curious subscribers to become fans, customers, friends, and collaborators. I'm in this for the long game. I'm building my reputation, and every project is just a small step forward towards the next one.
Of course my stuff got ripped off!
I had a little side bet, just for curiosity, with my friend Clark about how long it would take for my new release to show up on the fake rip-off magic shops. The ones that sell brand new products for $1.99. (literally too good to be true!) I figured it would happen pretty quick and be listed in a couple days. Clark won, however, with his bet of "oh, instantly." Yup, my new release got ripped off and posted within hours of launch. Just like the legit magic shops, these knock-off sites are drawing from the same new product feed for instant syndication.
My only hope is that they didn't even sell $7 dollars worth of rip-offs so they had to buy one legit copy to get the files and lost money on the deal. The optimistic silver lining, which comes from Seth Godin's thoughts on stolen eBooks, is that there's always a chance somebody might steal your stuff and enjoy it enough to become an real fan and support your work in the future.
Would I do it again?
It's very likely I will release more downloads in the future, but do so selectively. There are some people who shoot for quantity and churn out something every week. I've not purchased any of them but just looking at the effort put into the product description and video demo, they are certainly working on quantity and not quality. Again, I plan to be participating in this magic world for another four decades, so I'm not rushing to put out junk for a quick buck.
The biggest hang-up I face it that I feel most of my stuff would not have a general appeal for magic buyers. I consider that a good thing, artistically, but it further diminishes the effort-to-reward ratio. At the moment I have no plans for my next download, but figure I'll recognize the commercialy viable idea when it comes along. (actual fact, I may have a bad sense for this. I've seen a few succesful releases come along for ideas I worked on and dismissed!)
My encouragement for fellow creators-to-be
If you've yet to release your first magic download I suspect the hang-up is feelings of being "not good enough." Here's my suggested remedy; go look at the list of brand new downloads coming out this week. There's probably about ten. Most are from people you've never heard of, so you don't need to be famous. Most of the are variations of familiar ideas, so you don't need to be wildly innovative. A couple of them look like junk, so you don't even need to be that good!
My point being lower the expectations you're placing on yourself and just let your idea fly free. You may be worried about negative feedback or criticism. My experience with 184 sales, and thousands of people who would have clicked past it; Two positive reviews posted (that I've seen), two emails that were passed on to me looking for some support, and 180 nothing-burgers. For the most part, radio silence. Very little feedback at all. For better or for worse this thing you're fretting about for weeks on end will be a tiny blip in on the radar of the world. Roll the dice! With a download product there is nothing to lose.
The mainstream market will remain a low priority for me
I'm not going to dig into my list of greivences about the state of the magic industry, but I will say this experience reinforces my resolve to be an independant magic creator. I've invested years into growing my own audience, inviting you into my house where I don't need to pay a fee to have a conversation. Gone are the days where Louis Falanga could make you a magic superstar with a four-volume video series. Even if magic companies wanted to do this, the marketplace is too noisy to achieve that sort of saturation. They, too, have chosen the quantity route and they have an endless supply of eager creators lining up to jump into the machine.
You don't need to commit to the same weekly schedule as me, but I strongly encourage anyone who wants to share their magic create a way to build and communicate with your own fan base on a regular basis. Ideally not on rented land, where your social media following can be destoyed on the whim of a lunatic billionarie. Email is a time-tested means to stay in touch without barriers or paywalls. (if you need help with the technical side of this, I'd be happy to chat about some suggestions!) When you have your own home base then the deal with magic shops becomes a bit more balanced. They use you for content, and you use them for reach.
For magic buyers I encourage you to develop relationships with more independant creators. If you've read this far along you probably already know the perks; personal support, bonus ideas, being a part of the process. It doesn't cost you a penny more, but that creator earns everything their idea deserves. It's a big benefit for both sides. With your direct support we can have authenticity win in the war against hype.
Random Observations From My Experience
As a graphic designer it's frustrating to see my marketing graphics cut off and re-sized on all the magic shop websites. There is no standard. It's a mess. Penguin seemed to mix up the order of images, so the secondary picture became the cover, and the video chose a random frame to highlight. Vanishing Inc makes it look good on the page, but the best-seller list is still cropped badly. I'm not sure what I could do to make it look good across the board.
It was also interesting to discover that Vanishing Inc is using AI to rewrite the product descriptions. (so they don't have the exact same text as their competition) I carefully wrote my original description, and it gets twisted out of shape with odd phrases. For example, I wrote "You can carry it in your wallet and present it as a bar bet" and that turned into "You’ll carry this card in your wallet with you everywhere, ready to amaze. It effortlessly elevates a simple bar bet into an unforgettable moment of wonder." And this banger; "Prepare to be enchanted by the enigmatic." More than flowery nonsense, this concerns me because AI has been known to hallucinate and say things which aren't true. I hope they have somebody fact-checking the robot.
Update: I got a friendy email from VI about the AI. They said it was a trial experiment with a handful of descriptions, and they just made some manual adjustments on Square Hole. You no longer need to be prepared to be enchanted by the enigmatic.
Thanks for a peek behind the fence!
As always, informative, entertaining and relevant. Keep up the good work!
...Enchanted by the enigmatic?
Thanks for your honesty & giving us a peek behind the curtain. You do have to admit that AI does a great job at making that text a mouth watering bite of marketing prose.
I'm glad I was able to put the measly $7 in YOUR pocket. I think you have the right idea. USE them for marketing YOU, which should be the real product. Best wishes!
I think you are missing a key piece
I tend to keep the marketing emails I receive from magic stores all over the country, so I went back to see how many mentions of your download I could find.
Other than your own marketing emails, I see one mention in a VI email as the download of the week (6/8/23) and you are mentioned in a Magician's Lair email (6/10/23) as the 5th product in the email, Your 6/8 "pop" likely correlates with the VI email.
Now I have no way to know if VI or Penguin featured you on their pages, but your download was not heavily marketed through email (which seems to be the primary marketing tool of online magic shops). Without that marketing push to drive awareness, you were doing almost entirely on your own, which may have been a heavy lift. Add to that, that I am not seeing any independent on-line reviews on youtube or the cafe, and you may not have had the visibility to drive sales.
On your own is right!
Thanks for taking a look into this, Brett.
I don't subscribe to magic shop newsletters anymore, but I suspect it would be extremely unusual to see a product get mentioned more than once, unless it was an in-house production. They make sales from "what's new" and each week the magic industry delivers more than a newsletter worth of content. Pushing an item more than once would be diminishing returns.
You're right, too, that the organic "buzz" would have a major impact, but I have no interest in trying to manipulate or manufacture that. There are some who do, and they do well with it, but it's not how I want to spend my days. I operate in tortoise mode. :)
Manipulation and manufacturing
So what you call "trying to manipulate and manufacture" is what I call marketing. What I call manipulation and manufacture are things like sock puppets, fake reviews and the like. I think the first is both expected and acceptable if you want to move the numbers. The latter is not cool. Just my two cents. Since marketing consulting is what I do for my day job, I am glad to discuss more off-line if useful.
Don´t expect wonders every day
This is a very remarkable report. Which should indeed lead magicians to think more about magical ideas. Sharing is of Mr Ryan´s "angel sides"; and we should be thankful for it. I´m also pleased that he adopted my idea of the Houdini card Magical Greetings from Austria
Thanks for sharing so candidly Ryan. Very interesting.
This was very informative Ryan! A lot of interesting info about the process!
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