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Of Kindles and KDP Select

Hey folks-

First, I’d like to say that I’m very pleased with the way Shiver is selling. It’s nothing earth-shattering (between four and five copies a day). But I’m a first-time author, virtually nobody out there has heard of me, and I think I’m lucky that people can find the book at all.

That said, I’d like to give you guys an after-action report on the immediate results of my recent giveaway (which Amazon allows me to do for 5 days out of every 90, as long as I keep the ebook exclusive with them), in which 2300+ people downloaded a copy.

Here it is: nothing much happened. Sales were about the same right beforehand, there were no additional reviews, nobody else clicked the “Like” button, and no more readers have scrolled down to “tag” the book (or vote for tags).

Which is very interesting, and indicates some changes in Amazon’s algorithms. To give you a little background, Amazon makes a few different “lists” public. More on that:

  • The bestseller rank, which is visible for all books that have sold at least one copy, is (supposed to be) a straightforward measure of how many copies have been sold relative to other books in the store. Free downloads, AFAIK, never counted here.
  • The category ranks ares shown by…er…category. Such as “Fantasy/Contemporary Fantasy.” In the past (prior to May of this year) Amazon apparently calculated these by the same measure as the bestseller rank–except that their movements were smaller, as Amazon took historical performance into account to a greater degree than in the bestseller list. But free downloads counted on a one-for-one basis.
  • Starting in May, things changed. A common opinion is that the free downloads started counting as a tenth of a book each. Also, the price of the book became relevant. A $9.99 sale counts for more than a $.99 sale. Details, of course, are kept private by Amazon. However, the list remained “stickier” than the bestseller ranking, so a successful promotional giveaway could bump a book for at least a few days, resulting in more sales…temporarily or permanently, depending on the book and, well, readers.

Which brings us to Shiver‘s performance. It rose quite well on the category lists. However, two things (sort of three things) happened immediately when the promo ended:

  1. The bestseller rank appeared to treat all promo days as no-sale days, and Shiver‘s rank plummeted (which in this case means it got much higher). Right after the promo, Shiver was ranked about 162,000 in the Kindle store. Normally (so far) it fluctuates between 20,000 and 50,000 with the best-ever result being around 7,000.
  2. Shiver fell completely off the category lists. As far as I could tell, the promotion had no effect on its standing (other than negative) as far as Amazon’s algorithms are concerned.
  3. This info didn’t come from the promo, but my second book ranked fairly well in the “Fantasy/Anthologies” category, as some people bought it right away. However, its ranking dropped, if anything, even faster than its bestseller ranking once the initial buying petered out. So I suspect the category rankings are less “sticky” than they used to be.

So I have a couple of additional theories. First, the combination of price-weighting the category lists and devaluing free downloads clearly favors traditional publishers. Of course Amazon isn’t going to explain itself to me, but I think the recent court settlement about the anti-trust flap when some traditional publishers “forced” Amazon to raise ebook prices a couple of years ago may be a factor. Possibly this recent change is even part of the settlement.

However, it’s also possible that I got an anomalous result, which may (or may not) have been affected by the non-reader who downloaded just past the promo deadline, got charged $3.99, and immediately asked Amazon for a refund.

In any case, it’s clear Amazon is temporarily (they change their minds, you know) making it a bit tougher for “indie” publishers, and favoring what JA Konrath calls “legacy” publishers. An interesting position for them to take, and probably not sustainable over the long haul, but that doesn’t help me at the moment. Or the other indie publishers who are reporting lower sales than expected in October.

But, you know what? I don’t really care. The book is doing a lot better than I expected. The other book (What Happened in September…) isn’t doing nearly as well, but I didn’t expect that it would. It’s a short-story collection, and people tend to avoid buying them. Also, there are no reviews and the stories are just plain weird. Fun, I think, but the world is what it is.

Also, I think having all those (potential) readers out there with copies of the book probably won’t hurt me in the long term. And there’s probably some value in the “alsobot” thing–there are more books shown under the “people who bought this also bought that” section, and some of those are reciprocal links. And for all I know Shiver shows up in that section for lots of other books I just don’t see.

So I’m going to stick with KDP Select for a bit longer. Starting after I publish Pagan Sex, I’ll be running a lot of free promos. I’ll try it again with Shiver, throw in September, and will actually be publishing most of September‘s stories individually, so they get to be free for a few days each. The goal, at that point, will be to help the free-download crowd see that I have other stuff out there, and if they like the freebie they might buy something else. Or not.

But…being locked in to Amazon can’t be a viable long-term strategy. Unless I get very good results, I will almost certainly pull my books from the KDP Select program and make them available on other platforms (B&N, Nook, iTunes, Kobo, whatever). I’ll make myself less dependent on Amazon, which is good. Plus, I’ll have more freedom to price the books as I like. For example: the stories are short and I think they should cost very little, but Amazon requires a minimum price of $.99. I can list them elsewhere for lower, though, and then Amazon will match the price.

If it all sounds sorta cumbersome and weird? Well, it is. Still better than the legacy publisher setup, though. By a lot.

Thanks again for the support, and I’ll keep on plugging away!


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