I have gotten a number of e-mails from concerned authors asking what the Amazon change on the ranking weighting and the Free promos means to them. I thought I would answer those in a general, public manner so everyone can see my thought processes.

First, I believe that at any moment, Amazon may reduce the weighting of free downloads to zero, or close to it. They will do that whenever they get around to it – they have already won the war with Select – there is no credible competitor, so they don’t need to create a scenario where their higher price titles are displaced by indie authors, whose work is by now clogging millions of kindles from all the free downloads. Sure, if someone wants to put their title up for free, in the hopes that translates into greater exposure, they’ll let ‘em, but it won’t have any effect on sales, so most will not do it as it won’t make any sense any longer, except perhaps for the first book in a series (to pull along the rest, assuming anyone actually reads the free first book, and then likes it enough to pay to read more).

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NEWS: New interview with Deanna Jewel on my process, including an excerpt from my latest!!!

WOW!!! New 5 star rave from The Kindle Book Review for The Geronimo Breach is truly worth reading.

UPDATE: Yours truly was in the Top 50 indie authors by sales for the second month in a row!

UPDATE REDUX: What’s that  you say? Why don’t I have any box sets? I do now! Three of my enduring faves at a 20% discount!

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I think that succeeding in self-publishing will get even tougher, so much so that the majority of self-pubbers who have enjoyed some small success will see their businesses dry up. That will discourage most, and result in the mad self-publishing gold rush we’ve seen to abruptly come to an end. It will take a while, like an oil tanker shutting down its engines and requiring five miles to stop, but once folks figure out the implications of a world where the big names command most of the virtual shelf space, the love will be out of the game.

Stories of John Lockes and Amanda Hockings will be comfortable fairy tales, when back in the good old days you could hit big in self-publishing with seeming ease. But what will quickly become apparent moving forward is that if the lists don’t have you on them because they favor higher priced offerings, then nobody knows you exist, and all the Tweeting, Facebooking and Google Plusing in the world won’t broaden your reach. If you can’t have a list price of $14, you won’t be able to compete with those that can, unless you sell a sh#tload of books – the odds of which decrease given that the algorithms that are the kingmakers won’t tout you, and so your sales will be meager. It’s a vicious circle, where if you aren’t already part of the club, then you won’t stand much chance of ever being invited into it.

I don’t know what Amazon has up its sleeve, but I do know a few things. First, it costs them something to upload every book and create a page. If that book never sells enough to cover those costs plus a tidy operating profit, the chances are poor that they will keep doing it. They’ll want to discourage it. Or perhaps even start charging to create a presence for those who aren’t traditionally published. I don’t know, but I do know that it doesn’t make sense to do free stuff once you have won the war.

And make no mistake – they have won the war. I can’t say I will be sad if they do that, because let’s face it – there’s a glut of books that should never have seen the light of day. Every person in the world has by now dusted off every manuscript they churned out in the last twenty years, created a cover, and slapped it up on Amazon, hoping to cash in on some of that easy self-pubbing money. After all, didn’t Konrath make $100K in three weeks selling stuff that was rejected? Didn’t Locke sell a million of penny dreadfuls? Anything is possible, and in all feeding frenzies and manias, the sense is that this time is different. Anything can happen. And if you don’t buy a lottery ticket, you can’t ever win.

I think we are seeing the not-so-slow-motion popping of the Amazon self-publishing bubble. Whether it will be abrupt, or gradual, is the only thing I’m unsure of. The dawning awareness that this is an extremely hard business, where the odds favor those who are already successful, will come slamming us all in the face, and for many, will be a kind of epiphany. No, sweetie, you can’t pick dot com names with a dart and wind up a millionaire. Sure, for a while the game was rigged to make it seem like you could, but most didn’t, and that era is over. Likewise, it seemed like you could always depend on there being a sucker to pay more for your McMansion than you paid for it the prior year – until you couldn’t. It’s human nature, and all manias have that characteristic. The impossible becomes achievable, at least conceptually, to most everyone – and by the time everyone is participating, the odds of all but a slim minority exiting with a profit are slim to none.

If you haven’t read it, pick up a copy of Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds. Written a century and a half ago, it’s still a great book. And human nature hasn’t changed. We want to believe that we can prevail, and that winning doesn’t involve being part of a club we have no hope of ever joining. We live in hope. We have to. The alternative is too depressing.

I’ve said numerous times that you shouldn’t be writing if you are motivated by selling a gazillion books. Or even earning a living at it. Because 99%+ odds say you won’t. For a brief moment there was a kind of Camelot, a renaissance in the industry, where for a few giddy years the sky seemed to be the limit. I believe that is now over.

Perhaps I am overreacting, and Amazon will act as a proud parent, dolling out treats to us all for being good. My hunch is that ain’t going to happen. What’s more likely is that they focus on their own Thomas and Mercer brand, making it successful, and push the offerings of the trad pub world, because they make more, and because those are likely higher quality than most of the indie stuff.

I see every reason for them to do so, and few to foster a world where every man is a self-publishing empire. The economics are against it. And in the end, ALL commercial enterprises are about making a profit. As much of one as possible without getting arrested. That’s what businesses do. It’s their reason for existing. If you want to know what Amazon will likely do in the future, just look at what will make Amazon the most money. This isn’t hard, folks. It’s common sense.

I think this is the first salvo in a continuing strategy. I don’t think they want to kill indie. I don’t think they care about indies much, beyond the leverage catering to that market bought them in achieving their short term business objective. Which they did. They shook up the trad pub world, got a proud and vain industry to understand where the real power lies, and changed the negotiating landscape. So now, time to tweak the software and get down to making some money.

I don’t blame them. I frankly have always viewed the Pollyannaish sentiment that they would treasure us and nurture us like precious hothouse flowers to be somewhat naive. Why? Why would they? What’s in it for them, other than selling a lower profit SKU in place of a higher profit SKU? Who would push the lower profit SKU? I wouldn’t. Not if I understood that my market would largely buy the higher priced one if that’s what they were exposed to. Because running a business, the smart business decision would be to sell the item that will make you the most money, all things being equal. So that’s what they are likely to do. The end.

What does the future hold? I believe it holds tough times ahead. I think the lower sales most are seeing this month are the start, not the end, of a trend.

I have never wanted more to be wrong about anything.

Time will tell.

I will try another free promo next week to confirm what I’m hearing from just about everyone, however I have very low expectations – maybe 10-15% of the impact on sales the same promo might have had in March or April. It may net out to still being worth doing – if you see a 200% bump in sales for four days, hey, that’s something. But what won’t be happening is placing in the top 10 with ease, and then seeing a thousand books sold in the following week. Those days are over. Sad, too. I loved those days.

Better buy me a drink. I start crying in a few minutes.

On a shameless self-promotional note, I launched Return of the Assassin today – the fourth installment in the continuing adventures of El Rey, the “King of Swords.” It’s another barn burner and has more twists than a mountain road. Buy one for every person you know, or would like to know, or think you might know at some point. It’s for a good cause.

Me.

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Comments

  1. Sat 26th May 2012 at 3:58 pm

    This was interesting to read. I actually went away and thought about it for a while before coming back to comment. You sound really negative and yet the basics of your argument seem off to me. First of all, the idea that indie publishers were getting rich and now won’t be doesn’t seem to match up with the reality that half of all indie publishers earned less than $500 (a number I read in the Guardian this week). The golden era in which anyone and everyone was going to make millions never existed. Publishing, whether traditional or not, has always been a business of a few big successes and many, many, many more barely scraping by stories — and yet people continue to write. Lots, in fact! Why would they stop? Everyone always hopes that they’ll be the one to get rich and very few people do. But thinking that people will stop writing is like thinking that they’re going to stop buying lottery tickets. No.

    You suggest that Amazon might make them/us, by refusing to keep our records in the system. The idea that Amazon is going to decide that the incremental cost of adding a record to a database is somehow more than the non-incremental cost of sorting records, deleting records, and dealing with the hassle of irate publishers and users is…unlikely, IMO. Both ways have costs associated and the leave-it-alone way is much less hassle.

    But now we get to the nitty-gritty — the real basis of your argument seems to be that the higher-priced, traditionally published books are inherently better and that indie publishers can’t compete. Maybe indie publishers can no longer effectively use price as a competitive advantage, but that’s not really bad news. It means that we have to price our books in line with traditionally published books and compete on quality. Yeah, if a self-published book’s only virtue is that it was cheap or free, it’s not going to do well. But that doesn’t mean self-publishing is going to die. And look at the math! For the author, a single book sold at $4.99 is worth 10 at .99 — and probably two sold at $14.99 with a traditional publisher. And with all the prices inevitably rising (since there is no value in free/’cheap anymore), indie publishers will probably go up to $7.99 and will be making substantially more on every sale than a traditionally published author at the same or twice that price.

    Fundamentally, self-publishing is better for authors than traditional publishing. Amazon’s changing algorithms means that self-publishers need to stop relying on being cheap to sell books. But that doesn’t mean we can’t rely on being good, instead. Maybe it’s because I never believed in a gold rush that your post struck me as surprisingly negative — maybe if I had, I’d be feeling the same way. But I think there’s a bright side to Amazon’s changes and I believe self-publishing is going to continue to thrive. Lower sales might be the start of a trend, but when it gives us room to all raise our prices, the trend might be higher profits.

    (I hope this doesn’t read too much as telling a stranger on the Internet that they’re wrong, wrong, wrong. I really try to avoid doing that!)

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 26th May 2012 at 6:15 pm

      Here are my reactions to your comments.

      First, I am on record about a million places saying that 99.9% of all authors won’t make money. No, what I stated was that the golden era of when indies could compete based on the preexisting set of rules that everyone enjoyed, is now over – which will end the gold-rush mentality that prevailed over the last two years among many writers. The fact is, Amazon appears to have changed the algorithm to favor higher priced books (which I go out of the way to point out is where indies DO NOT HAVE AN EVEN PLAYING FIELD DUE TO DIFFERENT RULES – trad pub can assign a list price of $14.99 and the book sells for $9.99, whereas indies can’t do that – an inherently extremely important advantage, or disadvantage, depending upon whom you represent). In your comments we are all the same – you miss the point that no, we’re not. I can’t assign a list price of $11.99 and then slash the price to $5.99. Random House can. If the algorithms go off of list price, Random House has a baked in the cake advantage every time. Period.

      I never said people won’t write. I said that the gold rush mentality of becoming a self-publishing sensation will die. Again, I have cautioned repeatedly that if you are writing because you expect to sell lots of books, or even enough to recoup your publishing costs, you are sadly mistaken. I think I sound negative because I recognize that the chances of making it are indeed virtually non-existent.

      I speculate about what I believe Amazon might do. You are free to disagree, and to advance myriad reasons why they won’t. In the end, I doubt either of our opinions on the topic will sway them.

      As to the financial merits of selling books at $4.99, or whatever other arbitrary price point you’d like to choose, again, I have never said that self-pubbing isn’t superior in terms of the author net, presuming a sale is made. That’s a huge presumption.

      Trad pub books are generally better than indie. That is obvious by the number of unedited, un-proofed, non-professionally covered or formatted works out there that didn’t get basic quality control applied. I try 10 indie books, and 9 will have gross formatting, editing or style problems that prevent me from getting through them. Whether we like it or not, the process of agents vetting for rudimentary competence and coherence, and then the publishers having their editorial staff, including editors, copy editors, and proofreaders pore over the work, DOES in fact make a difference in most cases. Now, I happen to invest in an editor for style and content, a copy editor, and a proof reader. So I try to duplicate that quality control. The only way you can duplicate numerous gated quality control checks is to have them. That’s why I pay to do it. I understand that being talented and a good writer and meaning well are not substitutes for those steps. Most indie self-pubbers do not take those steps. I wish they all did. But they don’t. Hence the stigma. That is not to say there aren’t great indie books out. There are. They are also in the minority.

      Self-publishing just enjoyed a 2-3 year Renaissance which is unprecedented. A John Locke, Amanda Hocking, Darcie Chan, JA Konrath, etc. etc. would have been unheard of five or ten years ago. So yes, we just went through a golden era. The likes of which we will never see again, because circumstances will never be the same – the combination of emerging technology, purchasing habits of early adopters of that technology, novelty of cheap content, fascination with the concept of not having to wait to be traditionally published…and Amazon’s tough, adversarial stance with the trad pub giants all conspired to create that wondrous era.

      Look, I am one of the very very very few indie authors fortunate enough to be making a nice living selling my books. That would have been impossible until recently. I am infinitely grateful that Amazon had the systems in place for as long as they did to make that possible. I took advantage of them, and got lucky (that, and 120 hour workweeks), and am happy that so far, everything seems to have worked out well. I price my books between $3.97 and $4.97, so I am an advocate of not underpricing. But I am also not crazy, and don’t view my having to price my books at $9.99 to compete with the selling price of the latest discounted Jack Reacher in order to attempt to come close to the same visibility on the algorithms as an opportunity to make more money. What it does is destroy my ability to have my 3 books sold at $3.97 counted as 3 for the purposes of visibility – Jack wins that one every time.

      I am not a rah rah band for indie publishing. I think writing is an important art and means of self-expression, and that the reason to write is because you love it.

      Self-publishing has about as much to do with writing as running a commercial bakery or restaurant has to do with enjoying cooking. My comments in this particular blog address the business aspects of the self-publishing business, and are not necessarily targeted at authors and writers. For those who are attempting to operate a self-publishing business, the product of which consists of writing, editing, proofing, cover design and execution, formatting, and the various marketing and promotions required to actually sell the product, I suspect my take has more resonance. Self-publishing in order to make money is completely different than writing, and requires different skills. It requires business skills, and an impartial evaluation of business trends, one of the largest of which are the two advantages we have enjoyed so briefly, which now have been eliminated, or watered to the point of lacking much impact.

      I would not say that fundamentally, self-publishing is better for authors than trad-publishing. For the vast majority, it is equally crappy. If you are not getting an agent or published in the trad pub world, you aren’t making money. If you aren’t selling any books in the self-pubbing world, you aren’t making money. The net effect is dismal in either case. Only for those who are selling, is there a difference, and I would agree that self-pubbing makes more sense unless you are selling a lot, in which case, trad pub might make more sense given its ability to put millions into marketing you.

      All of which is my long winded way of saying writing is not the same as self-pubbing. One is the act of writing. The other is the act of operating a business whose product involves quality controlling, packaging, marketing, branding and pricing the writing that the author did. Most authors probably won’t be very good at operating a small business, because of the numerous dissimilar disciplines it involves. Most business operators probably wouldn’t write that great of a romantic thriller, because they lack the skills to do so. They’re different skills. I recognize that, and constantly am working on both skill sets, as one without the other will still result in failure. Is that negative? Perhaps. I call it realistic.

      Meanwhile, flies and spiders will continue to get along together, as they have for some time.

      Reply
  2. Sat 26th May 2012 at 7:08 pm

    I’m afraid I haven’t been reading your blog enough to have been familiar with your million previous statements. My apologies for commenting!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 26th May 2012 at 7:15 pm

      Not that I have strong opinions on the subject.

      Sorry to launch a polemic in response to your comments. That will teach you to have not absorbed my million prior statements. They are, each of them, pearls.

      Or not.

      Reply
  3. Sat 26th May 2012 at 7:31 pm

    I think your post and follow up comment make a lot of sense from Amazon’s perspective. It is currently the 800-pound gorilla… but other other distribution channels are gaining in market share (B&N, Kobo, etc.). The glimmer of hope I have is that if Amazon tries to go Big 6 on the new publishing industry, that another company will rise up and kick them squarely it in the ass! If Amazon can topple the traditional publishing industry, what’s to stop another forward-thinking author-friendly company from toppling Amazon?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 26th May 2012 at 7:40 pm

      Agreed. I hope and pray that B&N does something meaningful, but so far all I see is a slavish desire on their part to play ball with trad pub, which has colored their business decisions and rendered them less, not more, competitive. Trad pub wants to protect and prioritize paper as much as it can. So its priorities are antiquated, anti-competitive, and flawed. That means that anyone trying to dance to their tune and make them happy won’t be competitive. So far, Amazon has eaten their lunch.

      I sincerely hope that the alternative platforms make strides. Again, my commentary isn’t intended as anything but my glum view of the latest moves by Amazon. I would love to turn out overly pessimistic. But fact is, Amazon is the only game in town for most right now, and until that starts to change, a modification of the algorithms favoring trad pub like that just made is ominous, and will carry immediate business consequences for most. Reduced sales, I would expect. Again, I’d love to hear that most are doing better, not worse, in May, than in April but so far, that’s been a small minority.

      Reply
  4. Skip
    Sun 27th May 2012 at 3:10 pm

    I think you’re stuck in scarcity modely thinking here, on Amazon’s costs in hosting a work. You’ve tremendously overestimated them. These are back of the envelope numbers, so you could quibble with them, but not enough to matter, in my opinion. What does it cost? Well, the ebook itself is usually under a megabyte of storage, usually well under, the database records to host the page are probably somewhere around a half a megabyte, so figure one to two megabytes of storage. Storage costs around a hundred bucks a terabyte, so the storage costs for an ebook are somewhere around two hundredths of a penny on the high side. Now there are other equipment costs, of course, but they’re not going to add more than a power of ten (and are probably considerably below that). So say two tenths of a penny per datacenter to host a work, ten datacenters, and on the high side we’re talking about two whole cents to host a work, on the high side.

    A single sale covers that, by a large margin, and even would cover a whole bunch of vanity listings that never get a single sale. Ten sales? All gravy.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 27th May 2012 at 3:46 pm

      Sure. And also the overhead involved in dealing with the authors via KDP, and their admittedly so-so customer service. Be that as it may, the question at the end of the day is what Amazon wants to focus their marketing efforts on. We won’t have to speculate – by year’s end, I believe it will become clear.

      I truly hope I am a paranoid canary in the coal mine here. Especially since there’s not a lot we can do about it.

      Reply
  5. Melissa
    Sun 27th May 2012 at 3:37 pm

    This is a great blog entry, Mr. Russell. Writers have a reason to be concerned.

    Let me tell you a story about another website where “writers” used to make a cool killing. It was called eHow, and writers were paid for their 500-word-or-so articles based on ad clicks. Some of the people who participated in eHow’s Writers Compensation Program, or WCP, made thousands of dollars each month. Typically, these writers were prolific.

    The problem with eHow was that while some of its content was respectable, most of it was dreck, and Google responded accordingly by changing its algorithm to bump eHow so far down in the search results they may as well not have even existed.

    I participate in a lot of writers forums, and some of the folks who were making bank with eHow’s WCP were gobsmacked; the company that owned the website had given them no indication of what was going down. Within one month, they went from making a cool $3K to a couple of hundred dollars. Later, the company that owned eHow made the writers an offer — they could either sell the company their articles for a paltry sum or remove them from the site.

    Aside from its payment model, there are a lot of similarities between Amazon’s self-publishing platform and eHow’s WCP.

    Writers should be wary of anything that seems too good to be true, because a) it typically isn’t; and/or b) it typically won’t last. To remain in good standing with Google, I foresee Amazon making substantive changes to its self-publishing platform in the future, and these won’t necessarily benefit the majority.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 27th May 2012 at 3:49 pm

      That’s been my experience. Corporations, like governments, generally say one thing and do another. The history of the craft has been one of artists getting largely screwed. While I hope with all my heart that this time is different, and it will last, I have learned it is never different, or it never lasts.

      How’s that for positive thinking? I just don’t get why everyone thinks I’m so negative…

      Reply
      • Melissa  –  Sun 27th May 2012 at 3:55 pm

        You are simply thinking realistically.

        And realistically, Amazon is going to have to make sure that its reputation stays on top to stay in Google’s good graces. Half-baked books, plagiarized content and duplicate content/different titles (read: spam) are a huge problem for Amazon, and they could well sink its self-publishing platform.

        Reply
  6. Sun 27th May 2012 at 10:38 pm

    Interesting post, and definitely food for thought. However, I see a hole or two in your logic. You say that Amazon may start charging to allow authors space on their storefront. They already do, to the tune of 30% to 65% of every sale. It takes only a handful of sales on any one book to put Amazon in the black. Their marginalizing the rankings of free books in their algorithms may or may not continue. They created KDP Select mainly as a perk for their Prime program. But if putting a book free for 5 days out of 90 (the main inducement for authors to sign up for Select) stops reaping benefits, authors will stop signing up. Which will mean far fewer titles for those Prime members to borrow. Also, with the older algorithm, if a book went off free and proceeded to sell an extra several hundred copies over what it would have sold otherwise, Amazon absolutely profits from that. How does phasing that out benefit their bottom line?

    I’m trying my second run at the free thing this weekend and won’t know for several days whether it will have similar (paid) results as my first effort, which was extremely satisfying. Certainly, I have no illusions that Amazon cares about authors to the detriment of its bottom line. But I do think there’s a model, perhaps very similar to the current one, that can benefit both Amazon and indie authors. Here’s hoping that’s the model that prevails–at least for a while yet.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 27th May 2012 at 11:58 pm

      Well, Brenda, as far as why Amazon has reduced the effectiveness of Free by about 90%, we can only speculate. That it has isn’t up for debate. The data is overwhelming, and incontrovertible. Authors are seeing 10% of the sales they saw from the same promos in March and April. That’s fact. Phoenix Sullivan, Ed Robertson, and others, have documented it. I won’t belabor their findings. It is what it is. My hunch is that this is the first in a number of moves towards favoring higher priced, trad pub titles. Perhaps I’m all wet. We shall see.

      I can’t really see an absence of 90% of the titles that are available to borrow at present swaying many prime customers one way or the other. I also believe that they offer different terms to trad pub on Select, like not having to be exclusive, so if you believe that the playing field isn’t already slanted, look no further than that. Again, this is knowable, and doesn’t require speculation.

      If you have similar results as your first run (assuming that your first run wasn’t terrible) you will be as rare as the dodo or passenger pigeon. Although if anyone can do it, you stand to, as I note you are #3 free out of all free titles on Amazon – if that doesn’t put your sales in the stratosphere following the promo, I think it’s safe to say that nothing would in terms of a test of free. Bear in mind, however, that very few hit in the top 50, much less the top 5, so results will likely vary for you. Some have still seen good results, but one could argue they would have seen brilliant results had they run the same promo in Feb or March. By all means, stop back in and share your results with us. I would love to be proved wrong. I will be running a free promo next week to see what net effect, if any, it has on sales. I too am hopeful I am wrong, but I’m afraid I already know how this one is going to go. Still, it can’t hurt, and I have some free days to use up, so what the hell.

      No, I stay in Select because the loan revenues are non-trivial for me – probably roughly 10% of my total revenues this month. If I could say with a straight face that I thought my B&N or similar sales would come even close to that, I would be non-exclusive in a heartbeat. Perhaps in another 90 days, I will have hope for those other platforms. As for now, not so much.

      Reply
  7. Mon 28th May 2012 at 10:59 am

    Russell, I’ll certainly come back and share my results in a week or so. (Today is my last day of free.) My FREE results a even better than last time, but that’s really not the point, is it? However, I can argue that tens of thousands of giveaways of one of my very best books can only be good advertising for my others, once people get around to reading it. (I realize most probably never will. But even 10% would be a good number of new readers.) I’m glad you’re getting good results from the “borrow” feature of Select. I had very few on my first Select book and none so far on this second one (though it’s only been enrolled a couple of weeks at this point). My motivation was the easy free promotion, without having to go through the price matching gymnastics so many authors are doing to avoid the exclusivity. This particular book was selling so poorly across all venues that I had little to lose with a 3 month exclusive.

    I’m not disputing that the motives you’re ascribing to Amazon for their changing algorithms COULD be true. But that part is speculative at this point, and it could even turn out to be the result of some programming mistake. (They’ve certainly made lots of those!) Time will tell, as we all keep saying.

    Certainly, I’m not putting all of my eggs into Amazon’s basket. Out of 9 ebooks (so far) I’ve only put 2 in Select, at 2 different times. I’ve also enrolled one book in the Nook First program (promo begins today, actually– I should go check my numbers!) in hopes of jump-starting my sales there. While it may be true that the “Gold Rush” is already on the wane, it’s also possible that for some time yet, other vendors and technologies will keep popping up to give authors more and more options. I believe the savvy author will stay informed on ALL fronts, to be as agile and proactive as possible in this rapidly changing market.

    In any event, right now is a VERY exciting time to be an author!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 28th May 2012 at 12:14 pm

      I don’t think we disagree. I’m just making the point that the reports I am getting, as well as my own experience, is that the free thing is fading fast, has 10% the effect it did 60 days ago in sales terms (which may still be significant – just 90% less significant than before), and that the spillover effect of folks reading what they downloaded is, er, muted, to say the least. I’m guilty of it. I have probably 40 books right now on my kindle that I downloaded as long ago as November, and still haven’t gotten around to reading more than a handful.

      I’m actually more concerned over the change to the calculations which now appear to favor higher priced (read trad pub) books. That’s a trend I want to keep my eye on. Although I also note that a lot of indie names appear in the top 1000 and seem firmly ensconced there, so perhaps there is a tipping point beyond which the popularity lists don’t really impact your sales. I think it’s far more meaningful to the authors in the 1000-20K ranking than those already in the top 1000.

      Nook First? Sounds interesting.

      Yes, I’ve been fortunate. I see almost 1000 loans a month on average – some months 1200, some 700. But it all adds up, and I like the zero refund rate. And no discovery that 30% of your sales were marked to 35% commission from 70% because of some outdated territorial segmentation (really, Amazon? Does it cost you anything more to sell my books in Australia from the US site? Or is that just a convenient pretense to reduce my cut by half? Seems draconian to me…).

      Still, after all is said and done, I can’t complain. I will note that you are in the hottest selling genre on Amazon, so you’re odds are far better of climbing that tree than most other genres. Good call. I’ll be starting my romance series soon. I’m thinking pirates and willful governor’s daughters are always popular. Look for them soon.

      Reply
  8. Mon 28th May 2012 at 2:54 pm

    I said a while ago that Amazon will kill the self-pub Long Tail. Maybe even the trad pub Long Tail. Despite what everyone thinks, it does cost money to host all that and the more there is, the more search algorithms cannot find pertinent results. And why would Amazon want all of that competing with stuff people actually want to buy? You make the best case for all of that yet.

    Reply
  9. Mon 28th May 2012 at 5:52 pm

    I wonder how much money Amazon makes off what I would call “churn.” Every month Amazon send out the royalty money, and I’ll bet a good percentage of it comes right back as the authors spend it gifting books for promotion and buying stuff from Amazon they’d never have considered if they weren’t on the site all the time.

    I’m sure they make a lot more off self-published books than the percentage they take from sales.

    Back on topic, anything to tamp down the dross should be a good thing, right? Of course none of us writes dross.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 28th May 2012 at 6:19 pm

      No, we are all clearly above average, as the majority would insist, in spite of the logical impossibility thereof. I’ll have you know I write only the finest dross, due to the fine interweaving of drivel and fluff in between the pandering bits. My specialty, really. Makes my screeds both pretentious and incomprehensibly dense, and yet incredibly pedestrian and insulting to most people’s intelligence. And I like to slather on a lot of florid prose for good measure. Never use a single word where several dozen will do, is my motto. Does wonders for word count…

      I’m quite sure that Amazon is doing very well off everything they do, thank you very much. I would be a lot less bitter if they would simply feature one of my books as their find of the week or something, say, twice a month. I would gladly reciprocate by raising my prices to $6.99 so they can make more. I mean, fair is fair. If you talk to them, tell them that. Or ask them to call. I’m always available. Really. Very flexible, too.

      Reply
      • Anthea Lawson  –  Tue 29th May 2012 at 5:18 pm

        Russell – have you thought about pitching to one of Amazon’s imprints? You’d get some traction then~

        And, hey, I’ve been inspired by your long view on all this — and I feel like this post has you mired in the up-close a bit. I suspect that, given time, things will even out. Of course, I’m an optimist. ;)

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Tue 29th May 2012 at 6:47 pm

          Nope. Haven’t pitched anyone, have no agent. Would be open to a deal, but it would have to be a decent one, and those aren’t really being offered much. Having said that, I wouldn’t know how to go about pitching them, and I don’t have time to pitch agents at the moment, as I’m still on my mad rush to turn out 7 novels this year, and my latest is only 55% through…

          No, I still have a long term perspective. But occasionally I try to get closer, so I don’t get stung by a scorpion while contemplating the clouds.

          Reply
  10. Mon 28th May 2012 at 8:40 pm

    Since Nook First was mentioned, I thought I might chime in and say that one of my books was part of that program in March. Having the power of B&N behind a book is something I could never manage on my own. Since then, my B&N sales have jumped to about 50% of my Amazon sales; prior to that, they were more like 5-10%. I’m happy to keep my eggs in many baskets. For now, my sales have been rising slowly but steadily. As Bob Mayer said, e-publishing is a marathon, not a sprint.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 28th May 2012 at 9:59 pm

      Forgive my ignorance. How does one enroll one’s books in that program? Congrats on the sales, BTW.

      Reply
      • Terry Odell  –  Mon 28th May 2012 at 10:16 pm

        It’s not a publicized program, and you have to apply. It’s NOT comparable to Amazon Select.

        Reply
  11. Tue 29th May 2012 at 7:48 pm

    If your Indie novel is as good as a $9.99 Big House book, then sell it at $9.99!
    I listened to Russel and sold my latest novel at $9.99 this last 3-day weekend. I was surprised at the 35 sales as it had only been on Amazon KDP for 2 days before that (Official Launch date June 1st)!
    Its time we Indie authors spent the extra cash on editors, graphic designers and formatters and get as professional as the Big House books out there.
    If you think 99 cent books are your arena, then fine, but I’m going the whole hog; two editors, graphic designer and formatter! At least I’m giving partial employment to 4 good people + my reviews are becoming better and better!
    Regards T I WADE.

    Reply
    • Miles Allen  –  Tue 05th Jun 2012 at 8:32 am

      I think that’s a great rallying call. I changed careers two years ago and I only have my first book out there so no one knows me, but I changed the price of my book around and found that at it’s highest price now of $4.99, I’m selling probably more than any other price.

      I’m getting great reviews, and so many people are begging for book two in the series, but have I the guts to say my book is therefore equal to trad pub and price accordingly? Well based on your comments, I’m certainly going to have another significant price rise and find out. As you say, going the whole hog and having the revenue to pay for the right people is something I did with the first book, and I haven’t regretted it.

      Reply
  12. Tue 29th May 2012 at 8:31 pm

    I have been hearing this too and several authors including Joe Konrath have pulled out of the program. But maybe the KDP Select is still a good deal for no name authors (like me) for two reasons.

    The first is that no-name authors don’t sell much. In the 4 plus months after I published my book “The Sun Zebra,” all I got was 27 sales. In the 3 weeks after my free giveaway I got 170 sales and 46 borrows. For the 19,000 plus downloads I got I expected more, but compared to what I had before it was great.

    The second is that, even if you sell less than before, you are still able to reach a large audience in a short time. Sure, 90% of the people that downloaded my book may never read it, but 10% of 19,000 is still 1,900 people.

    Be it as it may, I do agree with you that if what makes business sense for Amazon is down-pedaling on their support for Indies, they will do it. I just hope we have other alternatives left when things get really ugly.

    Reply
  13. Tue 29th May 2012 at 9:47 pm

    All this means is that the quick and easy way of making money is gone. There’s nothing to stop you from making the first book in a series free (permanently) and relying on subsequent sales of the other books once the reader is hooked.

    Some indie authors do this quite effectively (S.J. Wright).

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 30th May 2012 at 12:20 am

      Yes. I have two permanently free. For six months. Works reasonably well. And no, it doesn’t only mean that the quick and easy way is gone – unless you consider that trad pub titles having a baked in the cake advantage with the algorithms is meaningless. I personally don’t find it so – it ensures that a title at $14.99 will see three times the visibility my title at $4.99 will see, even if the sale price of the book is more like $9.99 or $7.99. That’s not a boo hoo hoo. That’s an observation that the playing field is now tilted in favor of trad pubs. It’s not level. And that is cause for concern, because it hints at the bias that inevitably will grow, unless it’s all a big mistake.

      Reply
      • S.E. Gordon  –  Wed 30th May 2012 at 8:20 am

        Just read Ed Robertson’s May 15th blog post. Very interesting…

        Reply
  14. Kevin O. McLaughlin
    Wed 30th May 2012 at 12:52 am

    It’s an interesting theory. The trouble is, the data does not support your hypothesis.

    I have been tracking indie percentages of the top hundred bestsellers across multiple genres since January. While there is strong evidence of average indie prices on those top selling books going up, there is no evidence of the percentage of indie books going down.

    Indie share of the top hundred lists in almost all genres remains in the 51-66% range.

    When and if publishers begin recovering lost market share, there might be cause for concern. So far, it hasn’t happened.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 30th May 2012 at 1:21 am

      It’s not a hypothesis. See Ed Robertson’s excellent blog on relative rankings on the most popular lists versus the bestseller lists – May 15 entry, with its screen shots of the price favoritism on most popular lists. It is happening. What you are observing is that the favoritism that is documented on the most popular lists hasn’t translated into increased share on the bestseller lists. I would respond: yet.

      IF, and this is a big if, the favoritism given to price on the most popular is the first move by Amazon in a trend they intend to implement across other algorithms, you can see how eventually it will erode indie share on the bestseller lists as well, as visibility will ultimately translate into sales. Given that this just started at the top of the month, I would also expect it to take a while to have a substantial effect.

      Reply
  15. Reb MacRath
    Thu 31st May 2012 at 2:27 pm

    Russell, I wish you could do something to darken the font of your responses. The dialogue goin’ on here fascinates me, but your half is drivin’ me blind!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 31st May 2012 at 7:58 pm

      Let me find out. I think that’s just a factory preset. Don’t know if it can be changed. But will check.

      Reply
  16. Mon 04th Jun 2012 at 11:04 am

    Okay, I promised to report back here, and it’s now been a week since my book went back to paid after 3 days of free via KDP Select. Over those 3 days, Ship of Dreams made it to #2 Free overall and #1 in Historical Romance and Historical Fiction. In fact, it stayed in the top 5 Free nearly the whole 3 days. I had 36K free downloads over those 3 days. (By comparison, the book I put free for 5 days in early Feb. had 19K downloads over the 5 days and topped out at #13 Free and #3 Historical Romance, and that was briefly. So this book did MUCH better in terms of downloads and ranking than the first one, maybe because I’ve gotten better at promoting. Or other reasons.)

    In the week since going off free, I’ve sold about 200 copies. Since this book had sold a total of 10 copies in the first 25 days of May, I’m calling it a definite win. HOWEVER, it took much longer to rise back up in the rankings after going off free, and it didn’t “stick” quite as long once it got there. For comparison, the Feb. freebie had more than 350 paid sales the week after going off free, despite not going as high in the free rankings. It also had a much bigger “bleed-over” effect on my other titles, but I expected that, since my other titles are all Regency set and the book I have in Select now is not, so has much less in common with my others.

    Anyway, while I definitely consider it was worthwhile to enroll this particular book in Select and do the free promo (I imagine I’ll use my other 2 days just before my Select period ends), it’s obvious that Amazon has indeed changed their algorithms to the detriment of books going from free to paid status. I suspect they’re tweaking those algorithms all the time, so who knows what will be happening in a month or two?

    Meanwhile, I am beyond pleased with the results I’m having so far in my first week of my Nook First exclusivity with a different book (my first-ever published book, a Regency romance from 1992). You asked about that program and got a partial answer. I don’t actually know if they’re still enrolling books in it at all, now that the person in charge has left B&N, but when I scheduled mine (almost 2 months in advance), the “rule” was that the book had to have never before been available as an e-book, and you had to put it up exclusively for Pub It for its first month. In return, it gets an actual “push” from B&N. Just the last 3 days of May (my promo there started May 28th) blew ALL my previous months’ earnings at B&N out of the water. I’m pretty excited to see what will happen in June.

    Reply
    • Terry Odell  –  Mon 04th Jun 2012 at 11:14 am

      Brenda – I hear you on NOOK First. My book had its 30 day “feature” starting May 18th, and I’m still getting many, many times my pre-promo sales across the board at B&N, so even though sales are a fraction of what they were during that promo month, I’m making about as much a day at B&N than I’d been making in a month prior to NOOK First. It’s still early on, but I seem to be on the radar at the Nook store.

      Meanwhile, my Amazon sales have also been climbing up (numbers mean more to me than rankings at this point, because it’s the number of sales that put $$ in my bank account.)

      Terry

      Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 04th Jun 2012 at 11:18 am

      Congrats, and thanks for reporting back.

      I am on day three of King of Swords coming off free, and am seeing the same thing. First, I only made it to #23 on the free list, and #1 in Action/Adventure, but saw only 11K downloads in two days. Sales are up by around 80% from where they were pre-free, versus about 600% on the last free run in April. So yes, alas, the algorithm elves have worked their mischief in a less than pleasant way for us. Still, on balance, 80% bump is better than no bump. But at some point one must consider the wisdom of making one’s books exclusive to Amazon for 90 days to see an 80% bump in sales that will last a week, at best, then settle back to more organic levels. Not being a downer on that, just stating the obvious (I have an amazing grasp of the obvious).

      I’ll look into B&N for my next masterpiece. Barring that, my next book.

      Wink.

      Reply
  17. Tue 05th Jun 2012 at 9:39 am

    Your posts have started be thinking about Amazons strategy; what is KDP select about:-
    well one aspect is for feeding prime, but the main thing I would be after, would be getting as many people as possible to open a kindle account. Once someone has an account with over 20 books in it, who’s going to close it down and move over to B&N. If in 5 years time, someone is offering a book 50cents cheaper would you go there to buy it, or pay the extra just to have it on the same shelf as your other books. The only good reason to leave Amazon was if someone else had a wider choice.
    My daughter has just got a kindle, and her own account, she only has free books on it so far, but she’s only 15: If I was Amazon, I’d be happy with that, she has 80 years of book buying still to go.
    Looking into my crystal ball, I’d say, amazon will want to keep the Indie Authors, it will also want a large selection of free books. The only thing it will want to keep working on are the ranking algorithms. I think it will be quite happy to host the dross as long as it can be filed as such.
    The only way to filter these books is by user voting, so I suggest future changes will include extra weighting to ‘real-name’ reviews and to top reviewers.
    As for the weighting from the free giveaways, it was obviously wrong to have them at 100% (nice, but wrong). 0% will give people no incentive. hmm, lets try 10% and see how many people still bite. – I think enough will and the 10% is here to stay.

    Reply

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