Wednesday, 28 September 2011

Publishers to get stranglehold on Amazon Kindle sales?

I think Stephen Leather is right (see my last post, Sunset or sunrise on the Indie Summer). The Indie Summer may be over. What made me come to this conclusion, apart from my own drop in sales? This article in The Bookseller, Amazon readying October Kindle offer. Let me quote: has asked publishers for discounts of 90% on titles in order to participate in an October Kindle promotion.

The campaign is due to run from 17th to 31st October inclusively. Amazon has told publishers this will be the "main focus for our merchandising efforts during this period", and would be supported with emails, on Facebook, and via Twitter. It has asked for new frontlist as well as key backlist titles.

Of course, publishers are grumbling about this - they hate to reduce their prices, and have spent the last year coming up with specious arguments as to why an e-book should cost as much as a paperback, in spite of savings on paper, print, transport, storage and the pulping of remaindered books. But I'll bet they were pleasantly surprised by the profits they made during Amazon's Twelve Days of Kindle, Spring Spectacular and Summer Sale. Amazon wants to encourage them to produce more and better products (many mainstream books' formatting is poor) at a lower price.

At the start of this year, along with other self-published books, Remix was featured on Amazon's promotional pages. This gave it a huge boost. The same hasn't happened with Replica, nor have I noticed any other indie books being promoted recently. This may be because there are now many more trad published books available. And the algorithm tweaks, which made rankings less 'sticky' and changed the recommendation system have hit our sales particularly, as we don't have the marketing opportunities big publishers do.

It's not a conspiracy. I don't think Amazon has anything against self-published books. Amazon constantly seeks ways to improve its selling and profit, and indie sales are just collateral damage. But it's kind of depressing to suspect that within another year, big publishers will have established the same stranglehold over digital that they have always enjoyed over print.

Once more, the authors they reject will have no way of reaching readers, and readers will not have access to some books they would have loved.

I do hope I am wrong about this.


  1. I fear you may be right. And I agree - this is no conspiracy, but simply Amazon looking to make bigger profits, which is, after all, what any business tries to do. Somehow the indies will need to find new, creative ways to promote their books? (No - I've no ideas!)

  2. Or I could be being too downbeat - Mark Sennen's indie novel, Touch, is at 32 in the UK Top 100 with a green arrow. It's a serial killer thriller, and they do seem popular right now - mysteriously, as far as I'm concerned :o)

  3. Lexi, I notice that both Remix and Replica still feature in the top 100 romance books, which seems pretty good. Casual readers are always likely to browse these lists.

    I doubt that any big publisher will offer many free e-books so the way for Indies to get recognised initially may be to offer their first book free or at a bargain market beating price and get friends to read it and review it.

    Low price and a high reader rating will attract the casual browsers to give it a whirl.

    If your voice resonates with a group of readers then they will seek out your other books, share them with friends, and generally spread the word.

    Getting exposure for the first book, if it represents your best work, seems vital and worth sacrificing on price.

    Amazon doesn't state how the best seller lists are compiled. Presumably they represent the number of books sold in the last month, or some similar time span.

    For a reader searching for the 'cream' it would be nice to be able to select the time period over which the sales are accumulated.

    By choosing longer time scales the well known NYT best selling authors would presumably feature more strongly.

    It should surely be a reader's right to choose!

    Very thought provoking as always. *smile*

  4. Hi Q - Amazon rankings are a mixture of sales that hour, day, week and month - plus no doubt some other ingredients, which Amazon adjusts to present the most beguiling list possible. Once a book is out of the overall top 100, there is no way to tell from its page it has ever been there.

    I think your idea of a reader being able to select the criteria on which his personal top 100 is based is a fantastically good one. Can you tell Jeff Bezos?

  5. Can you tell Jeff Bezos?

    I imagine his email is highly filtered. I could try pulling academic rank but that might prove counter-productive.

    It really needs a dazzling young talent such as yourself to make an impression.

    I leave it in your capable hands Lexi. *smile*

  6. The Amazon promotions do seem to be a double-edged sword. The big ones were the Christmas and Summer promotions with dozens of books being sold at less than £1. Obviously they flooded the Top 100. What I found fascinating was that although my books all fell down the ratings (by more than 20 places) my daily sales went up. I actually made more money when the promotions were running. I think what happens is that the promotions boost sales generally and independent books can benefit from that. The October promotion will be an interesting one but we'll see the really big promotion over Christmas. Dunno how many of the new cheaper Kindles will be gifted but I reckon it will be in the millions again. Amazon will be pushing its own book hard I'm sure, and those of the publishers that agree to the big discounts. Really not sure what will happen to the Indies over Christmas - perversely my advice would be for Indies to raise their prices for the duration of the promotion and then cut them immediately the promotion ends, but that's just me!

  7. My sales were better during the Christmas promotion, but not the other two. I think this is a ranking thing - if your book is high in the top 100, it can afford to drop a little without losing too much visibility. Nearer the bottom of the top 100, as my books were for the Summer Sale, and any drop is bad news.

    This effect has been exacerbated by Amazon's algorithm changes which have made rankings more volatile.

  8. The most important thing, as Stephen observes in comments, is the new ereaders, which mean the pie just gets bigger and bigger.

    It's a win-win situation for all except the trad pubbed authors who are getting shafted with lousy royalties.

    Most indies have no chance of challenging an Amazon sale and should concentrate their efforts elsewhere. It's nice to be there, but it's not that important.

    Most buyers do not go trawling the top 100 looking for a book. They might glance over the top ten in passing, but then wil move to preferred genre catgories or rely on the only sales mechanism that counts: word of mouth.

    A week or so ago we saw Nick Nolan fly out of nowhere to storm the #1 spot with coordinated buying from his supporters. If he had a few bob on it at William Hill he probably made a fortune. A day later he was falling and is now in the 70s.

    Barry Eisler stormed up the charts with huge marketing from Amazon, but is already falling fast.

    Hard sell marketing is great for so long as the money lasts, just like in the Amazon sales.

    Indies need to worry about securing steady sales long term, wherever in the charts that may be for them. As more and more book reders go digital so there will be more and more sales for those further back in the charts.

    Price strategically. If you can break the top fifty, fine, go cheap and hopr for volume. If you can't, price at the minimum to get the 70% return.

    Remember, 99% of trad sales are not top one hundred players either. It's bonus to get there, not the Holy Grail.

  9. There are some very good points made here.

    My view is that we have an expanding market - that has yet to develop a band 'normal' behavior.

    So without a lot more than 3 years data, we are guess.

    However, if you look at the blogs of 'Passive Guy' the trend on the publishing side is to punish writers for going Trade.

    I see this as having a quelling effect on Trade's ability to corner the market. 'Cause if you beat people's @ss for publishing with you, they are going to either kick your @ss back, or run like hell.

    I'm going to run, myself, not that I'll be noticed by the Trade publishing industry.

  10. Delay in answering due to uncertainty...

    I'll wait and see what happens next. Whatever it is, it'll be interesting.