I mentioned in an earlier post that Amazon has been changing its algorithms for Kindle Select so that books using the free promotion days no longer get the significant bump in sales they once did. Since then I’ve read more about this, and realized that none of my books were in the program during the golden or even the silver age of Kindle Select. In the early days (less than six months ago) books could expect hundreds or perhaps thousands of sales after a free stint. That had changed by the time I signed up. Which is not to say it can’t still happen. It can, as Edward W. Robertson (no relation) experienced with the aftermath of the free promo of his book BREAKERS. But as Ed recently posted, Amazon’s changes to its algorithms has changed the game for many self-publishers.
After an amazing amount of close observation, number crunching, and analysis, Ed determined that Amazon has been testing not one, not two, but three different algorithms, each with different consequences for self-published authors. It’s unlikely that Amazon will go back to the old way of weighting free downloads equally with a sale. In fact, as Ed mentions at the tail-end of a recent podcast interview, there’s evidence that more expensive books are weighted more heavily in Amazon’s popularity lists than cheap books are. (Time to raise the price on those 99 centers!) This makes some sense. A book that costs $4.99 or $7.99 requires more of a “buy in” on the part of a customer than a free book or a 99 cent book does. The buyer must want it more to spend more, so Amazon gives that purchase more popularity “points.”
These changes are also the topic in Russel Blake’s post. His take on the future of self-publishing is more negative than Ed’s, but his basic premise is sound: Amazon is in business to make a profit, not to support indie authors. Amazon will make changes to its algorithms with that goal–to maximize profits– in mind. Some of Jeff Bezo’s business decisions will benefit self-publishers, some will hurt us, and some will have a mixed effect. Working with Amazon is like sleeping with an elephant, after all. They may not mean you harm, but you feel it every time they twitch.
Personally, I think Amazon will choose a middle ground between equating a free download with a sale and not recognizing it at all. I think they’ll continue to use an algorithm that counts free downloads as 10% of a sale. If they don’t do at least that much, they’ll be missing a chance to increase sales and profits from indie authors (minimal though they might be to Amazon’s balance sheet), and authors will stop making their books exclusive to Amazon through Kindle Select. In that case Amazon might as well discontinue the program altogether–which I doubt they want to do.
It has been ten days since LIGHTBRINGER went back to paid status after its most recent free promo. So far the post-promo sales for LIGHTBRINGER are comparable to what I experienced after my other two free promotions. The book’s sales numbers aren’t as amazing as some other authors experienced in the first months of the year, but they are an improvement over what my books were selling before the the promotion. While I would have loved to have experienced those phenomenal rebound sales, I think the smaller bump in sales may be more sustainable (also due to the change in Amazon’s algorithm). And since I’m in this for the long haul, that’s probably more important.
What’s the take-away from all this?
- Amazon will continue to experiment with their algorithms.
- It’s harder to make a killing using free promotions through Kindle Select than it used to be.
- There are still benefits to using Kindle Select.
- Focus on what you can control: writing a good book, with good editing, good formatting, a good cover, and a good product description. Rinse and repeat.