Thursday, May 12, 2011

Tracking a Bestseller Through Price Changes: American Assassin

Vince Flynn’s American Assassin, published by Simon & Schuster in October 2010, was a Kindle Bestseller by December 8, when this study began, offered at $12.99 in the Kindle edition. From that date until January 10, 2011, the book sustained a normal, steady downward trend on the bestseller list, from #22 to #53.

On the 10th, the digital price dropped to $8.99; two days later, American Assassin’s ranking spiked to #33 and held its position above #40 for a week.

On the 17th, the price was raised again, adding another two dollars to the original. Now offered at $14.99, Flynn’s book plummeted during the next five days to rank #78 and resumed its original downward trend until exiting the list in early February.

Looking at the numbers, you could conclude that the book’s ranking took a beating as a result of the price increase.  But the graph shows that this book merely resumed its original trend after a week-long boost generated by the reduced price.

So, should we continue to assume that price and ranking are always linked?  Directionally, yes, but there appear to be some indications of where ‘inflection points’ may be – in other words prices where the consumer market is more or less sensitive to small changes in price.

For one, the drop to $8.99 not only raised the title’s ranking, but that ranking remained essentially flat for a week (rather than resume a downward trend from its new position).  At this point we must note that price changes may have been only one of many factors, such as breaking media or promotions, ultimately impacting this performance, but this is ‘interesting’ nonetheless.  Perhaps even more interesting is to note that this book’s performance didn’t appear to suffer when its price was eventually raised another $2.00 above the original - and the later drop in rank only restored the title’s original descent curve in the rankings. In other words, the net effect of raising the price from $12.99 to $14.99 did not seem to alter the title’s original “ranking decay” trajectory. (I’ll have more to say about the concept of “ranking decay” in a future article.)

It may be that American Assassin could have been successfully priced at $14.99 from its on sale date and traveled the same path through the winter weeks. It may also be that had it be kept at $8.99 it would have remained on the Kindle Bestsellers list far longer than it did and resulting revenues might have been even greater.  I will expand on this concept with a larger set of titles in a future article and welcome any suggestions for such titles.