Thursday, June 23, 2011

Update on the Kindle Bestseller List 6/24

I've had a number of requests to keep updating this chart for now, so here goes.

Kindle Bestsellers Top 100 - Average Daily Price

The uplift from the 2nd bounce - when the Sunshine Deals promotion ended - held on well for over a week afterward.  Average price of the list on 6/23 was $8.38 - still well north of the $7.75 number early June 1 as the program was just starting but ultimately came down to $7.81 on 6/24, possibly signaling the return to 'normalcy'.

Speculation time...if there really are two distinct groups of buyers as I have theorized in the past - one that shops for value and one that shops for brand - then we may have seen a lingering effect of the value buyers still reading through a glut of content purchased at discount during the program.  There are a lot of copies of 'My Horizontal Life' that have to get read before the next group of summer books gets looked at.  This may have created a week-long 'hangover' effect for these books.

On the other hand, since there was no incentive to purchase extra titles at the higher price points, those sales probably continue at a normal pace, which has given them a rankings bump over the presumably depressed discount books.  If this is at least partly true, it may indicate that while the market can be significantly impacted in the short term by these type of promotions, that there is a certain resilience and tendency to revert to normal. 

So that seems like good news for publishers and authors who are trying to sell content at the higher price points.  But there may yet be a dark lining.

What happens if Amazon makes the Sunshine pricing permanent and rotates 100-200 titles through every week (like supermarket shelves)?  They could create a permanent change in the distribution of titles in the top-100 that would be hard to combat.  Since position on that list has 'value', that would be harmful to the publishing community.  Just one more thing to keep on the radar.

Dan Lubart can be reached at
You can follow him on Twitter at @ebook_mktview

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Are Publishers Going to Become Brands Again?

Something a little different on Father's Day as I grab a brief moment of calm and quiet between coaching soccer games and grilling.  My thoughts keep drifting to the discussion of 'discoverability'.  How will a new author get discovered?  If they price their book above the waterline of $2.99, they feel they can't compete with the mass of self-published books.  Observed buying patterns suggest there is some truth to that.  Yet if they drop down below that point, they are now competing against tens of thousands of titles for the same dollar or three, and how is anyone to find their book?

It's a real dilemna that I think we have just begun to explore.  And when I turn around and look at my bookshelf, that contains many hundreds of books dating back to my childhood, an answer starts to pop up.  First a little history on me - timely on Father's Day.  My dad was a voracious reader and I got that gene, maybe even a super-mutated form of it.  He used to bring me to a used book store called Ben's Books (I think....I was very young) about once per month to peruse shelf after shelf of dusty used books, from which I could pick up a few each visit.  We also did occasional trips to the original Barens & Noble and the Strand.  As a result, I have some gems - including a 1914 printing of 'Tarzan of the Apes' and full harcover or paperback sets of much classic sci-fi / fantasy series such as Tarzan, Doc Savage and Tom Swift, plus many other paperbacks.  Thanks, Dad...and I mean that from my heart.

Now back to the present.  As I look over the spines of the paperbacks, I see the same names: Tor, Doubleday, Del Ray, Ballantine, Ace.  Today, as I understand it, most if not all of these imprints are either gone or gobbled up.  But they were names I knew and cared about and trusted back then.  I bought many books by authors I didn't know because they were 'Del Ray' books.  And then if I liked it, I bought more by that author.

Today, it seems to me the author is the brand as it always has been, but the imprint has a lot less meaning.  But maybe that pendulum will swing back.  I think the component there is too little of in the new eBook marketplace is curation.  I need someone reliable to tell me what to read.  Friends?  Sure, in this era of social graphing, that can and does work, but sometimes I'm looking for a book now, and my friends haven't posted a recent review.  So we have bestseller lists, and we know those work, but they can be gamed and manipulated and I'm not always sure I trust them either.  Personalized recommendations from Amazon are sometimes useful, but lots of new content will never find their way into those.

But now there are a whole slew of new e-publishers springing up that remind me of the old imprints like Del Ray.  Many should be and probably are looking for and signing authors that meet their criteria both for quality and sellability.  And some of those might be genre-focused, trying to develop a sense of trust with readers to the point that when they say they have a great new novel, it gets a hard look.  Me?  I'd be much happier to pay a premium for a book recommended that way than taking a $.99 risk on something pulled up from the sea-bottom (apologies to hard-working, self-published authors, but there is a lot of muck down there too).  Now I just need to discover those publishers and the rest will hopefully take care of itself.  It seems that should be a lot easier than finding the individual books.

Happy Fathers' Day to all the dads out there. 

I miss you Dad.

Alfred Lubart

Dan Lubart can be reached at
You can follow him on Twitter at @ebook_mktview

Friday, June 17, 2011

'Sunshine Deals' Ends With a Bang

Just a quick post tonight to show something interesting and unexpected that happened yesterday to the Kindle Bestseller List.

It looks like 'Sunshine Deals' ended twice!  We noted in the last post that the average daily price rebounded pretty much fully during the second week of the promotion as the premium-priced titles returned to the top-100.  Well when the deal ended, the average price shot up again, by a record one-day amout ($1.46), to the highest average price ($8.93) we've seen in seven months of covering the list.

The number of sub-$3 books on the list dropped from 41 to 21, with most of those gains split between the middle bands ($3-$7.99 and $8-$9.99).  In fact, the distribution is now stronger towards the higher-priced books than it was before the promotion started by far.

This is very possibly a short-term rebound and the numbers may very well return to their pre-promotion levels in another day or two.  We'll analyze the numbers and watch how the next few days play out and report back as soon as there's more to tell.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Premium-price eBooks rebound from 'Sunshine' effect

About 10 days ago we spoke about Amazon's 'Sunshine Deals' program and the impact it had on the makeup of the Kindle Bestsellers list (top-100).  Now that the two weeks is just about up, we took another look and  see something interesting.

Books in the two highest price bands - essentially $8 and up - have rebounded nicely in the second week.  At the same time, the sub-$3 books promoted by the deal have retained their gains from the books in the next band, $3-$7.99.

First, let's look at the average daily price chart - revised to June 14...

There is no mistaking rise in the past few days that is almost a mirror image of the drop when the program first started.  The average price of the list is essentially all the way back to where it was on June 1.

Now let's revisit the price band data.  To review, this is how we define our price bands:

Band 1 - Super-discount: $0-$2.99
Band 2 - Discount: $3-$7.99
Band 3 - Value: $8-$9.99
Band 4 - Premium: $10+

Now here is the data, updated from June 1 to June 14, showing the numbers of titles in the Kindle Top-100 that fall into each of these price bands each day:

date               band1  band2  band3  band4
2011-06-01   31       18        15        35
2011-06-02   38       16        12        33
2011-06-03   43       14        11        31
2011-06-04   47       14        10        28
2011-06-05   44       16        10        29
2011-06-06   45       14        12        28
2011-06-07   46       14        10        29
2011-06-08   48       13        11        27
2011-06-09   49       11        12        26
2011-06-10   46       11        14        28
2011-06-11   44       11        13        31
2011-06-12   42       11        14        32
2011-06-13   41       11        14        33
2011-06-14   38       10        14        34

If you don't like tables of numbers, let me point out the highlights.
Premium books ($10+) started at 35, dropped to a low of 26 and rose back to 34.  Value books ($8-$9.99) followed a similar trend, going from 15, down to 10, back to 14.  Note the discount band ($3-$7.99) however, which has steadily declined the entire two weeks, from 18 down to 10. 

So what we appear to be seeing is that the higher-price eBooks - typically the equivalent of new releases and trade paperback from known authors - have rebounded from the initial impact after about a week and regained their prior share of the Bestsellers list.  Discount eBooks - more the equivalent of mass market paperbacks - have not recoverd and continue to be supplanted by Sunshine Deals - many if not most of which were probably in that $3-$7.99 price band before the promotion.

I think that we've seen Amazon flex its marketing muscles in a new way (although they have done this in the MP3 space since they began so it's just new to eBooks) and the market reacted very strongly.  They have the power to move the market, or at least a segment of it, for at least a limited period of time.   Yet the segment buying high-price eBooks, despite lots of outcry against such pricing, has proved resilient and returned to these books after dipping their toes into the less expensive end of the market. 

Certainly we are going to see more of this type of prmotion/experimentation from Amazon.  Maybe we will start to see it from the agency publishers as well.  I would love to get the discussion on this going and see what others think of these results so please do chime in.

Friday, June 10, 2011

Nook Bestseller List has some new rules

So I noticed something odd today.  Yes, I'm going to share.

A few days ago I tweeted that only one book promoted in the Sunshine Deals program on Kindle had cracked the Nook top-100 (Prince of Tides).  I found it slightly odd, but nothing more than that.  Then 'My Horizontal Life' joined it.  All well.  But then I saw something I don't usually see.

'My Horizontal Life' went from rank 1 to rank 127 in a single day.  Possible, but very unusual.  And the 'Prince' was nowhere to be found either.  So I did a little looking and noticed this odd distribution:

# of titles below $3 - ranks 1 - 125: 0
# of titles below $3 - ranks 126 - 200: 65

That means not a single sub-$3 in the top 125 slots, but 65 of the next 75 titles were below $3.

Now some people have called me into question for drawing conclusions from limited data sets so I'm just going to leave that one on the table and step back.

I'm sure B&N isn't the only retailer that has rules to 'manage' their bestseller list, and I completely understand the desire to curate the list to provide the most perceived value to their customers.  I'm just calling what I see.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

What is happening to Kindle Bestsellers in June?

It looks like the 'Sunshine Deals' program has created a very 'interesting' trend in the Kindle Bestseller list if you are a large publisher or author.  We can quantify the impact on the list in a few different ways. 

For one, we track the books in various bestseller lists by four 'price-bands' as follows:

Band 1 - Super-discount: $0-$2.99
Band 2 - Discount: $3-$7.99
Band 3 - Value: $8-$9.99
Band 4 - Premium: $10+

Normally, the number of titles in these bands (of the top 100) rarely fluctuates much from day to day as there has not been much churn on the eBook lists.  Well something has changed in June.

In the first four days of June, 2011, the following numbers of titles have occured in each band:

date              band1  band2  band3  band4
2011-06-01      31      18       15       35
2011-06-02      38      16       12       33
2011-06-03      43      14       11       31
2011-06-04      47      14       10       28

Clearly, the number of titles in the super-discount band (below $3) has increased dramatically, suggesting that something has changed dramatically this week in what consumers are buying.  This trend is mirrored in the drop in the average price of all titles in the Kindle bestsellers list, from $7.75 to $6.43 in just 3 days, an unprecedented drop in the six months we have been observing closely.

To give you an idea of how dramatic this trend is, look at the average price chart for the Kindle Bestseller List over the past seven months:

So as to the cause, we have to suspect this may be almost entirely influenced by the new 'Sunshine Deals' program that Amazon is running over this same time frame.  By promoting discoverability of cheaper titles, they have likely created a surge in sales in that price band, driving many of these titles onto the bestseller list for the first time.  Ranking doesn't tell the whole story, but we have to wonder if this program has had a significant downward effect on sales volume of higher priced titles.  It certainly speaks to the tremendous promotional power Amazon has to influence what people are buying.

We will continue to follow this and look to see how quickly the list reverts back to form after the program ends in two weeks.

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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Word Frequency in Kindle Romance Bestseller Titles - 6/1/11

Sometimes a good tag cloud is worth a thousand words...of maybe just a few hundred...