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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  1. Interesting stuff Dan, thanks! I'm planning to self-publish my novel but still haven't decided on pricing. Your analysis is useful. :)

  2. If the Sunshine Deals is a tactic to make the major publishers rethink the agency model, this data looks promising.

  3. Thanks, Colleen. I do plan to do a piece going more in depth on the self-published space (mainly sub-$3) and the elasticity within that band when I have a bit more data to draw from.

    I think there are a lot of really good self-published authors blogging about that as well though so you might want to scout out a few for their experiences as well. Good Luck!

  4. Yes, I'm starting to pick up on those writers now (my decision to switch to self-publishing was fairly recent). I'll be watching for that SP piece... :)

  5. Any comments why it might have risen in April and May? Also I feel 4 days is a really short span for such an analysis almost anecdotal!

    If you ask me, the way I see it that the market is divided into two brackets - Super Cheap, and Premium and those in the middle are finding it harder to sell.

  6. Pramath,

    The spikes in April and May were much less pronounced and not really tied to a single disruptive event. In fact, the one in April may have been largely influenced by the brief appearance of a $39 ebook on the bestseller list (George R.R. Martin's boxed set) that by itself accounted for a 30 cent increase in average price.

    While this was a short timeline, the trend is no accident. The average price has dropped even a bit further to a low of $6.29 today and the number of super-discount titles is up to 49.

    In fact, the major value of the trendline is to help rapidly detect changes in market conditions that we might otherwise miss until much later. I discovered Sunshine Deals as a result of seeing the unusual drop and then looking for the reason.

    As to the price bands, you should certainly feel free to combine the middle two price bands for your own analysis. I seperate them based on feedback from publishers because the approximate the distinction between trade and mass-market, which is relevent. We did modify the lowest band from $1.99 to $2.99 after Amazon changed the royalty structures and redefined the 'self-published' price range and will continue to monitor the market for conditions that might influence further changes.

    For now, all the action appears to be happening in the outer bands, but that is always subject to change in this rapidly changing climate.

  7. Dear Dan, I follow you, so I'll be curious to see what you have to say. I think its relatively simple. People want to pay less for books, even quality books. Who doesn't love a bargain? Joe Konrath suggested that anyone planning to drop their ebooks to .99 should do so just before the Sunshine Deals ends, so we can fill the volume it will create. I plan to do that with my book HOUSE OF SKIN. Thanks. Your views are enlightening, tho sometimes you seem to work with a very short time-span analysis.
    Kiana Davenport, Author

  8. Dan, it's an interesting chart: thanks for posting it.

    I track things a bit differently, and I don't see anything that indicates a downward pressure on those $12.99 books being part of it.

    There were 2,112 books priced at $12.99 on June 1st, 2011 (out of 974,841). There are 2,134 this morning (out of 980,866). That's about the same percentage (0.22%). We'll see what happens as it goes forward, though.

  9. bufocalvin,

    You're tracking the quantity of books at that price. I'm looking at the quantity of books at that price that are in the top-100. Different measuring stick. Agency publishers don't reprice very often so the number of titles overall won't change too quickly. But the ranking (and sales) of those books will change - and have as a result of Sunshine Deals.

    I don't think the answer is necessarily to down-price everything. The challenge is to maintain discoverability so that the readers who want to purchase those titles at that price find them - something that is a little harder today than it was last week.

  10. Kiana,

    Thanks for the post. No argument that as consumers, we all want the best deal we can get. I do think there is a growing segment of consumers that feel that premium content should be worth more, and are willing to pay more than Konrath's suggested price for it. There is a recognition that if nobody is willing to pay more, the amount of content that's WORTH more will likely dry up. Oddly enough, books priced at $5.99 and up may eventually stand out more than books priced at $2.99 and below - just because there will be SO much content at the lower prices and some buyers may be looking at higher prices just under the assumption that it is more likely to be 'better'. That's only my guess for now, but one worth following I think.

    Nevertheless, I think your plan is a good one, and I am always a proponent of testing and measurement - particularly in the eBook space right now. BTW, the price of your book is different on Kindle and Nook. Curious if that's intentional...

    I actually am very cautious about reading too much into short-term signal, and love a long trend as much as anyone. But this market is going through a period of rapid change, and there is value in trying to identify those changes quickly. So yes, I probably do put myself out on the thin branches at times, but in this particular case, there was no risk. Every publishing person I spoke with agreed with the cause-effect here, and I was merely trying to quantify it for them (and you).

  11. Yes, agreed: two different measures. I like seeing lots of data points...sometimes, like Seurat, they can add up to a bigger picture. Sometimes, though, they are just more dots. :)

    I was just suggesting that one impact we might see of "...a significant downward effect on sales volume of higher priced titles" would be responsively lowering prices, and that I don't yet see evidence of that. What is suggested to me (by other data) is that these are additional sales, rather than replacement sales.

    It would be interesting to determine to what extent placement on the Kindle bestseller list (which should lead to increased discoverability, as you say)actually impacts future sales. In other words, is the Kindle bestseller list actually a predictive factor? My intuition would be that it might be for less well-known books and not for widely-popular books...but I haven't tested that.

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  13. Publishers are telling readers that the physical book isn't worth anything and that the entire value is in the story.Except when a writer's cut of a book's cover price is determined. Then the value of the story is minimal.As you said, that's another matter.While the view that the story is the entire value of a book is flattering to the writer,that's not the way that readers see it.To readers, e-book cost nothing to produce. Publishers know that isn't true.Writers know it too. But try to convince the general public of that. As far as readers are concerned,the incremental cost to produce more copies of an e-book is zero.So the readers expect an eBook to be priced less than a physical book. The real costs have nothing to do with it. Design and Graphics

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  18. Many thanks, Colleen. I actually do plan to do a piece going much more in depth on the self-published space (mainly sub-$3) and also the flexibility within that band after i have a little more information to attract from.

    I believe there are plenty of excellent self-published writers blogging that as well though so you might wish to search out a few for their activities as well. Best of luck!

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