Sunday, January 9, 2011

Proving That Price Is The Key

My eBook The Basement moved to the top of the Kindle UK bestselling list last night. And close behind it are Once Bitten and Hard Landing.

And here’s the thing – I predicted that would happen more than a week ago. How could I do that? Because in many ways the rankings in the Amazon bestseller list are predictable.

Just before Christmas I had four books in the Kindle Top 20. Once Bitten, my story of vampires in LA, was at the top, and had been for almost a month. The Basement, my New York serial killer story, was at Number 2. And my Dan Shepherd book Hard Landing, published by Hodder and Stoughton, was at Number 4. My sci-fi novel Dreamer’s Cat was at Number 13. I’d hoped to have all four in the Top 10, but that wasn’t to be!

I had worked long and hard to get into that position because I knew that on Christmas Day, the Kindle world was about to change.

The Kindle, Amazon’s amazing eBook reader, was about to become pretty much the most gifted item ever. All over the UK people would be opening their presents and many thousands of them would be discovering their first Kindle. And what’s the first thing that you do when you get a Kindle? Yes, you start to download books. Lots of books.

I wasn’t the only person to realise that there was going to be a huge jump in eBook buying on December 25. A group of publishers – mainly Corvus, Robinson and MIRA – started a Twelve Days Of Christmas promotion on Amazon, offering books on Kindle UK for just £1. There were some serious bargains to be had, including a book of short stories edited by Lee Childs and an Alex Rider book by my good mate Anthony Horowitz.

It was clear to me what would happen, and I was right. I was able to watch my sales figures rise by the hour. And on Christmas Day alone I sold just under 7,000 copies. Why? Because I had three titles in the Top 10 and most new Kindle owners went to the bestseller list to see what was on offer. And when they looked at the bestseller lists they could see that my books, at 74p, were a bargain.

But the publishers in the Twelve Days of Christmas Promotion had a huge advantage – they were heavily promoted on the main Kindle page. So their titles shot up the rankings. I held on to my top rankings on Christmas Day and on Boxing Day I sold another 5,000 copies but after four or five days the £1 specials had risen up the rankings, displacing many of the independently-produced eBooks.

After a week pretty much all the £1 titles were in the Top 100 and they occupied most of the Top 20. The Basement managed to hold on to the Top 5 slot and Once Bitten was at Number 9. Hard Landing managed to hang on in at the bottom of the Top 20. Most of the Indie books were pushed well down the rankings, which proves that they do tend to sell on price rather than quality.

The Twelfth Day ended at midnight on January 5 and sure enough at midnight all the £1 books went back to their pre-promotion prices and almost immediately the books that had been on promotion started to drop down the rankings. The Lee Child book for instance went up to more than £10! What was funny was that the adverts had said that the promotion would end on January 6 and the publishers clearly thought that meant until midnight on the sixth and by eight o’clock in the morning they had all gone back to £1. A lot of Indie publishers were worried that the books would stay at £1 for ever – if that had happened it would have really hurt the Indies. But no, on midnight on January 6 the prices changed back again and by last night all of the former £1 books were on the way down the rankings and my book was back at Number 1.

Some of the publishers have cut the prices to less than they were before the promotion – the Lee Child book for instance is now selling at £4.99. The book that did best in the £1 promotion is a book called The Lost Daughter by Diane Chamberlain. I think the publisher, MIRA, realised that the price was the key to the book’s success in the rankings so they have now cut the price to £2.80 and it is jostling for the top spot with The Basement. I think that eventually it will drop out of the Top 10 though. We’ll see!

But here’s the interesting thing. Early in December I was selling 600 books a day, and just before the £1 promotion I was selling about 1,000, more on Saturday and Sunday. But during the £1 promotion my sales were running at 1,500 a day, so even though there was much more competition, I was selling a lot more. And now that the £1 promotion is over I’m seeing sales of 1,400 a day. So it seems to me that the £1 promotion actually helped boost sales of my books.

Now that the £1 books have been repriced, all the cheap Indie books like Kill&Cure by Stephen Davison and Remix by Lexi Revellian (a bargain at 49p) and the Soft Target series by Conrad Jones are now storming back up the rankings.

So what’s the lesson to be learned from what happened over Christmas and New Year? That on the UK Kindle, price is the main driving factor. A cheap book will sell better than an expensive book. But given the choice between a cheap book from an established publisher and a cheap book from an Indie author, readers will generally go for the established publisher. And that’s not great news for the bulk of Indie authors.

But that doesn’t mean that Indie authors can’t get into the top of the Kindle bestseller rankings and sell thousands of copies. They can. How? All will be revealed…..


  1. I can use some extra money, since I lost my day job with the first of the year!

    Morgan Mandel

  2. You say, 'Most of the Indie books were pushed well down the rankings, which proves that they do tend to sell on price rather than quality.'

    I'd agree that an unknown indie is wise to price his book low to persuade potential purchasers to take a look. But a reader is planning to spend several hours of his time with any book he buys, so he's still going to be selective.

    There are a hell of a lot of books on the UK Kindle Store priced under a pound - very few of them are in the top 100 :o)