Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The List Experiment Update

On February 15 at 7:30pm, I dropped the price of my ebook The List from $2.99 to 99 cents.

It has now been that price for a month. So I'm raising the price back up to $2.99. The price change should take effect sometime tonight.

The List peaked as high as #15 on the Kindle bestseller list. It is currently at #23, and selling more than 1500 copies a day. In the 28 days it was 99 cents, it sold about 20,300 copies. It took 9 days to reach the Kindle Top 100, and has been there 20 days. Each copy sold has earned me 35 cents.

The total I earned during the 99 cent experiment was roughly $7100.

Now we'll see how long The List can stay on the Top 100, and how much I'll make in the next 28 days.

When The List hit the Top 100, I lowered the price of Shot of Tequila to 99 cents. It went from a rank of about #2400 to a rank of about #600. It turned out I was earning about the same at both ranks, so I went back to $2.99 a few days ago, and dropped the price on Disturb. Disturb was ranked around #1200. Now it's ranked at #251.

I dunno if Disturb can crack the Top 100 or not. If it doesn't by the time The List drops to #90, then I'll put it back to $2.99 and drop the price on another, better-selling ebook. I believe Origin, Endurance, or Trapped could hit the Top 100 at 99 cents.

The concept of putting items on sale has served retailers well. I'm thinking that my new sales strategy will always have one or two novels at 99 cents, and then rotate the titles monthly.

It should be fun to watch what happens for the rest of March. If The List sells 500 copies a day at $2.99 for the next seven days, I'm make as much as I did in the previous twenty-nine.

We'll see...


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chris said...


John, if Ancient Futures is the novel you have on Kindle you probably have to do some reworking with that cover.

Plenty of good cover artists around the place. Joe's (Carl Graves) or Zoe Winters' (Robin Ludwig) cover designers might be a great place to start.

Simon Haynes said...

There are four novels in my series and I thought I'd report on my findings after ten days of ebook sales.

I priced the books at 1.99 for the first in the series and 4.99 for each of the others. There's also a bundle offer of all four books for 14.99.

They're sold via my own website, not Amazon. (My publisher holds the worldwide ebook rights. Letting me sell them via my site was a compromise deal - they'll get them onto Amazon eventually.)

So far all but three of the sales have been for the 14.99 bundles. Two people took the 1.99 offer on book one, and one reader bought a copy of book 2 at 4.99

Sales have accelerated from 1 or 2 bundles per day at the start to 4 or 5 bundles per day now. Doesn't sound like much, but it works out to 60-75 bucks per day at the moment, and even after splitting that 50/50 with my publisher it's already more than the backlist (printed) copies are earning me at 8-10% royalties.

I do have a couple of fairly active websites (100k visitors/month between them) which help to publicise the ebooks, but I'm watching with interest for any sign of accelerating sales - that would indicate word of mouth for the books, rather than random folk buying the books because they happened to visit my websites.

bowerbird said...

yes, but simon, you've been
doing this for a lotta years...

you thought you were gonna
pass yourself off as a newbie?

some of us know you goin'
way way back, brother... ;+)

say hello to simon haynes,


chris said...


I'd love to see you do some stuff that you control without Fremantle, Simon.

Yeah, I know, everyone here in Oz loves them but really, you've been in this game for so long you deserve the cream now.

That main site of yours has been pulling PR1 on google for 'self-publishing' for, what... years, surely?

My advice... because it's worth, oh, I dunno, sweet-fuck-all according to my missus: give us a cool new series with that voice of yours. 20-40000 words straight to kindle.

I'll buy it.

BTW: check out Simon's Hal Spacejock series people.

Tara Maya said...

Hal Spacejock rocks!

Bella Andre said...

"Erotica really rocked the B&N charts in February. I'd love to see a pie chart for that month including numbers from Selena Kitt, Bella Andre, and Tina Folsom. I have a feeling the erotic piece of pie would be really, really big... so to speak."

LOL, Ellen! Really, really, really big....

But seriously, just looking at my own numbers and having had GAME FOR LOVE in the top 30 on Barnes and Noble's bestseller list for two weeks in February, I think you're right to guess that our book sales would add up to some *big* numbers.

:) Bella

Selena Kitt said...

My big month was January. February belonged to Bella and Tina over there at BN. ;)

bowerbird said...

tara said:
> I'm sure bowerbird
> knew I meant no harm.

of course! we're cool, tara! :+)

and my previous offer to format
your e-book for free still stands.

> I still don't agree, however (I
> think) that changing the price
> somehow accrues bad karma

well then clearly you are in
a state of complete denial... :+)

because this is bait-and-switch,
and is almost a classic case of it.

at a price of $2.99, the rank for
"the list" was down at #1078...
after years, it'd stabilized there.

priced at $.99, it went to #15.

different prices, different ranks.
that's _fair_; it reflects reality.

that was the bait.

the switch was the price-change,
back up to $2.99. but the rank
stayed the same, in the top-20,
where it now had huge visibility,
visibility it'd _obtained_ at $.99,
but which it is now _exploiting_
at the price of $2.99. _unfair._

the reality is that it made it to
the list using the price of $.99.

at $2.99, it doesn't deserve to
be seen as a top-20 bestseller...
it should go back to rank #1078.

> I don't see why you should
> suddenly not deserve the
> good reviews of your book
> if the price changes.

hold it... i never said it should
lose its _reviews_... those will,
at least largely, be independent
of the purchase-price, i'd think.

same with the star-ratings...

but the top-100 bestseller list?
that shouldn't be available to
books that got onto the list at
the lower price and then had
their prices jacked up. unfair.

and the recommendations of
"people who bought this book
also bought this other book..."
have a clear relationship with
the price of the books, as you
can see just by looking at 'em.

low-priced books are linked to
other low-priced books, and
high-priced books are linked
to other high-priced books...

it's a breach of the trust that
customers place in the system
to be abusing that relationship.

are authors gonna do it anyway?

probably, which is why amazon
should disallow the practice...

nobody will benefit long-term if
the recommendation engines are
sabatoged by gamesmanship...

> It's not bad, at least from
> the consumer's point of view,
> to have turnover
> in the top 100 books.

but there won't be any diversity
once all the bestseller lists are
polluted by the books which are
priced at a higher level than the
one that got them _on_ the list.

moreover, eventually customers
will "route around the damage"
by _refusing_ to buy any book
in the top-100 which is priced at
a level above $.99, because they
will assume it is gamesmanship.

the trick will eventually die out,
when books immediately fall off
the list once prices get raised...

plus it will become more difficult
for any book to get _on_ the list
unless it's priced at $.99, either
temporarily or permanently...

because every book will have
to compete against not just
the permanent-price $.99ers,
but also those books which are
using that price "temporarily"
just to make the bestseller list.

a book that's _honestly_ priced
at $2.99 won't stand a chance.

and let me be perfectly clear...

this affects _much_ more than
just the top-100 bestseller list.

all the "temporary" $.99 books
will create a massive jam-up
at the top of the rank system,
and _every_ book underneath
will suffer from the traffic-jam.

again, downward pressure on
pricing is _inevitable_, but this
will serve to supercharge the
surge of "race to the bottom".

but since the trick works now,
and works well, and means
big cash for the authors who
choose to use it, it will be used.

so i hope amazon steps in...


Tara Maya said...

the trick will eventually die out,

I dunno. It's been around since the days of P.T. Barnum and the 10 cent item "On Sale Today Only for 15 Cents!" so I don't see it ending soon.

But Amazon could separate books below $2.99 into a separate list, as they've done with free books. I think that would be reasonable. Maybe we could even convince the NYT list to do that. (Not.)

Tara Maya
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (US)
The Unfinished Song: Initiate (UK)

Robert Bidinotto said...

Bowerbird, your claim that The List "doesn't deserve to be seen as a Top-20 seller" because there's some sort of trickery involved in experimenting with its price, is utterly preposterous. It's insulting not just to Joe, but to all the customers who each willingly pay what they think the book is worth.

The only point in getting on the Top 100 list is advertising. Buried in the mountain of titles, Joe's book wasn't getting the advertising benefit of being on a bestseller list, where casual browsers would notice it. So Joe lowered the price of The List to get onto the Kindle Top 100 bestseller list -- if it could.

But that determination was made by paying customers, each evaluating the book by comparing it with many other alternatives. Thousands decided to buy The List rather than competing titles, even hundreds also priced at 99 cents.

What does that tell us? That the book's previous lower ranking had nothing necessarily to do with its quality -- only its visibility.

More people are now discovering a good book that was previously buried invisibly under tons of other titles. And they are buying it even at a higher price, because -- in their judgment -- they think it's worth it.

Joe hasn't manipulated anyone, let alone been "unfair." In fact, he paid for his current sales ranking: In effect, he bought advertising space on the Kindle bestseller list. The purchase price for that advertising space can be measured in lost income-per-sale. When he cut his price from $2.99 to 99 cents, Joe also cut his income-per-sale by a factor of six times -- in hopes of bringing his book to the attention of a wider audience.

Now that his investment succeeded by winning his book a much bigger audience, he's RECOUPING his lost income-per-sale by raising its price back to $2.99. And the positive market response is telling us that THIS is the book's natural price level. If the book were no good, then people wouldn't be paying that price. But they are -- only because they now know of its existence.

It is particularly insulting and completely unfair to accuse Joe of a "bait and switch." You obviously don't even know what that means. The term refers to a fraud: promising a buyer something, taking his money, but then failing to deliver the promised good or service, and providing something else instead.

It would only be "bait and switch" if Joe had promised one kind of book, then delivered something different. Or, if he advertised a 99-cent price, then when the customer clicked the Amazon "buy" button, he was billed $2.99 instead.

That is NOT what Joe is doing. Everyone who bought his book at 99 cents paid exactly what they were willing to pay. Everyone who bought the book at $2.99 paid exactly what they were willing to pay. No deception or unfairness is involved; each person is deciding individually what the book is worth to him, and getting exactly what he paid for.

I think you owe our host an apology.

--Robert Bidinotto

bowerbird said...

robert said:
> I think you owe
> our host an apology.

i appreciate your input, robert.

but when i consider the totality
of what i have said, i disagree...

i won't "apologize", because
i never leveled any charges
specifically against konrath.

in fact, i specifically excluded
joe from charges, because of
the transparency of his tests.
did you catch that part, robert?

i made my points about a
particular tactical strategy,
not any one specific person,
a strategy which i do believe
is a "bait-and-switch", and
if that label isn't appropriate,
then you can attach another.

but it's also the case this is
a "self-correcting" problem,
in the sense that the books
fall out of the top-100 list,
due to the raised-up price,
just like they got _on_ to
the list with the lower price.
i'm in the process now of
documenting that side of it.

i'm also documenting that
it's not that easy to move
the book into a position
where you can benefit from
the price-raising strategy.

still, deep to its core, it is
a _dishonest_ tactic, and
if we cannot agree on that,
then surely we could agree
that it's "gaming the system".

i give konrath props, because
i'm someone who appreciates
the cleverness of somebody
who can find a way to do that,
because it illuminates the holes
in the system. but then those
holes need to be _plugged_...

i think amazon will do that...

and if it doesn't, it'll be because
amazon likes the $.99 k-books,
because it takes a 65% share...

but in the long run, this tactic
will harm the recommendation
engines that authors depend on,
and which readers also rely on.

now i am a social psychologist,
so i know that in this situation,
people are gonna follow their
selfish inclinations instead of
protecting their group interest.

so even though i give everyone
the _general_ argument about
why this is counterproductive,
to raise up their consciousness,
i fully expect that authors will
"follow the money" anyway...

so that's why i've taken the tack
of encouraging them to do so...

the sooner you all try to work
this angle, the sooner everyone
will find out that it will not work
once everyone is trying to do it,
and _you_yourselves_ will soon
demand that amazon call a halt,
to protect yourselves from your
own worst part of yourselves...

because of all of these things,
i can be very zen about all this.
you'll learn this all yourselves;
there's nothing i need to teach.

so i'm aiming at a bigger picture;
joe is just the main exemplar...

and he's tough... he can take it.

so no, there will be no "apology".
this tactic is counterproductive,
long-term, and it needs to die.
and y'all will see that, so it will.


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