How many of you indie authors have heard of John Locke, a fellow indie author, not the character on Lost?
Probably a bunch of you. He’s the guy who was the first to sell a million books on Amazon and then he wrote a book on how he did it. I bought the book, was disappointed by it, and then, when I read about John Locke leaving out a key piece of his marketing strategy, I was downright angry. I’ve read some articles about Locke, Amazon, pricing and reviews and I want to share them. I’ve been meaning to get this post written for a while, so some of the articles I reference aren’t hot-off-the-press, but they bear scrutiny.
Indie Authors and Pricing Your Books
Ah, this has been an ongoing struggle for indie authors. What is the best price for my books? Is there a best price and does Amazon penalize me for a lower-priced book? For some great thoughts on this, read this post. What I find especially intriguing are some of the comments:
Amazon has always advocated the $2.99 – 9.99 prices. Its royalty structure biases authors to price their books in that range. Its discounting via the wholesale model was an attempt to shepherd the Big 6 into pricing in that range. That resulted in the agency pricing model that is since being deconstructed. Amazon is not against low pricing, just not for full-length works. Look at how it encourages authors it taps for its Kindle Singles works to keep their prices at 99c and 1.99 (and for which Amazon pays a 70% royalty, btw).
It’s about customer pricing. It’s about competition. It’s about margins and profit. Indies are collateral damage in this. Going to a 70% royalty on 99c books cuts into Amazon’s margins. If the profit on indie books were substantial enough to outweigh the profit on trad books with the 35% royalty in place, Amazon’s algorithms would reflect that. They don’t. Reducing that margin even further makes indies even less lucrative.
And if the market changes and new competitors make a legitimate run at Amazon, then no doubt Amazon’s algorithms will change yet again to accommodate the new market conditions.
This partial comment (read the full comment, it’s eye-opening) is from Phoenix Sullivan, who is an indie author. She has spent time studying Amazon and its pricing and algorithms.
Ed Robertson, another indie author who has studied Amazon’s pricing and algorithms, wrote this:
The bestseller list isn’t biased by price.
The popularity list is. And the popularity list is right up there in importance with the bestseller list. If a $1 can’t hold rank on the popularity list, it has fewer sales; if it has fewer sales, it loses rank on the bestseller list (depressing sales even further). A $1 has to sell several times more copies to hold the same position on the popularity list as a book selling for $10. And lots of $10 are still able to sell lots of copies, pushing $1 books down the popularity list. No popularity list visibility at $1, no sales; no sales, no $1 books on the bestseller lists.
$1 might be inevitable in a “natural” environment, where all else being equal, it’s a competitive advantage over everything priced higher. But Amazon isn’t a natural environment. Amazon is Amazon. They have changed their system to discourage the inevitability of $1 through two major moves:
1) Using the 70% royalty to encourage authors to price between $3-10
2) Rewarding books that can sell at high prices with increased visibility
For now, it’s working pretty well.
This article appeared in July so who knows where things are at just a few months later. But my take on things is that lower-priced books and free books don’t seem to be the best approach for indie authors (at the present moment). Indie authors who are using free promos report the number of free downloads are all over the place, but I’m not hearing of great sales after a free promo. Sure, you’ll get a boost, but how much and will it sustain? I doubt it. And since Amazon changes things based on what’s best for Amazon (i.e. not indie authors), I’d be wary of putting all your marketing efforts there.
Indie Authors, John Locke and Buying Reviews
As if trying to figure out pricing isn’t enough, now we’re hearing about indie authors buying reviews. I first heard about this in a New York Times article. And here’s the piece that John Locke left out of his book: he paid for numerous positive reviews and it was shortly after those reviews appeared on Amazon (not after his blog posts as he alleges in his book) that his sales skyrocketed. This certainly doesn’t look good for indie authors…
And then there’s an article I saw, titled Publishing’s Drug Problem. Now people are questioning not only the reviews but how indie authors are gaming the system.
As if things aren’t tough enough as it is. And Amazon is reacting by removing reviews without much rhyme or reason (read Indie Authors And Amazon Removing Reviews for more on this – many indie authors share their horror stories in the comments). What seems lost in all this is that mainstream publishing has been stacking the deck with positive book reviews for years but no one seems to care about that.
Indie Authors – Where Does This Leave Us?
As I read all of those articles (and more that I didn’t link), I find myself coming back to the same advice:
- write the best book you can
- get it edited for grammar/spelling and content/structure
- slap an awesome cover on it
- market the hell out of it
- get honest reviews
I can’t control what a reviewer says. I can’t control if someone thinks I’ve bought my book reviews. I can control what I write and sell.
What are your thoughts on all this?