Tuesday, June 18, 2013

A Literary Agent Discusses Amazon's Kindle Deals of the Day

by Josh Getzler
Reblogged from http://heydeadguy.typepad.com/heydeadguy/josh-getzler/
An article appeared in today’s New York Times about the “instant bestsellers” created by Amazon’s Kindle Deals of the Day (and parallel deals on Nook etc). The story described the immediate, material effect on a book’s sales when it is discounted for a day and advertised as a “Daily deal” in email blasts and on front pages. For the sake of ease (and because of my own experience) I am going to use the Amazon version throughout this post. There must be some differences, but the idea is the same.
The article in the Times simplified the event to its most easily digestible ingredients: Amazon lowers the price on a book from, say, $3.99 to $1.99, sends out an email, and Boom! goes the dynamite. Then the price goes back up, and the event is over.
Except that’s not what happens. What happens—unusual for an event in Publishing—is better. Because these deals are sticky. Let me explain, using a real-life example.
E. M. Powell’s historical thriller The Fifth Knight, which I’ve discussed before in this blog, is one of my little engines that Can. It sold steadily, first in its serialized form and then, when the serialization was complete, had a lovely eight-or-so-week run of steady, strong sales. The book had sold a good number of copies—low five figures, very nice. We were happy, but (as happens inevitably) sales began to slide. Where The Fifth Knight had spent twelve weeks hovering between 1,500 and 3,500 in the Amazon rankings, it then dropped below 10,000, 15,000…It was time to start regrouping for book 2.
Then, one Sunday morning in March, I get an email from the author. “What on earth is happening to my book?” What do you mean? “It’s going crazy—the rankings are in the hundreds.”
What had happened was that that day, without a heads-up (Ahem, Thomas and Mercer…), The Fifth Knight was made a Kindle Deal of the Day. The price had gone to $1.99. I watched, stunned, as the rankings hit 300, 100, 50, 25…all the way to 6. We doubled our sales.
But something else happened, which the Times didn’t discuss, and which to my mind is the genius of the Daily Deal. As a large number of copies sold during the course of that Sunday, the rankings for The Fifth Knight improved not just in the overall Kindle list (which was, of course, lovely), but also in Fiction, mystery, thriller, historical fiction, romance, historical romance, hot movers and shakers…you get the idea. And each of these lists showed a thumbnail of The Fifth Knight. Thumbnails with links to the book’s page, where you can buy it.
So in one day, The Fifth Knight went from having a negligible presence on Amazon.com to one you pretty much can’t buy—it was on at least ten separate “landing pages,” where you go when you want to browse, for example, Historical Fiction. It’s akin to being face out in ten different areas of a bookstore, so wherever you look, there is the book. It begins to be bundled more frequently with other books with similar themes, starts to be included in “if you like ___ then you will like The Fifth Knight” emails. It works the algorithm, as it were.
THAT is the genius of the Daily Deal. Because then, once the price of the ebook had risen back to 3.99, people still bought The Fifth Knight because it was Hot. The fire, which had become a merely warm ember, restarted, and burned brighter. The second run lasted another six weeks before sputtering again—having sold another significant number of books.
And the stickiness of this deal doesn’t end there. When the author’s next book comes out, anyone who bought The Fifth Knight will hear about it, whether the copy was on deep discount or regular price. The bar will be set higher for book 2, with greater expectations for sales leading (we can hope) for more marketing coops, perhaps a higher advance…and maybe, maybe, another Daily Deal.


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