Amazon has recently changed the algorithm it uses to rank books in two major ways. First, a free download no longer counts the same as a paid one and, second, all things being equal, higher priced books have a higher rank than lower priced ones.
These changes are important because rank is highly correlated with how well a book is seflling which is, in turn, largely dependent upon where it shows up in Amazon's various bestseller lists. In other words, these changes can make a significant difference in how much money an independent author earns through Amazon.
First change: A free download no longer counts the same as a paid one
Authors often do promotions where they make their book free for three or four days with the result that it skyrockets in rank. Of course the author doesn't make any money from this directly because the book is free, but soon after the book reaches the top ten position the author begins charging for the book. Due to high visibility on various lists the book continues to sell well for a few days and the author makes a few hundred dollars. Not bad.
The change in Amazon's ranking algorithm means that the kind of promotion I've just described won't be as effective. If you're giving your book away for free one download won't equal one sale, as it used to, and so your book won't rank as high as quickly. A free download does still count toward building your book's rank, but now it's more like for every 10 free books downloaded you'll get credit for between 1 to 4 sales. The numbers are estimations, based on observation (for references, see Other Reading, below).
To recap, unlike before, if you make your book free for three or four days, rather than it rocketing to the top of the bestseller lists it will more likely limp toward the top but peter out before it reaches the choice positions in the top 10, or perhaps even the top 50.
Second change: All things being equal, a higher priced book will rank higher than a lower priced book
In the words of Ed Robertson:
... all things being even in terms of sales, not only did a lower price indicate a worse position on the popularity lists, but a higher price indicated a better one.What does this mean for indie authors?
- Ed Robertson, Amazon's Ever-Changing Algorithms, Part 3
Pricing. For a long time I've been an advocate of the 99 cent price point for independently published books, but no more. To my mind, the big advantage of publishing ones book for 99 cents was that an author could use it for marketing, to help find an audience for her work. Until I know more about the changes in Amazon's ranking algorithm I won't be making any recommendations, either way.
Overall, these changes certainly haven't helped the independent author, though I agree with Ed Robertson that Amazon isn't targeting independent authors with these changes, it just wants to make more money.
I'm going to keep my eyes open for more information about these changes, and I'll be sure to pass on what I learn.
- Amazon's Ever-Changing Algorithms, Part 3: Why Lower Prices Might Give You Lesser Sales
- April Sales Voyeur + A Hint Of Things To Come
Photo credit: Business 2 Community