October 04, 2010

Everybody loves a loss leader

I'd just gotten over being impressed (and a tad startled) that A Man of Few Words sold 100 Kindle books in a month. Then Amazon threw a knuckle ball right across the plate. I checked the DTP (Digital Text Platform) stats Friday morning to see how the trend was holding up and there was one sale.

All things considered, a good start to the month. I checked again Friday afternoon before shutting down for the night. Over 300. And right under it was The Path of Dreams, well north of 250. I could not believe my eyes. I blinked several times and said, "Huh?" (expurgated version).

Saturday morning they were both over 800. Sunday evening, over 1200. Monday morning, closing on 1500. Not a typo. Not a glitch. The reason: Amazon had listed both for free. In a download world, people just can't get enough of free.

Down in the DTP fine print, Amazon reserves the right to discount the MSRP to whatever it darn well pleases. This caused a major tiff with big New York publishers like Macmillan, who whined that Amazon was "devaluing" their books by sticking to a maximum $9.99 list price for Kindle ebooks.

To be sure, Amazon could have perhaps reacted with a bit more subtlety (sensitive writerly egos, you know), but it's not wrong about ebook prices. Publishers like Macmillan are seizing defeat from the jaws of victory. The "agency model" is worse for them than anything Amazon did.

(So, yes, not everybody loves a loss leader, but these days, the New York publishing conglomerates are the last people I'd take business advice from.)

Amazon also reserves the right to match the lowest competitor's price. If Smashwords is a "competitor," then for these two books, that makes the lowest price zero. At this point, I don't know if Amazon is discounting or price-matching. But it does make for an interesting experiment.

(Actually, the "competitor" in this case is more likely Barnes & Noble, for which a Smashwords account can be set up to serve as a content provider, as is the case here and here.)

A Man of Few Words has been downloaded 900 times at Smashwords in the past year and two months. Amazon equaled that by Saturday noon. Some sales channels are wider than others, and some free is a lot freer. Though in this respect, The Path of Dreams makes for a better example.

The Path of Dreams had 25 sales (at $.99) for the entire year to date. And then 850 downloads in twenty-four hours. Free can mean not only going from some interest to more interest, but going from effectively zero interest to tons. And I can't complain about "cannibalized" sales here.

Of course, this kind of "interest" is often worth what you paid for it. When free previews show up on my satellite provider, I'll usually pop over and take a gander. But I've never been tempted to subscribe. My usual reaction is: "Thanks for reminding me why I don't want to pay for this."

At the same time, were I no longer a starving artist, I'd consider upgrading my DVR and local programming options. By selling me one ala carte service (TV Japan), Dish improves its odds of getting business from me in the future.

As Both Mark Coker and Joe Konrath stress, in the ebook business, the only way to "make it up in volume" is with a backlist. Sales of my other titles will tell the more important tale. My website traffic shot up over the weekend. But again, how that "converts" is a story for a later date.

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# posted by Blogger Kate Woodbury
10/04/2010 10:31 AM   
One interesting aspect of the switch (from .99 to .00) is who downloaded Man of Few Words before the switch compared to after the switch. Before, the purchasers were all buying Jane Austen wannabe stuff (which is what Man of Few Words is). After the switch . . . good heavens, talk about eclectic! Those who like it free like all kinds of free!!

The way I see it, I'm helping Amazon market Kindle. I've never helped a huge business market something before. It's kind of cool.