November 22, 2010

Money for nothing

As I blogged here and here, during the first week of October, Amazon priced the Kindle versions of A Man of Few Words and The Path of Dreams at zero. Downloads shot through the digital roof--up by a factor of almost twenty for the former, and close to a thousand for the latter.

These gob-smacking numbers (well, for me) prompted two questions: 1) Does free sell? 2) How willing is Amazon to loss lead to promote the Kindle platform (will Amazon pay royalties on the list price)? Well, I've gotten the October sales report and the answers are: "Yes" and "Very."

Granted, we're talking a few hundred dollars in royalties measured against billions in revenue. But Amazon constantly discounts titles like this, not to mention the hit it was taking before the New York publishers threw a temper tantrum and demanded that Amazon charge more for their books.

How do you get them to discount your book? No idea. It came completely out of the blue. I speculated before that Amazon could be price-matching books offered for free elsewhere, such as at Smashwords and B&N. Except that Amazon paid royalties based on the list price, not the sales price.

Sales have slowed drastically since the free period expired, but were still up over previous months. For the rest of October, The Path of Dreams sold 14 copies--as many as I'd sold the whole rest of the year to that point. A Man of Few Words came close to doubling paid sales from September.

And that was after, mostly for simplicity's sake, I raised the price of The Path of Dreams to $2.99 to keep it in line with the other novels I handle on my account (the novellas are still $.99). Pushing a novel up the Amazon sales ranking can clearly make a big difference in subsequent sales.

And here the Matthew Effect rears its paradoxical head: you sell more books by selling more books. Though Dean Smith reassuringly points out that because ebooks never expire or take up shelf space, you're better off calming down, building your backlist, and playing the long game.

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