Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Freebooking Update And The Influencers Of Reviews

So 13 days in and Spoil of War is still free, despite my best efforts to unfree it. On the day it went free on Amazon I immediately repriced it on Smashwords, who distributes to Apple, expecting Apple to reprice the book within 2-3 days and Amazon to stop the free price-match by Day 5 or 6 at the latest. Apple still has it listed for free.

So, after Day 13 at Amazon:

#2 Historical Fantasy
#5 All Fantasy
#9 Historical Romance
#37 All Romance
#133 Overall in the Amazon Free Store

Times Downloaded: 15,034

at Apple after Day 18:

#1 Historical Fantasy
#9 All Fantasy
Historical Romance - Not on the Top 10 Free chart, but the book is listed in the Top 100 What's Hot, which includes only 7 free books.

Times Downloaded: Wish I knew, but I'm not provided that data in real-time. Maybe at the end of the quarter they'll let me know. Or not. Clueless as to how they report out free downloads.

After neglecting Apple as a retailer until 3 weeks ago, I'm beginning to develop a real affection for the iBooks/iTunes store.

Ooh, first position under What's Hot and #1 under Top Charts - Free in Historical Fantasy.
The only reason getting it unfree as soon as possible is important is that it will enter the paid list at a better rank and with more visibility. The more days that pass, the farther in rank the book will slip, and if the time that passes is too long, the whole marketing effort will be for naught.

Still, as a marketing effort, I'm quite happy with how successful the campaign has been so far. I wanted it free in the first place for two reasons:
  • To capitalize on visibility and hopefully pick up a few extra sales when it went back to its unfree status
  • To garner a few more reviews to offset the rash of negative ones.
Due to content alone, I certainly expect a percentage of folk to slap on a low rating. And I'm good with a few people simply not liking the story for whatever reason. I certainly don't like every book out there, no matter how well-rated. Plus, I'm sure because Spoil is cross-genre, there will be folk expecting it to be one thing and unhappy to find it's not.

What's interesting is how diverse the review communities are between Apple and Amazon.

At Amazon, anyone registered at the site can rate any product whether they've purchased and used/read it or not. Same for Apple. But you have to download the iTunes app first and launch the app if you want to rate something that you're not currently reading. That helps cut down on the "drive by's."

Like BN and Goodreads, Apple allows customers to simply rate a book without obligating them to write something. This encourages more ratings overall but doesn't make it as community-friendly.

Amazon cultivates a more open review community, which also opens it up to abuse of the system: sock puppets, paid reviews, review exchanges, boycott reviews, revenge reviews, etc. The only way to neutralize any of these abuses is to have a large pool of reviews for a given book.

Because I know Spoil is a well-written, well-proofed and well-formatted book, I was not afraid to open it up for wider consumption in hopes of more reviews.

What's happened is that, at Amazon, where reviewers are exposed to other reviews, the ratings continue to be mixed. A dozen new reviews have been posted since the book went free, with 25 total reviews now.
3 5-star - 8 total
3 4-star - 5 total
2 3-star - 3 total
4 1-star - 9 total

Even if the balance remains 50/50, from a psychological standpoint the number of positive reviews will now feel more legitimate to readers.

At Apple, where there is less peer-pressure, it's a completely different story. Spoil had no ratings before it went free 3 weeks ago. The rash of 1-star reviews that showed up on Amazon in August/September in response to a blog's reviews of the book didn't affect the iBooks store. As of now Nov 16, the book has 42 ratings (and 1 5-star text review):
22 5-star
12 4-star
7 3-star
1 2-star
0 1-star
The only experience most of the Apple customers have is seeing the book on the Hot and Top charts. I'm not discounting that as an influence in itself. In fact, I think that's likely a high influencer. I'm also sure some of those readers were disturbed by the content, but none of them enough to 1-star it.

Any conclusions we draw from this are only anecdotal, of course. We don't have enough to go on for any across-the-board observations. What it appears, though, is that books are little different from any other marketing targets. How the product is presented is as big an influence on the consumer as how the product actually performs. People like to be part of the "in" crowd. If 4-out-of-5 dentists agree that Brand X is the best, are you really going to disagree with the experts? Really?

How influenced are you by reviews? Do you generally like a bestseller more because it is a bestseller and everybody likes it? Have you ever decided not to read a book that sounded interesting and had a good sample but the reviews were poor?


Matt said...

It's too bad you don't have a bigger backlist. There's Sector C, but it's aimed at a different market.

I wonder if the price is influencing reviews at Apple. Either way, the difference in reviews over the same product is a good example of the Anchor Effect. That or the sample sizes aren't big enough to make a clear consensus.

Speaking of making a backlist, what's your next book about? Will you be sticking with online publishing or will you try legacy again?

Phoenix Sullivan said...

@Matt: For this campaign, you're right it would be nice to try to bump sales of a similar book through the free offering. That's the #1 reason most authors -- and large publishers who are also getting with the program -- offer a free book. The advantage to self-pubbing is that I'm not limited to doing this just one time, so maybe on down the road if I had another similar offering, I can do this again.

At Apple, the book never gained any ratings, although it sold a handful of copies there, until it went free. In general, reviews of free books are often less-positive overall as many readers simply grab books without checking to see if the books are something they'd even be interested in.

I just updated the post with the latest iTunes screen capture - 3 more 5-star ratings and that extra half-star now showing :o).

I had not heard of the Anchoring Effect before, so just spent time researching that. It's a principle we used in marketing; I just never knew its official designation or definition. Thank you for mentioning that!

I'm certainly not averse to legacy publishing. I would love to be traditionally published by a large-ish house. My next project, though, is a serial experiment using my Vet Tech Tales. The first installment (about 25,000 words) of the serial will be released in December. That's obviously not a legacy-style work. I've got a couple of WIPs in various stages -- a traditional historical romance with fantasy elements (25% done), an historical fantasy (90% complete), and an epic fantasy (complete, but needs an extensive content edit) -- but I'm not really happy with any of them. I have an idea germinating for another medical thriller -- I think that's my better bet, though my guess is that I'll get the epic fantasy out the door first. I just need a private NaNoEdiMo for knuckling down on the revisions needed. Thank you for asking!

How's YOUR work progressing???

Matt said...

I'm crossing t's and dotting i's on my current MS. It's about 92K words right now, should be around the same the length when all is said in done. Have a couple of changes still to add, though.

Took a break from drafting the query letter to write this post. Query writing isn't as stressful as it used to be, it's second nature now. I'll probably regret saying that later.

I'm curious to see how those fantasies turn out. It's been awhile since I've read a good epic.

Phoenix Sullivan said...

Glad to know you're getting close! And a perfect length, too.

Working on other people's queries as you have is a great way, I think, to de-stress (some) about your own.

Keep me posted, please, about your progress. I'm always wanting to shout out more success stories - and I'm truly hoping yours will be one!

Chelsea Pitcher said...

I rarely fall in love with the same books that the masses do. In fact, the more people talk something up, the more it often leads to me being disappointed when I read it. The one exception I can think of right now is Wicked. I loved it, and it was a bestseller. Otherwise, I tend to love books that have a decent following and are fantastically written, but don't necessarily reach that high level of stardom.

On the topic of your future projects, let's just say I've been waiting to read your story that has both fairy and human protagonists since the opening came up at EE's. Is that the one that's finished?


Phoenix Sullivan said...

Sorry, Chelsea, your comment went to spam :o( and I just found it.

It seems, too, that when something is really hyped and you wind up not being as impressed by it as what the hype would have you believe, it's a bigger disappointment than it would have been had you gone into it blind. Honestly, the class I hated most was the Masters-level Literary Criticism one. For my final in that class, I argued that a shuttle launch qualified as poetry and could be critically judged the same as anything by Frost or Tennyson ;o).

Sadly, the fae story is not the completed manuscript, so it'll be a bit longer before that story sees publication.

How about you? Any details you can PM me????