Saturday, May 5, 2012

Why KDP Select Is No Longer The Easy Golden Ticket

First let’s be clear: Amazon only ever promised two things with Select: 5 discretionary free promo days and compensation for borrows from the Kindle Owners Lending Library. Any other benefits were purely happy happenstance. Amazon has not reneged on its original Terms of Service agreement.

What it has done is rearrange its front tables to better reflect a new front list. Where before Select books coming off successful free runs got put on the first table where casual browsers couldn’t miss them, they’re now being relegated to side tables mid-store. They’re still on promotional tables, to be sure, just not the most prominent ones. See Ed Robertson’s latest post on the ins and outs of the new algorithms.

Decreased visibility will certainly mean a decrease in post-free sales compared to sales in April, which were down considerably from January.  

So free won’t be effective any longer?

That depends on how you were using free in your marketing strategy. If you were relying on post-free sales alone, then free will be considerably less effective. If you were relying on the first book in a series being free to help drive sales of the other books in the series, there will be diminished effectiveness in the post-free period, but complementary sales during the time the first book is free shouldn’t be impacted. And if you use free to attract readers and help build your newsletter list, then free should continue to work just as well for you now as before.

It’s just the “front tables” that are affected, right? Do many people browse books that way anyway?

Unfortunately, Amazon doesn’t release any buyer behavior stats so we don’t know for sure how most readers discover books. Anecdotally, we can see some clear drops in post-free sales during the 6 weeks Amazon was conducting what we presume to be split testing of its lists. That seems to implicate those popularity lists as being major sales drivers.

But the lists extend just beyond placement “in store.” Most of us have received recommendation emails from Amazon that state something along the lines of: Customers who have purchased [specific genre] books on Kindle might be interested in this month's best sellers or related books recommended for you. If you’ve followed the “more” link in those emails, you’re taken to the complete genre list of those books on Amazon. Have you ever noticed the list Amazon takes you to is NOT the bestseller list but the popularity list?

So decreased visibility on the popularity lists directly affects your book’s ability to be placed high in Amazon’s recommendation engine. Lose/lose all around.

Does it affect borrows?

Yes, the latest algorithms either positively or negatively affect borrows depending on how well and consistently a book sells and where it displays on the popularity list. The KOLL list appears to be culled directly from the popularity list; it just excises the non-Prime books. That means for authors with books that are selling well and selling consistently who don't go free and who are in Select mainly for the borrow perk, their books won't be pushed so easily off the front pages of the KOLL by those upstart freebookers. In fact, if you're a borrows-onlyer with books in the 10K and better rankings range, your books may have sneaked up a few pages in the KOLL since the beginning of the month.

Are there any other variables to consider?

Almost certainly. The data Avengers team is testing a couple of hypotheses now that, should any of them pan out, may well have huge implications in the future. I’m leaving this intentionally vague because right now these are nothing more than well-educated guesses that need to be proven.

Also, bear in mind Amazon’s algorithms are only a small portion of the sales equation. I talk a little more in-depth about how other variables in the overall equation have to be considered in this comment on Kindleboards.

Can I game the new algos?

Of course. Simply sneak in a book that consistently sells hundreds of copies a day. :o)

We’re only a few days into the new paradigm. There is much data still to be collected and analyzed before any certainties can be reached as to long-term effects and short-term strategies. For now, be thinking less reliance on free runs and post-free sales and borrows.

As more data around results comes in, other trends may become apparent that could suggest best strategies for going forward.


Caution: rampant speculation ahead.

Based on incomplete data sets and untested variables that are leading to some interesting hypotheses, I have an idea as to why Amazon is changing its algorithms. Bear in mind I could be wrong, but drawing on the amount of public and not-so-public knowledge I’m privy to (which still leaves a considerable amount on the table I’m not privy to), the following seems pretty clear to me.
It has ALL to do with changes that are coming to the agency pricing model and NOTHING to do with how well Select is or isn’t performing. Indies and Select are simply collateral damage.
There is no conspiracy against indies. If there is any concern on Amazon’s part that too much dreck was rising to the top too swiftly and customers were annoyed by it, throttling that back is merely a happy byproduct of the changes being instituted.

And if one especially surprising result coming out of the super-geek Avengers team’s research proves verifiable, big change is on the way.  (And no, I won’t be elaborating until we have much more data in hand on that front.)


Toni Dwiggins said...

Keeping my eyes laser-focused on this site for super-geek tidbits.

Thanks Phoenix.

Anonymous said...

Ah! Such a tease! Looking forward to more super-sleuth reporting!

EC Sheedy said...

Cheers to the Super Geeks who keep their laser vision fixed on the algos. It's a tough job, but...

It's appreciated!

Becca Mills said...

Phoenix, what changes to you see coming to the agency model? As a result of the anti-trust case, I assume? Curious to hear your thoughts on that.

Thanks for this post. I'm a newbie, so this kind of info is helpful in a big way.