For all you Kindle owners out there, the first book in my Sisters of Bethlehem Springs series, A Vote of Confidence, is set to be offered for free for two weeks beginning on Sunday, May 16. Thus this Publishers Weekly article caught my attention. And while it would be fun to hit #1 on the Kindle Bestseller list, I don't think it is bad thing that they create two lists.
For some in publishing it may be a curiosity, for
others a point of contention—Amazon’s practice of including free
downloads in its list of most popular Kindle titles. It will soon no
longer be an issue. A representative at the e-tailer has confirmed that
the company will be splitting its Kindle bestseller list, creating one
list for paid books and another for free titles. The date for the switch
is vague—the rep would only say it will happen in “a few weeks”—but the
switch will certainly be noticed.Currently the top ten bestselling titles on Amazon’s Kindle
bestseller list are free downloads, a fact that speaks to how publishers
are testing the free model to get attention for certain authors. In a January 23 piece in The New York Times, the
paper's former publishing reporter Motoko Rich explored the phenomenon.
In the piece, Rich noted that over half of the most popular titles on
Amazon's Kindle bestseller list were free downloads. Now, with the list
to be split up, one has to wonder if publishers will find free giveaways
as valuable a promotion tool.The Kindle bestseller list has been used by publishers to gauge
consumer behavior towards e-books, as well by consumers use to point
them to titles. An executive at HarperCollins said she thinks Amazon is
certainly doing the right thing by splitting the list, noting that
consumers “want to know what books everyone is reading, and buying, ”
and that a list which combines free downloads and books for sale doesn’t
deliver this information. When asked if she thought the separation of
the lists might make promotional e-book giveaways less effective, she
said it might.
Even when Amazon does divide its Kindle bestseller list into free titles
and those for sale, the question of price point still looms. The HC
exec said people will still be looking to these lists with a number of
questions about what is driving sales. Is it price point? Promotions in
the Amazon storefront? Merchandising?
Richard Curtis, founder of Richard Curtis Associates, was more pragmatic
about Amazon’s current list, and will even miss the fact that it’s a
unique collection of free and pay-for content. He said he still believes
that promotions drive Kindle sales more than price, and that the list
as it is now doesn’t do any disservice to customers looking for popular
titles. “Amazon has decided to measure the velocity of e-books passing
through its store without distinguishing which are free and which are
for sale. That information is still very revealing,” he said, noting
that what people buy versus what people download may not be a
distinction the industry should be concerned about right now.
Certainly, despite its unique combination of free and for-pay titles,
many industry members interviewed said Amazon’s Kindle bestseller list
remains the one they examine to get a feel for what e-books are selling.
While Fictionwise was also cited as a strong indicator of popular
e-books, it was acknowledged that Barnes & Noble and Apple are not
go-to places for this information.
After Amazon splits its lists, writers may soon find more
competition—and potentially less payoff—for getting to the top of the
free downloads list. Then again, maybe not. Getting to the top of any
heap, as author Brandilyn Collins told Rich in the Times, is a
good thing. “When you push to No. 1 of any bestseller list, that in it
itself seems to beget publicity.”