Monday, 30 April 2012

Amazon - what makes ebooks sell?

Ever wondered why it's so hard to find data on ebook sales?

Amazon contractually oblige authors not to disclose "any sales data relating to the sale of Digital Books" as part of the confidentiality agreement at paragraph 7 of the KDP terms of service.

This means those few that do risk putting data out are in breach of contract, and Amazon could take action. It's unlikely they would take any action while the author is a nice quiet profit centre, but should the author become vocal about e.g. Amazon's DRM, or their emerging market dominance then they might well leverage the breach to remove the criticism.

There are a few big names that release sales stats, and these are wonderful inspiration for other aspirant authors, but they aren't necessarily realistic targets to aim for. While Locke might have sold a million copies in 5 months at 35c profit a time (pre tax) it isn't a given that you'd be able to replicate that, as the 99c bandwagon has now come and gone.

A more useful set of data would be midlist sales stats - those outside the overall top 100 sales lists, but doing well in niche area, or floating around the 101-5000 ranking. These are selling well, and might be a good target to aim for.

The data we've considered for this post is taken from the Kindle Board Writer's Cafe, which means it's all self reported - but the sales data fits in terms of relative overall ranking (Someone ranked 505 should be selling less books than 504 others, and more than the rest. Thus we can use rank to publicly confirm sequencing [ignoring the other factors Amazon use, so this is again somewhat of an educated guess] but we can't confirm the numbers themselves.

For anyone who wants to see raw data check out The Kindle Boards

I'm not going to stick a million charts up re individual authors (you can find that here).

Instead I'm going to try and look critically at the spikes in the data to draw out the commonality. For those that do get successful the following is generally true:

·         Sales build slowly over time. Many take months to spike and reach critical mass

·         More books means more sales. Series do well here, and cross sell each other.

·         Tagged books do better than untagged books

·         New books cause spikes in the older ones.

·         Summer is an awful time to be selling, and often causes a sales slump.

·         Most successful books build on good reviews - from both customers and book bloggers

·         Success begets success. Those that break into the top 100 lists climb exponentially

·         10,000 sales in a year is doable for midlist authors

·         More popular genres sell much more, but the competition is fierce

·         Kids books don't sell well generally

·         Short stories are a hard sell, but novellas are not always difficult to shift

·         The most successful books by income are between $2.99 and $3.99

·         The most successful books by download are free.

·         Amazon makes up over 80% of all sales

·         KDP Select lending can be a nice supplemental income - at least until everyone jumps on the bandwagon.

·         Most of the top selling books use professional covers

·         Bad books never stay at the top of lists for long

·         Readers are more interested in a good read than literary genius, or grammatical perfection.

·         Price matters


  1. This was really informative. The pricing aspect was particularly interesting. It seems to me from reading your post and others that the 99c pricing strategy isn't generally a viable one. Though for someone like John Locke, who has a range of books for sale it seems a good strategy for getting new readers on board and then getting them to pay in the $2.99 to $3.99 for the later books.

  2. I agree that 99c would work on an early work to gain readers, but in that position free works even better as it gains alot of publicity as well. Locke was the front runner in the 99c discounting race, but too many jumped on the bandwagon. For most of us, it won't be a sensible choice unless we are convinced we'll sell at least 6x more than we would at $2.99