Thursday, September 22, 2011

Everybody's Changing

Truth Time!

Things are changing in the Indie World. 

We all know that the algorithms are the mysterious force behind sales at Amazon. What we don't know is how they work. I did an Algorithms post a few months ago (my speculations only). There, I documented what happened in April, when Cross My Heart hit a few of the bestseller lists. My conclusion? The Amazon algorithms are designed to slowly introduce you to the world, and, if there's interest, keep you there.

There are quite a few factors involved: ranking, sales, reviews/ratings, tags, etc.

BUT . . .

Things changed over the summer, and indies are seeing a decrease in sales that we can no longer blame on the summer doldrums. The Self Published Author's Lounge discussed this in a blog post last week, and quoted Modwitch (from the Kindleboards forum) who analyzes the Amazon algorithms as a person from the outside. The original thread can be found here.

Among the changes Modwitch noticed: books only get 30 days on the hot new releases list instead of 90. They also seem to be pushing books with the growing sales, and pushing back books with dwindling sales. Numbers are falling faster, and, even with the "also boughts" list, it's harder for books to gain traction. 

A few tweaks have been made to the publishing process, too. For instance, you're now only allowed to select two categories for your indie novel (I believe it may have been five when I first uploaded CMH and The Guardian). You're also limited to only seven key words (I had double that on all of my books before the change).
The flood of backlist titles now available may also be a factor in diminishing sales, and a lot of indies are trying to set their prices to free. (Seriously: there are entire threads devoted to this on the Boards.) This means readers have more titles to choose from and may be filling their Kindles all at once (only to play "catch up" later).

It may be that, while ebooks are "forever," they also take on a sales pattern similar to their print counterparts: good sales within the first few months of release, and then a gradual decrease.

This is obviously speculation, but tweaks within the Amazon system would explain the mass casualties in the rankings/sales dept. after July. Modwitch also notes that these changes aren't necessarily permanent. Amazon is obviously going to make the changes that best serve the company's interest. I can't imagine they're thrilled with this. Fact is: when we lose money, they lose money. There does seem to be a higher turnover rate now, though, and Amazon seems to be pushing as many books as it can to keep the same titles from hogging the lists week after week.

The bottom line?

Indies will have to work harder to find an audience. Amazon isn't going to do all of the work for us, anymore. 

What can we do as writers? 

Stay connected to readers. And (duh) Keep Writing!

Repeat after me: Marathon, not a sprint. Marathon, not a sprint.

P.S. Since I was featured in the KDP newsletter earlier this week, I promised I'd post the effect this had on sales. The answer: none. It was clearly not my target audience, though I'm grateful for the exposure, just the same. Tuesday resulted in a slight increase in blog hits, and Wednesday sales were up a tiny bit. Rumor has it KDP reporting was down/slow around the time the newsletter released, so I don't know if this is the system "catching up," or an influx of new sales. There's also no way to know if anyone sampled CMH to buy at a later date. Still, it was v. cool to see. :)