Amazon’s Recommendation Engine Trumps The Competition

ammyThere’s an old adage that bestsellers are chosen rather than made, and there’s some truth to that. The amount a publisher splurges on the advance has to be recouped before the book turns a profit. The more money that has to be recouped, the greater the marketing budget.

Sleeper hits are the exception for a reason. It’s a lot easier to hit the bestseller lists when you are on the front table of every single Barnes & Noble than if you are spine-out at the back of a handful of stores (or gathering dust in the warehouse).

It often comes as a surprise to those outside publishing that these bookstore spots are bought and sold, that whether a book is face-out or spine-out (or on the front table) is something that tends to be agreed in the contract between the publisher and the retailer. But when you explain how valuable this “real estate” is, it all makes sense to them (even if the scales fall from their eyes a little).

It’s very different on Amazon – where a weird form of meritocracy decides which books are visible, rather than backroom deals only available to large publishers. While Amazon hasn’t done away with “virtual co-op” completely, the vast majority of slots where books are recommended to customers are open to any book, author, or publisher – if they perform well enough.

When it comes to books, Amazon’s basic philosophy is simple: it will always (attempt to) show you the book you are most likely to purchase. The system is largely agnostic, meaning Amazon doesn’t care if the book it displays is published by you, me, them, or Penguin, and it also doesn’t care if the book is 99c or $14.99 – it will show you the book you are most likely to purchase.

In simple terms, the system is based on aggregating data about your browsing, purchasing, and reading habits, and then extrapolating about what you would like to read next based on all the other customers with similar histories (we aren’t as unique as we’d like to think).

alsobot

Those recommendations manifest themselves in different ways. One of the crudest iterations is the Also Boughts (that strip of books on the product page of your book, which displays the other titles that customers have purchased along with your cri de coeur).

At the other end of the scale are the millions of personalized emails that Amazon sends out to its customers every day with tailored purchase recommendations, like this:

emailreco

Some of you may quibble about how useful those recommendations are, but you should note that writers especially may get some odd suggestions (not the above, which I’ve heard is great!). You have to remember that your browsing habits play a big part in this, and if you are regularly stalking other books to check on their performance, Amazon will likely recommend these to you (along with similar books).

For customers with “purer” browsing histories though, the recommendation engine can be spookily accurate (and is widely considered to be the best in the e-commerce world). And, of course, its accuracy increases every time you browse, purchase, and read, and with every huge chunk of investment Amazon makes in honing its algorithms.

It’s quite the challenge for physical bookstores. In a recent post, Passive Guy described it perfectly:

When a customer walks into a Barnes & Noble store, is it possible for a clerk to be waiting at the door with a selection of books that the customer will probably want to read? This is exactly what happens whenever an Amazon book purchaser visits the Amazon web site. As a matter of fact, Amazon performs the electronic equivalent of rearranging a Barnes & Noble so all the visitor’s favorite book types are right at the front of the store.

Of course, Barnes & Noble also has an online store, and Amazon faces additional players in the e-book arena like Apple and Kobo. But all of Amazon’s online competitors share the same fundamental flaw: the customer experience is considerably poorer.

Kobo’s search function is deeply flawed. Apple make it plain difficult to simply browse. And the problems with Barnes & Noble’s online store are so widespread, I needed a whole separate post to spell them out.

While some of the disparity in customer experience is down to lack of investment, simply throwing money at the problem won’t close the gap because there are two distinct philosophies at work.

In the case of all three of Amazon’s primary competitors, it’s quite clear that they want to train customer attention on that “virtual co-op” – the prominent spots that large publishers have purchased to hawk their books.

I’m sure these retailers make good money from auctioning off these spots, and I’m sure they are also quite pleased that the books they are granting this all-important visibility to are ones priced at $9.99 rather than 99c.

But it’s a huge mistake. Explaining why will require a little detour to Silicon Valley.

The reason that Google beat Yahoo is simple: relevance. While Yahoo auctioned off advertising spots to the highest bidder, Google’s AdWords made the relevancy of the ad (decided by the click-thru rate) a key component in deciding which ads got the prime real estate above search results.

Google knew that approach might make them less money in the short term, but it also knew that, over time, users would trust the ads more (i.e. click on them more), if they were more relevant. And we all know what happened next.

I’m sure Amazon was watching that battle as their recommendation engine takes the same approach: it always shows readers the books they are most likely to purchase even if that recommendation makes them less money than the alternative.

Amazon knows that if its customers trust the recommendations, they will act on them more often (and spend more money). They know that will make more in the long run.

That’s why Amazon is winning. But it’s also why self-publishers tend to do much better on Amazon then elsewhere – even when you factor in the size of its market share.

We don’t tend to have access to the front tables at Barnes & Noble – either online or in the physical stores. The whole point of those front tables is to draw readers’ attention, to intercept them before they start browsing the shelves.

Amazon gives us much more of a level playing field; those all-important opportunities for visibility – those digital front tables – are open to everyone. And because those front tables are displaying the books customers actually want to read, rather than the ones large publishers most want to sell, people buy more books.

The danger for large publishers is clear: they aren’t just losing control of which books get published, but also which books get recommended.

* * *

Amazon made an important change today that’s worth noting. It’s worthy of its own blog post, but, quite frankly, I don’t know how it’s all going to play out yet. They sent a message to all members of their affiliate program this morning, regarding a change in the terms and conditions.

In short, you won’t receive any affiliate income in a given month if:

(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and
(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks.

I’ll leave you to speculate what this all means in the comments, but my initial thoughts were that the big reader sites are going to have to severely restrict featuring free books (or stop altogether) and that this will have a big impact on KDP Select.

You can read the changes yourself here, and thanks to Ed Robertson for the tip.

* * *

Speaking of changes, this kind of thing is part of the reason why Let’s Get Visible: How To Get Noticed And Sell More Books has been delayed a couple of times. Regular readers will know that this book aims to give you a deeper understanding of Amazon’s recommendation engine, and outlines a variety of strategies to maximize your visibility.

Visible is coming soon though, promise. You can see the new cover in the sidebar of this blog, and you can sign up here to get an email as soon as it’s released.

I’m also conducting a little experiment (given that the cover is ready), and I’ve uploaded the book details to Goodreads. A few people have added it to their To Read shelves already, and I’m curious to see if they get any kind of notification when it’s released.

If you want to add it to your own Goodreads shelf, you can do that here.

Enjoy your weekend, and let me know what you think of those Amazon affiliate changes.

About davidgaughran

David Gaughran is an Irish writer, living in Prague, and author of Mercenary, A Storm Hits Valparaiso, Let's Get Digital, Let's Get Visible and this here blog thing.
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78 Responses to Amazon’s Recommendation Engine Trumps The Competition

  1. You should know that I tweeted this even before reading it… I trust you to be awesome that way! (I’ll read when I come back from my speaking engagement at the local Jr. High, talking about writing as a career!)

    • The world’s first human TwitterBot!

      Seriously though, good luck with the talk. But perhaps skip the part where we all drink whiskey in our jimjams on a Tuesday morning.

      • I’m back. Read your article. It’s brilliant as usual. (I successfully avoided discussing the jammie routines of writers with the Jr.High kids as well. Mission Accomplished.)

        The decrease in impact of free books has already began, and I’m sure this will curtail it further. I have a free book out now, and I can tell that free is still a viable strategy, but you’re right: this is going to put more pressure on indie authors to go Select in order to use free effectively.

        I love analysis of Amazon’s search engines. (I might have to tweet this out AGAIN.) :) Can’t wait for your new book.

  2. Thanks, David. Your book is definitely on my want to read list. Though I’m guilty of giving away freebies to drive sales to my other books, I do think that some of these freebies are over-saturating the market. Maybe it’s a good thing that Amazon will curb the free downloads.

  3. The strange thing is that my .99 ebook sells fairly well on B&N and made virtually no sales on Amazon. Then Sony inexplicably dropped the price to zero (it’s on there through Smashwords and I DON’T have the price set there to free) and Amazon price-matched it. Now it is consistently in the top ten free downloads in its category. I’m not disagreeing with your assessment of B&N’s marketing but I guess there are some exceptions to the rule.

  4. Agree with you completely on your suspicions regarding that affiliate letter they sent out. I’ve been saying for over a year that Amazon doesn’t like free books. They used free days as a hook to get people into Select, but, by limiting you to five free days over the course of 90, they maintain a modicum of control. They changed their sales algorithms because of free as well. The “free books get people to the site where they also spend money” argument doesn’t hold water. Neither does the “it doesn’t cost Amazon anything” one. I’m sure their customer service headaches — from customers and authors both — have increased tremendously, and that definitely costs money and resources.

  5. Great post! I’m glad to see you blogging again; you’ve been missed. I gave up KDP Select at the end of 2012 and put all three of my novels out at the various channels direct (Apple, B&N, Kobo, and still at Amazon). I wanted not only a span of complete control, but I wanted to be able to see results on a daily sales basis for each retailer. Hang in here with me because this is all related to what you’ve written above.

    Regardless of whether I was in Select (paid $$ for a promo or did a free run on my own via social media or listed with websites advertising freebies), one of the things that I have concluded over the past year was that the spikes in sales were largely driven by a marketing promotion of some kind OUTSIDE of Amazon. Whether it was an ENT Bargain Book or an expensive Bookbub ad or a promotional campaign with other authors, the drivers for high sales days was always outside of Amazon to begin with. Sure the long tail of getting higher on the best seller lists with a lower rank led to more sales afterwards on Amazon, but the sales were initially driven from outside of the Zon.

    To your point about recommendations, yes, Amazon did send me an email for one of my novels recommending it to me. I am hoping that I was part of list of buyers that they were targeting and not the only one. In any case, my point is this and I believe it relates strongly to what you are getting at in your comparison of Google and Yahoo and recommendations. Amazon wants buyers on their site. In my humble opinion, Amazon’s preference is to have them start there.

    Example: There are communities of FREE ‘buyers’ that wait until a book is free before purchasing it. I’ve seen this discussed at length on Goodreads in various readers groups I belong to. The demographic of those groups is largely female 18 years or older. The majority that I’ve encountered are 25 to 35 years old and all are avid readers at almost a collector level. They also share books among each other. Savvy, indeed.

    From the blogs/websites promoting free, theses sites have exploited this free factor for some time and life was good for everyone, even Amazon, to a certain extent. However, my guess is that all these voracious readers ‘bought’ after they clicked over to Amazon was the free stuff. They’ve loaded up on free and little else for a good year now.

    As it relates to the affiliates, yes this is going to change that big time in terms of the promotion of free. (ENT has already started this; my guess is that Bookbub will tweak their promos to accommodate this significant change even more).

    Oops! This is longer than I wanted it to be, but I don’t want my point to get lost in all of this. I believe Amazon wants those buyers/readers to start out on their site; my guess is that they don’t want to serve as a go-to point and be a click-away from it. (Example: I did a recent promotion with Bookbub for one of my best-selling novels for one day at $0.99. There were huge sales spikes on B&N and Apple as well as Amazon that day and the ten days that followed. Yet, this splinters the strategy for Amazon when readers go to a competing web site to buy those promoted books in lieu of going to Amazon. Amazon wants them all. I think we’ll see more of these tactics going forward to support that strategy because eyeballs on the site equates to $$ and free stuff serving as an incentive has to be delimited somehow.

    • BigAl says:

      I’m not sure about your theory, Katherine, unless this is just the first step in getting rid of the affiliate program altogether, which I kind of doubt. Sure, Amazon might prefer people start at Amazon, all else being equal, but I think what they care about most is that you get their eventually. All those affiliate links help them a lot in the search engine results as well as driving traffic directly, which in some instances (searching for a product on Google) actually makes it more likely for people to go their first.

      But, the actual change to the affiliate program regarding sites linking to free books is obviously for some reason. The affiliates have to be making some significant amount of money from people buying after going to Amazon via a link to a freebie, or the change to the affiliate program wouldn’t drive whatever change in their behavior Amazon is looking for.

      Part of that behavior is, I suspect, to make it harder for word to spread about which books are free when. If ENT, POI, etc can’t promote as many of the free books and stay under the desired thresholds, they’ll have to decrease the number they list or use clean links without affiliate codes on them. When the free sites talked a month or two ago about discussions with Amazon causing them to have to make some changes, it signaled this change was coming to me, and actually caused me to add a free book feature (on specific days and a limited number of books) to both my websites.because I saw that the free sites would have to limit their listings and that it would be more difficult for an author to get the word out.

      • MishaBurnett says:

        Hmmm… When I go to Amazon via a link from POI or ENT, I tend to either just get the freebie that they directed me to, or nothing at all–I usually don’t shop around at that time.
        “At that time” being the relevant phrase, because I am a regular customer for e-books and music and video, I just usually follow a link on an affiliate site to check out that one link, and if I’m not interested, I go back to what I was doing before. So… I am a regular customer who likes having the affiliate sites to bring freebies to my attention, but I suspect that I don’t show up to the analytics that way–they see “this regular buyer” and “this freeloader from the affiliate sites” and don’t connect the two as one customer.

    • Hey Katherine. A question: if Amazon wanted people to start out on their site, wouldn’t they just abolish the affiliate program altogether, or abolish it for e-books (like B&N did), or reduce the percentages?

      I think your point about the quality of that traffic might be more plausible – at least to me.

      • I think there are different factions within Amazon with varying agendas depending upon work groups. Just like Google; right David? : ) (I imagine the affiliate program is separated out from the KDP group for example.) Someone must have done a spreadsheet that showed the affiliate payouts versus the free books versus purchased ones by those customers. I imagine a trend emerged over time. Obviously, Amazon has no problem losing money (over time/quarter/year), but if those “buyers/readers” were not clicking on anything else beyond the free stuff; well then, there’s your answer for delimiting the effects of linkage to free.

        Why would they abolish the affiliate program? It covers a wide net of things they like to sell on their site. But certainly, Amazon does not have a problem with managing to or controlling buyer behavior (or affiliate behavior), however they see fit. It appears they are willing to limit the traffic driven by affiliates with consumers coming to their site that just pick up the free stuff and leave without spending any money; doesn’t it?

      • Well, I was in AdWords and we made all the money, so we were the bosses. Except for the engineers of course, because they kept the lights on :)

  6. Does this mean you were stalking me?

  7. Paolo Amoroso says:

    According to The Digital Reader, Amazon is discouraging affiliates from promoting “[...] a free product in the hopes that they can pick up an affiliate fee or sales commission on a product they didn’t promote.”:

    “Amazon Now Taking Steps to Discourage Free Kindle eBook Sites”

    http://www.the-digital-reader.com/2013/02/22/amazon-now-taking-steps-to-discourage-free-kindle-ebook-sites/

    • I’m not sure if that’s the reason behind this – because if it was, they would limit the time of the cookie (which I think is four hours), or just make it expire after a free book is downloaded (or whatever). Amazon don’t care if I bring the customer to the site on a link for my book, and they end up buying a set of weights. What they might care about, and what this might be targeting, is sites casting a huge net and bringing in tens of thousands of people a day who just download a book and leave. Maybe those customers aren’t spending enough to justify the bandwidth drain. I don’t know. (And I could be totally wrong.)

      • BigAl says:

        That’s what I think, David, although I thought the cookie expiration was longer (I was thinking 24 hours) I might be wrong. I know that if you drive a ton of traffic to Amazon to something that virtually none of the people going to the link buy, that you’ll see a decent jump in affiliate fees for it. That happened to me when I went viral a couple years ago. No one was buying the book reviewed, but for a few days I was getting affiliate credit for everything from breast pumps to CDs and it was a significant increase compared to what I saw immediately before as well as once things settled down.

      • Sorry Al, I meant twenty four hours. That’s what I *think* it is.

  8. Pingback: Amazon’s Love/Hate Relationship with Free eBooks | benji smith

  9. thedavidwwright says:

    I don’t see how this affiliate decision can be good for indie authors.

    When Sean Platt and I launched our Yesterday’s Gone serial in 2011, we did a ton of blog tours, and the usual promotional stuff. But in the end, it was being featured on Pixel of Ink which made the biggest difference. It’s what set the groundwork for us to be able to now write six serials full-time. I’d even go so far as to say I’m not sure we would have even found enough readers to support us, if not for Pixel of Ink featuring us.

    And ironically, we might never have gotten signed by 47North if we’d not had the attention we had with our serials.

    For writers still searching for an audience, this is bad news. And I include us in that mix. Because even being recently featured on Pixel of Ink has found us new readers.

    I’m aware that Amazon is a business and there has to be reasons for their doing this. Maybe even good reasons, like if they were losing too much on free sales. But from a writer’s perspective, it sucks.

    It also undermines the few perks of being in KDP Select.

    Ed Robertson saw the writing on the wall. We had him on the Self Publishing Podcast a few weeks ago and he was talking about this very thing and how several of the free blogs were being more discriminating about which free books they put on their lists. And that was BEFORE these new restrictions.

    I can’t even imagine how these blogs can make money by suddenly switching their models. Sure, they can add more paid books onto their recommendations, but if they exceed 20,000 free downloads in a month, then they’re screwed. And make no mistake, 20,000 free downloads from the links of the bigger sites is something achieved in days.

    I’m curious to see how writers (and these blogs) will adapt.

    Because nothing in this world (or business) is forever. We must always look for ways to adapt to the ever-changing landscape.

    Thank you for spotlighting this, Dave. I’m sure you’ll also be part of the conversation on what comes next, and how writers can adapt.

    • Hey Dave, long time no see. Congrats on the great sales streak you have been on – I see all sorts of books from you and Sean all over the bestseller lists.

      On paper, it doesn’t look to great for indies. Free was a very powerful tool – even after the algo changes last March. But I suppose this is just the latest dampener that Amazon will have put on “free” (by accident or design), with the March changes, the price weighting on Popularity lists, and, latterly, Amazon experimenting with hiding the Top 100 Free behind a tab, as opposed to the high-visibility spot beside the paid listings.

      I suppose it tracks the demographics of the way things are going: the huge tranche of readers that switched to digital last Christmas were likely very different to the demographic that switched over in the last couple of years – less early adopters, less bargain hunters, probably less price sensitive overall.

      All that sounds pretty gloomy for indies that used free/Select a lot. But maybe it doesn’t have to be. Maybe authors using a perma-free strategy will see the field thin a little and get more visibility for the lead books in their series. Maybe reader sites will have to return to the pre-Select days of building lists of customers who are keen to pay for books. Maybe Amazon will have to sweeten the Select pot with alternative promotional tools.

      One thing’s for sure: the prizes will still go to the nimble, and nobody is more nimble than a self-publisher.

  10. Jason says:

    After reading basically everything on the web about this change to the affiliate program (which was surprisingly little), and having a very strong understanding of the model these free book sites are operating under, I think it’s clear the theory that Amazon is trying to curtail affiliates from making earnings without selling anything >$0.00 is correct. It’s amazing how much money can be made promoting things that are being given away for free, and it’s noteworthy that sites are driving the same loyal Amazon customers to the site every day for years at a time.

    How this change plays out for each specific site will be interesting to watch. People always mention ENT and POI, but I’m wondering about sites like EreaderIQ or those specifically branded as free-only sites. “Free” has long been the golden word, but for some out there it might really start to feel like a burden as they’re forced to change. Or maybe it won’t and administrators won’t have any qualms about pulling a bait and switch on their fans who are expecting free content.

    The endgame here is what the change does to the entire ebook-promotion industry that has grown on social media. Author advertising dollars are going to become more valuable and more eagerly sought at the same time as it gets more costly for sites to build audiences without offsetting affiliate revenue. Effective advertising venues are limited to begin with, and Facebook didn’t do any favors to anybody on that front since it started squelching traffic late last year. Combine that with the volume of time it takes to mobilize a substantial audience of people willing to actually pay for books, and it re-centralizes power in Amazon’s internal promotional systems. Sounds like it’s a good time for Let’s Get Visible.

    • Thanks for your input, Jason.

      I think the free-only sites might be in trouble. EreaderIQ especially seemed to step away from any kind of curation (and just give the readers tools to do that themselves). That model looks problematic now. I know that when ENT started reducing the amount of free books it was listing late last year, I could see plenty of complaints on their Facebook page. I imagine that is nothing compared to what is to come, especially for a site which only featured free books. It’s hard to build an audience expecting free stuff, then try and switch them over to paid.

      • Jason says:

        I actually communicated with Greg at ENT today (probably by luck since I’d emailed him last week), and he seemed to be having a RED ALERT situation. It seems the previous changes he made weren’t nearly enough to cover the new terms. And since the count to 20,000 includes books that aren’t even directly linked to, he could conceivably cross that threshold without promoting a single free Kindle book. Maybe now he’ll actually have to charge a reasonable amount for his sponsorships. Feel free to reach out to me if you want to discuss this further.

      • It’s going to be tricky threading that needle. Even with the supposed new affiliate reports which will now start counting freebies, you will still need a big buffer to make sure you don’t exceed that 80%.

  11. J S says:

    All the announcement sites can fix their risk by linking the free books “clean” without any affiliate codes (but keeping affiliate codes for the books at full/reduced prices). Per one commenter they make huge money off affiliates, more than any other feature (like author paid advertising).
    .
    Another thing to track at goodreads, see if posts go out when you update a book before launch … looks like you populated many of the fields but I have a couple of WIPs up that I complete in stages per some good advice I received (title up day one, several more days put the cover up , days later jacket copy, etc and this “should” send notes to your minions/fans that activity is occurring).
    .
    You might want to check out a pair of groups I set up at goodreads: first one is for early ARC reviews (only a few weeks old) http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/93438-arc-of-authors and a second more for the Romance inclined writer/reader/reviewer: http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/84278
    .
    .

    • That was my first thought, but then I realized that the cookie lasts for 24 hours (I think) and if someone has clicked on any of your paid links before hitting the freebie, it would probably count towards your total.

  12. Reblogged this on Diana Douglas and commented:
    If you’re considering self-publishing, this is definitely worth a second look…

  13. I think people are missing an important set of facts. If you look at the associate fee table (which you can find here: https://affiliate-program.amazon.com/gp/associates/join/landing/referralfees.html what you see is number of downloads tied to percentage paid. The more people download, the higher the rate. So, I suspect what Amz discovered was that certain accounts could achieve a higher percentage paid on sales by linking to free books — because Amz ties rate to downloads NOT actual sales. Thus, they might actually be the source very few qualifying product sales, but they’d be getting a disproportionately higher rate on those sales because of free book downloads.

    My guess is the profitability (to Amz) of such accounts is at or near the 80% free kindle books downloaded floor set by the amendment.

    While there may indeed be an impact on the free book ecology, if you will, I think this is aimed more at Amz limiting affiliates from gaming the system in this way. I don’t know why Amz doesn’t tie rates to paid downloads except to guess that those free downloads DO lead to other buys and that, as noted, the point at which the percentage fee becomes unprofitable to Amz is 80% free downloads.

  14. Pingback: Amazon’s Recommendation System Kills Competition

  15. I have no idea what the impact of the changes to the Affiliate program will be, but I’m increasingly convinced that the Amazon recommendation algorithm is the most disruptive force in book selling outside of the ebook itself. In the course of attempting to correct a statistically innumerate Forbes blogger, I did a little research on the impact of the “alsobot”. According a research report cited by the blogger, 10% of the books bought at Amazon.com in May 2012 were purchased directly from the alsobot recommendation. I found a GalleyCat post that cited AAP figures for Adult Fiction/Non Fiction (ebook, paperback, and hardback) and Children’s/YA sales for the month of May 2012. We can be fairly sure that the true sales numbers are higher than the AAP reports, but we don’t know by how much. Amazon is reputed to hold between 30% and 50% of those categories.

    The upshot of my calculations is that the alsobot generated, at a minimum, somewhere between 7 and 12 million USD in revenues in May 2012. And the vast majority of those sales would never have been made any other way.

    If you add in the other category in survey that is mostly attributable to Amazon’s algorithms (what the survey called “Promotions, deals, low price”), they found that 22% of Amazon’s sales were driven directly from the algorithms. For fiction, that’s probably over 10% of the entire U.S. market. Hundreds of millions of dollars in annual book sales via targeted promotions that are, as David points out, open to everyone. If you are a writer, Amazon is, while acting in its own self-interest, doing you the biggest favor you could ask for. It’s identifying the people most likely to be interested in your book and advertising it to them.

  16. Pingback: How Amazon works – courtesy of David Gaughran | Meeka's Mind

  17. Gary McLaren says:

    Indie authors are quick to see the potential loss of several important marketing avenues. But I don’t think Amazon’s “wake up call” to these sites is so unreasonable. Amazon want affiliates to send customers that make some actual purchases too. That’s a natural component of any affiliate program.

    Perhaps these web sites should add a section of recommended books with regular prices. It could be indie books or perhaps even the same books they were promoting for free the week before. This could still help indie authors. Or how about adding a section for the special offers and discounted books.

    There are ways that the “free Kindle book” web sites can work with this change in terms. If they are smart they will make some changes, and then they will still be around tomorrow to help indie authors with their promotions.

    • thedavidwwright says:

      I agree that Amazon must have a legit reason to do this, and it makes perfect sense for them to enact these changes. And yes, websites will need to change. Some already have. But that’s no guarantee than people will click and buy said paid books, particularly if the blog attracts a large segment of people who only want the freebies. If a blog no longer offers what its readers are turning to it for (freebies), many readers will go elsewhere, and make it less worthwhile for these blogs to stay in business.

      Sure, some will adapt, but many will be unable to, I feel.

      And those that ARE still around, they won’t be able to move as many free books for indie authors, which kills the free promotional pushes these sites provided.

      As I, and David Gaughran, said before, we self-pubbed authors will adapt. There is no doubt. But this could change the landscape significantly for many.

      Trying to find a silver lining, I suppose there is a possibility that once the explosion of freebies dies down, that authors will have a better shot at naturally reaching the top of the free charts without pushes from the more powerful of the sites. They won’t have to compete with a monster freebie with 20k downloads in two days. So, depending on how much the landscape changes, this might even be good news for some writers. Maybe.

      • Gary McLaren says:

        I’m with you on that, as indie authors we’ll adapt, and I think the possible silver lining in your final paragraph could be a good thing. It would be nice to be able to break the Top 100 Free without needing such a big push!

  18. It was fun publishing my short stories on Amazon Kindle Direct Publishing.

  19. Hi davidgaughran this is my first time reading your blog. Very informative. I am in the process of publishing on Amazon. I think you hit the nail on the head because I have definitely bought more books than I planned to on my Kindle because of the recommendations. I thought I hit a pocket of some really good books. Now the authors I like are being offered to me in a nice tight group, and it helps me see a pattern in my own reading. I think it is genius especially after you explained it. I definitely want your book. I am going to sign up on your e-mail list. Thanks for the insight into Amazon.

  20. “I’ll leave you to speculate what this all means in the comments, but my initial thoughts were that the big reader sites are going to have to severely restrict featuring free books (or stop altogether) and that this will have a big impact on KDP Select.” –

    following the comments, ’cause i have no idea what this will mean; though, for some reason, which i can’t nail or refute yet, my gut says it’ll be good, but can’t quite figure out why yet, maybe something along the lines of comment above by – thedavidwwright says:February 22, 2013 at 11:29 pm

    either way, as usual, should be interesting ;-)

    • obviously i read this article back in feb! and got an alert on a new comment to this, got curious, and came and re-read it –

      amazing what a difference nearly four months make :-)

      the whole thrust of the reasons amazon’s approach works so well, vs the other online outlets, make “much” clearer sense to me now

      plus, re the changes to free book listing site’s ability to get revenue, look at how some of the paid ad sites have come up in strength, which, ironically, favors again those with $, even if it’s on the writer’s side now, rather than the publisher

      and as is wrote back in feb, either way, as usual, should be interesting ;-)

  21. acflory says:

    Great article David. Reblogged on Meeka’s Mind, http://acflory.wordpress.com

  22. Thanks, David, for the great info and analysis. “As the eWorld Turns” <—– an old American soap opera… it's changing month by month, and always requires an indie author staying on her toes.

    KDP Select, way back in the ancient days of December 2011, got me 10,000 free downloads a day for my first novel, along with a place on the Movers and Shakers List, and a long tail of sales for months afterward. Select was brand new and I did no advertising at all. Now (with other, shorter books) it might get me 100, and the tail is negligible. All we can do about this is keep writing good books and getting a lot of them up there so that our names and reputations spread around the ether.

    I'm working on getting out a lot of shorts, and one new short story in particular that will go up in March and is linked to a VERY popular series. I am staying away from KDP Select for the time being, seeing very little benefit in it. For a contra opinion, of course, see Konrath, who has 50 properties out now and gets a lot of churn from 5 days of free with one book after another.

  23. keep us posted on any more insights – thanks.

  24. Don’t know if this was a related event, but when my first book went up on Kindle I went into a B & N and they had a table full of reading devices. I started to call up my book and leave it exposed and started talking to this guy that worked there and he helped me til we had it up on all of them, at least eight. It had an eye catching cover. It looked pretty cool to see all of them.

    I sold big at B & N on Smashwords for months. 32 in one day. (Well, that is big for me.) It tapered off and I went in a store to do it again and they do not have such a display, but I call it up in any Sprint store or Best Buy and tell every one standing around what I m doing. Fun, anyway.

  25. I like the idea that Amazon levels the playing field for book recommendations. A couple times last year I saw some spikes in sales that I couldn’t attribute to any direct marketing I had done, and finally concluded that my book must have gone out in one of their emails. It was a nice surprise for me to be connected with readers who would like the the kind of books I write.

  26. Kevin Finley says:

    Reblogged this on The Business Side of Books and commented:
    This is a must re-post for any blogger who is writing posts geared at helping the indie author. I tell authors all the time, when it comes down to the bottom line, your book has to stand on its own merit. Amazon is a prime example of a book having to stand on its own.

  27. MishaBurnett says:

    I have a Kindle Fire HD, and it has recommendations across the bottom of the screen as you page through the carousel. Recently I bought an e-book from a WordPress contact on the day it was launched. I have noticed how the recommendations have changed over the past week as more copies of the book have been sold and the algorithms have more data to work with.

    On the other hand, I have the Nook reader App for my PC (because I do my own formatting and I wanted to preview my book in .epub format) and if there is any way to use it to actually shop for e-books, I haven’t found it.

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  29. Good information, David. Helps you feel a little less like the little guy to know there is the possibility of even ground. Thanks for sharing!

  30. Hi David, Am new to your blog (it’s hard to read EVERYTHING relevant out there…), but was fascinated by today’s piece. I’m curious: will your book address how books make it to the Kindle Daily Deal and the monthly 100 books they seem to feature? I never see a rhyme or reason to the books promoted and can’t seem to find an answer to my question anywhere. Again, thanks for all your hard work!

  31. I am so pleased that I found you….thanks for sharing, you have pushed me one step further forward to self publishing, and I will be reading through your posts with relish. Kind thoughts, Kate

  32. Sam Torode says:

    Great to have you blogging again, David. In January, with both you & Konrath silent, I was in withdrawal.

    Wow, talk about small print with a big impact! I feel for the free/bargain book sites affected by this change. I’ve often thought — “Live by Amazon, die by Amazon” — as small changes in their policies and algorithms make or break book sales.

  33. Cy Price says:

    Amazon is simply closing a loophole. Many affiliates in my network already have a solution. Whether it will be clean links, charging advertising fees, or another solution, affiliates and the free blogs will survive. We always do :)

    Authors, however, will need to be ready to step up their “game”. Relying totally on free promos was never a good thing. Free promotion is not a marketing plan by itself. I suspect there will be some changes to KDP in the future but as you’ve already stated in your post, Amazon already does a good job to increase the visibility of books.

    Keep writing, refine your marketing plans, promote, test and track everything.

  34. Sam Torode says:

    PS– About a week ago, Amazon dropped the “customers also bought” lineup of book covers from the Kindle Fire store. I don’t understand how that does anyone any good….

  35. Pingback: AZ poised for (more) growth, winning the e-book platform, new suit filed against Amazon & Big Six, and more…

  36. scm2814 says:

    That thing about add relevancy is the sort thing that’s obvious in hindsight, even though its the sort of thing that’s obvious when you think about it. I sincerely hope Amazon never changes that aspect of how they operate. It can happen, and woe to them and us when it does,

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  47. Reblogged this on PARAPSYCHOLOGY / ATHEENDRIYA and commented:
    I am an author from India and want to self publish a book with Amazon Let me learn /hear from your good-self!!! Thanks Much

  48. I delight in, lead to I discovered just what
    I used to be taking a look for. You’ve ended my 4 day lengthy hunt! God Bless you man. Have a great day. Bye

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