Popularity, Visibility & KDP Select Marketing

For most writers, anonymity is the biggest hurdle they face. The open nature of digital distribution can be a double-edged sword; there are 1.1 million titles in the Kindle Store after all.

While the virtual shelves are endless, and while readers have demonstrated an increased appetite for reading (and hoarding) once they switch to e-books, the spotlight is limited. There can only ever be 100 books in the Top 100. The major sites (like Ereader News Today or Pixel of Ink) will only feature a limited amount of books per day. There is only one Kindle Daily Deal.

Visibility is a continual challenge, and, when we look at that problem a little closer, it’s not radically different to the challenges faced by a new print release in bricks-and-mortar stores. Let me explain.

A new print release will only get a sales window of a few weeks to prove itself. If it falls flat, it will be yanked from the shelves and replaced with something else. At that point it will be warehoused, or returned to the publisher. Even if it’s the former, the sales potential of the title will be greatly curtailed and it will likely be returned in due course anyway.

How is this phenomenon replicated with e-books and online bookselling? Curtailed visibility. When you publish an e-book on Amazon, for example, your title is eligible for something called the Hot New Releases list.

The HNR list is a function of the Best Seller List, limited to books that have been release in the last 30 days (as well as pre-orders). Like the Best Seller List, readers can drill down by genre and sub-genre. This, for example, is the HNR list for Historical Romance.

Getting on the HNR list (especially the first page or two) is a real driver of sales and should be part of any launch strategy. As it is limited to books released in the last 30 days (and pre-orders), it’s much easier to qualify for than the Best Seller list. Taking the above example, to hit the Best Seller list for Historical Romance, you need a rank of around #2000 (which translated to selling roughly 50 books a day), but to hit the back of the HNR list, you only need a rank of #13,000 or so (roughly 10 books a day).

Naturally, once your book has been out longer than 30 days, and you no longer qualify for the HNR list, your sales will drop as you’re no longer benefiting from that visibility; if readers don’t see your book, they can’t buy it.

Amazon’s HNR list (and there are similar lists on the other retailers) is just one way that it regulates churn – the frequency with which lists will be “refreshed” with alternative titles. Retailers always want some level of churn so that readers won’t be faced with the same books ad nauseum. They particularly want heavy readers to be tempted by new titles each time they log in.

Another way that Amazon manage visibility and churn is with the much-misunderstood Popularity list. If you click on that link, you will notice it looks quite similar to the Best Seller list but the order of books is different.

The Best Seller list is ordered by Sales Rank and the only thing that affects ranking is sales (despite popular beliefs to the contrary surrounding reviews, free downloads, price etc.). It’s a weighted average, with more recent sales being given most value, and historical sales counting for very little. It’s supposed to be updated hourly, but there’s often a lag. Sales normally take a few hours to affect your ranking, but, again, that depends on the current glitchiness of the system.

The Popularity list is very different. Ranking is (currently) calculated using a rolling 30-day average of your sales, with no greater weight given to more recent sales. This is a radical difference that rewards consistent sellers over those who spike and fade. Other crucial factors are free downloads (which are worth one tenth of a paid sale), and price (more expensive books are given a greater weighting and 99c books are now actively discriminated against).

Why does the Popularity list matter? Amazon pushes readers towards it. On the homepage of the Kindle Store (pictured right), the lists you see take you to the Popularity list rather than the Best Seller list. On top of that, if you are browsing the Kindle Store from a device – rather than a computer – you tend to get pushed to the Popularity List instead. Finally, for readers using the search box, results are displayed in order of Popularity.

The net result is that a huge amount of readers browse the Popularity lists (which are broken down into the same categories as the Best Seller lists), and appearing high in your category has a really noticeable effect on sales. Conversely, dropping down the Popularity lists is like attaching weights to your book, and it will, in turn, plummet down the Best Seller lists.

If you had a sales spike in the last six months (e.g. after a big free run or being featured by Ereader News Today or Pixel of Ink) you will know what effect a sudden surge of visibility can have on your sales. However, you might have also noticed a huge drop-off in sales about a month after your spike.

Because of the rolling 30-day average that’s used to calculate the lists, once that sales spike is more than a month old, your book will “cliff” and plummet down the Popularity lists. That decreased visibility leads to less people buying your book, which in turn affects Sales Rank, and pretty quickly your book gets sucked back into the primordial ranking ooze.

Let’s return to our putative new e-book release. In its second month, it faces the double whammy of losing HNR visibility, and gets further oxygen removed by being pushed down the Popularity list (because of the lost sales from not qualifying for the HNR list anymore, and the launch-week sales no longer being part of the rolling 30-day average).

The effect is not too dissimilar to the limited window a print release has in bricks-and-mortar stores. However, there is one crucial difference: e-books don’t get warehoused, and they don’t get returned to the publisher.

In other words, you have the opportunity to reverse that trend.

There are many ways to skin this particular cat. A new release is best of all, but even the most prodigious writers won’t be publishing something every 30 days. As such, if self-publishers want to regularly breathe new life into old releases, they must engage in some form of promotion.

There are many options here, but much of them are either a waste of time, or money, or both. Having tried pretty much everything at this point, the most effective forms of promotion (for me) involve a limited time sale, a group promo (like this one I’m currently involved in), a free run, an ad on sites like Ereader News Today or Pixel of Ink, or some combination of same.

Promotion gets a bad name among writers because it’s considered a time suck – something that cuts into (precious) writing time. But none of the above strategies require much time, and most (aside from an ad spot) don’t require any money (and the right ad spot will make you money). I tend to avoid any promotional activity which has a significant time cost (and those that do tend to have negligible results anyway).

Applying these strategies will prevent your books from withering on the vine, giving them crucial bursts of visibility which will increase sales and keep your titles high on the Popularity lists (and, in turn, the Best Seller lists).

(EDIT: Prompted by the comments, I should note that I’m not saying that authors must come up with a promotional wheeze for each title every 30 days. Pretend we are talking about fuel efficiency, and I’m saying the optimum speed you should drive at is, say, 47 miles per hour. It doesn’t mean you should (or could) always drive at that speed, but that’s the optimum for saving fuel.)

My sales and earnings have increased month-by-month this year, and I finally broke the 1,000 books barrier in August, then pulled in even more money in September. Let’s Get Digital (currently on sale at 99c) regularly appears at the top of its category, and A Storm Hits Valparaiso (currently free) has hit the Top 20 in the much more competitive Historical Fiction category.

However, for both titles, their time at top is usually short-lived. Even when I’ve been at top of the Best Seller list for my genre, I’ve been nowhere on the respective Popularity list. This is partly because I’m competing against books who have recently been on a free run.

As I explained above, those free downloads are worth one-tenth of a sale on the Popularity list. Every day, books coming off a successful KDP Select free run (i.e. those that garnered thousands of downloads), would appear above me on the Popularity list, pushing me down.

It became pretty clear that without regularly garnering thousands of free downloads myself, the sales potential of my books would be limited – as I wasn’t able to maximize any hard-won visibility.

First, I attempted to mimic KDP Select free runs by getting Amazon to price-match a book that was free elsewhere. I made my short stories If You Go Into The Woods and Transfection free and they got over 20,000 downloads between them in a matter of days. So far so good. The only problem was getting them to return to the paid listings, which, in the case of Transfection, took weeks.

A few months later, I tried again with Let’s Get Digital which got over 25,000 downloads in a few days, but was a little sluggish in returning to the paid listings. As such its bounce was muted – whereas a book written by a friend with identical download numbers ended up shifting hundreds of copies the following week.

When KDP Select was announced, I was dead against it. I objected to the limited-pot model of compensation, and, particularly, the exclusivity requirement. I’m more of a pragmatist than an idealist, and while I’m still against a limited-pot model on principle, in practical terms it has worked out quite well.

In any event, that wasn’t a deciding factor in staying out. The exclusivity requirement was. At the time, between 15% and 20% of my e-book sales were from Smashwords, Apple, Barnes & Noble, and Kobo – so it made sense to stay out. At the time.

More recently, e-book sales outside of Amazon have been in the low single digits. While sales on Amazon grew at an excellent rate, sales elsewhere dropped to near-nothing – despite my best efforts. (I wrote about why the environment is so challenging outside of Amazon here.)

As I gained a greater understanding of the algorithms that feed into things like Sales Rank, Best Seller lists, Hot New Releases lists, and the Popularity lists, it was clear that the best way to maximize my sales would be to enroll in KDP Select – particularly now that sales elsewhere have dried up, and I don’t seem to be able to resuscitate them.

A couple of weeks ago, I enrolled two shorts in KDP Select and tried out my first free run. While shorts are a harder sell (particularly in terms of getting featured on the big sites that really drive download numbers), the results were positive enough to convince me to enroll a full-length book.

A Storm Hits Valparaiso went on its first free run this weekend, and almost cracked the Top 100. (It’s still free today and tomorrow, if you want to grab a copy.) For now, Let’s Get Digital is staying out – as that still sells moderately outside of Amazon. And I’ll consider each title for enrollment (and removal) on a case-by-case basis.

Ultimately, I don’t want my books to be exclusive to Amazon. I view this as a short-term arrangement. Quite frankly, the deficiencies at the other retailers (in terms of search, lists, categories etc.) make it incredibly difficult for self-publishers to gain traction (either by accident or design). I expect that to change, but it will likely take some time.

Until then, I’m going to maximize my sales on Amazon.

Note: I’m working on the follow-up to Let’s Get Digital (working title: Let’s Get Visible) which will go into a lot more detail on things like visibility, Amazon algorithms, and the Popularity lists. The aim of the book is to give experienced self-publishers a selection of promotional tools that are genuinely effective, and don’t eat into writing time. If you would like to sign up to my mailing list to be the first to hear of the book’s release, go here. Your email will never be shared, and you will only receive messages about new releases.

David Gaughran

Born in Ireland, he now lives in a little fishing village in Portugal, although this hasn’t increased the time he spends outside. He writes fiction under another name, has helped thousands of authors build a readership, and has created marketing campaigns for some of the biggest self-publishers on the planet. Friend to all dogs.

82 Replies to “Popularity, Visibility & KDP Select”

  1. Once again an excellent and informative post, David. Many thanks for your knowledge and insights. Timely, from my point-of-view too, since my debut novel NORTHMAN will hit (or soggily thwack against) Amazon in November. (Free chapters here: http://wp.me/s24Exb-northman ). Hope you don’t mind this shameless self-promotion, but I’m only following the template you gave me 🙂

  2. Thanks for such an excellent, detailed post. I really learned a lot. I’ll definitely be buying “Let’s Get Visible” as soon as it comes out! Again, many thanks.

  3. I meant to ask, how did you get Amazon to price match your shorts? I managed it with the US and one of my shorts is free, but the UK remains stubbornly at 78p.

    1. Price-matching is applied inconsistently and there is no guaranteed trick to it. Amazon price-matches at their discretion, and less often than they used to. The only way I’ve ever got a short free in the UK was by reporting a free price at a UK specific store (i.e. Kobo UK or Apple UK) rather than the US store. I get two or three more people to report the price (no more), then cross fingers. There’s even less guarantees than US price matching, but that’s the only way I know how.

      1. Absolutely right about the inconsistency. Several readers in the USA saw that my shorts were free on Smashwords and ticked the box for all three on Amazon US, but only one became free. Same thing in the UK and none became free. It seems to be a lottery.

  4. Beautifully written analysis of the differences between the popularity and bestselling lists and why the KDP Select free option for temporary boosts to visibility work better than the price match. Now I have somewhere to send people when I am trying, often unsuccessfully, to explain these points!

    One thing I do think that authors do need to consider, from my own experience, is that doing a promotion every 30-45 days or so (which does keep the book visible on the popularity list) can also result in less effective promotions, because the market for the books is temporarily saturated. I also think that there are seasonal patterns, so that when you do your promotions can affect the out-come. Recently there has been lots of grumbling about September-October sales being low, (with various conspiracy theories) but when I look at my pattern of sales for 2010 and 2011, I saw a similar slow down. I think in Fall people are back to work and school, and saving their money for holiday spending.

    1. You’re right, Mary Lou. I didn’t intend to suggest that authors should promote each book every 30-45 days – I was just trying to make the point that sales will likely dip without *something* happening to give things a lift in that kind of time-frame; I probably should have teased that out more.

      I should also say that if you have one or two titles, your time is probably best served writing more books. When you have several, one title can carry the promotional burden for multiple titles.

      For example, if you have a five book series, you could focus your promotional energy (and dollars) on the first and last books in the series – to let existing readers know the latest installment is out (and to focus those sales over a shorter period, resulting in higher ranking), and to widen the funnel by drawing new readers into the series. That kind of strategy can lift all five books – without promoting the two in the middle at all.

      You make a good point on seasonal factors. December to end of February is the busy season for e-books – particularly while the market is still maturing and distorted by massive amounts of new device owners over the holiday season who go on buying sprees to fill up their devices. (That busy season will likely change as the market matures and device purchasers are merely replacing old devices – and transferring their existing digital libraries – rather than entering the market for the first time.)

      Where there are peaks, there must be troughs. And the summer months, plus September and October, have been the slower period for the last few years. Those slower months can be a perfect time for battening down the hatches and getting new releases ready for the busy Christmas period.

      In short, you don’t *have to* pulse your sales every 30 days on every title – but this post attempts to explain why sales “cliff” when you don’t.

    2. I’ve added a note to the piece above which might be a little clearer than my last attempt:

      “EDIT: Prompted by the comments, I should note that I’m not saying that authors must come up with a promotional wheeze for each title every 30 days. Pretend we are talking about fuel efficiency, and I’m saying the optimum speed you should drive at is, say, 47 miles per hour. It doesn’t mean you should (or could) always drive at that speed, but that’s the optimum for saving fuel.”

  5. Great post David. I think I’m one of the few authors that loves Select. Once I signed up my books, I
    haven’t looked back. I’m constantly tweaking my marketing formula for Select and testing what works best. Especially when coming off the free days. i think Select is one of the greatest marketing tools an author can have – if used properly.

  6. David, I can’t find the post where you last discussed pricing for Amazon. Then again, maybe I dreamed I saw that once. I have a couple of books at $2.99 with hardly any sales—though what there are, are going up— and think I’ll up the price to $4.99. There’s little mention of pricing in this post, so I wonder how that figures in with these other strategies.

    1. I’ve talked about pricing in so many posts that I’m not sure where to look.

      I can tell you that I saw little difference in sales between $2.99, $3.99 & $4.99 (but increased royalties at $4.99), so it’s certainly worth experimenting with. In addition, with the new price weighting on Popularity lists, if you are making the same money at $2.99 and $4.99, you should go for the higher price.

      For me, pricing is about experimentation more than anything else (to find that sweet spot which maximizes revenue). Does that answer your question?

  7. I sell around 700 books a month on Amazon. My sales on the other platforms (B&N, Kobo, Smashwords, Sony, Apple, etc) have been paltry by comparison. I’m talking single digits. I hate to say it, but by all appearances Amazon’s competition seems more concerned with selling traditionally published books than self-pub/indie. That’s fine for them, but it leaves me no reason to sell on their platform (as I have nothing to lose in terms of sales). Opting in to Select requires only 90 days of exclusivity, so it’s pretty easy to get out later on.

    I know the free promos aren’t the silver bullet they once were, but Prime borrows alone are triple what I was selling on all other platforms combined each month (without noticeably cannibalizing my paid sales). That alone has been compelling enough to keep opting in.

    Select will probably be temporary for me too (in the long run), but for now it’s working for me.

    1. In the first couple of weeks, I made more in borrows than I had in sales during the last month on Apple and B&N. And that’s for a pair of 99c shorts! Why people would borrow those ahead of a higher priced book is beyond me, but I’ll take it. Storm never sold well outside Amazon, so that was an easy decision to make. The shorts had done okay in the past, but pretty much nothing in 2012, so that was an easy decision too. Sales are up since enrolling, and the borrows is just gravy.

      1. Sales of my second novel doubled after I opted it in (and ran a two-day free promo). I have to think membership has its privileges when it comes to Select. And I love the borrows. Readers being able to try me for free? And I get paid? Pretty good deal. Glad to hear things are picking up for you after enrolling.

  8. David,
    Super interesting. I’ve been wondering about KDP, exclusivity and Amazon algorithims a lot lately, so your post is timely. Did you follow any of the stuff over at Ether by Porter Anderson about discoverability? It seems all arrows are pointing to Amazon, and I mean that’s okay, because at least I know what direction to head. But on the other hand, it grates me to be an indie and then to have to follow “the man.” You know? What are your thoughts?

    Just downloaded A Storm Hits Valparaiso, btw. Looking forward to a good read.


    1. I read quite a bit of Porter’s stuff over at the Ether, he often does a nice summary of the big issue of the week, looking at it from all sides. I’ve not been as up to date with my blog reading over the summer (while moving house on more than one occasion), so if there is any nice posts I missed on that, let me know.

      As to your question, yes, of course I would prefer an environment where there were several large retailers in close competition with each other, all innovating and growing the market (and throwing out toys to authors to keep them sweet). Honestly though, it often feels like Amazon are the only ones bringing their A game. And I would rather have a situation where one retailer provides a proper self-publishing platform, and dominates, over one where several are at level pegging, and they are all mediocre.

      1. David,
        Porter’s posts are always hella long, but his post on the recent Discoverability Conference came to a similar conclusion regarding Amazon.
        One of the biggest issues with inde writers, besides the requisite writing a damn good book, is discoverability.

        The part that I was correlating with your post is the fact that Amazon is dominating, and if we want to try to be “discovered” or “found,” among the millions of books, we’ll have to work through Amazon, at least for now. There are tons of other apps and groups who are trying to help solve the discoverability issue, but they are used either by writers themselves or tech early adopters. We (at least I) need to figure out how to reach the casual reader (who actually is willing to put money down for books), one wouldn’t know how to subscribe to a blog if his life depended on it.
        I think your advice is a big help for authors who are trying to figure out how to be found. Looking forward to learning more from you …


        1. Thanks Laura – I was on holidays for that one. It was an interesting summary of how publishers are trying to grapple with how much this business has changed. But, to be quite frank, I think the smartest authors/self-publishers are light years ahead – on the publisher side, I see a lot of talk, a lot of buzzwords, and little concrete action. I see publishers making very basic mistakes. An example: publishers have been talking about “metadata” for a couple of years now, but they still seem clueless to me. They can’t even do something as basic as use Amazon’s category system properly. They get five categories (self-publishers only get two), and rarely use them all. When they do use them, they often put books into something really general like “Thrillers” and don’t drill down to the granular sub-categories (of which there are many), probably unaware that doing so will put you in the granular sub-category AND “Thrillers”. In short, they are turning down free visibility on Amazon – and self-publishers like me are happy to scoop it up instead.

  9. I found your blog recently and am loving it! This is helpful information for me. I’m in the process of revamping my novel and rereleasing it (I’m following Joanna Penn’s advice as I do so), and I plan to use KDP Select when it’s ready to go. I had originally published it via BookBaby, which got me to all the outlets, but doesn’t give me the flexibility to play with pricing and free days.

    1. It’s getting more and more important (IMO) to have that control. Aside from that, presumably BookBaby doesn’t have (near) live sales reports like Amazon. Without that, it’s tough to measure the effectiveness of any marketing.

      1. Bookbaby’s sales data is delayed by 45-60 days after the month the sales happened. I’m waiting to find out what happened with my new book in August.

    2. That’s exactly my experience as well – Bookbaby did a good job with formatting and distribution and all that, but really, the lack of control made it an easy decision to pull my first novel when I decided to re- edit it, in order to publish it myself (and honestly, the formatting is far less intimidating now that I also have two shorts and a novella out, done DIY style)

      I’m considering select as well, having been strongly opposed from the beginning due to the exclusivity issue – I’m starting to think that as a way to get discovered, select is great – for the long term I’m still a sceptic.

  10. Love it, can’t wait for ‘Visible’. It always amazes me how clear your insights are into these things. To me it’s all just a big fuzzy ball of confusing-assed lists. I’m looking forward to gaining a better understanding of them, and of how to leverage them – especially as you’ll be doing all the hard work in finding out!
    Good effort mate.

  11. Hi David. Another great post. You’re rapidly assuming the mantel of Indie Guru. My old brain can’t keep up with it all, I’m afraid. I launched my latest thriller (Find Emily) in September and, as expected, it nosedived and found its spot in the primordial ooze.

    1. Hi JJ: I have three suggestions about what might help move your book: Cover, price, KDP Select. Your cover could be a little slicker, which is important for your genre. You can find already-made covers for as little as $50. Drop the price to $1.99 to get it moving (I’d avoid the 99¢ point). Enroll it in KDP Select.

      Just my two cents — and worth every penny!

  12. Pingback: Popularity, Visibility & KDP Select | The Passive Voice
  13. David, thanks for sharing your experience and insight.
    The Popularity list was Amazon’s solution to providing ranking value for free books. With the introduction of Select, a free download appeared to count equal to a sale. Changes have been made, but Amazon has never described the formula used (often called algorithm). Theory introduced the 1/10th value in March and the sales dollar factor in May to compensate for ranking changes observed. An attempt to confirm the sales factor with statistics met with very quiet negative results.
    My concern here is stating theory as fact. Don’t drink the KoolAid!

    1. Amazon may not have revealed the various algorithms that feed into the above lists, but that doesn’t mean we have to throw our hands up and take an agnostic view towards it. The system behaves in measurable and predictable ways. One group of authors even published a formula which will allow you to predict with reasonable accuracy where you book will appear on the Popularity lists after a free run. There will always be an element of guesswork in such things, but I’m pretty confident in the veracity of the theories outlined above.

      I sometimes hear people say the same thing about Sales Rank in general. It’s really not that hard to ascertain someone’s sales based on observing their ranking. The system behaves in a logical way – for the most part!

  14. Great post, David. Interesting to hear about your change of heart on KDP Select.

    I apprehensively hit the ‘Go Select’ button back when I launched my first short story, Something in the Cellar, back in August. The first free promo saw me hit the dizzy heights of #2 in the UK Short Stories charts, as well as the top 100 overall.

    I’ve had a really slow September and October though, despite a couple more free runs. It seems loads of authors have been experiencing the same thing though, so I’m not panicking too much. I’m launching my debut novel, What We Saw, in December, so that should drive things. Recently crowdfunded it too – what a great process.

    I imagine I’ll go KDP Select with What We Saw and experiment a little. Experimentation and flexibility are key traits.

    Can’t wait for Let’s Get Visible. Digital is a fantastic little companion that I always refer to whenever all the marketing seems to be getting a little overwhelming, so well done for that.

    Ryan Casey

    1. Nothing gives sales a shot in the arm like a new release. And don’t worry to much about September and October. It’s a slower time of year. Things will pick up a little next month, significantly in December, and go bananas in January. Promise!

  15. Very good article, David. I’ve subscribed to your blog for a while, but haven’t really studied it. I’ve got to run now, but this article deserves––and will get––prolonged dissection. How do you submit to The Virtual Shelf? I couldn’t find anything on their FB page or website.
    From your now-devoted reader.

    1. Hi Sandy. The Virtual Shelf isn’t a promo site, it’s owned by an author who uses it as a home “base” for graphics to make them easily shareable on Facebook – nothing more.

    1. Here’s another: put a sign-up to your mailing list at the back of the book. Make it the first thing the reader sees when finishing. Start collecting email addresses as soon as you can. Your mailing list will become a very important tool as you go on.

      1. David-
        I just found your blog, and this post. I recently started a mailing list of people who buy my books and I’d love to see you talk about the best ways to use it.

  16. Terrific explanation as always, David.
    I too was against KDP Select because of the exclusivity clause, but as my sales on other outlets were next to nothing I decided to give it a go in July.
    My historical fiction made it to #3 in the TOP 100 and my post-sales figures rocketed. Then I enrolled another novel (Book 3 of a fantasy chronicles) – same thing. Then I tried an experiment of a KDP promo but with no overt tweets, no social media advertising, merely use of the sites that offer free advertising of ‘free’ books’. Numbers of downloads dropped fractionally but I still made Top 100.
    My final 2 days was 2 weeks ago. The same titles with the whole promotional effort but a little less than the first and more than the middle. The result was slightly lowered download figures but #1 for the fantasy and a #30 for the hist.fict. The hist fict is still managing to pull occasional Top 100’s Paid.
    So I’m a convert, utterly. And as my books go to paper-print in the next couple of weeks, such figures can only help in the press-release and future advertising. I will however be keen to check out the detail of the HNR, about which I had no idea, as i release Book 4 of the fantasy chronicles as an e-book close to christmas. Did I hear someone call you a guru? My word, I agree.

  17. Glad to see this post, David… Amazon definitely favors Select books, perhaps in mysterious ways.

    But I’ve had less and less success with free giveaways, and I notice that Amazon is making free books harder to find. On my Kindle Fire, the “Top 100 Free Books” list was removed, and I can’t find any listing of free books in the Fire store. And on the main Amazon site via my desktop computer, free books are no longer listed side-by-side the paid books on the bestseller lists. It’s definitely getting harder and harder for casual browsers to find free books on Amazon…

    1. Hi Sam, there’s certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that you get diminishing returns on free runs of the same book – which is understandable. In addition, Amazon have been quietly reducing the power of free with a variety of algorithm changes and, latterly, with some testing re. hiding the Top 100 Free. It seems to be A/B testing – with some users seeing the Top 100 Free where it used to be and some seeing it hidden like you do (and I see what you see). It’s not a change I’m happy about, it will reduce visibility for free books, and it will soften the spike post-free – which has been the general trend since March. I guess Amazon are looking at the demographics of readers who are switching to digital this Christmas (less bargain-hunters, less super-heavy readers, more readers who drift towards “name” authors and browse by bestseller lists etc.) and switching things up to appeal to those guys.

    1. Nowhere near enough data on that, but I’m pretty definite freebies count and that recent sales/downloads are weighted very heavily – so kind of like an amalgam of the algos used for Popularity and Best Seller. Too early to be sure, and they’ll probably tweak it a good deal in the early stages once they see how it all pans out. One thing though: it certainly rewards authors who stick to one genre (or, at least, classify their books as such).

  18. Great post, David. Thanks for clarifying complex issues. I will buy Let’s Get Visible on the day it comes out. I have a memoir The Butler Did It, about a real-life serial killer who threatened to kill me, out now with a legacy publisher who could learn a lot from you. But if they won’t I will: I will self-publish my new police procedural and use the techniques you recommend here. Thanks again, and keep up the good work!

  19. I must admit my attempts at using price matching to drive sales in my historical fiction series has been a pretty dismal failure. After several weeks and doing everything I could think of to increase downloads, I’ve only had 2500 downloaded. As you well know, that isn’t enough to even tweak sales. I am going to be humbly crawling back to Select, whimpering.

  20. 10 books a day…only in my dreams but thanks for the tip. David. I’m in n awe of all the other commentors. I’ve had 15 sort stories published this year but haven’t sold a thing. I love this crazy game!

  21. Thank you, David – this is the clearest explanation of how Sales Rank, Best Seller lists, HNR lists, and Popularity lists actually work that I’ve ever read. Bookmarking.

    I look forward to Let’s Get Visible, too!

  22. “make it incredibly difficult for self-publishers to gain traction (either by accident or design).”

    I and others (you can google this topic) have written to Kobo and B/N asking about this. They are certainly aware of the issue. It remains to be seen if they will do anything about it.

    It’s very difficult to sell books on Kobo and B/N unless you are already established. For the indie, it really is all about Visibility.

    I’m looking forward to reading “Let’s Get Visible”

  23. What a fabulous find your blog is for me. I am an aspiring author and have hedged on whther to self-publish. You have so much incredible experiential knowledge here that I know I want to read more from you and educate myself about the process and possibilities. Very impressive!

  24. Hi David,

    I found your brilliant blog as a result of running a Google search using the criteria “KDP Select” and “slow.” I was looking for comments by my fellow Authors regarding their KDP experiences relating to their eBook sales (or lack there-of) because I’m less than happy with the KDP Select program.

    I initially enrolled my three Indie Thrillers in the Select program in February of this year and the results were good – I had almost 9000 free downloads of my latest novel. My other two titles got a bump in sales as well. Over the next few months I alternated offering free promotions of each of my novels. Free downloads, lends, and sales were going well until August. I haven’t seen date mentioned as to when Amazon changed their dreaded algorithm, but based on my dismal sales and rankings since August, I would guess it was around August.

    I’ve seen other Authors mention that Fall sales are traditionally, slow and I’ve seen that trend as well over the past three years that I’ve been in the self-publishing game, but there’s slow – and then there’s dead. I think there are two possible reasons for my dramatic drop in sales and rankings – one being that there are just so many Readers of eBooks in my genre, and that I’ve reached my saturation point – the second, and much more ominous possibility, is that Amazon has created a monster. In the course on my research I’ve seen a theory offered that says Readers have realized that they no longer need to buy an eBook written by an exposure-starved Indie Author, they can just wait for it to show up as a free promotion. The fact that Amazon has made it harder to find these free promotions, lends credence to this second theory. Loss of sales for Indie Authors equals a loss of profit for Amazon. If this is the case, I don’t think the smart folks at Amazon will let this go on for long. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Select program morph into a new and improved creature in the near future – until then I’ll try to remain positive and keep on writing.

    Whatever the reason for the decline, I have already removed one of my titles from the Select program and re-listed it on other eBook sites. My sales at Barnes and Noble now equal my Amazon sales. Additionally, my combined sales from Sony and other sites has pushed my sales well beyond my Amazon sales. If there is not a dramatic improvement in my Select sales in November, the other two titles will follow-suit when their 90 day commitment expires.
    My initial experience with the KDP Select program was a good one. The long-term experience has been disappointing. It’s possible the Select program is only effective for a limited length of time, or maybe the whole Reader/Select dynamic has changed, or maybe it’s just me. I’ve seen comments from some Indie Authors that a still raving about their initial Select results, but I fear they are in a dwindling minority.

    I’ll end with a standard disclaimer – Your results may vary.


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  26. Hi David –

    As a side note, I’ve started a new blog where I encourage any reader and/or writer of Science Fiction or Fantasy to make guest contributions of book reviews in those genres. If you would like to contribute a review, including links to your own email/website/blog addresses, please contact me at bookreviews@ericdiehl.com. I entered the first review, of Patrick Rothfuss ‘Name of the Wind’. Come help me get a good SFF review site going! http://ericdiehl.com/wordpress/?cat=12

    I have another blog where the topic is whatever comes to mind, and which I’ve not made so many contributions to . I’d welcome guest posts there also

    Thx, Eric > WordPress.com > davidgaughran posted: “For most writers, anonymity is the biggest > hurdle they face. The open nature of digital distribution can be a > double-edged sword; there are 1.1 million titles in the Kindle Store > after all. While the virtual shelves are endless, and while readers > have ” >

  27. Great info. I used KDP Select for three short e-books earlier this year and had some success, but ultimately decided to try and maximize my sales on Amazon AND elsewhere. I believe wide distribution is important and you can’t do much with that just being on Amazon. However, since Amazon sells where more e-books than anywhere else, it’s easy to understand why anyone would try KDP Select. That’s the dilemma – to be exclusive or not to be exclusive. I’ve chosen “not to be.”

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  30. No one seems to be mentioning the fact that the bestselling books that are in Amazon’s select program are not exclusive, like, for example, the Harry Potter books. Those are for sale at Barnes and Nobles Nook store. It seems that there are two sets of rules. Only the indie authors have to give up their rights to sell elsewhere. This way Amazon gets to brag ‘exclusive’ books, while undercutting the other stores with free popular books. And those free bestsellers are getting all the funds in the pot. This whole promotion is about putting everyone else out of business. Has no one else noticed this?

  31. Pingback: KDP and KDP Select | Books by Yael Politis

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