[Ed.: Commenters have noted how hard it can be to get a handle on the current state of ebook sales from the shifting and volatile information available to us. Digital Book World is pleased to offer weekly reports from Dan Lubart’s eBook MarketView, to help us see what stories the actual data has to tell. Using a proprietary market analysis tool, Dan pairs publicly available data from multiple ebook retailer bestseller lists with analysis and visual presentation to help publishers identify and understand emerging patterns.]
Finding the perfect price for ebooks often seems more like art than science.
Publishers and authors are testing a method of promoting the first title of a series and/or dropping its price to increase sales of the subsequent books, and the results have swung between resounding success and near-total failure using the same techniques.
Barnes & Noble’s Spotlight program meets all the conditions for a great test for this activity: it is prominently featured on their Nook landing page; the first title of the series is dropped to $0.99; there seem to be at least five titles in the series, which are all (or almost all) featured in the same promotion; and the latest title appears to be a recent publication.
Wicked Lovely, by Melissa Marr, is a series with five current titles, but the older titles may be buried in the backlist. Alerted to its upcoming promotion a few weeks before it went live on the bn.com site, I began tracking the ranking of these titles. The first title was re-released as a promotional item with a different ISBN, which clouds the performance numbers (people still bought the original at regular price!), and the last book was a current release that was already performing well. But books 2 through 4 were all ranked below 5,000 when I began tracking them in late February.
Chart 1: Daily Ranking of Wicked Lovely
Did dropping the price of Title 1 (from $8.99 to $0.99) pay for itself with increased sales, not only of Title 1, but of Titles 2 through 4 at the full retail price of $8.99? I don’t think there can be any doubt in this case that the answer is yes, considering that prices of all titles are back to $8.99 and still selling well. On March 22, Ink Exchange (the second title in the series released in March 2009), was ranked 54 on the Nook Bestsellers list after dwelling below 5,000 only a month earlier. Titles 3 and 4 peaked at 109 and 246, respectively. These titles’ rankings barely budged on Kindle lists at the same time, so we can presume this performance was almost entirely due to the retailer site promotion.
Should every author and publisher rush to try this promotion method? Maybe not: In a subsequent Spotlight promotion, we witnessed very limited improvement in the rankings of the middle titles of a series. Most of those titles moved up from ranks of 30,000 to 15,000 and similar levels, but none cracked the top 1,000; some didn’t improve at all. You could argue that the results were as bad in that case as they were good in this one.
Why did the promotion work so well for Wicked Lovely? One possible answer is that the series, appealing to a young adult/adult female audience in the romance/paranormal genre, plays right to Nook’s strengths. The next series tracked was in the science fiction genre, which probably does not. So the old real estate maxim of “location, location, location” applies in the digital space as well.
Chart 2: Most Popular Words in Kindle Romance Bestseller Titles on June 1
Another factor in its success may be the starting popularity of the series. A series may need to be above a certain sales threshold to be able to benefit from this type of promotion. Perhaps the author and/or publishers supported the promotions differently as well.
As we continue to measure the impact of ebook promotions we learn more and more about what works and what doesn’t. The difference between getting it wrong and getting it right can be enormous, and you can measure that difference with words like “Sales,” “Revenues,” “Profits” and “Bestsellers.”
Dan Lubart is the principal at Iobyte Solutions, an IT strategy firm with a specialty in publishing and entertainment media. Iobyte’s eBook MarketView tool enables publishers, authors, agents and others to study the dynamics of the ebook retail marketplace in various ways. Dan blogs at eBook MarketView.