Gaining Traction in the Amazon Ebook Marketplace
By Carolyn McCray, Author | @craftycmc
For all but a select few household-named authors, the days of launching a book, promoting it for six weeks, and then moving on are over. But do not despair! If we embrace this new 24/7/365 paradigm, we can actually increase our bottom line. Yes, the eBook market is extremely crowded with cheap product, however, if you understand how Amazon and the other digital booksellers determine which titles to put into their internal recommendation queues (“Customers Who Bought This Item… etc.), you can leverage that information into greater sales for your eBooks.
This article is broken into three parts.
The first article explores how Amazon et al weigh sales and determine your ranking and the number of times they will put your title out into their internal recommendation queue. The second article discusses “Price Pulsing” and why it is an essential strategy for prolonged digital book sales. The third article discusses “Sales Nodes” and why they are vital to leveraging “Price Pulsing” and all other sales strategies.
Forgive me but for this first article I must discuss some fairly geeky math to help you understand the basics of Amazon’s sales matrix so that you can understand how then to leverage it for greater sales.
First I must state that Amazon will not release the exact matrix it uses to calculate ranking or how it determines which titles to propagate out into the internal recommendation queue, however after nearly a year of analyzing the cause and effect of external advertising campaigns on eBook sales I feel very comfortable making some basic assumptions regarding this vital mechanism.
It appears Amazon’s matrix is looking to pick out the titles that are most likely to sell the most books and puts those titles out into its internal recommendation system the most frequently. Which makes sense. A book selling well now, will sell well if they give it more exposure. The question becomes though, how does it estimate which books are the most likely to sell?
This is where anecdotal research comes in handy. It is widely accepted that Amazon rewards you for hourly, daily, weekly, and monthly sales. It also appears that Amazon weights the monthly sales the heaviest, then weekly, then daily. It weights hourly sales the least.
Clearly the system is set up to protect against flash-in-the-pan type sales. Just because you sell a hundred books in an hour doesn’t guarantee you will even break into the top 1,000, let alone the top 100.
So the first thing we must accept is that the Amazon ranking system is complex, taking in sales from a minimum one month to establish your current ranking and therefore the number of times it puts your book into the internal recommendations queues.
An example. I had two books in a major social media event, the Labor Day Book Blowout, in which all 150 titles were discounted to 99¢ for the Labor Day weekend.
Book 1 –HeartsBlood had been on Amazon for six months and normally hovered in the 5,000-10,000 range. The title normally sells about 8-14 books per day. On the day of the event, HeartsBlood peaked at #1,113 with a total of 39 books sold for the day.
Book 2 – All Hallow’s Eve: The One Night it is BAD to be Good was launched the night before the event and therefore had no ranking or sales before the event. The title sold 69 books the day of the event and peaked at #1,089.
As you can see, two books in exactly the same event ended up with very similar rankings yet sold vastly different numbers of copies (nearly double, in the case of All Hallow’s Eve). It took far fewer copies sold of HeartsBlood to drive her up the rankings.
I could repeat this example over and over again during events. It is clear that previous sales impact hourly rankings. I term what happened with HeartsBlood as “traction.” The more sales a book has over the last month, week, and day provides a built-in number of internal recommendation berths, thereby giving your title some sales traction. This traction is also reflected in higher rankings.
However this traction fades and even vanishes after certain milestone segments of time. Why? Because directly after a large event (book launch, blog tour, sales event) where you have larger than normal sales, Amazon’s matrix sees those sales and seems to say, “Okay, this book is a great seller so I am going to increase the number of times I put this title out into the internal recommendation queues.”
Because of this increase in recommendation queues appearances, your title will continue to sell more books. However usually not as many as you did on during that large event, so the next day when Amazon’s matrix calculates your sales, it realizes maybe you weren’t the incredible seller it thought you were the day before and decreases your internal recommendation berths. Which in turn decreases your sales and ranking.
After that first day drop-off (which is fairly minor), the matrix keeps you in a relatively higher recommendation berth rotation for a week. If your title fails to live up to last week’s major sales burst, after seven days, the matrix will downgrade the number of internal recommendation berths and therefore your sales and your ranking.
This one-week post-high-sales drop-off is palpable. I term it “unlatching.” Your sales and ranking normally take a steep decline after this one-week unlatching, dropping as much as several hundred to several thousand in ranking spots (based on where you were to start).
However, after this drop you will normally hold in the same recommendation rotation for a full thirty days from the event. After that, sadly, if your sales do not live up to that event’s much higher sales record, the matrix will fully unlatch from your title and you will experience a significant drop in sales and rankings, up to thousands if not tens of thousands of lost ranking spots.
At the one-month mark, many times a title will go into free-fall, dropping hundreds of rankings per hour until it settles to a grossly lower ranking.
For most publishers/authors this free-fall and steep drop-off in sales are a mystery. Why was it doing so well yesterday, and now the eBook is in the 60,000 range? The answer? You lost traction in the rankings (those month-old sales are now stale and not used to calculate your ranking) and Amazon “unlatched” your title from the internal recommendation queue, decreasing your internal sales.
Again, though, no need to despair. Knowing how Amazon calculates sales and rankings allows you to plan ahead and create promotional strategies that maximize this effect.
This is what we will be covering in the next article “Price Pulsing to Maximize Long-Term Sales.”
I also strongly urge everyone to review my other articles but especially regarding “Best Practices for Amazon Sales.” In the next article I will be referencing many of the concepts in that piece.
Again, as always I will be subscribing to the comments below so feel free to leave a question or feedback and I will try to get to it within twenty four hours.
Carolyn McCray is a social media and sales consultant to writers and publishing houses alike. And using the principle laid out in this article, her recent non-fiction book, “Dollars & Sense: The Definitive Guide to Self-publishing Success” debuted at #1 on the Amazon Bestselling list for Study & Teaching and reached #2 on the Authorship Bestselling list beating out such rock stars as JA Konrath and Zoe Winters. Carolyn is also the founder of the Indie Book Collective, an organization dedicated to helping writers utilize social media to sell their books.