Thursday, May 13, 2010

It’s not a bestseller if no one bought it

by Michael

It seems that Amazon finally caught on to the fact that the top 10 books on the Kindle Bestseller list were all free books—they’re now creating two lists, one for paid books, and one for free books. As the LA Times Jacket Copy blog notes, at the very least, the “bestseller” label won’t be a misnomer any longer.

This is also as it should be. Comparing the downloads of free books to the download of paid books never made much sense—the whole point of making the book free is to entice people who aren’t willing to pay for the work in the first place. Without payment, it’s not a sale, it’s a gift. Including both paid and free books on the list is comparing apples to oranges, and I’m glad they’re making the distinction—as Apple does in their App and iBook stores. With more than half the books on the Kindle Bestseller list being free, it’s going to be interesting to see which books now appear in the paid list.

With more information about the paid books, I’m curious to see how pricing affects sales. We know that free books are frequently downloaded, but is there a big different between $12.99 and $9.99? Or $9.99 and $4.99? A quick look at the iBookstore bestsellers shows only 7 books under $9.99 in the top 50, and those books are not new and priced to move, but rather backlist titles available in mass market formats. But the titles in the iBookstore are much more limited, so it’s hard to really draw conclusions.

So what do you think? Was it a good idea to divide the lists? Or did lumping free and paid ebooks onto the same list tell us something important?


  1. Definitely a good idea. Being number one on the bestseller list if none of the books have actually sold is meaningless. The book may be great, but it may also just be the test book people download on their new Kindle or Kindle app.

    That's what I did when I downloaded the Kindle application for my netbook. I grabbed a free one just to see how it all worked. I tried to pick one I *thought* I might like, to see if I could read for extended periods on the netbook. Unfortunely, I didn't care for the book and couldn't get past the first few chapters.

  2. These are valuable points. It makes much more sense to separate these entities. It's similar to the concept of public and private school evaluations. People need to be able to judge things they pay for with a certain level of trust and expectation. Something that is free should be evaluated against other things that also don't need to be paid for. "Free" will entice more people by default, which skews the true picture of what you may actually be getting.

  3. Definitely a good idea! Some people (myself included) will grab any free e-book we see because it's free and there's a chance it might be worth reading. Books that are bought require some thought, at least a "huh, this might be interesting" thought for the reader. They're two different sets. It is, as you said, comparing apples to oranges, and throwing the free books onto the list just dilutes it and makes it difficult to tell what's actually selling.

  4. Comparisons aside, keeping the two lists together also kept customers from seeing the hot paid books all together. Since the top ten list is a form of advertising, (jump on the bandwagon with what everyone else is reading) it doesn't make good business sense for Amazon to deny the books that actually make money the space on the list.

  5. I think the lists can stay together. I'm tired of paying high prices for best selling authors who aren't giving me a good read. I'd rather take my chances with a free book rather than a $12 one! Also, I don't just jump and get the best sellers...I'm always looking for something interesting for me - and the best seller might not be something I read:)

  6. I think it is defineately a good idea to separate the lists. If a book is free, I would give it no thought about down loading it and giving it a read. I can always delete it if it stinks. But if I'm going to pay money for something, I want to know that it is going to be worth my while before I buy it. So it has to be good.

  7. Please forgive the snarky-ness, but I can't believe it took them this long to figure it out. Of course free “sells” better.


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