Thursday, February 24, 2011


BEFORE I get to today’s topic, a note about the road we’re starting down. To return to the dinosaurs and daffodils analogy, genre fiction publishing is an ecosystem (a biological community of interacting organisms and their physical environment). In this ecosystem, authors, readers, publishers, distributors, librarians, booksellers, mavens and reviewers and all others involved are ALL players. None of us exist in isolation. We all interact.
I sometimes get the impression that self-published authors think they are not connected in any way with Big6 publishing. I have news for you. The Big6 impact on you, and you impact on them. That’s how an ecosystem works. None of us are entirely and completely cut off or independent from the rest.
So here we are, in the very early stages of our (r)evolution. The key aim we all share is for our ecosystem to thrive. It’s not an easy ecosystem to manage, based as it is on the commercialization of a product that is constantly evolving and changing itself (quite aside from the ecosystem changing). What we need to aim for is a nurturing balance that keeps all the vital systems of the ecosystem functioning at their best.
No one can say, at this point in our revolution, whether or not our brontosauruses will survive. It is perfectly possible that some many evolve - slim down, become more agile and nimble, and turn into really expert gardeners nurturing the daffodils. Others may mutate in some presently impossible to predict way. None of us can know. But given that ours is a commercially-based ecosystem, only the commercially-successful evolutions and mutations will survive.
There’s no benefit to authors in focusing our energies, positive or negative, on the brontosauruses. Their evolution and their future is in their own hands. As a group, authors need to focus on our needs and wants, on what we need to best thrive in the new world. We need to work this out as best we can, then articulate it clearly - so that we know, and everyone else in the ecosystem knows, too.
That’s one thing we can and should do, and that’s what this blog is designed to foster.
MY SHORT TERM AIM is to have a rational conversation about E-book pricing. However, as soon as I started structuring such a conversation, I realized there were a number of other elements in the equation, and without first bringing those elements to the forefront of our minds, any rational conversation on pricing wasn’t going to happen.
So the four posts of which today’s is the first are all leading to a discussion on pricing. Each of the four posts will address some aspect of our business that impacts on, and is impacted on by, pricing. I’ve started with the Bestseller Lists because they are a straightforward issue, and a very visible one. And one that can be and should be addressed quickly.
ALSO, to help set a frame of reference for this blog, I’ll make five quick points:
a) Authors and business are intrinsically not a good match. To create and craft our works, authors must have a passionate soul. Business, OTOH, to be successfully negotiated, requires cold and analytical reasoning - passion plays a part, but it’s not the same creative passion we work with every day. So to succeed, past, present and future, an author needs to learn to wear a pragmatic hat, and to put on that pragmatic hat and deal with the business, and protect and reserve our passion for our works.
b) A guiding principle I’ve used throughout my career: “I am a storyteller. For me, audience is everything. To gain audience, I need distribution. To grow audience I need increasing distribution.”  As a storyteller, reaching my audience is paramount, so distribution of my work is key. Distribution has always been the final deciding factor in all my career decisions.
c) With respect to both the above, ask yourself this: Would we have the market we presently have, the one we’re all so keen to sell into, if we hadn’t had publishers large and small working alongside us over the past centuries to get our works to our audience? To grow and nurture that audience? Give credit where it’s due, and in that respect, tread gently. What for authors is shaping as an exiciting, if sometimes scary, brave new world is for publishers large and small a minefield they may not be able to negotiate. 
d) What the world of publishing is going through now is not a de novo creation, but a transformation of something that’s existed for centuries. Transformation is always more difficult to manage than de novo creation because you have to deal with what already is along the way to transitioning to what works best on the new playing field. That said, in a situation where there’s an existing and long-established product and market in place - as in genre fiction - then jettisoning the old wholesale and trying to start up as if de novo is...unwise doesn’t come close to describing such an act of business folly.
e) Ultimately every author will have to make their own business decision about how they are going to best reach their audience in the new world that’s taking shape. Hopefully via this blog we can explore some of the aspects that may influence that decision. Key among those aspects is the question of where each author’s audience actually is. More on that 2 posts on.
At the time of writing:
USAToday: now includes e-books, including those from self-published authors, in its list, ranked on units sold, all formats included on the one list.
NYTimes: have started a separate E-book fiction list, self-published excluded, ranked on unit sales.
Amazon, B & N, and other online stores: currently have various lists - main, genre-specific, live-time - ranked on unit sales. Inclusion of self-published works appears to vary.
Our first question has to be: why have lists at all? 
It’s a marketing tool. We all know that hitting a list will lead to better sales - better positioning in the store, more exposure (physical or virtual store, it’s the same). Until recently I believed that the better sales came from that better positioning and greater exposure - more potential readers saw the book, right?
But in the online world especially, whether with p-books or e-books, that’s not the whole of the equation. Overwhelmed by choice, readers are increasingly using the readily available lists to choose books, especially from authors they haven’t read before. 
Yes, obviously - but why? Because a reader sees a bestseller list position as meaning: lots of people bought this book - and from that follows: perhaps I should try it. They get the sample, and hopefully you’ve made the sale.
Lots of people bought this book.
The critical elements in that statement are: “lots of people” and “bought.”
This is where I think the currently available lists are shortchanging readers, authors, and everyone else. The current lists, based solely on unit sales, correctly reflect the “lots of people,” but they do not adequately reflect the “bought.”
Let me pose this: On Kindle, Book A sells 1000 copies @ 9.99, while Book B sells 3000 copies @ 0.99.
If readers are using lists as a “hard cash vote of confidence” (as I believe they are), then which of our two books should rank higher? Book A, for which other readers have plunked down $ 9990 in a given time, or Book B, for which readers have offered only $ 2970 over the same period?
On the current lists, Book B ranks significantly higher than Book A.
You might fool consumers once, but we all quickly learn to distrust information sources that steer us wrongly. As I recently read somewhere about marketing in general, trust is what it’s all about. If consumers lose trust in a source, they won’t pay attention to it - they will actively turn their backs on it. If Bestseller Lists do not continue to meet readers' true needs, such lists will soon become worthless - which is not to anyone’s benefit.
Amazon, are you listening? Also B & N, USAT and NYT.
Yes, I know the prices are shown on most lists, but readers are not about to waste their time doing the comparative maths. And anyway, they can’t - the lists are rankings, not absolute # sales, and to do a Best Grossing List you need the actual sales figures.
Apple already address this on their App store - their lists are Top Paid (#), Top Free (#), and Top Grossing (# x $). And yes, the Top Paid and the Top Grossing are significantly different. And Apps are very like e-books in this respect - a downloadable product with a wide range of prices.
When lists were originally set up, most products on any list were of similar price (for instance, the current NYTimes Mass Market Top 20 are all 9.99 or 7.99). Not necessarily identical, but close enough. Except for USAT, which has always been a purely numbers ranking, but everyone using that list for anything meaningful pulls it apart into its price-limited segments - mass market, trade, hardcover, etc. Whenever I have a USAT listing reported to me from within publishing, it’s always as “number 3 in mass market” or similar - which illustrates the point. To be useful, a bestseller list based on unit sales alone has to compare like products (e.g. books) in a similar price range (e.g. print mass market).
The reason the NYT fiction list was split into Harcover and Mass Market Fiction many years ago was because as the NYT adjusted to more accurate reporting of unit sales, the mass market books routinely weighed out the leading hardcovers, leaving said hardcovers struggling to gain a mention. That is an example of a change in how lists are compiled that was driven by price difference. Likewise the NYT Trade list.
My contention is this: with fiction e-books ranging in price from $ 0.99 - $ 20.00 +, we need to revise the relevant bestseller lists to make them more reflective of what readers are actually voting for with their dollars.
NOTE: I have no quibble with continuing to have a list based purely on unit sales (as the lists currently are), but I believe we need another list alongside, a Best Grossing List ranked on unit sales x price.
Put both sort of lists up, and let readers decide which they find most useful in successfully helping them choose books to read.
Amazon already has a Top Paid, and a Top Free. A Top Grossing needs to be added, and that shouldn’t be a big deal.
Why do I think this point is important here and now? Because bestseller lists should rightly remain an important and potentially effective marketing and positioning tool going forward into our (r)evolution, and it will benefit none of us - publishers, distributors, authors or readers - for the concept of bestseller lists to become tarnished and ultimately rejected by readers.
So that’s my current view on the vexing question of the bestseller lists in our new world. 
And there must be something in the ether, because I posted in the comments that this would be today’s topic on Sunday, then Mike Shatzkin made a comment in the comments section of his previous blog, then touched again on the issue at the end of his blog post of Feb 22nd. His comments and mine align. We need the Top Grossing List.
Why do I consider the bestseller lists important with respect to e-book pricing? Because price currently significantly influences the ranking on bestseller e-book lists, and for some/many self-published authors getting on those lists is the primary if not sole motivation driving their low pricing. IMO, this is the wrong reason for low pricing, but more on that anon.
Meanwhile, the unintended consequences of e-book bestseller lists based solely on unit sales are disrupting and destablizing our emerging ecosystem in ways that are not healthy for ANY of the inhabitants, especially not in the long-term. Everyone will ultimately lose, and I don’t think it’s too alarmist to say that if not rectified, this issue could ultimately send our ecosystem into terminal imbalance.
We need those lists brought back into balance. Yesterday.
What say you?
Topic of next blog post: will be posted in comments below on Sunday.
Next blog post: will be posted next Friday
CAVEAT: Nothing posted on this blog, or in its comments, should involve commercially sensitive information. Contracted authors please exercise due diligence in your comments.
All blog posts by the author should be viewed as postulation. I love playing devil’s advocate, but I can guarantee my opinions will alter to reflect changing facts.


  1. Chuckling - waiting for the first wail that I said I'd post Friday and the header above says Thursday. We're global now - where I'm sitting it's nearly 9am Friday. I haven't yet figured out how to convince Blogger I'm not on the US west coast. But it doesn't really matter - I have every confidence we'll all get used to this.

  2. Another amendment: just saw this re the B&N lists:

    - Bestseller BOOK list (trad. Print book)
    - Bestseller NOOK list (trad. ebook)
    - Bestseller PubIt list (self-pub ebook)

    Apparently the PubIt list is really hard to find. Personally, I'd prefer to see all books treated equally, regardless of who published them. As a reader, I don't care who the publisher is - I care about the story. That's why I prefer the Top Paid (#), Top Free (#) and Top Grossing (# x $) - all on the one page, and all lists including ALL fiction regardless of publisher.

  3. Fascinating suggestion, Stephanie. I don't have an Apple device so I haven't seen their Top Grossing list. I think you're right that rewards for unit sales are driving lower unit prices. Because getting on a list--and gaining the exposure--is certainly a good incentive.

    $0.99 pricing has absolutely worked in some cases. In others, it hasn't. Perhaps it depends on the book, or the timing or marketing, or the phase of the moon or whether the author is sacrificing to the god of book sales when s/he clicks the button to change the price.

    At any rate, I think a Top Grossing list would make things pretty darned interesting. Some of those $0.99 books will still be on there. Having lots of sales drives the Amazon algorithms to show those books to more and more people in the "Customers who bought this item also bought..." section, which drives even more exposure and sales.

    But I believe a Top Grossing list at Amazon and B&N would change some long-range calculations for indie authors. And I say that as one of 'em.

  4. Stephanie, I think it's a great idea. Anyone writing for the purpose of publication is doing this for one reason, to make money. It's that simply. If they didn't, they could write stories and share it with family and friends. Once they go about the process of trying to get it published, they also want to be paid for their work.

    This means HOW MUCH is just as OR EVEN MORE relevant than how many. Yes, authors want to reach as many readers as possible but that's largely because that's the only way you can earn and decent money with royalties rates ranging from 6-25%. The more readers, the more money you can make doing what you love.

    So I think how MUCH a reader is willing to pay for an author's work is extremely relevant and deserves it's own list.

    I see many authors using the .99 approach to getting readers to give them a try, and the hope is that they will pay more for future books. It's the whole idea of the loss leader and history shows us it works. But I believe that just as NYT has made accommodations for hardcover, trade etc, so too do sites like Amazon, B&N and the like.

    I remember when Amazon was grouping the free books with the paid books, so the list could foreseeably be pretty much dominated by free books. Who can compete with FREE?! I thought this was grossly unfair and thank goodness they rectified that. But they still need to go one step further and create a list by Top Grossing.

    I just went and looked at Amazon top #100 historical romance list and counted 27 books priced at 2.99 and below. That's nearly 1/3 of the list. Some of those books would perhaps end up on a Top Grossing list and some would not. But I think it's important that readers see the whole picture of not only how many books are being sold, but how many books readers are willing to buy at that higher cost.



  5. Argh! I just typed up a really long response, but Blogger ate it.

    Anyway, I'll try again, but it likely won't be as detailed or eloquent.

    Thank you Stephanie, for asking these questions and providing this forum for discussion. I think it's important.

    I think your suggestion of a Top Grossing List is intriguing and would only serve to provide additional information in the quest for transparency. Some indies will likely still make this list, others won't.

    That being said, a Top Grossing List won't necessarily reflect the reality for the author, but rather for the publishing house.

    True, many indies price at 99 cents or $2.99 so that they can hopefully get lots of impulse buys. They're unknowns and they're hoping that the attractive pricing (99 cents is less than a pack of gum; $2.99 is less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks) will gain them sales that they wouldn't otherwise get, because it will entice readers to take a chance on an unknown, and then improve their Amazon algorithm or even land on a list, which will drive even more sales and exposure.

    It's loss leader logic, and it has worked effectively in many business for years.

    But others look at the low start-up costs involved as a reason why they shouldn't price high. They pride themselves on the fact that they can put out a (hopefully) quality product for an attractive price, and still make good money.

    Take the case of an indie romantic suspense author who is currently squarely in the #40s on the Kindle Store bestseller list with a 99 cent e-book. (Not for RomSusp, but the full sitewide store overall.) I heard her talk a couple of weeks ago, and she makes some interesting points.

    By doing it herself, she can contract out the cover art, editing, and formatting for a flat fee. Then once she's sold enough to meet those expenses (I believe she said it ran her about $300 all in), it's pure profit that she doesn't share with anyone else.

    Her romantic suspense novel is category length, because she originally had aimed it at one of Harlequin's lines. So the comparable paperback would be $4.99 in this case. Harlequin's royalty rate is 6%, so a hypothetical author makes 30 cents per book under this model. (Let's just forget about advances for a moment here for ease of discussion. And no, I am certainly not arguing against advances--I like money! Duh, I'm a lawyer. LOL)

    If this Harlequin author had gone through her agent to get this deal (and as we all know, this isn't necessary with Harlequin), she'd be sharing 15% of that 30 cents per book with her agent, which brings her cut down to just over 25 cents per book.

    Now compare this to the romantic suspense author I heard speak a couple of weeks ago. Her ebook is 99 cents, and since she published it directly on Kindle, she makes 35 cents per copy sold through Amazon. (Or 85 cents per copy sold through Smashwords, but Smashwords doesn't get anywhere near the traffic.)

    Even though she's pricing the book very low (actually as low as Amazon lets you price it!), she's still earning more per copy (although not by much) than she would have earned had she gone the traditional route. And because she's pricing it low, she has the possibility of attracting readers she otherwise never would have found.

    She fully admits that her price was how she reached the list in just a few short weeks since release as a total unknown, and it's obviously working for her.

  6. (Continuation)

    So that's the bottom line for the author. Now let's look at the grossing question.

    For ease of argument (and I'm literally just pulling numbers out of the air and I know they're potentially ridiculous), let's say this author sells 10,000 copies this month at 99 cents. That would gross $9,900, of which her share is $3465. (The rest goes to Amazon.)

    Let's also say that the hypothetical comparable Harlequin romantic suspense paperback (her competition) also sold 10,000 copies this month. At $4.99/copy, this book grosses $49,900, way eclipsing the indie. But we'd actually figured out that the author's share of royalties (after paying her agent) on that would have been $2500, or $1000 less than the indie.

    Now what if instead of both selling 10,000 copies, her competition (at $4.99) sells 5,000 copies. The gross for this book would be $24950, but the author's share just $1250. So by the Top Grossing List logic, the print book is still by far the bigger seller (even with less copies sold), but the author -- the one who actually wrote the book that people are buying -- is making much less.

    Now I know this is not a great comparison, since it ignores the reality of e-books vs. print (which aren't exact substitutes, of course), advances vs. pure royalties, the royalty rates on e-books from traditional publishing houses (although Harl's e-book rates aren't anywhere near as generous as the Big6, which of course isn't anywhere near the rates seen in small press or indie). Not to mention distribution, marketing, exposure, and editing. (None of which should be taking lightly. It's all very, very important.) So yeah, I know it's not a perfect comparison.

    But the point is to show that Top Grossing doesn't necessarily equal Top Earning for the authors. Except for the Very Big Names, of course.

    But a Top Grossing List would still be an important part of the discussion, and one I hope Amazon will add. I agree that's important that readers see the whole picture of not only how many books are being sold, but also which books readers are willing to buy at a higher price point. I'm not sure it would really change my buying habits because in the end, I buy what I want to read. But it would be interesting and if this information can help readers, authors, and publishers alike make more informated decisions, then I'm all for it. :)

    Yes it's cliche, but information is power.

    And please don't think I'm beating the drum for indie publishing. I do happen to plan to release an indie book that was deemed too niche for traditional publishing, but I'm also continuing to pursue NY for other books. :)

    I love NY! I may end up also loving indie, but I think diversification is key in any investment.

    Thanks again, Stephanie. I look forward to all the responses. And hope Blogger doesn't eat my post this time. LOL

  7. One other comment from me:

    I'm not suggesting that I think the type of sales I discussed are typical. Quite to the contrary.

  8. Just to add to Amanda's handy comment:

    That hypothetical category-length book would still be making money month after month--long after the Harlequin was off the shelves.

    Anyway, Amanda, good point about "top earning for the author" as opposed to "top grossing." (Not that there will ever be a "top earning for the author" list, of course, for many reasons!)

  9. Amanda,

    Top Grossing, to me, is simply how much a reader dishes out for the book, not what the author earns. When I purchase something, especially something for pleasure, I'll only shell out money if I believe that value I'm buying it is AT LEAST what I think it's worth.
    Because at the end of the day, the worth of material 'things' is what the market will bear.

  10. Bev, of course that's what it reflects. But as long as we're discussing impact on publishing, yadda yadda yadda, as well as reasons why an author might choose to a) go indie, and b) price the way she does, we might as well look at all the factors.

  11. I wholeheartedly agree with the "top-grossing" list and for all the reasons you've given. Personally, I hate the idea that so many readers buy based on bestseller lists, because I know how hinky those lists can be. (There is something very wrong when someone can appear high up on the New York Times list who doesn't appear at all on the USA Today list and vice-versa. That sort of thing happens all the time). I mean, it works to my advantage as a bestselling author for readers to pay attention to them, but I always like my systems to be accurate, and the bestseller lists are not as accurate as I'd like.

    The Amazon bestseller lists drive me nuts. The straight one (where all the books are put against each other) is fine, but the genre ones solely depend upon whether Amazon has classified your book correctly. A friend of mine's book last year wasn't classified as Historical romance even though it was, so she never appeared on those lists. My latest book was classified as Contemporary Fiction, so it didn't appear on the historical romance bestseller lists either. My publisher has been trying to get the classification fixed, but apparently Amazon isn't good about those things.

    My point is that accuracy is crucial, and right now the only accurate lists (assuming your book doesn't get misclassified) are the point of sale ones. So a "top-grossing" list that shows what readers are willing to pay the most for would be great. I mean, I sell twice the NUMBER of books that plenty of hardcover authors do, but publishers still focus on them. Why? Because they're grossing numbers are still higher. They bring in more bucks to the publisher. And that seems fair to me. I KNOW I wouldn't be selling the same number of copies I do now if I were hardcover.

    As authors, we have to be concerned about "top earning for the author," but I don't think that should be our only consideration. Stephanie's point is that bestseller lists being a reflection of pricing only (as opposed to being about what people want most--two different things) erodes their usefulness to the point that people will abandon them, and that helps none of us. We need those indicators to make our books stand out from the pack, and as romance authors, we need them more than most, because WE dominate the bestseller lists now, at least in paperback.

    And I might point out that ALL books are still making money month after month, category or otherwise, because now they're all eternally available in e-book form.

  12. What I don't like about your suggestion is the implication that books selling for less are not as good as books selling for more. Why the jab about a list becoming useless to readers if it includes inexpensive books?

    Look at it this way: The NY publishers push out plenty of trash, some of which makes it onto the bestsellers list. Why should they be rewarded with some kind of special status that exempts them from being ranked with self-published books?

  13. Sabrina said:
    "And I might point out that ALL books are still making money month after month, category or otherwise, because now they're all eternally available in e-book form."

    This is very true, and a point I meant to make but didn't. ;) And as more and more romance readers pick up e-readers (feels like our genre's readers are ahead of the curve on that already), the difference between a Harlequin's print sales during release month and its ebook sales will be less and less.

    Mark, I don't believe Stephanie was insulting less expensive books. After all, this very argument is one that indies have amongst ourselves all the time--what's the best price with which to make the most money? .99 @35% royalties and 2.99+ @70% both have pros and cons.

    Some indies value unit sales more and choose a low price to try to reach more readers. Others value overall income, whether that comes through many readers at .99 or fewer readers but higher per-sale income.

    I've experimented with prices and plan to do more experimenting as I publish additional books. That's one of the fun parts of indie.

  14. Ok Cate, but she implied that the bestseller lists would have less value if the inexpensive books weren't somehow weighted less because of their price.

    If anything, make two lists: One for ebooks $5.99 and above and one for cheaper ebooks. That would be much more helpful to readers looking for bargains and be helpful for readers who aren't interested in self-published books -- for the most part, I'd say 95% of self-published books are $4.99 and under.

    There's another point too about using price. Quality doesn't always factor into why a more expensive ebook sells. Often, it's marketing dollars behind it. It's placement. It's visibility. It's reviews for the book in the mainstream press that help push sales -- not always quality. So an ebook at $9.99 that sells 1000 copies with a Big6 marketing push behind it in some ways probably should be ranked lower than the indie book at $0.99 that sells 3000 copies and no marketing push behind it.

    If anything, a self-published book with a marketing budget of zero dollars outselling a traditionally published book is rather amazing.

  15. I really have a hard time trying to understand why anyone, indie published, epublished or NY publisher would be against the inclusion of a Top Grossing List.

    I think a list like that would pretty much cover all the bases so that NO ONE is -- or feels excluded or overlooked simply because either they are priced low or they are under agency pricing. Let the reader decide which list they'd like to look at--and I'm sure most readers would look at both.

    I don't see this as a particular type of publication against the other, this is all about authors wanted to have a CHANCE to be noticed by readers using those lists to decide on which books to buy.

  16. Mark, you're making one very big assumption here, and that's that the Big6 promote every book they publish. Not only do they not do that, but sometimes they handicap a book with bad covers or back copy, things that are beyond an author's control (which they aren't for self-published books). Plenty of books selling at $5.99 get no promotion at all (especially if the author doesn't promote them). That's why so many authors of all stripes are looking so seriously at self-publishing. Because if the advantage to the Big6 is in their promotion, and they're not promoting or distributing to the extent that an author needs, authors are questioning why they need the Big6 at all.

    Personally, I don't think "quality" should enter into this issue. It's highly subjective. I think there's plenty of dreck published by the Big6, but my assessment of what makes something "dreck" is going to vastly differ from someone else's. Besides, what makes a book sell isn't necessarily its quality but its appeal to the masses. And the masses choose to buy according to two things: cost and what floats their boat (for some it's one or the other). What floats their boat may or may not have anything to do with "quality" (if there's even an objective standard for that).

    So it's not helpful to say that this or that bestseller only got there because of a push from the publisher. First of all, rarely does a debut book get publisher push--if a book has gotten to the point where it has huge publisher push it's usually because the author wrote many previous books, WITHOUT publisher support, that appealed to the masses, "quality" or not. That author worked her way up the ranks. Rarely does an author become a bestseller overnight. She might STAY there because of publisher push, but she sure didn't get there that way. Trust me, I know. My first book to hit the New York Times EXTENDED list was my 19th novel. My first book to hit the print list was my 25th.

    Secondly, I think it's naive to think the reverse--that price is no factor at all and that every self-published book that is successful is a book that appeals to the masses. Some people are always going to buy by price. Those are the people who say that a historical romance is a historical romance is a historical romance. They don't buy by author, they don't buy by bestseller list--they buy by whatever they can get that's cheapest.

    So you have two groups--the group buying by price and the group buying by what floats their boat. All that Stephanie is suggesting is not to confuse the people buying by what floats their boat, who DO rely on bestseller lists, by giving them lists that mix both criteria.

  17. Beverley, exactly. I don't see why such a list is a problem. I'm sure there would be some self-published books on it, and that could only help the (r)evolution. *G*

  18. I hope I didn't give the impression I think such a list is a problem. I think the more info, the better. :) And if some readers would find such a list useful, then so be it.

    I also love seeing these big names asking the hard questions and getting involved in the conversation. :)

  19. So would the top grossing list also include hardbacks? And if not, why not? After all, if people are willing to shell out a lot of money for a book, isn't that what the top grossing list is all about?

    I guess I really don't understand what value an ebook list of bestsellers has if price is factored in? Since any list also includes the price, I think readers are savvy enough to understand that a $1 ebook might sell better because of its price.

    So, no one thinks the idea of two lists of ebooks, segregating by price, has merit? I certainly think a lot of readers would be happy to be directed to a list of the top fifty ebooks selling under $5.

  20. @ Amanda - I think the list you suggest is the sort of list authors need, not readers. In the post I'm talking purely about Bestseller Lists as tools for the reading public. I think the list you're talking about - the Author's Take, so to speak (!) - is an interesting concept, especially for indie authors making decisions, but not relevant to readers with respect to picking a book.

    @ Mark - no, I'm not suggesting lower price books should be discriminated against - quite the opposite. What I'm suggesting is that the field should be leveled, with at least *one* list reflecting what readers actually voted for with their $. Discriminating against self-pubbed, mostly lower- but also the higher-priced indie titles, is what B&N appear to have done with their separate list, and the NYT by ignoring self-published works altogether. I do not agree with either stance. I'm all for inclusion, not exclusion. And I'm also for balance, and the lists no longer give a balanced view of what readers actually *bought*. Oh, and yes, I would include hardcovers on the list, too - most are selling for 9.99, but the Follet was 19.99, and if he can sell a ton at that level, he deserves a place at the top of the list.

    >> next comment

  21. @ Amanda - back again. The more I think on it, the more I think your idea is a really good one. Suggest it on Kindle boards - it should be doable easily enough. Wouldn't need to be publicly available, just on the KB.

  22. One of the issues I see arising further down the track (and remember, according to the latest Rasmussen Report only 8% of the reading public presently read e-books exclusively while 81% still read print exclusively- and yes, those figures do make sense), by which I mean when more readers come on board with e-books, is that if the e-book BS lists remain as they are (with only a list on # sold) and more and more indie authors have flocked to the 0.99 range to get the exposure, then when readers get the Kindle front page with the BS listing...they won't see any books from the established authors they are looking for, and will (as I admit I already do) go straight to the search function and start plugging in my fave authors to check whether they've got something coming up I can preorder, or something I've missed that I can buy. I already go straight past the BS list - because I've already learned (in the past 10 months) that the list is useless to me. I actually do a "oh! look!" when I see an author I want appear on that front page - SEP's latest appeared a few weeks back and I grabbed it, and the KMM also there reminded me to go get her backlist while I was about it.

    Many of the readers yet to switch to e-books have very ingrained reading habits, and if indie authors want a shot at catching those readers' eyes, you want those readers using the lists, respecting the list as a potential recommendation, and reading it, not flicking right past it.

  23. This may be more about pricing -- and I can see why the bestseller lists need to be addressed first -- but I'm trying to picture what will happen in, say, ten years, when things have settled down a bit, and the current debut authors will be releasing their tenth books. Will they still be releasing them at 99 cents? Or will they be releasing them at whatever the "industry standard" price becomes for an ebook? Will we persistently have all the debut authors in a given month or year listing their books at 99 cents, and everyone else at the higher industry standard? In which case, the whole 99-cent category might become merged with the "free" category on a bestseller list, in terms of its relevance to readers as any sort of indication of other-reader confidence. The 99-cent label could become synonymous with "debut author," which can potentially be off-putting to a reader, so even if the 99-cent book ends up on a bestselling list, the potential reader would disregard it, thereby undermining the whole point of landing on the list in the first place.

    Which is a separate issue from what will undoubtedly be discussed later, about whether all books will end up at 99 cents. For now, I'm just wondering if we're going through a brief blip of products being sent out into the world as loss-leaders, and a brief period of initial curiosity, enough to get readers to download them for such a nominal price. Will the readers continue to do that as the novelty of almost-free books wears off? Or will they, as has been suggested, look to other sources for recommendations?

    In other words, is the gross-selling list a solution that will turn out to be redundant as prices stabilize? I don't know, just wondering.

  24. Very good question, Gin. There are 2 issues going forward that will affect the BS list in terms of the 0.99 - one, will the authors who started out @ 0.99 ever be able to lift their prices to the industry standard of $6+ for a novel, or will they get stuck at the lower points? I don't know the answer - just posing the question. Second issue is that I don't think the 0.99 to 2.99 price points will go away, because I think a lot of established authors are eyeing them and thinking to use them in a different way, namely for shorts, novellas and the like. So I expect the 0.99 price point to soon be inhabited by name authors as much as by debut authors. And IMO that's just another good reason for all authors and readers to be agitating for a Top Grossing List.


    This is the 2nd of 4 posts leading up to our conversation about e-book pricing. How does territory influence price? Because territory defines your potential audience or market, and you need to know your market - its size, where it is, and what’s going to be involved in reaching it - in order to position and price your product.

  26. Hi, Stephanie, all. This is a great platform for discussion, and I'm glad to see it.

    I see one problem wrong with your theory, Stephanie, and I want to ask you about it. If I am reading correctly, and it is very late so I may not be, you are saying there might be a difference in who is buying the indie books versus who is buying the traditional books, and this difference is based largely on price. Therefore, by creating a list of highest grossing sales, one could track where the money is really going. My question is this - what if the same buyers who would normally spend $9.99 are now spending that same price - but on multiple books? Unless Amazon did a survey of buying habits, showing customers who bought prior to the inception of digital publishing, and those same customers' habits after the Indie 'revolution' started, the data would be useless. Especially in these tough economic times, readers are choosing to buy lower-priced books out of the gate, simply because they can get up to ten books for the same price they would get for one. It doesn't necessarily reflect on the writers, and faithful readers will still continue to read their favorite authors, but it is going to be a harder choice for some readers now than for others. There are people out there who will purchase books as soon as they come out no matter the cost, but as the economy around the world continues to tank, I have to wonder how much longer the higher-priced business model will be supported by consumers.

    Perhaps the more important question to ask is whether the Indie movement is going to have a sea change on the way readers value books, and whether traditional publishers will come to realize that or not. There have already been calls to boycott any Kindle book over $9.99, and I'm sure sales have reflected that.

    My personal opinion is that the market will correct itself. Readers are demanding better quality writing, and they're voting with their dollars. The romance/romantic suspense genre in particular is a harsh one to win readers in, at least as an Indie. The hot genres right now have an advantage over us, and that is they have a fan base that is familiar and comfortable with the concept of fan fiction. As time goes on, I feel more readers will demand quality as well as low price, and I think an organization will crop up eventually that Indies can go to and obtain a seal of approval through. The book would have to be edited, proofed ten ways from Sunday, have a professional cover, etc., in order to obtain the seal, and the organization would have to be as objective as possible. I would support it, and I think a lot of other Indies who are serious about their writing would, as well. Until that happens, however, price is going to be a big deciding factor.

    I think there should be a better way of tracking things, but I'm not sure a lower price/higher price list would do it without that user data.

  27. I believe there is a new paradigm emerging. For years, New York has decided what books will be in the hands of readers and what books will not. With the advent of self publishing, the decision is now in the hands of the readers. The cheap prices of some ebooks bring more readers into the mix allowing them to sample different authors and genres without investing much more than their time. I have only owned an e-reader since October, but I know I have already read several of the free and cheap books because I was willing to take a chance on a new-to-me author that I might not have tried otherwise. I have never downloaded a book for more than $5 (other than my own so my father could read them with larger font) because I resent the fact the houses price them so high when their cost is practically nil. No paper, no shipping—why the high price tag? If the authors got more of the sale, I would feel better about it, but I know that’s not the case. If I buy a print book, I can at least pass it on to my mother or a friend, but an e-book is a one-time read for me.
    As far as best sellers list being important to sales—which is kind of funny if you think about it—those lists are only important to a few chosen authors who are lucky enough to be on them. For the rest of the thousands of authors out there, the lists mean very little. If a cheap download pops someone to the top with a mediocre book, why does that matter? Every time we buy a book by an author we don’t know, we take the risk of buying a book we’re not going to like. At least these gambles are only 99 cents.
    I think inventing more lists (top grossing, top e-book, whatever) only gives more authors the chance to put “best selling author” on their cover. I have no problem with that, but I think the average reader would have no clue what the differences are between them.

  28. I hadn't thought about the 99-cent short stories.

    Do the lists account for story length at all? I guess I always thought that the fiction lists had "novel-length" (single novel or anthology with similar cumulative length) as a prerequisite.

    So, do we need separate lists for short stories, novellas and novels? Do we need to define "book" since now, what might once have been considered more of a phamphlet of a dozen pages or even a flyer of half a dozen pages can be a "book."

  29. @ Gin - your suggestion of lists based on work-type (length) is an intriguing one, and one which I think will be useful, and quite possibly come into being, further along in the transformation of the market, once the bulk of readers shift. Because I think you're right in that length of work is one of the criteria readers use to distinguish the books they want to buy/read. I do think we will see lots, lots more established authors publishing shorter works as well as their novels - they couldn't before because of the limitations of the print market, so lists such as you suggest will very possibly come to be.

    Overall, I still can't see any other suggestion that will deliver a list that says: these books are the ones readers are voting for with their $ - other than the Top Grossing list. Top Grossing is the way we rate movies, as well as Apps. And no other list takes into account the wide spectrum of prices that e-books are now sold at *without* making any other judgment (length, self-pub or trad-pub, whatever).

    But reading the options and thoughts has been instructive, to me at least.

  30. @ T.L Haddix - I'm not specifically suggesting that there is a difference b/w the buyers, although there might well be (and yes, Amazon would know this and wouldn't we love to see the data, but they are notorious about not sharing, not even with publishers). I do know (yes, know) that most traditionally pubbed authors are selling very well at $6 - $10, so the notion that readers are giving up the higher price points and flocking wholesale to the lower simply doesn't wash. So maybe there is a divergent market - those who happily buy their name-brand authors @ $6 - 10, and those looking for cheap reads at 0.99 - 3.00. And perhaps some readers do both? I have no idea, but I do know that that at present, the BS list ranked solely on # is in danger of losing its relevance to those readers who definitely are still buying the $6-10 books.

  31. Lisa Cooke said: "the decision is now in the hands of the readers."

    I couldn't agree more.

    Lisa also said: "but I think the average reader would have no clue what the differences are between them." (them being the various BS lists)

    On that I'll have to disagree - I never doubt my readers' intelligence. They are scary smart about books, especially the ones they pay $ for.

  32. I want to see a combined list of what books sell best (SELL) in units across all platforms. Don't know how this would be accomplished. Lists are like box office - what is appealing to the reader, no matter what format s/he chooses. Top grossing books (studio net) is just of interest of those of us who actually get money!

  33. Blythe - the list you want is the USA-Today - sales across all platforms aggregated. Perfectly valid and useful in one way (total units sold), and one reason I wouldn't want such Top Selling by # lists to go away. Only problem with that from a reader's perspective, a problem that is only emerging now, is that the products on the list now vary in price by over an order of magnitude, which hasn't been the case before.

    Any long-term viable bestseller list used by consumers compares similar products sold at similar prices. We no longer have such a list for books.

    Re your other comment, Top Grossing is not the equivalent of studio net (author/publisher net in this case), but is instead what the consumers paid - a significantly different thing.

  34. Stephanie: Thanks for the clarification. I did not realize the USA Today list included e-books in their totals. And so right on the gross. I realized I was wrong after I hit post!