This was originally published over at Mad Genius Club, but repostibng here for a couple of you (you know who you are), and so it's easily-findable.
Sarah just informed me that the Giant Obvious Change to Amazon’s algorithms wasn’t so obvious – not to authors who are busy writing and moving. So, let’s talk about organizing book promotions in the current market.
About the time Amazon shook up the writing world by releasing a competitor to Scribd and Oyster (namely Kindle Unlimited, or KU), it also implemented a major revision to its sales ranking algorithm. The obvious impact was that KU borrows have the same impact on sales rank as an immediate sale, but no payment is made until 10% of the text is read. This had the effect of decoupling the strict cause and effect relationship between a book’s actual sales and its sales rank.
However, Amazon also implemented a more subtle but much more massive change to the algorithm. The name of the game for promotional visibility is no longer velocity (i.e. the number of sales over a shorter time period like an hour or a day), but trajectory (i.e. the number of sustained sales over a longer period, like a week or a month). The old way to get visibility on Amazon was to promote something by stacking all of your release announcements, advertisements, tweets, and parties on the same day. Now, Amazon keeps track of your trajectory – and the more sudden and sharp your sales spike, the more sudden, sharp, and swift the subsequent decline in rankings. The new way to get visibility is to grow your sales over a period of several days by promoting them across many places and outlets, spreading out the impact of high traffic and large sales.
The objective remains the same: getting your book into the top-100-for-genre, hot new releases, movers and shakers, or top rated lists. The first two are the most important lists for a new release. They’re where people tend to look for new things to read in a given genre. Getting on those lists also gets your story onto the ‘also-bought’ pages of other high-ranked stories in that genre, which will be the major driver of long-term sales.
Why did this change? In a word, Bookbub. Bookbub became so successful at helping the authors who bought a place on its promotional mailing list, boosting their rank higher in the Kindle Store, that it was essentially becoming a new gatekeeper, charging for access to the top-100-in-genre lists. Amazon is customer-centric. It built those lists to be populated by the customers, for the customers. Having a company essentially start taking them over, with entries that were curated by a handful of editors who charged several hundred dollars apiece, was contrary to the very spirit in which the list was built.
This isn’t a new thing: in fact, the same manipulation of lists and ranks was why Amazon changed its associate program to require that no more than X% a month be free downloads, and why it no longer carries your free store rankings over to the paid store when you start charging for a story. (Pixel of Ink was the reigning king in the market during the heyday of free price pulsing as the major promotional tool. However, PoI’s assistance in boosting a free book’s rank no longer carries over to its paid ranking, so it’s affected in the same way as BookBub by Amazon’s new approach.)
So, how has the promotional market responded? It’s learned that a large percentage of promo list subscribers aren’t there for the deal as much as they are looking for an email a day that gives them something they haven’t seen before, guaranteed to be a minimum level of readable. Promo lists have flourished, with lots of small competitors trying to find a better niche and become the next Bookbub. (Personally, I’m rather partial to The Fussy Librarian and Ebooksoda – they have a higher proportion of books that look interesting enough for me to click through and buy them.)
Authors are using stacked promotions across lots of smaller promotional companies, staggering the heavy-hitters on sales to give a better growth curve. When they can’t get into Bookbub (50% of the slots are sold to the Big 5 traditional publishers, so it’s a pretty fierce competition), we stack and stagger the second-tier promo sites like E-Reader News Today (ENT), One Hundred Free Books (OHFB), The Midlist and Free Kindle Books and Tips (FKBT).
A typical savvy non-release promotion, these days, looks like this.
Free Book Feed
Indie Book Bargains
The Fussy Librarian
Bknights on Fiverr
Just Kindle Books
Mailing List Announcement (that is, sending out a mailing list announcement of the sale.)
In fact, the new bleeding edge of promotions is to keep a spreadsheet of which sites release in which timezone, and arrange the smaller players so they stagger promotions throughout the day. I know people are doing this to great effect, but I can’t guide you there yet, because I’ve been too darned tired with my day job lately to sit down and start playing with the nuts and bolts of that. For more info and links to sites, look at http://www.readersintheknow.com/list-of-book-promotion-sites
For release promotions, authors are staggering the release announcement – first to their mailing list and then to social media (or vice versa). Where they used to try to get all their friends to shout about its release on the same day, and chew fingernails when announcements often came in a day late or as other people had time; now that’s a feature, not a bug.
How long will it stay this way? Until someone else figures out a way to game Amazon, and Amazon responds. But for right now, that’s the word from the marketing trenches.