SPP 042 – Exploring Amazon’s Algorithms (and More) Update with Ed Robertson

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Today we had our first-ever returning guest – Ed Roberston. In case you missed Ed the first time he was on our show, he’s one of those guys who studies shit rather than taking it for granted and hence has (along with help from a kind of think-tank, but a different kind of think-tank than Sean’s) figured out a lot of details about how Amazon ranks books, what exactly drives a book up the popularity charts, how pricing affects a book’s ability to rise in the rankings, how free book “sales” tally up next to actual purchases in determining ranking, etc.

There’s a ton to this episode, so I’m not going to list it all here. It’s just too damn involved and I’m too damn lazy. But here are a few of the highlights:

* There are two basic ways to use Amazon free promotions: 1) promoting one book and hoping for that same book to “bump up” in the rankings when the promo is done and hence sell a bunch of copies and 2) promoting one book in the hopes of driving sales of related books — ideally others in the same series. Ed says that the first doesn’t work well anymore but that the second still does.

* Related to the above, Ed says that many authors — including himself — are leaving KDP Select in frustration and adding their books to other stores. From where I (Johnny) stand, this seems nuts, but I am not in the same place as these other guys, and it makes sense for them. It DOES also make me nervous to have all of my eggs in one basket over at Amazon, lending some credence to the other argument.

* Ed gives his thoughts on the various odd observations I made when talking about two very different free promotions I did for The Bialy Pimps and Fat Vampire, as described in our last episode.

Like I said, there’s a crap-ton more here. Enjoy!

To view the video version of this episode, go to: Self Publishing Podcast #42 – Exploring Amazon’s Algorithms with Ed Robertson

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14 Comments

  1. Have you seen what Netflix is doing with House of Cards? They released all 13 episodes at once, leaving it up to the viewer to decide when and how fast to watch. I think you guys are on to something.

    Reply
    • LOVE House of Cards! Great series, and I’m hoping to see more shows like this.

      Reply
  2. This is a little off topic, but I heard that Amazon gained the legal rights to start a second hand ebook store. Is that true and what affect with that have on authors??

    Also, I listened to two podcasts today, so I don’t know if this is in regards to this one or last weeks’ episode. But you guys were talking a jump in borrows and were trying to figure out where that came from. If it happened in December/January it’s probably from all the people who got Kindles for Christmas and therefore also got a month of free Prime membership. I borrowed two books after getting my new Kindle that I wouldn’t have otherwise borrowed because I had the Prime.

    Reply
    • What got me more were the ratios, not just that there were borrows. So for Fat Vampire, which was on a free promo, there were way more borrows after the promo ended than purchases, whereas there were more purchases than borrows of all other titles in the series.

      Reply
      • Here’s how I think when it comes to books that have been free and are first in a series: lots of authors do the perma-free thing, so why buy when it might be free again? If I really want to read it and don’t want to wait, I decide to just borrow and if I like it enough, I’ll buy anyway, and if I don’t, I’ll wait until/if it goes free to get a copy to keep. :) Doesn’t make a lot of rational sense, but I find myself thinking that way all the time. This free thing needs to end soon. I say that as someone who really enjoys all the freebies, who doesn’t read 1% of what I download, but who finds herself changing habits and expectations when I already know better. I am afraid it really is/has impacted buying behaviors and it could be a long road to come back from if places like Amazon don’t get it under control soon.

        Reply
  3. Fab podcast, as per. That Robertson bloke really knows his stuff. I checked out his blog too, very useful info there.

    Re the 2nd hand ebook thing, when I first heard about it I thought we were all doomed, then I guessed it might be a hoax. After looking at a few sites I get the feeling the mighty Zon are just protecting their model – owning the patent to stop anyone else starving authors of their income (OK – I realise that wouldn’t be Amazon’s prime concern).
    *and breathe*

    Reply
    • Like many tech companies, ‘zon files patents defensively, not offensively, and the patents often have nothing to do with what the company is actually planning to build. [I am against all forms of violently-enforced rules and regulations, including government-granted, jail-enforced monopolies in content distribution (e.g. "intellectual property", a misnomer if ever there was one), so for me it's all kind of a moot issue... patents and copyright enforced at the end of a gun (instead of contractually) need to go. I think Amazon would *much* prefer to spend their money building innovations for the customer than filing patents. They don't have a patent on "e-commerce", but they still dominate, not by some forced monopoly but being *better* at it than their competitors.]

      And yes, they would care a lot about authors not getting income, since they can’t sell something that authors don’t create and authors not making money would mean no authors.

      When an ebook is borrowed via KLL, do the authors get the same – or any – royalty as when it is sold?

      Reply
      • Yeah, we do get money from borrows… just shy of $2 or so right now. So it’s all good as far as I’m concerned.

        Reply
        • That’s good to hear, IIRC I’m 1, 1 & 1 (buy, borrow & free) for both Fat Vampire & Unicorn Western.

          Reply
  4. I hang on Kindleboards and didn’t realize that this Ed Robertson was THAT Ed Robertson. Smallish world, or some such shit.

    He recommends going into KDP Select for new authors. I have 3 short stories pubbed everywhere with a 4th hopefully pubbing this week, and then I am going to collect them. I’ve sold a few at Amazon and one at B&N, but nothing anywhere else. I’m thinking about going into Select and making one of the stories free, blah blah blah. I have novels planned after this latest short is done.

    What you guys suggest? Select? Or perm-free one of the stories?

    Reply
    • Mix it up and experiment. Perma-free, exclusive, and all over — see what works best for you. Personally, our sales were crap at the other places, but we’re going to give it another go.

      Reply
  5. We need a new episode or another something will be released.

    I hear it likes spleens

    Reply
  6. I think we learned again that it’s about creating a remarkable product that people enjoy and luv talking about it. Johnny is right – this feels like Google in the early days when you only worry about SEO and gaming the system to get a high ranking. The constant changes of the algorithm just show you should worry about crafting kick-ass books, not waste time on tricking the system.

    Reply

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