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Publishing: More Thoughts On Amazon’s Imprints In The Bestseller Charts

Publishing: More Thoughts on Amazon’s Imprints in the Bestseller Charts

Photo of Jane Steen at her computer

Historical novelist and indie author campaigner Jane Steen

Inspired by our Watchdog John Doppler's post a week ago examining relative sales on Amazon by the Big 5 publishers, Amazon imprints, multi-author imprints and single authors, ALLi author Jane Steen has been applying his methods to a case study of her own novels in their categories, and has kindly agreed to share her data with us here on the blog.

I spent a few hours looking at the top 10 sellers (paid and free if applicable) in the categories in which Amazon has ranked my books. I looked at pricing for ebooks and at the type of publisher. The results were fascinating.

amazon logoWhat I Learned About Books in My Target Categories

1. The categories in which my books fall most naturally (historical mystery subcategories) are HEAVILY dominated by Amazon imprints in the paid top 10. I need to spend less time looking at Big 5 authors and more looking at Amazon authors.

2. The free top 10 for those categories are nearly all populated by self-publishers, which makes sense as many of us use the permafree strategy. Amazon clearly doesn't use that strategy, which validates its usefulness for me. The only remotely large publishers that appear to use free promos in my area are the Christian publishers.

3. Amazon prices its paid bestsellers in my subgenres at $3.99, which means I have to drop my prices a buck.

4. I can't be competitive in the Victorian romance subcategories in which I'd been experimenting, because the top 10 paid are nearly all $0.99 books. So my books will come out of those categories and I'll focus on mystery.

5. Audiobook subcategories where my books belong are almost completely dominated by Big 5 titles. I can understand indies not being in there as many can't afford to produce audiobooks, but where's Amazon? That points to a big growth area for the Zon in the future. I suspect that they might not see audio as cost-effective in such niche categories.

I suspect that Amazon is doing what many indies do, and aiming for niche genre readerships where ebooks predominate (thus avoiding the problem we have in common, that chain bookstores won't stock us). I'm going to do this analysis again next quarter to see a) if there are patterns over time and b) if the changes I plan to make in light of my discoveries make any difference (I included my rank for each category in my spreadsheet).

Other Helpful Insights

Here are some other notes about this exercise:

1. The fact that I’d already done some positioning research (keyword searches, reader survey, looking at comps) really helped me interpret my results.

2. I tried doing the same analysis on Barnes & Noble, where I sell a lot of books. It didn’t work. On B&N I found categories that were clearly curated to reflect the best writing (or the curators’ notion of the best writing) in the category. I think only Amazon reflects what readers are actually buying.

3. I know from bitter experience that categories and keywords can make a big difference. I’m still suffering from the dive my sales took when I changed the categories and keywords on my permafree. On a related note, note down the old categories and keywords before you change them. I didn’t (sobs).

4. Categories aren’t always “correct”. For example, my books should really be in Suspense (where the reader can usually spot the villain before the MC does) rather than Mystery (where the puzzle is who did it). But the Suspense top 10 tends to be full of contemporary psychological thrillers.

I tried to find an app or website that would automate the process of pulling down the bestsellers from an Amazon category, but couldn’t find one. Gap in the market?

Thanks to John Doppler for giving me an idea!

OVER TO YOU If you've drawn any intersting conclusions about the categories your books fall into on Amazon, we'd love to hear about them. Join John and Jane's conversation via the comments box.

Great insights for #authors on #Amazon bestseller charts by @janesteen Click To Tweet


Author: Jane Steen

Jane Steen is the author of the House of Closed Doors mystery/saga series set in 1870s Illinois, and of the Scott-De Quincy Mysteries; the first in that series, Lady Helena Investigates, is now available. Born in England, she spent 16 years in Belgium and 19 years in the USA before moving back to the south coast of England. Fun facts: she was named after Jane Eyre, and contrary to all appearances she has a black belt in karate. Be warned. She blogs at www.janesteen.com and reviews and writes features for the Historical Novel Society.


This Post Has 5 Comments
  1. This situation with categories and kdp keywords has been a perpetual problem for me.

    The frustration grew so great I withdrew 8 of my novels and hid in my cave licking my wounds!
    I have yet to resolve my dilemma yet I am experimenting. Most of my work is mystery either combined with suspense or thriller and genuinely psychological!

    When I analysed my findings the anomalies shook my confidence. For an author whose has no traction or leverage, I spend an inordinate amount of time researching these things.
    It is comforting to know more experienced authors have the same issues.
    I worry though as I have written over 20 digital books and about to embark on paperback versions.

  2. Hello, Jane. I would question your conclusion that you can’t compete with 99¢ books in Victorian Romance and should therefore abandon the genre. Sales rank alone does not determine revenue.

    I can’t say how much revenue would make it worthwhile to you to continue in Victorian Romance. But a $3.99 book pays the indie author more than 7.5X as much per sale as a 99¢ book. Running the overall Kindle sales rank of the #10 and #100 Victorian Romance best sellers (as of this writing) through Kindlepreneur’s Sales Rank Calculator, the #10 book is estimated to be selling 115 books per day, and the #100 book 17. The #10 book is outselling the #100 book 6.5:1. Compare that to the $3.99 v 99¢ payout per sale of 7.5:1.

    Also sales ranks are not consistent across genres. At the time of this writing, the #10 book in Romance: Historical Romance: Victorian was #919 overall (115 books per day estimated). The #10 book in Mystery, Thriller, Suspense: Mystery: Historical was #1210 overall (108 books per day estimated). Close enough not to matter. If switching from Victorian Romance to Historical Mystery bumps the book up the charts due to the dynamics of Also Boughts and such under the new genre, it is well worth the switch. But the top ten spots being dominated by 99¢ titles isn’t the full story.

  3. An insightful look at a problem close to home. My historical set Sumer, 3,200 BC, has only been out two months on Amazon KDP, so it’s hard to draw inference at this point.

    I went the KU route based on advice from KBoards writers, but their view was colored by largely SFF experience. I think I need to go wide and see what happens. Your conflict between suspense and mystery parallels mine between romance and adventure. The Zon’s category system is in terrible straits right now, forcing us to experiment over time rather than peg the right slot on the first go. I fully expect to repeat your experience competing with the Big 5 and Amazon imprints until my books find their audience.

    Thanks, Jane, for “clearing the path” ahead.

  4. Beautiful work, Jane! I love to see abstract data applied to concrete purposes.

    You’ve offered some great insights here, especially into Barnes and Noble, and Amazon’s categories. I’ve noticed that even Amazon’s own imprints play fast and loose with some of the categories they select for their books.

    I’m looking forward to your next quarter’s data!

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