The murmur of the snarkmatrix…

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Brave new market

In case you didn’t see me tweet about it: I made a little page that compares the e-book and hardcover best seller lists from the New York Times. There’s a lot of variance, and a lot of different reasons for the variance. In fact, every difference seems to tell its own unique little tale. For instance, an informant told me via email:

Consider Phlebas is knocking it out of the park [on the e-book list] because the book just got listed at 99 cents. It wouldn’t suprise me if every sci-fi reader with Kindle access bought a copy of it. I know I did.

That’s interesting in at least two ways:

  • It implies that the Kindle Store moves the market. Or maybe: that the Kindle Store is the market. I haven’t seen stats for the total e-book universe—have you?—but this seems intuitively correct to me.
  • It augurs a new kind of book market in which prices can be super-dynamic. How about a special Game of Thrones intro weekend where the first book in the series is $0.99? How about selling a book for half-price while its author is out on tour, talking it up? What’s new is that you can make these price changes instantly and universally. No more declaring a new MSRP and hoping for the best from all the book sellers.

I’m going to keep updating the comparison page. Next up: paperback best seller lists.


A month or so ago (I’ll try to dig up the link), there was a story about authors using the variability of e-book pricing EXACTLY to game the best-seller list. Price the book at 99 cents to move units, then switch it to 2.99 (which isn’t just more money but the threshold for a higher share, too). When sales go down and you’re about to fall off the best-seller list, drop the price again. Rinse, repeat.

The best-seller lists at Amazon — just like anywhere else, and not just for books — give you a LOT of visibility. Which makes it easier for the top to stay at the top, and also makes it pretty easy for clever authors & publishers to move the market.

I’m kind of really interested in the Kindle Singles right now. Even though my Kindle broke, and I’m not sure I’ll buy a new one (iPad when my income becomes disposable again?), I use the desktop app and especially the iPhone app. I recently bought Benjamin Kunkle’s Argentinidad; which is a brief history of the country.

So, like, how does this compare with that new There doesn’t seem to be a lot of info available on what Byliner plans to do, but obviously they will be charging for content. But what formats can I read on? PDF? I downloaded the Krakauer piece and it was limiting. Choire Sicha agrees. Wouldn’t Kindle Singles have been a better outlet for Krakauer. I can’t believe people wouldn’t have plunked down $2 for that … especially given the content. But especially given the author.

Wait, I have a point. Is the success – if it happens – of something like Singles or Byliner going to disincentivize this kind of amateur $.99 market? Or could it invigorate it to charge a higher amount … “If an 80 page single is $2, why is my 150 novella $1?” Or will there be no impact, because they are two different animals?

I guess what I’m saying is, what is more interesting, how eBooks compete against hardcovers or how they compete amongst themselves?

Nathan Bransford had a great post about exactly this the day before yesterday: “99 Cent E-Books and the Tragedy of the Commons.”

Cool little site Robin! Sure you thought about it, but it would be nice if you had a little diagonal_up / diagonal_down / horizontal arrow to indicate books that are in both lists but in different / same position?

That’s a good idea! I’d imagined some sort of big wonky arrows linking the lists — little icons are much better way to do it.

I expected before I looked at the list to see more hardcover sales of books people want to HAVE, but not necessarily READ. For instance, gift books or prestige books. I will freely admit to owning some literary classics whose spines are suspiciously pristine…
Looking at the lists, though, I don’t find a lot of support for that notion. Although the pope and the biographies on the nonfic lists might be the kind of thing you buy for mothers and fathers day. Maybe I’m wrong about this one.

Ha ha, I am reading my borrowed copy of Consider Phlebas right now. Glad to know we hooked you, Robin.

EC and I recently went to see Ta-Nehisi Coates read at a USF student-sponsored festival. Robin asked us to tweet this but we were both suffering from low batteries. So let that serve as a cautionary damper on the following possibility: You show up at a reading and ‘sign in’ with your twitter/fb/foursquare/geotastic service of choice. You indicate the name you want to be known as–how you want to be called out, and whom you want your autographs made out to. The author gets a collated view of all of these sign-ins, and uses his or her tablet dashboard to call on readers whose comments make him think they’ll have particularly good questions. If he or she particularly likes this audience, he or she declares a spatially and temporally local sale on their books: for the next hour, the people who have signed in get X for $.99 or free, with an automatically appended signature page from the author. A few events like this might add up to enough e-book list buzz to get an author some real momentum, and the possibility of winning a sale lottery might get readers excited about showing up.

The snarkmatrix awaits you

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