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Are Kindle bestseller prices rising or falling?

If you’re a BookGorilla subscriber, they may be rising for everybody else, but they are falling for you

Founder of KND and BookGorilla

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There’s been plenty of commentary focusing on a recent pattern of rising prices for ebook bestsellers — even, alas, in the Kindle Store. Our colleague and friend Bufo Calvin offered some clear analysis recently on his I Love My Kindle blog, under the headline Kindle New York Times bestsellers shockingly up almost $1 a month so far this year. And if that were the whole story, it would spell bad news for the budget-conscious avid readers that make up a major part of Kindle Nation.

It mayBKG-ICON seem counterintuitive, but there’s also some great news for these ebook consumers, especially the growing number of readers who make use of free daily alerts from BookGorilla. To show you what we mean, let’s focus on the Top 100 Bestselling Books of 2013 in the Kindle Store, according to Amazon’s own full-year Kindle bestseller list.

The average prices for those Top 100 bestsellers as of their release dates was $10.08, and their average price today, now that most of them have been out for a while, is $6.64 (see table). 30 of these books were initially priced between $10.99 and $17.99 — prices that most Kindle owners, according to our surveys, consider exorbitant. No surprises in any of that.

But here’s the good news: 71 of those same 100 books have been featured on the daily BookGorilla ebook deal alert during the past year, and the average deal price for those 71 books was $3.17.

So, if you had purchased those 71 books on their release dates, they would have cost you a total of $794.50 (an average of $9.78).

But patient, budget-conscious readers could have purchased all 71 books on the days of their BookGorilla specials for just $225.31. That’s a savings of $469.19 — well over $6 per book!

And far from being limited to popular self-published 99-centers, this list includes nearly all of the biggest books of the year, starting with 25 of the top 27 Kindle bestsellers of 2013, including Dan Brown’s Inferno, Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, Grisham’s Sycamore Row, and other blockbusters by J.K. Rowling, Lee Child, David Baldacci, Pulitzer Prize winner Donna Tartt and more.

Obviously, millions of readers paid those high, impatience-driven prices … not that there’s anything wrong with that. After all, how were they to know when these must-read titles would be available at discounts of 60 to 90 percent, especially when such deals are often available only for a day or two?

That’s where BookGorilla comes in. It’s a totally free ebook recommendation service that was launched 13 months ago by the same incredible group of folks who produce Kindle Nation Daily, an ebook community that we have been building since Amazon introduced the Kindle in November 2007. Since then, other ebook sites have jumped on the bandwagon, and ebook recommendation services, in particular, have proliferated.

But BookGorilla takes a very different approach.

BookGorilla is driven primarily by a unique ability to discover and share — in a very personalized way — the best deals every morning on the kind of top-tier A-list bestsellers mentioned above, along with very popular backlist titles and truly curated “discoveries” of the best books from small presses and independent authors.

Equally important, less than 20% of the ebooks recommended by BookGorilla are ad-supported. With a revenue model fueled by about 70% Amazon Associates fees and 30% advertising revenues, BookGorilla has a powerful incentive to deliver on one of its key slogans:

“Instead of pushing you to buy books that we want you to buy, BookGorilla shows you books that you actually want to read, at prices you never dreamed possible!”

It’s no accident that we launched BookGorilla just as a federal court brought an end to  price-fixing collusion by Apple and five of the Big Six publishers. As a result of that change, the largest publishers themselves have joined in the same fierce price competition that was previously limited mainly to indie authors and smaller publishers.

It’s one thing to compete on price, of course, and another to get the word out about your best discounts. Now the ranks of BookGorilla’s advertisers include several Big Six and other major publishers, but whether or not a title is ad-supported, BookGorilla still enforces its same stringent price and quality requirements for “deal-worthiness.”

It is likely that the major publishers, and retailers like Amazon, will continue to price most books, most of the time, at very profitable levels: $8 to $15 for new-release bestsellers, and $4 to $10 for strong backlist titles. It’s up to consumers whether they want to pay those prices, and many are driven to pay them by impatience, the next book group selection or the demands of a course syllabus.

But for the significant number of readers who want to save a few bucks, the deals that BookGorilla recommends each morning mean that, with a little patience, readers can buy just about any book they might want, including very recent bestsellers, at much, much better prices.

The average price of all books on BookGorilla for March 2014 was $1.03. Given that there are no shipping charges for an ebook, that places the cost of buying Kindle books somewhere between the cost of using a public library and shopping at a used bookstore, for BookGorilla subscribers who use the service on a daily basis. As a result, budget-conscious readers may have a little less to fear in the pattern of rising bestseller prices that Bufo Calvin has described.

5 Stephen King Kindle Titles for Less Than $4 Each Including a Timely Piece on Guns for Just 99 Cents

Amazon.com today announced that the best-selling and iconic author Stephen King has published a personal essay — “Guns” — available exclusively in the Kindle Store as a Kindle Single. This essay highlights one of the compelling features of Kindle Singles—they allow top authors to publish their works quickly. “Guns” is available now, and exclusively to Kindle customers in the Kindle Singles Store for $0.99

“I think the issue of an America awash in guns is one every citizen has to think about,” said King. “If this helps provoke constructive debate, I’ve done my job. Once I finished writing ‘Guns’ I wanted it published quickly, and Kindle Singles provided an excellent fit.” 

“It’s exciting to offer a way for a brilliant writer like King to publish quickly, and to reach a large audience of loyal readers and new customers,” said David Blum, editor of Kindle Singles. “King finished this essay last Friday morning, and by that night we had accepted it and scheduled for publication today.” 

Like all Kindle books, Kindle Singles are “Buy Once, Read Everywhere”—customers can read them on their Kindle, on the web with Kindle Cloud Reader and on free Kindle reading apps for Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod touch, Blackberry, Windows Phone, Windows 8, PC and Mac. 

Launched in 2011, Kindle Singles are typically between 5,000 and 30,000 words. Too long for a magazine article and too short for a book, Kindle Singles allow ideas to be expressed at their natural length. Writers can learn more about submitting their work for consideration here.

Here at Kindle Nation Daily, we’re glad to see a bestselling author like King showing increasing signs that he and his various publishers (including himself!) that he gets the fact that readers should not have to pay exorbitant prices for Kindle books. Of all his full-length books in English on Kindle, the only title currently priced above $9.99 is the pre-order for Doctor Sleep, his September release revisiting the characters and territory of The Shining.

 And although many of King’s most ardent fans love him as the master of the 1100-page narrative, here are four shorter tomes that come in at prices anywhere from $1.99 to $3.79:

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by Stephen King, Stewart O’Nan
3.7 stars – 202 Reviews
 
The writing team that delivered the bestselling Faithful, about the 2004 Red Sox championship season, takes readers to the ballpark again, and to a world beyond, in an eBook original….
 
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by Stephen King
3.3 stars – 513 Reviews
With the heart of Stand By Me and the genius horror of Christine, Mile 81 is Stephen King unleashing his imagination as he drives past one of those road signs… 
 

 

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by Stephen King, Joe Hill
3.7 stars – 307 Reviews

Mile 81 meets “N.” in this eBook collaboration between Stephen King and his son Joe Hill….

 
And last but not least….
 

Ur

By Stephen King
3.7 Stars – 570 Reviews
 
Wesley Smith buys an Amazon Kindle to keep his mind off his recent nasty breakup, but he finds that his version is no ordinary e-reading device….

Publetariat Dispatch: We’re All Thriller Writers Now

Publetariat: For People Who Publish!
In today’s Publetariat Dispatch, author LJ Sellers discusses the vanishing distinctions between genres of fiction.

Thrilling: adj., producing sudden, strong, and deep emotion or excitement

Doesn’t that pretty much describe all great novels? Yet according to librarians and bookstore owners, traditional labeling defines thrillers as fast-paced, realistic books that focus on plot more than character and have a high-stakes conflict as the heart of the story. And by high stakes they mean a lot more than a single life—or a series of selected lives—must be at risk. Whole cities or ways of life must be in peril.

But now, with many writers labeling their own work, just about any story with a crime or an element of suspense is called a thriller. Just as one example, Amazon’s #1 book on the thriller list is Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, a story of a marriage gone bad and a missing wife. It’s all about the characters. Readers love the story and many have labeled it thrilling, and being a fan, I plan to read it. But it’s not technically a thriller.

(Above: My new book sure looks like a thriller)

As a member of International Thriller Writers, I’ve written many features about new releases for the Big Thrill newsletter. With some, I’ve scratched my head and thought: Why is this called a thriller? The stories usually sound terrific, but still, I would call them paranormal suspense or historical mystery.

But I’m guilty of thriller labeling too. My Detective Jackson series falls under crime fiction, police procedurals, mysteries, and suspense. But a year ago, I added the word thriller to the subtitles (Detective Jackson Mystery/Thrillers) to let readers know that they aren’t traditional mysteries that can be solved at a leisurely pace and that there is plenty of action and a major element of suspense.

Also, labeling the novels thrillers expands their metadata and allows more readers to find them. But are they really thrillers? Traditionalists would probably say no. Murders, assaults, and robberies in a midsized Oregon city don’t represent high-stakes conflict. My new publisher, Thomas & Mercer, doesn’t plan to use the thriller label. So in January, the series goes back to being the “Detective Jackson Mysteries.” But I hope Amazon lists the books in the thriller category, anyway.

Because I want to reach as broad an audience as possible. Still, I wonder how much readers care about labels. Some readers love thrillers of every kind, and they judge a book by its cover, description, and word of mouth reputation, rather than by its category. Other readers actively dislike thrillers, and won’t bother with any book labeled that way. Further discussion reveals that what they mean is they don’t like spy stories or novels with big explosions or long chase scenes. So for some readers, thriller can have a negative connotation.

My website says “Author of provocative mysteries & thrillers” and I’m happy with that. In addition to my Jackson series, I have three standalones—all highly suspenseful, but with no spies, explosions, or car chases.

What does the term thriller mean to you? Does the label make a book more enticing?

This post, by L.J. Sellers, originally appeared on the Crime Fiction Collective blog and is reprinted here in its entirety with that site’s permission.

Will Amazon Continue to Surge Toward Global Domination?

Amazon has scheduled its quarterly earnings announcement after the markets close one week from today, January 29, 2013, with the usual conference call to discuss financial results at 2:00 p.m. PT/5:00 p.m. ET that day. The conference call will be webcast live, and the audio and associated slides will be available for at least three months thereafter at www.amazon.com/ir.

AMZN, AAPL, and BKS price against NASDAX Composite, last 6 months
AMZN, AAPL, and BKS price against NASDAX Composite, last 6 months

It will be interesting to see if the company is able to continue its recent surge in share price, which has been fueled not only by the Kindle revolution but also huge growth in the company’s overall global retail market share, its Amazon Web Services cloud infrastructure, and the disruptive nature of its customer-centric business model and aggressive pricing on the market share of Apple and Barnes & Noble. Not only has Amazon’s share price jumped about 50% over the past year, but it has gained over 20% during the last six months (double the Nasdaq composite index) while both Apple and Barnes & Noble have seen their shares fall by about 10% each during that period.

It scarcely makes sense any more to think of Amazon as the single company that Jeff Bezos started in his garage 17 years ago. First, of course, there’s the global presence:

Equally impressive is the astonishing diversity of the company, whose website currently l

And then there’s Amazon Publishing, which has grown to six pretty serious imprints so far:

  • AmazonEncore. Amazon Publishing’s flagship imprint, AmazonEncore helps unearth exceptional books and emerging authors for more readers to enjoy, using customer feedback and sales information from Amazon’s sites.
  • AmazonCrossingAmazonCrossing introduces readers to authors from around the world with translations of foreign language books, making award-winning and best-selling books accessible to many readers for the first time.
  • Thomas & MercerThomas & Mercer, named for streets that flank Amazon headquarters in Seattle, focuses on mystery and thrillers, an exceptionally popular genre among Amazon customers.
  • Montlake Romance. Amazon.com customers rave about romance. Montlake Romance is designed to connect outstanding romance novels with more readers.  
  • 47North.  47North offers a wide array of new novels and cult favorites, from urban fantasies to space operas, alternate histories to gothic and supernatural horror.  
  • Amazon Children’s PublishingAmazon Children’s Publishing provides quality books for young readers of all ages, from award-winning picture books, chapter books, and middle-grade books to compelling novels for teens.

Wow. Plenty here to sustain a continued surge, or not. But want to know what’s really impressive?

Jeff Bezos says he sleeps very well at night. That’s impressive.

Can’t we all just get along?

We would have thought that blood was thicker than eInk, but perhaps not. Here’s an item that caught our eye on the Kalispell, Montana Flathead Beacon‘s police blotter, via a tweet from Sarah Thomas:

  • 7:39 p.m. A call was made to 911 regarding a 12-year-old girl on Rhodes Draw who slapped her aunt during a heated argument over a Kindle.

Note to self: time to include a “good manners” chapter in the next update of the The Complete User’s Guide to the Amazon Amazon Kindle?

Kindle Store Bestseller Prices Continue to Fall: 
Titles Under $5 Grows from 37 to 55 While $10-Plus Listings Fall from 34 to 18;
Big Publishers’ Market Share on Bestseller List Evaporating Fast

By Steve Windwalker

In the wake of our comments the other day on Amazon’s growing domination of the U.S. book business, it’s time for a fresh look at the breakdown of prices on the Kindle store’s bestseller list. From time to time we do this kind of analysis somewhat more comprehensively, but instead of looking at all 1.8 million Kindle titles today we’ll keep it simple and look at the Top 100 Bestsellers in the Kindle Store based on comparative snapshots of Kindle bestseller prices today with a couple of important points in the past:

  • April 1, 2010 – the day before the big publishers and Apple began their agency-model price-fixing scheme; and
  • April 15, 2012, two years later, at the height of agency model pricing

First, there’s a bit of an apples-and-oranges thing that we have to deal with here, since in April 2010 Amazon was still maintaining a single bestseller list in which free “sales,” i.e., downloads of free titles, were being counted right alongside paid titles on a single bestseller list. But if we take that properly into account we can still make some use of that comparison.

Here are the headlines:

  • The percentage of paid Top 100 bestsellers priced at under $5 has grown from 37% to 55% in the past nine months.
  • The percentage of paid Top 100 bestsellers priced at $10 and up has decreased from 34% to 18% in the same period, and the number of paid Top 100 bestsellers priced at $15 and up has gone from 4 to zero during this stretch.

So, it may be stating the obvious to say that ebook prices are falling, as we all knew they would fall once the agency-model price-fixing scheme gave way to more natural market competition.

But while it is fair to say that some of that price decline is due to more competitive pricing of bestsellers by the big publishers — including some very aggressive pricing like Simon and Schuster’s current $3.99 price point for Stephen King’s 11/22/63, that’s only part of the story, and it may be the less important part of the story.

What could be bigger than a $3.99 ebook price point for a full-length Stephen King bestseller?

Just this: big publishers’ market share of the Kindle Store bestseller list continues to evaporate. Books published non-traditionally, either by authors themselves or by Amazon Publishing imprints, held #s 2, 4, 6, 7, 8, 9 among Kindle Store Bestsellers as of this morning, and 21 of the top 50 spots.

It was just Wednesday that we posted on the possibility that Amazon may be moving toward 50% market share for the U.S. retail book business, all formats, and we were not just being cute when we listed the U.S. Department of Justice among those who would be affected in significant ways. If Amazon were also to reach the point where it was effectively the publisher for something approaching half of the U.S. ebook business, DOJ might have to create a permanent Amazon desk! I’m just saying.

Amazon May Already Have Reached 50% Market Share of the U.S. Fiction Book Market Across All Formats

By Steve Windwalker
Editor, Kindle Nation Daily

Amazon's website 1.0, Aug. 1995
Amazon’s website 1.0, Aug. 1995

It will come as no surprise to long-time readers that, fairly consistently over the past two years, I have been saying something shocking and outrageous. My crazy notion first started cropping up in a Kindle Nation Daily post back on February 3, 2011.

The big story is that in just three years Amazon has positioned itself to triple its overall share of the U.S. book business for all formats. Before the end of 2012, Amazon could own more than half of the U.S. book business across all formats.

How stunning a development would that be? Prior to the launch of the Kindle in 2007, Amazon was widely considered to account, at most, for somewhere around 15 percent of all U.S. book sales in all formats by all retailers.

There were plenty of people who were willing then to tell me I was nuts, or that it didn’t matter anyway because Amazon’s pricing was going to continue to drive the company toward, or right into,  red ink. (Indeed, that red-ink thing happened in Amazon’s last quarterly financial report, and the company says it could lose as much as nearly another half-billion dollars in its own guidance for the 2012 4th quarter on which its will report later this month.) And apparently my critics talked some sense into me, because more recently I have been projecting that Amazon was more likely to reach that 50% market share threshold in late 2013 or 2014.

So, it has probably not happened yet, and let’s give or take a year or so, please. After all, what would be amazing about this kind of development would have nothing to do with it being predicted (by me or anyone else), and nothing to do with it happening in any given specific month. (But since we all like to keep score, if it does happen by early 2014 I’d like to apply futurist Ray Kurzweil’s rule and call this prediction “essentially correct.”)

The amazing thing would be that, in three waves of about half a dozen years each, Amazon would have  completed a total transformation of the U.S. publishing and bookselling business. (Only the third wave, of course, has been strictly about ebooks.) And for better or worse, that transformation is a game-changer in every sector of publishing and bookselling activity including, of course, the activities of authors and readers.

The enthusiasm with which publishing industry pundits seek out data suggesting that “ebook sales growth is slowing down” make it unlikely that we will hear any announcement from within the industry when Amazon reaches that 50% threshold, but one of the smartest and most articulate inside observers of the publishing industry — consultant, author and blogger Mike Shatzkin — shared some data this week from which it is interesting to make some extrapolations, even with the caveat that Shatzkin’s information is anecdotal, based on “an exercise” that he tried earlier this month “of asking a few agents for their impressions of the evolving ebook marketplace.”

I won’t revisit here the various equations that I used in early 2011 to reach the conclusion that Amazon was on its way to reaching a 50% market share in the book business/all formats, other than to say that I relied heavily then on information reported by Publisher’s Weekly, Publisher’s Marketplace, and Amazon, and that actual events since then have served to confirm the conclusion. But let’s look at some of Shatzkin’s data points and where they lead.

He starts by saying that “sales of ebooks for fiction more often than not top 50% of the total sales,” and then says of total book sales that “only about 35% of it is selling as print in stores (because 25-30 percent of the print sale is online).” 

So, to make the process of extrapolation as straightforward as possible, let’s say that the entire universe of fiction book sales consists of 100 books sold. It’s generally accepted that Amazon owns  an ebook market share of about two-thirds as well as a market share of about 85% of online print book sales, so here’s where Shatzkin’s data points lead for fiction book sales:

  • 100 books sold, all formats
  • 51 ebooks sold, including 34 Kindle books
  • 3 audiobooks sold, including 2 Audible.com (Amazon) audiobooks
  • 46 print books sold, including 14 copies online, and 12 of those 14 by Amazon

That’s a total of 48 out of the 100 books sold by Amazon, or 48% market share based on units sold. Since all of this is anecdotal and the extrapolations themselves are based on assumptions, Nate Silver would probably tell us that it’s fair to say that Amazon’s actual fiction market share for the period we’re discussing was somewhere between 43 and 53%.

It doesn’t mean 48% of all retail book revenues; it’s just units. It doesn’t mean all books; it’s just fiction books. And it’s anecdotal.

But it is worth pointing out, as well, that this anecdotal information shared with Shatzkin by literary agents is not a snapshot of where things stand today in January 2013. Instead, as Shatzkin points out “the data presentation which most shapes the agents’ impressions is provided in royalty reports. This past year, and especially this past season, have not yet been delivered in the data they study most intensively.”

When you take that “lagging report” factor into consideration, combined with recent reports that January 2013 ebook sales are up 10 to 15% over January 2012 ebook sales, it’s even possible that Amazon may have already reached a 50% market share for fiction.

Maybe, maybe not. It’s only fiction, not all book sales. But the nature of tipping points in the book business has several likely consequences for this discussion:

  • The reported 2:1 ratio between ebook market share for fiction and ebook market share for immersive nonfiction (in Mike’s felicitous phrase) is likely to narrow, because fiction will almost surely serve as a wedge driving readers’ behavior in terms of platform comfort and library storage choices.
  • Shatzkin points out the 35% share for print books in physical stores is down from about 90% ten years ago and 80% five years ago. You can call that a pattern; I call it an avalanche. Print book distribution channels are drying up at an alarming rate, and taken together all of the patterns that are part of this conversation will only accelerate that process, which in turn will accelerate the process of Amazon growing its market share across all platforms.

One other likelihood is that we won’t have any absolutely certain data that makes all this clear — for 50%, 60%, 70% or any other market share threshold — until months or even a year after it has happened. And while it is interesting to think about the market share thresholds themselves, it is probably far more important for us all to think about what any of those Amazon market share thresholds will mean for everyone associated with the book business:

  • readers
  • authors
  • agents
  • big publishers
  • small publishers
  • indie bookstores
  • used book sellers
  • Barnes and Noble
  • Amazon’s other retailer competitors
  • Amazon’s ebook competitors
  • Amazon
  • and last but not least, the Department of Justice

In our February 2011 piece raising the 50% market share possibility for the first time, I quoted Amazon executive Russ Grandinetti as saying: “However fast you think this change is happening, its probably happening faster than you think.”

That’s all we’re really saying. And in the next few days we’ll try to focus on what these developments could mean — in terms of ebook pricing, royalties, profitability, and in some cases life or death — for the players listed above.