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eBook Leaders Show Random House Sitting Pretty As Amazon’s Kindle Store Discounting Plays Crucial Role in Picking Winners

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By Steve Windwalker
For the past few weeks, we’ve been paying more attention than usual to the USA Today bestseller lists that come out each Thursday because they have provided a fascinating window into the changes that are taking places in what we read and the publishing sources for the books that we are reasing.
Once again, the USA Today top 50 list for the week ended February 13, 2011 shows a healthy representation of titles for which the ebook format is the highest-selling format. There are 19 such titles this week and we provide a full list of those 19 titles below, with their list prices and Kindle Store prices as of today.
For each of the titles listed here, the first price shown is the publisher’s list price as reported by USA Today, and the second, linked price is the Kindle Store price. Wherever the publisher is a participant in the agency-model price-fixing scheme, the two prices will often be the same. For other books, Amazon may discount the book further for Kindle customers at its discretion.

  • 2.        Alone           Lisa Gardner,  Bantam State  (F) (E)   $0.99 $0.99
  • 3.        The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo           Stieg Larsson,  Vintage  (F) (E)   $14.95  $5.00
  • 4.        The Girl Who Played With Fire           Stieg Larsson,  Knopf Doubleday (F) (E)   $25.95 $5.00
  • 5.        Unbroken           Laura Hillenbrand,  Random House (NF) (E)   $27.00 $9.99
  • 6.        The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest           Stieg Larsson,  Knopf (F) (E)   $27.95  $9.99
  • 8.        A Discovery of Witches           Deborah E. Harkness,  Viking Adult (F) (E)   $14.99 $14.99 
  • 9.        Water for Elephants           Sara Gruen,  Algonquin (F) (E)   $14.95 $5.00 
  • 15.        Cutting for Stone: A Novel           Abraham Verghese,  Knopf A (F) (E)   $26.95 $5.00 
  • 17.        Switched           Amanda Hocking,  Self-published through CreateSpace (F) (E)   $2.99 $0.99
  • 20.        I Am Number Four           Pittacus Lore,  HarperCollins Youth (F) (E)   $17.99 $9.99      
  • 21.        The Confession           John Grisham,  Doubleday (F) (E)   $28.95 $9.99 
  • 24.        The Help           Kathryn Stockett,  Putnam (E)   $12.99  $12.99        
  • 27.        Ascend           Amanda Hocking,  Self-published through CreateSpace (F) (E)   $2.99 $2.99
  • 31.        Torn           Amanda Hocking,  Self-published through CreateSpace (F) (E)   $2.99 $2.99
  • 34.        Room           Emma Donoghue,  Little, Brown (F) (E)   $11.99  $11.99          
  • 42.        What the Night Knows           Dean Koontz,  Bantam (F) (E)   $28.00  $9.99   
  • 44.        Dead or Alive           Tom Clancy, Grant Blackwood,  Putnam (F) (E)   $14.99 $12.99  
  • 46.        Strategic Moves           Stuart Woods,  Putnam (F) (E)   $12.99 $12.99
  • 48.        The Perfect Husband           Lisa Gardner,  Bantam (F) (E)   $7.99 $5.00 
While we are looking, a couple of other tidbits that caught our attention:
Among traditional publishers, Random House and its imprints are the place to be for authors these days. Random House is the leading traditional publisher in the U.S., and some may have been nervous for its authors when Random decided to abstain from the agency-model price-fixing scheme and, in the bargain, from the much-hyped Apple iBooks Store. But Random and its imprints and authors have benefited hugely from the price flexibility that Amazon and other retailers have been allowed, especially since the publisher and the authors get paid based on full list price even if a title is discounted below wholesale cost in the Kindle Store and elsewhere. Sixteen of the USA Today Top 50 are published by Random and its imprints, which is a dominant position given other changes in the composition of he bestseller lists. Given that Random has achieved that position without a single sale through the iBooks store, that dominance speaks eloquently of the utter failure of iBooks.   
Meanwhile, Amazon and others should take very seriously the king-making role that results from the company’s selective discounting for Kindle titles. It seems very likely that a fabulous book-group natural like Elizabeth Stuckey-French’s novel The Revenge of the Radioactive Lady should be headed straight to the highest rungs of the Kindle Store bestseller list, especially after recent rave reviews in the New York Times, Denver Post, Boston Globe, and Kindle Nation Daily. The book is published by Random imprint Doubleday, which means that Amazon controls price and discounting in the Kindle Store just as brick-and-mortar booksellers control price and discounting for the hardcover edition. But with Amazon selling the Kindle edition for $13.90, Jeff Bezos and his minions might as well be standing at the gates of bestseller heaven blocking the entrance of one of the more distinctive, independent voices to come along in American fiction in recent years. It says here that as soon as Amazon brings the retail price of Revenge down to the $5-$10 promotional price sweet spot provided for Stieg Larsson, Sara Gruen, John Grisham and others, it will have another bestseller in the making.

Publishing Perestroika: Indie Authors Blow Away Traditional Gatekeepers and Storm the Castle of Newspaper Bestseller Lists

By Steve Windwalker

Call it the “Paper Curtain,” if you like.

But like the Berlin Wall, it’s coming down.

As a result of the Publishing Perestroika that has been unleashed by readers and writers connecting primarily around Kindle content in the short span of just 39 months, the walls that have kept self-published and ebook authors from being included in prestigious newspaper bestseller lists will come crashing down this week.

Tomorrow, USA TODAY will roll out its weekly list of the top 150 bestselling books in the U.S., just as it does every Thursday.

Amanda Hocking
But for the very first time, USA Today announced today, its list for the week ending February 6 will include bestselling self-published direct-to-Kindle authors like Amanda Hocking. Hocking’s books currently rank #3, #11, #12, #27, #37, #41, and #46 on the Kindle Store top 50 bestsellers, and “the three titles in her Trylle Trilogy (Switched, Torn and Ascend, the latest) will make their debuts in the top 50 of USA TODAY’s Best-Selling Books list,” wrote USA Today’s Carol Memmott in an article entitled “Authors catch fire with self-published ebooks.”

Whether it happens this week or within a few more weeks, it’s also a good bet that Hocking will soon be accompanied by bestselling Kindle indie authors like John Locke, Victorine Lieske, and others.

And other, equally dramatic developments will follow:
  • One way or another, the fact that USA Today has opened its “bestseller list” gates to the great unwashed population of ebook and self-published authors will force the New York Times to do the same, lest its bestseller list be rendered irrelevant.
  • Once the Times and other rags allow self-published books on their bestseller lists, they will have to start publishing reviews of self-published books.
  • The prediction made here just a few weeks ago, that an indie author would be inducted by early 2012 into the “Kindle Million Club” alongside James Patterson, Stieg Larsson, and Nora Roberts, will prove to have been ridiculously conservative. Regardless of when Amazon makes the announcement, Hocking will pass the million-copy mark in Kindle books sold by the first day of Spring this year, and she will be joined by another dozen indie authors before the arrival of Spring in 2012.
All of these changes probably became inevitable, even though we didn’t know it then, when Amazon launched the Kindle on November 19, 2007.
But the barons of the book industry and the big New York publishers should make no mistake about the fact that these events have been hastened dramatically by their own tragically misguided launch of the agency model price-fixing plan early in 2010. Their tone-deaf move to try to protect their print publishing business model by insisting upon increases of 30 to 50 percent in ebook prices opened the doors wide to indie authors to lure readers with lower prices for what, in many cases, are better books.

During the last week before the agency model launch, in March 2010, there was not a single fiction title by an indie author along the top 50 bestselling titles in the Kindle Store.

This week, indie fiction authors have 18 of the top 50 spots. Those are 18 of the top 50 bestselling ebook spots in the land, worth well over a million copies sold during the month of February, and the agency model publishers might just as well have said “Here, come and take these, we don’t need them.”