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eBook Preorders Help Indie Authors Hit Bestseller Lists

22 August 2013

From Smashwords CEO Mark Coker via The Huffington Post:

Self-published ebook authors now have a powerful new merchandising tool to make their books more discoverable and desirable to readers: Preorders at Apple iBooks, Barnes & Noble and Kobo.

Cases in point: Last week on August 13, two new ebook releases from indie authors JD Nixon and Kristen Ashley hit one or more of the top-10 bestseller lists at Apple iBooks in the U.S., Australia, UK and Canada.

The authors’ secrets, other than writing super-fabulous books their enthusiastic fans can’t wait to read? Preorders and advance marketing.

. . . .

[After mentioning several books available for preorder] All these titles are distributed as preorders by my ebook distribution company Smashwords, so I see how many preorders they’ve accumulated.

Each of these titles already has enough preorders to hit the top 10 at one or more iBooks territories if they were released today. Each continues to add orders daily as it approaches its release date. It’s not out of the question a couple of these hit #1 in some stores.

. . . .

Most retailer bestseller lists are weighted to measure unit sales over the most recent 24-72 hours, with sales made today generally weighted above sales made yesterday. At Apple and Kobo, accumulated preorders credit all at once on day one of the release, as if all the sales were made in a single day. This can cause the book to spike in the genre and store-wide bestseller charts. Since bestseller lists are used by readers to discover books, higher placement in the bestseller lists sparks a virtuous, self-reinforcing cycle of greater visibility, desirability and sales, which leads to more visibility and more sales.

Link to the rest at The Huffington Post

PG is happy for any techniques that will help authors sell more books but wonders if ebookstore  sales ranking algorithms will be tweaked if everyone starts using preorders to increase rankings.

Advertising-Promotion-Marketing, Apple, Kobo

16 Comments to “eBook Preorders Help Indie Authors Hit Bestseller Lists”

  1. HuffPo keeps crashing my iPad, so please correct me if Mark addresses this, but this sentence concerns me:

    “Each of these titles already has enough preorders to hit the top 10 at one or more iBooks territories if they were released today. Each continues to add orders daily as it approaches its release date.”

    Unless all of these retailers treat preorder sales as sales on release date for the purposes of sales rank, this will have an effect opposite to the one he hopes for. Is there any comment from the retailers on this? Are preorder sales counted towards sales rank as though they had all occurred on the day of release?

    Because otherwise – if they’re counted normally, so that a preorder book exists in the sales rankings like any other book, which is what it looks like at many retailers – he’s starving these launches of first day sales by having them distributed through out the preorder period.

    And most retailers seem to weight the most recent sales most heavily in their rank algorithms, so…

    • Since you’re unable to get to the story at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/mark-coker/ebook-preorders-help-indi_b_3781258.html I can see how that would be confusing. I cited three of our preorder titles which are approaching their onsale dates:

      “Next Tuesday August 27, Chanda Hahn’s new Fable: An Unfortunate Fairy Tale will land as a top 10 bestseller at multiple Apple iBooks stores, as will J. S. Scott’s The Billionaire’s Salvation on September 8 and Quinn Loftis’ Sacrifice of Love on September 13.”

      As I look at their accumulated orders, I’m able to predict with a high degree of certainty that each is likely to hit a top 10 store-wide bestseller list at one or more of the top Apple territories (US, AU, CAN or UK). Of course, if 10 Dan Brown or JK Rowling-level authors decide to release books on the same day, I’ll be wrong. 🙂

      At Apple, Kobo and B&N, your book can appear in the bestseller lists during the preorder period simply based on the day’s preorders, and then at Apple and Kobo you receive the added bonus of having all those accumulated orders credit again, all-at-once, on the day of release. This is how you get the higher pop into the bestseller list. B&N ranking system doesn’t provide the same-day pop.

  2. Haven’t preorders always been used to increase rankings? It’s just that self-publishers have the ability to set them up, now.

  3. P.G.

    Just me being a puir ole pensioner and all, I don’t generally do the pre-order thing. Too many times have I had companies charge my card and then some order doesn’t come till six months later.

    There’s too much hype in every damn thing nowadays it’s aggravating.


  4. David Gaughran’s book, Let’s Get Visible explains that Amazon algorithms are currently set to give more weight to sustained sales rather than sales spikes. The faster a sales spike rises, the more quickly the algorithms will push the book back down the charts. For this reason, Gaughran recommends staging promotional release marketing, to spread your initial sales across three or four days, rather than concentrating them all on one day. Using the pre-order option would concentrate sales on day one.

    • Amazon works a little differently to Apple and Kobo. On Amazon books which have the pre-order facility, sales immediately count towards ranking, rather than all sales being rolled up (for ranking purposes) for launch day. This means that your book can appear in Amazon Best Seller lists (etc.) prior to launch, but, as you point out, it more than likely will dilute your sales during launch week and adversely affect chart position during a crucial period. For that reason, I wouldn’t use a pre-order facility at Amazon, if offered one.

      The other retailers are a different story, and the facility to do this may prove to be a huge boon for self-publishers (I’ll certainly experiment with it). At the very least, it cancels out an advantage publishers have had for some time and it’s a way for Smashwords users to ensure there books are live on partner sites on launch day (which had been an issue).

      Incidentally, as far as I recall, the New York Times does something similar, i.e. all pre-orders count towards Week 1 sales for chart purposes. That’s probably why publishers are so keen on pre-orders at Amazon, even though they dilute those launch week sales/rankings.

      • Very interesting. I’m in this situation right now with Georgina Bloomberg (daughter of NYC mayor) and her pre-released book. She made Hot New Releases but hasn’t hit #1. Pub date is 8/27 so we’ll see what happens with her soon.

        • Yeah, I should have pointed out that pre-orders on Amazon appear on Hot New Releases from upload (however far in advance of launch day that actually is), which is a HUGE advantage only available to publishers and a small selection of the biggest selling indies.

          IMO however, unless you have a reasonable chance of hitting the NYT list, you are probably better off skipping pre-orders at Amazon. I imagine opinions will differ on that front, but I do think the launch is that important that it’s worth sacrificing that extra HNR visibility that pre-orders get.

          • Does being a Hot New Release really help?

            • For sure. It’s basically the Best Seller list with anything older than 30 days stripped out, so it’s much much easier to hit the front page than on the Best Seller list proper. As such, it allows you to bootstrap yourself up into the BS list with a lower level of sales to begin with. In super-competitive genres (like Romance/Thrillers) or those without sub-categories (like Historical Fiction) it can really help.

              I should add: if you appear in the Top 3 of the HNR for any given sub-category/category you will appear in the sidebar beside the front page of the Top 100 for that category/sub-category which can get a lot of eyeballs on your book cover.

          • Do books with pre-orders get extra time on the HNR list? That is, are they on the list from upload to release and then for 30 days after release? Or are they on the list only for 30 days after upload? If it’s the latter (as I would expect, but I certainly have no idea), then I don’t think pre-orders on Amazon have any benefit other than potential convenience for readers.

            • It’s from upload to release + 30 days. In other words, some books can be on Hot New Releases for *months* (and still not be out yet), and then they get another 30 days from launch day.

      • I find that the Smashwords pre-order, and the stand-alone ones for B&M and Kobo, have another benefit — getting the uploaded books actually available for the date desired.

        The staggered availability, esp. for Smashwords downstream sites like Sony and Apple is a real irritant. Kobo can take a while, too, even when uploaded directly.

        • Yes Karen, agreed, this is one of the six benefits outlined in the piece:

          1. Higher placement in bestseller lists
          2. Simultaneous availability
          3. Advance marketing
          4. Existing titles help market your preorder
          5. Capture the reader’s interest at the moment you have their attention
          6. Increased on-store merchandising

  5. If you want a career as a storyteller:

    The primary value of preorders is not that they can goose your sales. The primary value is that it tells you how many true fans you have. People who will buy your work sight unseen are the foundation of your career. Your top career goal should be to increase your number of true fans to the point where you can support yourself with just the preorders of every book.

    • That’s part of it, though it’s dangerous to try to boil this down to a single primary value. Authors with the greatest number of rabid true fans will get the most dramatic results from the first-day pop, but lesser known authors can use their lesser first day pop to increase their visibility and sales. Since book sales are distributed as a power curve, books in the top 10 are seen by many orders of magnitude more eyeballs than someone who appears at #100 or #1000. For an author who typically sells three copies a day at a given retailer like Apple, 3 preorders a day, accumulated over a period of two months, will earn them a day-one credit of almost 200 units sold, and that’s usually enough to land in the top 10 of most genre lists. For an author who’s never appeared in one of those lists, it can be a significant boost to their platform and their bragging rights.

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