Historical and Contemporary Romance Author

Amazon Marketing and Unintended Consequences

I feel like a real chatty Cathy this week, with posts that are literally all over the place in terms of topics, but yesterday was particularly eventful, and I have musings I must share.

So, as many of you probably know, possibly because you received it, Amazon sent out an email yesterday highlight six 99-cent romance titles that were highly rated and doing well in the Kindle store (among them Courtney Milan’s UNLOCKED and Paula Quinn’s LAIRD OF THE MIST). Immediately after that email blast, those titles started shooting up in their Amazon ranks. Courtney’s novella reached the #2 overall spot and LAIRD OF THE MIST is currently at #11 (and may have peaked higher).

But as the day wore on, I began to notice a strange phenomenon. Suddenly, THE REIVER was selling TONS more copies than it ever had before and climbing the charts rapidly. Other romances ALSO seemed to be gaining in overall ranking in the Kindle store (although not necessarily changing places all that much relative to one another). By the time I went to bed last night, my story had sold a whopping 200 copies in 24 hours (it had never before sold more than about 75 in a single day and was selling about 40-50 on an average day for the last couple of weeks). Its overall ranking in the Kindle store climbed from somewhere in the 1500s or thereabouts to as high as 323, and at its peak, it was #21 in Books | Romance | Historical.

Well, um, wow. I didn’t expect that. And it didn’t dawn on me until I hopped onto the Kindle boards this morning and read a post there on the subject that the reason for all those sales was, paradoxically, an email in which my story wasn’t mentioned at all. It seems that what happened was that people who jumped on that email and bought one or more of those titles also started scrolling through the Also Bought lists for those titles, likely searching for other well-rated romances with low prices. And, by virtue of the fact that THE REIVER was already on the Also Bought lists for several of the books Amazon highlighted, people found it and a fair number of them bought it. I suspect that my sales benefitted most from Paula Quinn’s book, which is also a Scottish historical.

Oddly enough, Courtney’s novella doesn’t appear at all on my Also Bought list. I find it hard to believe that no one who’s bought her novella (and at this point, that has to be a LOT of romance readers) has also bought mine, but for whatever reason, there’s absolutely no link between us (and that’s a shame, because I’d love to be linked to Courtney in anyway possible).

Sales have slowed considerably today as yesterday’s Amazon-induced buying frenzy seems to have slacked off to more typical historical levels (and I’m plenty happy with that!), but I learned something instructive. Amazon can pick and choose to promote certain titles, but when it does so, what it chooses to promote has unintended consequences. Those consequences can be happy for some (in this case, for authors with highly rated romance titles prices at 99 cents that already had decent sales rankings and Also Bought associations) and possibly not so happy for others (anything that wasn’t a romance and lost ground in overall rankings due to the sudden rise of romance titles).


  • Jody W. June 24, 2011 at 5:46 pm

    How do you think also-boughts work? Does a person have to have bought them in the SAME transaction? When I get ebooks, I only ever get one at a time.

  • Portia Da Costa June 25, 2011 at 6:32 am

    Wow, congratulations on those wonderful sales figures! I’m sure word of mouth about a great story is driving some of those sales, as well as the Amazon marketing angle. 🙂

    Count me as one of the number too. I just bought The Reiver for my Kindle, because I really like the sound of it.

  • Jackie Barbosa June 25, 2011 at 11:16 am

    Jody, I’m pretty sure they track the purchases you’ve made under your account not only for the purpose of building Also Bought lists, but for the purpose of making recommendations on your front page. (And they don’t just track what you buy; they also track what you LOOK at.)

    When they build the Also Bought lists for any given book, it looks to me like they’re using a combination of factors to sort the list (i.e., determine how far up in the list each Also Bought title appears). Those factors include, but obviously aren’t limited to:

    * Same genre
    * Most shared purchases
    * Highest ranked in the Kindle store
    * Overall rating of the book
    * Whether or not Amazon is specifically trying to push that book, either for its own reasons or on behalf of the publisher

    Exactly how the algorithm mashes together those factors plus others I’m probably not able to think of, I don’t know, but that’s how it LOOKS to me based on the Also Bought list for my book and others I’ve looked at.

  • Jackie Barbosa June 25, 2011 at 11:19 am

    Hi Portia,

    Thanks for the congrats. I totally cannot take any real credit for the whopping sales of this short story. If there’s any word of mouth buzz about it, I sure am not aware of it. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but it’s definitely not happening anyplace where I can “see” it. So mostly, I’m blaming (or thanking?) Amazon for the way it’s taken off.

    And thanks for buying a copy. I hope you enjoy reading it.

  • Jackie Barbosa » Blog Archive » Do Low-Cost eBooks Hurt or Help Authors? June 25, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    […] watching the stunning uptick in the Kindle rankings for low-cost romances on Wednesday (see yesterday’s post for the details), I’ve been giving even more thought than usual to digital book pricing. […]

  • Anthea Lawson June 25, 2011 at 9:41 pm

    However, not all authors saw that kind of uptick – my sales were the usual trickle. 🙂 Maybe it’s because I’m only a little over a month from when I uploaded the short story, and don’t have enough also-boughts to make a difference at this point. I think you said it took at least 3 months, Jackie. We shall see!

  • Jackie Barbosa June 25, 2011 at 10:12 pm

    Hi Anthea,

    Yeah, I hope it didn’t sound like I thought the uptick was felt across the board. Because of the way the Also Bought algorithm seems to work, the effect of a marketing push like that tends to have a stronger effect on titles that are already selling reasonably well (say, within the top 2000 or so overall). There’s definitely a critical mass you have to reach before you really start to see your Also Bought list pushing sales, independent of Amazon’s marketing blasts. For me, that started happening at around 2.5 months, but as I’ve said before, I think part of that was driven by the 89 cent price the story briefly had, which made it stand out. And sadly, that was just an accident and absolutely not replicable.

    I’m even a little nervous about releasing my next title because there’s no way I can get Amazon to discount the next one to 89 cents to get it on people’s radar. Even when you’re previously published and have a backlist, there’s just no guarantee that people will NOTICE your new title is there. It takes a certain amount of luck. And patience helps, too.

  • Anthea Lawson June 25, 2011 at 11:46 pm

    I’m just having fun seeing where this goes. And watching everyone else on their journey, too. I’m sure that the more titles you put up, the more overall visibility you’ll have. Go Jackie, go! 🙂

  • Portia Da Costa June 26, 2011 at 5:18 am

    Yes, I’m hoping it takes about 3 or 4 months to get ‘noticed’. I started self pubbing in April, and now have 6 short items available, but my sales are barely more than a trickle as yet.

    And yes, can certainly confirm that having a previously published backlist doesn’t particularly help. I’ve over 20 books on Amazon, but that certainly didn’t guarantee good sales of my self pubbed items.

    As Jackie recommends, I’m attempting to be patient. 🙂

  • Anthea Lawson June 26, 2011 at 3:48 pm

    Hmm, looking over your titles at Amazon (and wow they look deliciously hot!) I notice you don’t have many reviews. I think that can also make a difference to whether readers buy.

    Do you have fans who have e-mailed you to rave about your stories, or bloggers who have given you good reviews (DA comes to mind) whom you can ask to give an honest review of your work on Amazon?

    Jackie, any thoughts on the role reviews might play?

  • Jackie Barbosa June 27, 2011 at 9:33 am

    Hi Anthea,

    I have *heard* that there’s a certain critical mass of reviews that push sales (around ten perhaps), but I’m not sure I’ve noticed the effect too much. I did experience a pretty pronounced drop-off in sales of The Reiver after someone posted a negative one-star review claiming the story was too short (she apparently thought it was a novel despite the fact that the cover copy clearly states it’s a short story of 8500 words/35 pages). But the effect of that seemed to fade after a few days.

    I’d love to have more reviews for all my books on Amazon, but alas, I feel that’s something I can’t really control. I’m not comfortable asking people to write reviews on Amazon; I want them to be moved to do it of their own volition, not because I begged, although I do have a couple of reviews on Amazon that were written by friends who coincidentally actually DID like the books. Still, that’s not something I want to rely on.

  • Anthea Lawson June 27, 2011 at 2:02 pm

    I think if someone initiates contact to say how much they loved your book/story, it’s not outside the pale to ask if they’d be comfortable giving a review on Amazon. I’ve had readers send me 3am gushing e-mails about my books who were only too happy to post a review — it had simply never occurred to a couple of them that they could do so, or that it would help the author. 🙂

    That said, if I read something I love, I do try and post a review — and now that I have a new kobo, I can read even more digital-only, woohoo!


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