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Flash Mob at Amazon

Experiment: Internet flash mob for digital content known as Drummer Boy

Hypothesis: A concentrated cluster of sales can stimulate a book’s Amazon rankings and lead to more sales

First, this wasn’t a calculated, well-organized campaign. While I spent a year planning the launch for release of The Red Church in mass-market paperback, I got the flash mob idea about a week ago. The marketing was mostly limited to my Twitter account (178 followers), Myspace (10,000 friends), Facebook (1,300 friends), and the forums at Kindleboards, Mobilereads, and, to a limited extent, Amazon. The biggest megaphone was J.A. Konrath’s Newbie’s Guide blog.

Drummer Boy had been up on Amazon for about three weeks, with very little promotion and sales of about one to two per day as I tinkered with the description and categories. It started Flash Mob Morning ranked #12,440. At Flash Mob Hour, 3 p.m. EST, it ticked up to #6,972 on three sales for the day. I suspect one or two participants might have jumped the gun or had their clocks off a bit, because there was a flurry of 23 sales in an hour, and the Amazon ranking rose to #6,024. (I learned the ratings updates at Amazon are delayed a full hour, so even though sales are reported immediately in your DTP account, the Amazon algorithms kick in later.)

From 4 p.m. to 5 p.m., there were seven additional sales as new people discovered the event. At shortly after 5 p.m., the ranking rose to #557 as the Flash Mob Hour numbers took effect. From 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. an additional five copies sold, yielding the best ranking of #524. Clearly, the rankings are averaged not just in short-term and long-term, but in near-term, averaging out recent activity. Of course, the rankings are a moving target, as other books are also rising and falling at the same time.

Six additional sales overnight, or about one every two hours, left Drummer Boy at #1,108. In 24 hours, 41 sales moved the book from #12,440 to #1,108. It also sold three paper copies during the blitz.

A flurry of sales can shoot your books up the chart in a brief spurt. That’s pretty obvious, but here is some real-time data on the effects in the mid-range list. My novels generally rank between 3,000 and 8,000, so I consider myself in that second tier of sellers, those with an audience but who have to work to find new readers with half a million Kindle titles available.

Having people visit the Amazon page, with no purchase, doesn’t seem to have any effect at all. I thought that might stimulate “People who viewed this” appearances, but unless people are browsing, clicking around, or buying books, it probably wouldn’t matter. It might be cool in the future to pair the Flash Mob up with a new-release bestseller, have people click back and forth on both, and see if that leads to some impulse buys. You’d also benefit by having at least 20 reviews, so the book pops up in more recommendation slots, but that’s difficult to do unless you’ve lined up your reviewers in advance and had them all post a couple of days before the Flash Mob.

The blitz didn’t affect my other Amazon sales at all. They sold very close to their usual daily average and their rankings did not significantly alter.

I’ll probably try this again in October, for a new book. (I will probably release two more between now and then, but this is the type of thing that can really exhaust a fan-and-friend base and quickly ceases to be fun.) I will build it up longer, have some cool prizes, and promote it for a month or so. I will also do the Flash shortly after the book’s release, because I suspect the long dormant period before the blitz may have diluted the flash effect in the ranking averages.

I suspect you’d need a huge effort to reach the Top 100 and stay there, since it’s already difficult to compete with all the free books that comprise the bulk of that list. I’ve heard closer to the top you are getting 30 or so sales per hour, and getting up there leads to more sales. Of course, nothing sells like being a bestseller, but bestselling writers aren’t sitting around hosting Flash Mobs, either.

The Flash Mob did not seem to carry over to other formats. The page views at Smashwords peaked but didn’t yield sales or sample downloads. Of course, I have no idea if the Flash Mob affected sales for iPad, Mobipocket, or other devices, though I did sell a couple of paper books directly from my site.

At $1.99, the Flash Mob earned me about $28 in royalties, but my wife and I each bought one, so that cuts it down to $24. (Your promo effort officially jumps the shark when you force your spouse to buy a copy). The paperback royalties netted me nearly $10. If I could sell that well every day, with three books, I could make a living at it. That’s not realistic. But I’m thinking 10 books earning $10 a day is pretty realistic, and more than I am likely to make from a mainstream publisher in my genre.

Reaching #1 in specific categories doesn’t matter a whole lot unless it’s a popular category. The Flash Mob pushed Drummer Boy to #1 in the Ghosts category and #2 in the Occult category, but those aren’t hot commodities. I checked the Occult rankings and Charlaine Harris was before and after me, so that’s good company, but I don’t think her fans are buying my books yet, though we both write Southern supernatural fantasy. I’ve had three books in the Top Ten in Ghosts at the same time without any noticeable viral effect. However, if you crack in Thriller or Mystery, no doubt you will get impulse purchases.

In the old days for a book launch, I’d do dozens of store signings, spending my own gas money to sit and sign books. While meeting bookstore people is joyful and humbling, it’s also costly and time-consuming, plus you’re not likely to see a nickel back for your efforts. While I miss the personal contact, the immediacy of the Internet is just as fun in its own way. Plus I got to go out to the garden while the Flash Mob was underway.

I suspect this could be really effective for plugged-in people like Seth Godin, Seth Harwood, Scott Sigler, or J.A. Konrath, who could make a true event out of it. I’m just a guy with wireless and a few e-books out there. My platform base isn’t yet a rabid Kindle crowd, and most of my loyal fans are the ones who have dog-eared paperbacks. Creators cultivating transmedia platforms will do better in this new digital environment. Which is why I am developing a Drummer Boy video.

Which got me thinking to the next logical step. The Flash Mob was interesting because there were real-time Amazon numbers to play with and monitor. I already bypassed a publisher and agent cut by releasing Drummer Boy on my own. But if I had targeted the Flash Mob to my own site and sold those books at the same price, this morning I would have more than $100 in my paypal account. I’d be going out for breakfast.

After the Flash Mob was over, I clicked open the file for the novel I am about to finish. I wrote a couple of pages. Good pages. That was as fun as selling books. As I say to my wife, and to life, “To be continued.”

Scott Nicholson


  • http://www.selfpublishingreview.com/members/dlmartin6/ Debra L Martin

    Thanks Scott for the rundown. I saw your post over at the Kindleboards about this and I was wondering how you made out. I don’t have nearly as many followers as you do and like everyone else, I’m finding it difficult to build a fan base. Do you feel that it was worth it?

  • http://www.hauntedcomputer.com Scott Nicholson

    Debra, I feel you have to do everything you can–fun gimmicks, persistent promotion, and seeking out new audiences. Nobody really knows what works, or when it will work. All in all, I could have done a lot better, but I was expecting about 10 sales from it. I learned a lot about the rankings. The book is now down to #7,000 or so but it’s still getting sales. The key, to me, is to have a lot of titles out there, each earning a little.

    Scott Nicholson