Too Cheap to be Popular? – Amazon Algorithm Changes

If your self-published eBook is featured on Amazon, you are keenly aware that the only thing constant is change. For those grappling with last month’s ranking adjustments, one of the best explainers is offered at Indie Jane, where Jennifer Becton walks us through the confusion:

One of the advantages indie authors have over our traditionally published counterparts is that we can choose to sell our ebooks very cheaply. Setting a price of $.99 has proven not only a great deal for readers, but writers still earn 35 percent of the list price, which is much more than what authors of traditionally published ebooks receive.

The $.99 price point has also been a wonderful tool for breaking into a large market and competing successfully against established names. …

What’s changed?

Amazon’s algorithm. [Insert scary music]

Heretofore, the list price of a book had no bearing on popularity and rank. Now it does. …

When it comes down to it, visibility is the key to book sales. People can’t read what they don’t know is out there, so indies have to find ways of presenting their books as options for readers. Frankly, I’d rather offer books cheaper in order to gain more visibility, but I also have to work with what I’ve got, and apparently, this is what we’ve got at Amazon right now.

Read “About that Algorithm” in its entirety, and be sure to check out the comments that follow. Jennifer links to additional discussion resources within the post.

For my money the most riveting discussion of the questions raised in “About that Algorithm” is in this post at The Passive Voice.

The upshot is, at the moment anyway, at Amazon your eBook can be cheap or it can be popular but chances are it can’t be both.

  • Kitty

    Lee Goldberg used to tell wannabe writers to avoid self-pub, because only good writing will get them published. (And vanity presses are scams.) He changed his tune when Kindle came along. He just published his first Kindle book:


  • I agree with this post 100%, as I did the post on the same subject in The Passive Voice. I’ve come to the conclusion that $2.99 is the correct price to charge for an ebook written by a relatively unknown author such as myself. Prospective buyers can read the sample and the reviews knowing that $2.99 is an inexpensive investment in a book that might turn out to be a worthless read but might also be something they’ll remember forever. A free book, or even one costing $.99, is really no investment at all.

  • Ron, regarding free books, please the new post here “Gee, Thanks!” in which I quote an author sharing a great story about his eBook giveaways.

    I think there will always be readers who want an ebook for 99 cents, the question is whether the author wants to worry about the Amazon popularity algorithm.

  • Lela, please see my comment under “Gee, Thanks!” I’m not an author who worries about Amazon’s current popularity algorithm. It will soon be something else. And I’m certain it will be changed for Amazon’s benefit and not for that of indie authors. I’m sorry if I’m so down on this, but I do appreciate all of your recent posts on SPR. They’ve made me think where I’m going.

  • I’ve given a great deal of thought to pricing recently. You need something that won’t scare away readers, but you also need it high enough to imply quality. Ninety-nine cents was a great novelty a year or more ago, but I think the trend is moving upwards. Not by much, but most folks, in my experience, are now moving past the .99 cents books out of the perception of quality. Rightly or wrongly, books priced that low are being hurt by the perception.