Best-Seller Lists: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

Best SellerDigital Book World has been compiling weekly e-book bestseller lists for some time, and in the latest analysis they’ve made on them, Jeremy Greenfield alleges to have found an e-book pricing “sweet spot.”

What he means by this is that in looking at data over the last four months, very few books have made the best-seller chart whose price exceeded $8.”The literal translation of this observation is that readers aren’t buying many books at that price point. It could suggest that there are few popular titles being priced in that range,” Greenfield concludes

But is this a fair conclusion? My experience has been that plenty of best-seller books are priced higher than this, and it’s partly why I get so few new release e-books these days.

Consider this much-hyped new book by actress Nia Vardalos. There are huge stacks of the hardcover at my local Indigo. Vardalos has been making all the talk show rounds to promote it. She even has an Academy Award nomination under her belt, so she’s got a high enough profile that she can promote the heck out of this. And the book—which, according to its Kindle page, is number two in two categories and number four in another—is priced at $16.89.

I actually did want to read this one, so I was glad to see that my public library had the e-book copy. I’m on the waiting list and should be able to read the book within the month.

So, what is my analysis? I think e-book best-seller lists like these ones are self-fulfilling prophecies. People use the list as a shopping guide to cheap e-book bargains, and they do so because the actual new books that interest them are priced out of the realm of affordability. The list then perpetuates itself—you sell more copies by being on the list, which makes you a best-seller, which means that Amazon discounts you, which gets you on the list at a price that’s under $8, which makes you an affordable bargain that people buy, which then keeps you on the list.

But it doesn’t mean you’re actually the hot new book people want to read right now. Those are still priced at stratospheric levels.

2 Comments on Best-Seller Lists: A Self-Fulfilling Prophecy?

  1. Bestsellers aren’t an indication of quality, just quantity. People should know that by now.

    More important than how cheap a book is, is the time you invest reading it. If I’m going to take 6 to 8 hours to read a book, I’m going to pick something I want to read, not a substitute that costs less.

    Like everyone else, I like it when a book I want goes on sale, but cost isn’t normally a deciding factor. I may buy books that cost less to be saved for a rainy day, but I read more that cost in the higher ranges.

  2. Getting on a bestseller list isn’t easy, particularly if you aren’t a “name” author. Staying on it isn’t nearly so hard since the bestseller list gives a book an incredible amount of visibility.

    Back in ancient ebook times, I had two novels that stayed in the top ten in their genres, and top 20 in all ebooks for over a year on the Rocketbook ebook list at B&N. My sales weren’t vast since these were the days when very few ebooks were being sold, but it was heady to see my small ebook-publisher books beating books by Stephen King, Dan Brown, and President Clinton.

    When the Rocketbook was murdered by Gemstar and the Rocketbook list closed down, my novels faded into obscurity as new devices came, and the big publishers began to saturate the market with back list and big names.

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