Self-publishing 2016 – KDP Select woe

Following on from the post about my 2016 sales figures, I thought I’d share some other self-publishing insights I’d made in the last year or so.

A KDP Select quirk that cut my income by 2/3

KDP Logo

So, I’ve got two books in KDP select, the Amazon initiative where you sell exclusively through them, and get a higher % of sales, as well being listed in Kindle Unlimited, where readers download for free and you get paid per page view. Those books are my short story collection The Resurrection Tree and Other Stories and my SF comedy Higgs & Soap: Galaxy Delivery.

I put those two in the program as a test, mainly because I was seeing almost non-existent sales elsewhere anyway. They have now been in KDP Select since last April. Soon after enrolling in the scheme, I decided to take advantage of one of its benefits – the promotions. You can do a Kindle Countdown Deal, where you set the lowest price to sell at, and each day, over a set number of days, the price goes back up to the original value, or a Free Book Promotion, which is self-explanatory.

In May 2016, I did the latter for both books. I set them up for a 5-day free promotion and went on social media and Kindle forums to promote it as much as I could. And it went well – I shifted 137 copies of The Resurrection Tree (TRT) and 214 copies of Higgs & Soap (H&S). I was initially quite pleased. I had actually done a similar promotion with the short story collection during a brief dally with KDP Select in 2015 and had over 400 takers then, so this was down a bit, but still encouraging.

However, the following month, sales of my other titles plummeted…

Graph - sales drop

The big green and maroon bars in May are the free copies of TRT and H&S flying off the digital shelves, and it’s clear to see that sales of my superhero novels Powerless and Killing Gods dropped off significantly that month, and continued to stay low. At the end of 2015, sales had been increasing from around 10/7 per month of each to 70/30, and this continued until April 2016. The month of my free book promotion, these dropped to 40/30, and eventually settled around 22/10 on average.

Now, it could just have been a coincidence – readers suddenly tired of superheroes, I reached some kind of saturation point with my books, it was the start of Summer and people read less – but nothing else happened at that time that could account for it.

Why it happened I can only guess at. Sure, some people might have seen the free book offer and held off buying “Tony Cooper’s” other books for a month or so, but the free books weren’t in the same genre, and the sales drop has been consistent since. So, I’m thinking there was probably some Amazon algorithm at work here. Because I suddenly “sold” a large number of books for free, I’m guessing some code kicked in that either increased the visibility of those KDP Select books AND/OR decreased the visibility of my other books, as they weren’t “selling” as well. And by visibility, I mean in the recommendations system: “People who bought this…” “You might also like…” etc. And it looks like this effect has persisted ever since.

Anyhow, I am never going to do a price promotion on any of my KDP Select books again. A bit extreme perhaps? Maybe so, but I was approaching £100 per month sales before this event, on an upward trend, and I’m now back down to averaging £30. It could have been a mistake putting two books in the free promotion at the same time, maybe that’s what triggered this? If I had done one at a time, it might not have hit me so hard? The thing is I have absolutely no idea, as Amazon keeps their algorithms completely opaque.

Welcome to the wonderful world of self-publishing! 🙂


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