Is Amazon Using Its Market Presence to Break The Big Six?

OK, indie authors, how would you feel if you were selling an average of two books a minute or more for a five-day weekend? Sound crazy? Robert Bidinotto thought so — until he did just that this past weekend.

If you were at Kindle Boards over the weekend, you might have seen the thread where four KB indie authors were invited by Amazon to participate in a Black Friday promotion that started Sunday. Robert was one of them, and he was featured as an editor’s pick. By the end of the weekend, his debut novel Hunter: A Thriller had passed thriller writers Stephen King and James Patterson – including Patterson’s new Alex Cross novel in the bestseller lists. As of Tuesday night, he had sold more than 8,000 books through this promotion. It’s currently ranked 8th in sales among all paid Kindle books.

I haven’t read Robert’s book yet, but even before this promotion it had amassed more than 90 five-star reviews. He doesn’t have any backlist, and he doesn’t price at 99 cents. Hunter is listed at $3.99 and Amazon dropped the price to $1.99 for the Black Friday promotion. He has a single good book, and somehow he caught Amazon’s attention. Now his book is on the radar for anybody who buys thrillers through Amazon, and he’s likely to pick up several more sales even after the promotion ends.

He described his reaction last night: “What’s happening is unreal right now. I can’t believe it…but I just blew by STEPHEN KING.”

So what is Amazon accomplishing besides making one writer’s holiday weekend one he’ll never forget? They just showed that they can help a good indie writer beat the Big Six. If this was a success for them, I expect that we’ll start seeing more of this.

Amazon’s getting major push back from the Big Six on all fronts, but especially the idea of the Kindle lending library for Amazon Prime subscribers. Indie authors are less likely to balk because for most indies, obscurity is the bigger threat. Being in the Prime library means more people might see our books. But we’re not Amazon’s customers. And the Prime subscribers won’t value the lending library portion of the service if it doesn’t have books they want to read. It’s like the last day of the library book sale — sure, you can fill an entire bag for $1. But are there enough books left that you want to read to even fill a bag?

The Big Six is betting that if Amazon wants their books badly enough, it will make concessions until the deal is one Big Six publishers can live with. Their bargaining position comes from their books. People who want to read Steve Jobs’ biography want to read THAT book. Not something else. And for nonfiction, the Big Six probably has more clout. But for fiction, it’s a different ball game. Readers want good books. They might have authors they prefer, but if they can get a good, enjoyable read, they will still value it.

Enter Amazon. If they can make readers demand the books they can offer – the indie books and perhaps some small press books – they can offset the Big Six’s hold. But to do that, people have to know who these authors are. They have to have heard about the book or the authors. Word of mouth sells books. What Amazon is trying to do is get enough books out there to create the buzz. I’m guessing some of the authors that did well will get an offer from Thomas and Mercer or another Amazon imprint. Others might just benefit from the increased visibility. But Amazon’s not being altruistic – it benefits, too. The more leverage it gets over the Big Six, the closer we are to seeing the publishing paradigm hit the point where traditional publishers have to fundamentally change how they do business.

I’ll be watching how this unfolds. I’m sure I won’t be the only one.

8 thoughts on “Is Amazon Using Its Market Presence to Break The Big Six?

  1. Pingback: Writing on the Ether | Jane Friedman

  2. It’s not really “word of mouth” if Amazon sends an email directly into tens of thousands of mailboxes. That’s where Amazon has amassed all its power to sell books. I agree, I don’t think readers will necessarily stay loyal to those old writers who clogged the bestseller lists through a stacked system.

    Of course, the new system is stacked as well. Just hope you get ion the stack!

    • Scott, you’re right about that. But what Amazon can do is use its muscle to get books in front of lots of people who otherwise wouldn’t see them. They read, then they tell others about it. That’s the word of mouth. Without Amazon speeding things up, it takes many times longer to get a book in front of enough people to hit what Bidinotto, in stealing from Gladwell, called the tipping point in his KindleBoards posts about this.

    • Thanks, and keep your eye out — Robert agreed to do a blog interview about this past week’s success. I’m hoping that will be up this week.

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