#1 in Programming

Yesterday was the start of the ultimate test of the promise of Amazon KDP Select. The Kindle Direct Publishing Select program is a 90 day exclusivity commitment to Amazon, in return for some reward. Amazon reports authors finding ~30% increased sales due to enrollment. I've read a bunch of fiction author's reports, but none for non-fiction, so I figured it would be a nice experiment. I was previously selling on Barnes and Noble as well as a Epub/Mobi/Pdf bundle on my own site. BN was pretty weak, but my bundle was close to 30%. I figured I could turn it off for a while to experiment.

I ran a "promotion" on one of my books. A promotion for those who are not familiar with Amazon KDP Select is a day where the book is discounted to a price of $0.00. You are allowed five of them when you sign up with Amazon KDP Select. Yes, for the honor of being exclusive to Amazon for 90 days, they give you the ability to sell your book for nothing.

The idea of a promotion is not new. The idea of free promotion in this world of social media is a little different. I have seen first hand what happens to iPhone apps when they are promoted on such sites. The ideal situation is free loaders (who would normally not buy your digital goods) come in droves and create such a media frenzy that over the next couple of days, those "lost sales" turn into marketing gold and you are riding the waves to being the next Indie Developer/Author retiree. Though staying in that short head where the few people who actually make decent money is difficult.

I have also been on the other side of this. I will admit, I'm a free loader for Android apps. I visit the Amazon Andriod Market every day just to see what is for free. If the app has good ratings and I think it will be useful now --- or in the future (since I get free updates), I will "buy" it. "Buying it" doesn't force me to actually waste space and download it to one of my android devices. And I'm a very "long tail user" here. I'm not engaged. I don't review or rate the apps. Most of them I haven't even bothered to download. But for the chance that I might it the future, I'll put it in my Amazon virtual app locker. These days my Kindle Fire is mostly used for Carcassonne (an app that isn't even available in Amazon's market), though the kids love the normal apps, Angry Birds, Plants vs Zombies, and Where's the Water (all Amazon "purchases").

I can see the appeal of this for fiction where you have potentially mass appeal. I'm not sure it holds water for non-fiction. Right now my Guide to: Learning Python Decorators is #1 in Programming and #275 overall in the "Free" Kindle Store. It "sold" about 13X more copies during the promotion than it did the other 19 days of the month. It is also possible that I just gave the book away to 90% of the people who might be interested in it. I'm hoping that maybe I'll get a positive review or two out of it. The feedback I've gotten previously from my books has been positive. But I think that the crowd who purchased it was very self selecting. When you discount the price to a freebie, the net widens. It will be interesting to see if the net catches many high value short head readers or not.

The Good

I actually received useful feedback from online comments. My book is more of an introductory treatise on its subject and does not cover minutiae and corner cases that most people do not run into. I knew this and have two thoughts. One --- I'm in the process considering how to integrate that content in a way that I like. Two --- said commentor is not in the target audience of this book, they already live this stuff. But that is the hand I am being dealt. I think to "market" my book I need endorsement from "luminaries". Yet, they are usually going to endorse something that is appropriate to their level. With my book they are going to pick over every detail, not realizing that the basics that they've lived and breathed for years are confusing and difficult for many to understand.

I'm still working on creating a physical version of my books. I'm getting closer. I'm messing with margin sizes (I like to jot in my non-fiction physical book margins) and formatting of front matter.

I can't complain that I'm basically in the top position for my genre. Isn't that the dream of any self-pubbed writer? I'm not sure how long it will last. And I'm curious to see the long term effects of this "promotion".

The Bad

I did limited marketing. I was away skiing today, so I blogged the night before and tweeted before hitting the slopes. I tried getting it on, but am labelled as a troll there, even when I try to give my book away for free. This is somewhat annoying, because any marketing to what I think comprises my target audience is automatically moderated as spam.

On the flipside, picked up the book. Sadly they linked to the Amazon page rather that my blog or the book's page. (Perhaps that is why prog.reddit moderated down, because of my affliate links ... strange because I get $0 from a $0 sales but I digress).

Authors often talk about "platforms", which means a different thing for programmers. But author "platforms" are the eco-systems around the online presence of their book. They mainly consist of:

  • a book home page
  • a blog
  • a place to collect email addresses

I would have preferred that the links during my promotion went to my "platform" instead of Amazon's. At least they would have understood the backstory and my reasoning behind the promotion in the first place. I can verify that they did not hit mine because my analytics numbers are less than my sales counts. Annoying, but that is the cost of having socially moderated marketing.

If you are reading this and have less "trolly" ways for me to tell you that my book is discounted to a "free" price (which includes free lifetime upgrades), pray tell in the comments.

People don't like Amazon, Kindles or Kindle readers (or don't have access to them). I received requests asking if I would give them a free pdf of my book. That won't happen while I'm enrolled in KDP Select, being that it is a violation of my contract. Geeks being geeks, they are already discussing the methods to pdf creation, which look sane. I'd like to further explore this segment of potential "clients". Do they really love pdfs? If so why? Are they ignorant of the many available readers? Are they afraid of being tied into the ebook strangle-hold that Amazon appears to have? Again, I'm not sure fiction readers care or are this technical, or that their content is important enough that it needs to be in a pdf format for some reason. But these are some of the hurdles that non-fiction writers may have to deal with.

The Ugly

I also found out this week that some people feel that my book has limited value (I hoped they picked it up when it was priced accordingly). It is not a sentiment that I am entirely unfamiliar with. Having worked very closely with open source (not just as a free time thing, but actually being employed to do so), I'm aware of "information wants to be free" arguments as well as "people associating non-zero cost with value". Many outfits run open source backed by paid solutions to enhance performance, be they software or hardware. But occasionally you rub someone the wrong way.

So I'll say it again. Most of what my books deal with is information that can be found on the web. I've collected, curated, and refined it to a more palatable format (I hope). As do most programming authors. My content has consistently been one of PyCon's most popular tutorials. I have no problem with people learning from freely available sources. But many times I would have preferred a well written book on a topic, rather than trying to piece the puzzle together with a bunch of disparate sites.

Other people have actually written me, thanking me for a concise guide type format to a specific idea. One actually listed a bunch of potential topics. I also have topics that I would be willing to pay for, but am in no way qualified to write.

I'm wondering if price has something to do with it the gripes. Yet most programming books are expensive and not read. Even more so if they are college "texts". Mine are relatively shorter, cheaper, and hopefully easy to read. Maybe I'm making a mountain out of a molehill here.

The tools that Amazon provides for discounts are pretty limited. One nicety of selling my own bundle was the ability to provide discount codes. I understand why the limitation is there for physical goods, but am not sure why they do not support this for virtual goods. I have some ideas, but have heard nothing concrete other than, "if you want to discount, you do a blanket promotion and give it away free to everyone".

Other notes

US sales ~20X UK, ~40X DE, ~100X IT, ~160X FR, ~400X ES. Sadly I don't have website numbers to correlate with Amazon sales due to direct linking to the book in Amazon.