Amazon’s UK Best Seller List Affected By Free eBook Offer – What, Again?

So Porter Andersen reported on Friday that a free Kindle ebook promotion sponsored by a telecom was playing merry hob on the UK Kindle Store's best seller list:

amazon-kindle-ukAmazon officials confirm to The FutureBook that downloads of #Kindle ebooks from Amazon Publishing imprints made available free of charge to customers in a telephone-company promotion have temporarily skewed the UK's 'Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store' rankings at Amazon.co.uk.

A fix is being attempted, according to the company.

I read that post on Friday, and when Sunday night rolled around I thought it would be useful to expand on Porter's always excellent work.

The point that Porter left out is that free ebooks have always affected the Kindle Store's best seller list for "paid" titles. Ask any group of self-published authors and they'll tell you about strategies they have used to boost their ebooks' ranks in the Kindle Store by making the ebook free for a day. According to Lyndsay Buroker, this doesn't work as well as it used to, but it is still having an impact.

For example, Kindle First, Amazon's program to give Prime members a free ebook each month, is having enough of an impact that in June of this year DBW decided to jigger their ebook best seller list to remove said titles:

Kindle First allows Kindle owners a low-priced shot at Amazon Publishing ebook titles before they’re released to the wider public at a discount (in this case, the $4.99 titles are being sold for $1.99). Prime members can download one of these free per month and that’s the issue.

All four of these titles would have been in the top-25 this week — with two in the top ten — if both paid downloads and free downloads were counted. When we queried Amazon on this, a company spokesperson rightly pointed out that none of the downloads were technically free, since Prime is a paid membership program. Nevertheless, not each download was paid for and it could be misleading to include titles that are part free and part paid. When we suggested Amazon provide a breakdown of what percentage of the downloads were free to Prime members, the company declined further comment. Therefore, the only solution we could think of was to remove these titles from the list.

DBW also fiddled with their list last month to remove the impact of Kindle Unlimited.

Rightly or wrongly, Amazon uses many different factors to influence their best seller list, besides just actual paid sales. And that includes free ebooks.

Porter reported when he covered this latest tale that Amazon said the free ebooks were incorrectly applied, but I'm not so sure that Amazon made a mistake. According to Amazon's statement:

Our paid list includes titles that are paid for either a la carte or through paid subscription programs like KU [Kindle Unlimited] and Prime. This does not include short term promotional programs with third parties that include free books. In this case the downloads were applied incorrectly and we are looking into a possible fix now.

That strikes me as an artificial distinction. Amazon has always let free ebook promotions affect the rankings on the paid best seller list, so to single out this particular free ebook promotion and exclude it strikes me as splitting hairs.

I think it's better to include them all or remove them all.

P.S. And on a related note, I would also argue that DBW's decision to filter out free titles is most likely an error. Yes, they are negating the effect of transactions where no one actually bought an ebook, but DBW is also missing any sales that may have resulted from an excluded title having a high rank on the Kindle Store best seller list. In short, their list isn't an accurate reflection of the market.

About Nate Hoffelder (11582 Articles)
Nate Hoffelder is the founder and editor of The Digital Reader:"I've been into reading ebooks since forever, but I only got my first ereader in July 2007. Everything quickly spiraled out of control from there. Before I started this blog in January 2010 I covered ebooks, ebook readers, and digital publishing for about 2 years as a part of MobileRead Forums. It's a great community, and being a member is a joy. But I thought I could make something out of how I covered the news for MobileRead, so I started this blog."

1 Comment on Amazon’s UK Best Seller List Affected By Free eBook Offer – What, Again?

  1. “I think it’s better to include them all or remove them all.” – ditto that, thanks Nate!

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