Amazon’s Latest Gimmick, the Book Countdown Deal: Does it Work?

SalesThe idea of a book countdown is fun: set the price at the lowest level allowed on Amazon, 99 cents, and watch it rise each day by one dollar – until it’s back to the original price. There is an element of game betting: you, as the customer, have to beat the clock in order to win.
I recently tried it for my book “Luna Rising, the Full Saga“, as those of you who receive my newsletter know. I thought that no matter what happened, it wouldn’t hurt. This was a book that I had just published at the beginning of the year, a re-edition of an earlier novel (totally re-written and with a new cover), and it was sitting dead in digital dust. It obviously needed some kind of boost.

Starting Thursday 27 February, the countdown was launched and by Saturday morning March 1st, this is what my book detail page looked like:

Wow, it ranked number 55 in the top 100 fiction ebooks in the category…”Metaphysical”! But wait a minute, what on earth is “metaphysical fiction” and who would ever want to read it??

I thought I had used the term “visionary” when I had uploaded my book on Amazon but it seems it goes together with “metaphysical”…I controlled what it was, searching the Kindle Store for “metaphysical fiction” and found over 5,000 titles (see here), ranging from science fiction to black magic, but also world masterpieces, like Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis”. So I shouldn’t complain, I’m in good company! A pity I didn’t stay long in the hallowed top 100: just a couple of days…

In a way, “metaphysical” made sense, and I learned right there something about what might sell my book. That’s useful, considering it is undoubtedly a hard sell even though it is perhaps one of my best books, mainly because it is “cross genre”. It starts out as a paranormal romance and ends as a techno-thriller (!).

In the process, I learned a few interesting things:

  • Make sure you plan your marketing around it ahead of time. I didn’t do a very good job of it, I only put my book up on three sites paying for the ad and as far as I can see, those ads didn’t drive any sales. The sales I got seemed to have been triggered by my newsletter; however, this was the first time I used it (if you’re interested in receiving it, the sign-up form is on this page, upper right corner – no spam, only information about upcoming deals and events like a new book release). In spite of this, 46.4% almost half the subscribers opened the letter and 3.6% clicked through to the title. Compared to an industry average of a 17.7 % and 2.5% respectively, I suppose I should feel satisfied (though I suspect that writers, once they’ve got a properly running newsletter, manage to get much higher click rates from their fans than I did, I’m still too new at this).
  • Schedule your Countdown Deal in the middle of the week. Just like the number of views on a blog, your sales inevitably slow down on the week-end as people go out and enjoy life rather than the Internet (I scheduled to finish on a Sunday and that was probably a mistake);
  • Don’t forget to tick the UK box otherwise it will run only in the United States. This is very annoying, I didn’t see that box, and all my efforts went to nought in the UK. I thought I could start again the following week with another promotion just for my British friends but that is not the case: only one promotion is allowed every three months and I’ve used up my chance for this 3-month period!
  • Be aware that you won’t see what it looks like on your book detail page if you live outside the US or the UK (like I do). You can only follow what happens from your KDP dashboard and of course the (hourly) change in ranking on your book detail page. I contacted Amazon and they told me how I could look at it, by logging out of my account, and re-entering from “outside”, scrolling down to the very bottom of the page to find the Amazon US market box and click on it. Sounds easy but…At the bottom of the page you see all the Amazon markets across the world except the US!

The biggest unknown in the Countdown Deal is the fallout: what effect it has on follow-up sales and on your other titles once it’s over. I suspect the fallout may be quite large for established writers with lots of fans online; in my case it was limited. Especially if you compare it to the free promotions I did two year ago that triggered thousands of downloads.

This was very different.The sales were disappointing and didn’t continue beyond a few days. Also there was no effect on my other titles.  One unexpected result: it stimulated the sales of the printed version (no doubt why it turns up as #99 in books, see screen shot). What’s interesting about that is that the printed version of the book was not under promotion.

This suggests that:

  • we’re in a very different digital world from two years ago when free promotions drove sales; ebooks no longer sell like hot cakes;
  • the advantage of a Countdown Deal is that it draws attention to the book, regardless of price. It’s probably not so much the limited discount that works as the novelty of the formula and the “game” aspect.

There is little doubt that promotions centered on giving out free books (or low priced books) no longer work: we’ve all got our e-readers overflowing with free books. Clearly something else is needed to give a boost to sales. In that respect the Countdown Deal helps.

Pity it is restricted to the US and UK markets! This is a serious limitation. When will Amazon extend it to other markets where it is present? I have readers in Australia (and other places) who contacted me because they were really annoyed at being cut out.

What is your experience with this new marketing instrument? Did you try it? Please share, I’d love to know how it went for you.

(Photo credit: smartsigns, click here.)

Cover Wars: Be my friend, show a little love! Vote for your favorite book cover but don’t forget to vote mine, it’s “Crimson Clouds”.  Check it out here. I know, they all look great but I rather like mine, hope you do too (grin!)

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