Friday, 3 January 2014

Amazon Top 100 Kindle Books - Indies versus Trads, Part 2 (Reviews and Ratings)

Recently, Amazon released a list of its 100 top selling titles for Kindle ebooks, for 2013.  In a previous blog, we looked at how Indies (self or independently published ebooks) compared to Trads (traditionally published or trade published ebooks) in terms of books sold (as measured by ranking within the top 100).  In this second blog we will look at Amazon reviews and ratings, with a particular emphasis on Indies versus Trads.

( For more information on the detailed definitions of Indie and Trad, as well as the findings from that earlier analysis, see the previous blog  Amazon Top 100 Kindle Books - Indies versus Trads.)
As we can see in the first table, Traditionally published books had more reviews per title on average than Independently published books, but the Indies actually had higher average ratings in Amazon’s 5 point scale (with 5 being the maximum rating).  Note that the number of books in the Top 100 for each group is also shown.  The second table shows that this was finding held generally, even after breaking the data down by individual publisher.

Publisher Category
NumBooks
Avg Num Reviews
Avg Rating
Traditional
76
1634
4.09
Indie
24
1208
4.23
Grand Total
100
1532
4.12

Publisher
NumBooks
Avg Num Reviews
Avg Rating
Indie
24
1,208
4.23
Penguin
20
1,661
3.92
Hachette
19
1,497
4.13
Random House
15
1,796
4.13
Simon & Schuster
13
1,528
4.20
Harper Collins
4
1,669
4.10
Harlequin
2
774
4.15
Doubleday
1
2,852
4.20
MacMillan
1
2,896
4.20
William Morrow
1
1,728
4.30
Grand Total
100
1532
4.12

 If we break out the data by the gender of the writer, we see that males tended to receive significantly  more reviews per book on average than females, in both the Trad and Indie groups.  There was little difference by gender in the average rating given to those books in either the Trad or Indie groups, however.
Traditional
Gender
Num Books
Avg Num Reviews
Avg Rating
Female
51
1,362
4.08
Male
25
2,188
4.10
Indie
Gender
Num Books
Avg Num Reviews
Avg Rating
Female
19
1,006
4.22
Male
5
1,975
4.28

Looking at price points, I have categorized prices into three ranges: low (under $4.00), moderate ($4.00 to $7.99) and high (over $8.00).  Again, note that Indie books had higher average ratings than traditional books, at both the low price range and the moderate price range (there were no high priced Indies).  Also note that there was no strong association between the price of a book and the average rating (in fact high price traditional books had the lowest average rating of all categories).  Here’s the detailed breakdown of Indie versus Trad by price category:
Traditional
Price Range
Num Books
Avg Num Reviews
Avg Rating
1-Low
13
1,207
4.03
2-Mod
45
1,820
4.14
3-High
18
1,476
4.00
Indie
Price Range
Num Books
Avg Num Reviews
Avg Rating
1-Low
17
1,251
4.21
2-Mod
7
1,103
4.27
3-High
0
0
0.00

 Although there were precious few non-fiction books in the Kindle Top 100, it is interesting to note that readers also gave Indies higher ratings on average than Trads, in both fiction and non-fiction.
Traditional
Avg Reviews
Num Books
Num Reviews
Avg Rating
Fiction
73
1,624
4.09
Non-fiction
3
1,867
4.13
Indie
Avg Reviews
Num Books
Num Reviews
Avg Rating
Fiction
23
1,202
4.23
Non-fiction
1
1,344
4.30

Genre, of course is always of great importance when  looking at Indie vs Trad publishing.  As we know from the previous blog,  Indies are heavily weighted towards Romance, along with a smaller tendency towards SciFi/Fantasy.  In fact, Indies are very competitive in these genres, in terms of number of titles in the Top 100.  They also appear to be more than competitive in terms of reader satisfaction; in all of the genres where Indies have cracked the Top 100 they have in fact received higher average ratings than Trads.   The average number of reviews per book is also quite close, in these genres.
Traditional
Avg Reviews
Num Books
Num Reviews
Avg Rating
Romance
29
1197
4.16
Thriller
28
1891
4.06
LitFic
11
1733
4.05
SciFi/Fantasy
4
2567
3.83
Other
4
1795
4.10
Indie
Avg Reviews
Num Books
Num Reviews
Avg Rating
Romance
18
1031
4.23
Thriller
0
0
0.00
LitFic
0
0
0.00
SciFi/Fantasy
3
2046
4.30
Other
3
1434
4.17

One area where Trads still hold a distinct edge over Indies is in the top tier of the Top 100 ranking, namely the first quartile (that’s the top 25 books).  As the tables show, they not only dominated the top quartile in terms of the number of titles, but also in terms of the average number of reader reviews, and they had a slight edge in terms of reader satisfaction.  However, in the other quartiles of the distribution, Indies tended to do as well or better in both average number of reader reviews and average ranking.
Traditional
Quartile
Num Books
Num Reviews
Avg Rating
1
21
3,051
4.14
2
21
1,379
4.07
3
18
998
4.06
4
16
824
4.08
Indie
Quartile
Num Books
Number
Rating
1
4
1,483
4.08
2
4
1,367
4.25
3
7
1,168
4.20
4
9
1,047
4.31

 So, what’s the story in this aspect of the Amazon Top 100 Kindle ebooks list?

-          Not only have Indies broken into the big time (i.e. the Top 100 Kindle list), they also seem to have been discovered by a satisfied readership, as measured by reader review rankings.  In fact, reader reviewers seem to be more satisfied with Indies than Trads overall.

-          However, at the top end of the list (the first 25) Trads still hold an edge in number of titles and a slight edge in reader satisfaction.

-          When breaking out the data by the gender of the author, Indies scored higher in reader rankings regardless of whether they were women or men.

-          Indies still sell at lower price points, but when compared to Trads within those same price ranges, readers appear to be more satisfied with Indie books.  One must always bear in mind, however, that Indies can afford to sell at lower price points due to the generally higher royalty rates than can pocket.  An Indie at a the lowest price point may well be earning as much in royalties as a Trad at a much higher price point.

-          The most popular Kindle books are still almost exclusively fiction, Indie or Trad.  Though the numbers of non-fiction titles were small for both groups, Indies had the higher average reader ratings.

-          The highest selling Indies are still predominately in the Romance category, with considerable success in Sci-Fi and Fantasy as well.  In both those categories, Indies score higher in average reader rating than their Trad counterparts.
It is natural to wonder what might account for these findings.  It is just speculation, but a few hypotheses come to mind:

-          The kind of reader who chooses Indies over Trads might be inclined to give Indies the benefit of the doubt, as they still have an outsider or underdog status.

-          Conversely, the type of reader who predominantly chooses Trads over Indies might be quite demanding of those writers, since they have been vetted by gatekeepers and curators.  The relatively low reader ratings given to the highest priced books (all Trad) would tend to support this supposition.

-          It may be that the editorial assistance offered by traditional publishers and agents actually interferes with the quality of the product (too many cooks) and readers might be picking up on that.

-          The agent and publisher gatekeeping system might actually be biasing book selection in ways that the general public doesn’t really care for.  Indies may simply be in a better position to give readers what they want, having less of an intellectual investment in the assumptions of the traditional system.

-          Conversely, it could be argued that Indies are giving their readers literary junk food, and people like their junk food even though it isn’t the best choice for them.  Anyway, I am sure that’s what many in the established system would like to think.
There are still a number of interesting things to explore in this data.  For example:

-          How well does the number of reviews seem to correspond to number of sales?  (via examining the list ranked by sales vs number of reviews).

-          How is the money being divvied up?  (via multiplying prices by sales, as best as we can estimate them from sales rank and numbers of reviews).
In addition, it would be interesting to compare the Top 100 Amazon Kindle ebooks versus the Top 100 Amazon print books.  As time permits, we will look at these topics.

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