Friday, 5 September 2014

Anatomy of a Successful Amazon Promotion (Part 1)

We had Helena Puumala’s story “The Summer Cottage Mystery - A Children’s Story” on KDP Select’s “free days” promotion over the Labor Day weekend (often spelled Labour Day in Canada J).  In other words, the story was available for free download from Thursday August 27 to Monday Sept 1, 2014.  It turned out to be quite a successful promotion - by Labor Day, it was Number 1 or Number 2 in two categories, on both (the U.S. store) and Amazon.UK (the British Store):

·         Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Detectives

·         Children’s Books/Mysteries and Detectives/Animals 
I suspect it was also Number 1 in these categories on the Japanese store (of English-language books, that is), though I can’t read Japanese characters, so I can’t be certain.  I think it probably did ok on the Canadian site as well, though I didn’t actually check.

How many copies did we move?  Well, suffice to say that these are fairly niche categories, so a number in the several hundred range will do the trick.  Most of those were free downloads, though a small percentage were Kindle Unlimited customers, so those should fetch some money.  The rest are, as they say, name exposure and future sales (with a little luck and a lot of continuing hard work).

Hitting number one in a couple of Children’s Books categories is also a pretty good ego boost, and that’s good for the writer’s motivation.  It also constitutes a form of validation or social proof to others, either those that you know personally or to the wider world (via blogs like this for example J).  For those of us that aren’t traditionally published, or aren’t traditional publishers, that can be useful.  So, it is probably a good idea to keep a screenshot or two of your number one ranking.

We are hoping this may also pay off in a month or two, when we release another children’s book, this one a fantasy, complete with wonderful, whimsical drawings (Nathan’s Adventures in the Other-Other Land, also by Helena Puumala, with art work by Jordan Lange).

As a data analyst (day job), I can’t pass up the opportunity to slice and dice the data and throw in a few graphs.  Others may find this helpful in interpreting their own experiences, past, present or future.  I suspect the day-to-day sales patterns and country-by-country patterns are probably fairly universal.  So, below I will look at some of the results that I found most interesting.

Please note: in this blog I may use the terms sales, downloads or sales/downloads interchangeably.  I expect the general tendencies across time and geography will apply regardless of whether these are free promotion or paid sales.

Overall Sales Pattern
The chart shows a number of interesting things.  Here’s how to read it:

·         The horizontal axis shows the Day of the Sale, going forward in time from left to right.

·         The vertical Axis shows the Percentage of Total Sales on that day and from each country.

·         The coloured regions show the sales for each country, all stacked on each other.  Later on we will look at each country separately, since it isn’t always easy to see detailed in trends in this sort of stacked area graph.

One of the main overall points, is that the sales didn’t rise steadily each day.  In fact, Day 2 was slightly under Day 1.  Day 3 marginally beat out Day 1, and sales really started to take off on Day 4 (almost double Day 1) then zoomed on Day 5, to be nearly five times the first day’s sales.  Since Amazon limits us to five free days every 90, we couldn’t take it any further out, to see how long the trend could go on.  Oh well, it was fun while it lasted.

The other main point that is obvious from the graph is the dominance of the U.S. market.  On Day 5, when sales really took off, U.S. sales accounted for about 70% of that day’s sales.  On Days 2 to 4, U.S. sales accounted for 45% to 62% of sales.  Day 1 actually had the highest proportion of U.S. sales, though at over 90%.

I can see a few conclusions coming from these results:

·         You won’t necessarily see a nice linear trend in sales/downloads.  Things can stay stable for a few days, then take off.  It looks as if the momentum builds on itself - at some point nothing succeeds like success (this seems to apply even in a small niche in the long tail).  By the way, in network theory, this is known as Preferential Attachment Theory.

·         This probably represents the phenomenon known as Social Proof - a higher ranking implies higher sales/downloads, which is often interpreted as a sign of quality because “people must know something”.  As we all know, that’s not necessarily so (though in this case it is, naturally J).

·         It’s not easy to hit really big numbers without the help of the U.S. market.  It is still the big English speaking book market. 

·         That being said, the smaller markets can foreshadow progress in the bigger markets.   The British and Japanese markets especially seemed to take off before the U.S. market.

·         Even markets from outside the English speaking world can surprise you.  We have always had pretty decent results from the U.K. and Canada, but the Japanese results were a pleasant surprise.  Naturally, one can’t know the reasons for this success, but a few speculations come to mind - mostly to do with "Hello Kitty" and the Japanese fondness for cats in general.

Specific Country Sales/Downloads Patterns
The graph below shows the progress of the promotion on a day by day basis in different Amazon stores around the world.  The graph data has been transformed so that the first day with sales is equal to 100, and each following day is scaled to that first day.  So, if Day 5 is 450 (as it is for the U.K.), then that means that there were 4.5 times as books sold/downloaded on Day 5 in that country as there was on Day 1.  This is just a way of normalizing the data to see the trends for each data on the same graph, without the U.S. trends swamping out the others, due to its preponderant size.

From this graph, it is clear that the story’s popularity actually began first in the U.K..  Japan was not far behind.  The U.S. only held its own through the first four days, then took off on Day 5.  The same is true for Canada.   The OTH category is a miscellaneous one, combining Germany, Spain and Brazil.  That line just bumps along, indicating that most of the non-English market’s responses were rather small, in terms of this book.

It is interesting to speculate about this pattern.  Did the U.K. sales rise influence the Japan rise the next day?  Then did they both influence U.S. and Canadian sales a couple days later?  Is there cross-talk between the Amazon stores, so that what happens in one can influence what happens in the others?  Or was there some word of mouth in non-Amazon channels.  Or perhaps it just shows that the story caught on independently in these markets.  Taking a bit more of an “edge science” approach, maybe it an expression of that curious thing we call the collective unconscious.

I suppose the main take-away point from this, is that if you see a nice response in one country, it could presage similar responses in other countries.  That can even be true if one of the markets seems like a minor market – e.g. a non-English speaking market like Japan.

Next blog, I will look at some of the factors that might have caused the positive reception for the books, especially those that are widely thought to be influential:

·         Cover.

·         Blurb.

·         Categorization.

·         Keywords.

Here are a few references for some of the subjects touched upon in the blog.

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