So far, we’ve covered what Amazon ranking is exactly and I showed that bank doesn’t necessarily mean rank. So what’s next? Well, now you need to know how to improve your rank in such a way that it does affect your bank in a good way.
Why Rank Does Matter
Since I showed in the previous post that rank doesn’t necessarily mean bank, you may have concluded rank doesn’t matter. Erm, that’s not entirely accurate… (and if you just said that in the correct character voice from Independence Day, we’re now besties!)
Rank does matter because a good ranking will mean more exposure and thus more sales and KU reads and ultimately, more money. However, a sticky rank that’s higher (= not as good) will bring in ten times more money than an initial super low rank (= really good) that drops fast.
That’s first of all because Amazon prefers books that sell steady over books that do well for a moment and then drop like crazy. And once your book has shown that it’s a steady seller, Amazon will start recommending it for you, and by doing that, it will do the hard work of marketing for you.
And second, a better rank leads to more visibility directly as well, as readers regularly scout the bestseller lists to search for new reads. The higher you are on that list (or the lower, more correctly, but let’s not make it too confusing), the better your chances of being spotted.
So what we need is a marketing approach that does improve our ranking, but with maximizing profits as the ultimate goal. With that in mind, let’s talk about a strategy many authors still use: releasing at 99c.
Should You Release At 99c?
My short answer is no. My longer answer is hell no. And my more balanced answer is that in certain cases it may be advantageous, but that most of the time it’s still a big fat no.
An Example with Numbers
Let’s show this with numbers, and I’ll use the same Project X book from the previous post. We had 350 sales on release day, but instead of $4.99, the book is now 99c. Because you can’t do a Kindle countdown deal on release day, this means you’re in the 30% royalty bracket, so with a delivery rate of $0.07, you’re only getting 23c per sale. With 350 sales, that’s a profit of $80.50.
Now when you release at 99c, a lot of page reads will become sales, so we’ll assume that two thirds of the page reads convert into sales as well. Here’s where the math gets a little shaky because we’re making assumptions, but let’s just compare.
Before, we said that every sale gets three downloads, so 350 sales meant 1050 downloads. Two thirds of that means about 700 more sales, so all in all we’re looking at 1050 total sales for a profit of $241.50.
The other third will be page reads, which at 200 KENP will translate into 350 x 200 * 0.0045 is $315. At 400 KENP it’s $630. Total profit: either $556.50 or $871.50.
Remember that when we released at full price, we could make either $2142 (350 sales and 1050 books through KU at 200 KENP) or $3087 (350 sales and 1050 through KU at 400 KENP) The difference is either $1585.50 or $2215.50. For a SINGLE day.
See that incredible difference in income? Yes, your rank will be higher at 99c in all likelihood. But you’re not making a lot of money on the sales, you’re cannabalizing your page reads because at 99c more people buy, and once you raise the price, your ranking will get a massive hit instantly.
But What About the Visibility?
Releasing at 99c will get you more visibility because of the higher rank. But this will only play to your favor if your ranking stays solid long enough for Amazon to consider your sales steady over a longer period of time. That’s when they’ll start promoting you. If not, the only benefit you’ll get is from readers directly or promos like in newsletters. Even ads will run at a loss at 99c.
But keeping the price at 99c for, say, a week, means losing much, much more since the calculation I did above was only for one day. Now obviously, many of us don’t make those numbers, but even if you divide them by ten, you’re still talking about big difference. EVERY day until you raise that price.
Can you hold on to your ranking once you raise the price? Most of the times, the answer is no, unfortunately. So it’s either staying at 99c and getting the ranking or raising the price and seeing your rank implode.
The Other Argument
There’s another argument against releasing at 99c, and it’s a more fundamental one. I think a full size book is worth more than 99c. By releasing at such a low price, you devalue the worth of your books…and maybe of all books.
People want everything for free or cheap, and I get it. Life is expensive. And let’s be honest: a lot is available for free or for little on the internet. That doesn’t mean we should reward that kind of behavior. If you consistently release at 99 or regularly discount your books or give them away for free, you’re teaching readers to wait for sales. You’re teaching them that they never have to pay full price for your books. Not a good habit.
I know many authors who started out releasing at 99c and after a few books, they wanted to go to full price releases. They couldn’t make it work because by now, they had trained their readers to buy at 99c. They weren’t willing to pay full price because basically, the author had taught them that the books were worth less.
And like I said, you’re not just devaluating your own work (and let’s face it: an 70k book is worth much, much more than 99c…) but books in general. Why do we allow people to pay less for a book than they would pay for a Starbucks coffee?
The Only Exception
One important exception is when you’re a new author and it’s your debut novel. I did release my first book at 99c (though none after that), and in combination with a long preorder, that definitely helped that release go really well.
But when you’re new, readers don’t have expectations yet and one book doesn’t teach habits. That doesn’t mean you have to release at that price, but you can definitely consider it because at that stage, exposure does matter a lot, as does lowering whatever obstacles readers may have to pick up your book.
I could also see it work when you’re doing something different, like a new subgenre within your genre, or even a new genre. But even then I’d be careful. You’ve got to manage the right expectations with readers.
In short: when your primary strategy is rank, then releasing at 99c may work very well. But if you actually want to make some money, don’t do it. It will hurt you financially, both in the short run and the longer run.
We’ll talk more about strategies that focus on making bank in the next post!