Top 20 analysis January 22 2012

Top 20 analysis January 22 2012

Taking a look at the top twenty paid titles in the USA Kindle store, there is some very interesting data this time.

First, the list:

Rank Price Agency KOLL TTS Lending Indie
1 4.69 No Yes Yes Yes No
2 7.70 No Yes Yes Yes No
3 1.99 No No Yes Yes No
4 5.98 No Yes Yes Yes No
5 7.03 No No Yes No No
6 0.99 No Yes Yes Yes Yes
7 9.99 Yes No Yes No No
8 2.99 No No Yes No Yes
9 4.99 No Yes Yes No No
10 10.51 No No Yes Yes No
11 12.99 Yes No Yes No No
12 1.99 No No Yes No No
13 12.99 Yes No Yes No No
14 0.99 No No Yes Yes Yes
15 9.99 Yes No No No No
16 2.99 No Yes No No No
17 12.99 Yes No Yes No No
18 12.99 Yes No No No No
19 9.99 Yes No No No No
20 4.98 No No Yes No No

Again, these are paid bestsellers in the Kindle store…freebies don’t count. That listed is updated every hour, which is why I stopped at twenty. I’ve done it before with larger numbers, and had them shift under me while I was working on them.

Now, here is some basic analysis:

  • The average price is $6.99
  • Only 7 out of the 20 were Agency Model titles (35%)
  • 6 of the 20 were in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library (KOLL)*  (the ones eligible Prime members can borrow for free) (30%)
  • Only 4 of the 20 had text-to-speech blocked (20%)
  • 7 of the 20 had lending enabled (35%)
  • Only 3 of the 20 were from independent publishers (15%)

The next question for me is how each of these factors affects the sales. I do that by averaging the ranking of the ones that have the feature versus the ones that don’t. The lower the ranking, the better (it’s better to be number 1 than number 20).

Agency: 14.29

Non-Agency: 8.46

It is significantly better to be non-Agency than Agency.

KOLL: 6.33

Non-KOLL: 12.29

It is close to twice as good to be in the KOLL as out of it.

Text-to speech: 8.88

Text-to-speech blocked: 17.67

It is much better not to block text-to-speech.

Lending enabled: 5.71

Lending not enabled: 13.08

It is much better to have lending enabled.

Indie: 9.33

Traditionally published: 10.71

Indies have a slight edge.

I know it’s only the top twenty titles, but I’ve been feeling like fewer and fewer titles are having text-to-speech blocked, and this seems to suggest that. I was interested to see how many of the books are in the KOLL. Amazon has indicated that they think being available for those kinds of loans helps paid sales. I would presume that the “borrows” don’t directly affect this ranking, although I’m not sure.

What appears to be the rise of traditionally-published non-Agency books is also intriguing. Part of that is Scholastic, and part of that is the Hunger Games trilogy.

I’m surprised the peer-to-peer (customer to customer) lending had that much of an impact. Most major publishers don’t allow that, so it’s interesting to even have this many in the top twenty.

Oh, and one other thing not reflected above: one of the titles was from Montlake, Amazon’s own romance imprint. That may really be another reason that the power of the Agency Model publishers may be fading, at least at Amazon itself.

Update: one of my readers, Marvin, brought up my use of the word “only” on some stats and not others…good job with the observation! I responded to Marvin in the comments, but I’m going to copy it here, because I do think everybody might find it interesting, and on-Kindle subscribers don’t always see the comments:

===

Marvin:

Hello Bufo.
Looking at the basic analysis just after the table I can see what you prefer and what you don’t like. You put the word ‘only’ in those features you don’t like, but to confirm a ruke, you have one exception, because I think you like independent publishers.
You put ‘only’ with 20 and 35%(blocked TTS and agency model, you do not like these), but you did not use that word with 30% for KOLL which you like. What do you think about my analysis ?

===

My response:

Thanks for writing, Marvin!

Yes, the inconsistent use of “only” was intentional. 🙂 It’s not so much what I prefer…as is often the case with analysis, ascribing motivation is often over-reaching. As a trainer, I’m usually (but not always) aware of the motivational impact of the words I choose. Using “only” was intended to indicate what was a surprise, what was outside what might have been expected, based on analyses I’ve done in the past or what I take to be general expectations.

I wasn’t trying to hide my preferences, which I’ll state openly for you here (and which I have probably made clear in the past in the blog). I appreciate you asking…it lets me be a bit more thorough here:

Average price: I’m pretty neutral on this. I don’t mind e-books costing more than $9.99. However, I did want to show that the average price was neither near ten dollars (as we might have thought two years ago) nor near $1 (as we might have thought a year ago).

Agency model: One might presume that the Agency Model books, being from the Big Six US trade publishers, would be a higher percentage. They are the bestsellers in the country, after all, so it’s interesting that so few of them are the bestsellers in the Kindle store. I am negative on the Agency Model: I think it is not only anti-competitive for the consumer, but a business model that is negative for the publishers. I may be prejudiced about that, being a former retailer

KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library): This is a very new feature, and Amazon has suggested that being in the KOLL improves sales. Having that large number of KOLL titles in the top twenty was telling, in that regard. I’m positive on Amazon trying something new, and I think it’s a clever way for them to get people to buy physical goods from them (by making Prime more attractive). I’m unsure of the impact on authors/publishers yet, so I’m neutral on that

Text-to-speech: I deliberately use the phrase “blocking text-to-speech access” when I describe the situation. It’s a more accurate description of what is happening, in my opinion, than “enabled” or not, as the description is on the books’ Amazon product pages. If the publisher does nothing, text-to-speech works. Blocking the access is the active position: they have to insert code into the file to achieve that. I use the term “access” because it is associated with the disabled, and I think blocking TTS disproportionately disadvantages the disabled. I’m negative on blocking text-to-speech access, and have written about that extensively. The surprise here is that so few of the popular books have it blocked. In my past analyses, I had not seen that being the case. So, again, the “only” here is because of the surprise

Lending enabled: the high number of books with lending (between consumers) enabled here absolutely shocked me. My intuition is that it is on so few books and so limited, people don’t make buying decisions based on it. That appears to be incorrect, and I love being proved wrong by the data. Now of course, there are intertwined factors. Traditional publishers don’t tend to enable lending, and they tend to have higher price points. It would take a lot more analysis to separate the factors…do people prefer lending to be enabled, or is it that they like something else that happens to go along with it? That danger of conflation is common in analysis. I’m not sure how I feel about enabling lending or not. I don’t mind that publishers don’t enable it…it doesn’t fall into the same category as text-to-speech to me, which seems to be controlling a non-infringing use. I don’t think that it is a right of people to be able to share the rights they’ve licensed…but I do think it’s nice. 🙂

Independent publishers: I don’t side automatically with indies, and in fact, my guess is that many people would think I like traditional publishers too much. 🙂 I like breaking the dominance that the tradpubs had over paperbook distribution, but I like what a lot of traditional publishers have done in the past, and I think that some will be more flexible and innovative than might be commonly supposed. For example, I like Del Rey, and I liked the Ace Doubles. Those are publisher decisions. The surprise for me here was that the rest of the questions seemed to fit the profile of independent publishers (not blocking TTS, enabling lending, being in the KOLL), but I was seeing traditionally published books that weren’t part of the Agency Model doing the same thing, to some extent.

As to your question about your analysis:

The first part of the process is excellent. You made a good observation: I used “only” on some statistics, and not others.

The second part is the hypothesis, saying why you think that’s true. You’ve stated that, although it’s hard to test whether I prefer something or not. That’s where it veers from what I would consider analysis and scientific propositions. It could certainly be appropriate in criminology.

The next step would be experimentation (or at least, observation) to see if your hypothesis is confirmed. You could also go back to look at my previous analyses to see if they match up with what you would predict (which you would have to state clearly).

Oh, and “the exception proves the rule” isn’t something I’ve ever found a convincing construct. Do we think gravity is less good as a postulate unless it inexplicably fails on something? 🙂

I think I’m going to move part of this into the main article…thanks again for asking!

===

* Thanks to reader Larry James for pointing out that I didn’t put KOLL and “Kindle Owners Lending Library” right next to each other. I’ve changed that to make the terminology clearer.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the I Love My Kindle blog.

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15 Responses to “Top 20 analysis January 22 2012”

  1. Marvin Says:

    Hello Bufo.
    Looking at the basic analysis just after the table I can see what you prefer and what you don’t like. You put the word ‘only’ in those features you don’t like, but to confirm a ruke, you have one exception, because I think you like independent publishers.
    You put ‘only’ with 20 and 35%(blocked TTS and agency model, you do not like these), but you did not use that word with 30% for KOLL which you like. What do you think about my analysis ?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Marvin!

      Yes, the inconsistent use of “only” was intentional. 🙂 It’s not so much what I prefer…as is often the case with analysis, ascribing motivation is often over-reaching. As a trainer, I’m usually (but not always) aware of the motivational impact of the words I choose. Using “only” was intended to indicate what was a surprise, what was outside what might have been expected, based on analyses I’ve done in the past or what I take to be general expectations.

      I wasn’t trying to hide my preferences, which I’ll state openly for you here (and which I have probably made clear in the past in the blog). I appreciate you asking…it lets me be a bit more thorough here:

      Average price: I’m pretty neutral on this. I don’t mind e-books costing more than $9.99. However, I did want to show that the average price was neither near ten dollars (as we might have thought two years ago) nor near $1 (as we might have thought a year ago).

      Agency model: One might presume that the Agency Model books, being from the Big Six US trade publishers, would be a higher percentage. They are the bestsellers in the country, after all, so it’s interesting that so few of them are the bestsellers in the Kindle store. I am negative on the Agency Model: I think it is not only anti-competitive for the consumer, but a business model that is negative for the publishers. I may be prejudiced about that, being a former retailer

      KOLL (Kindle Owners’ Lending Library): This is a very new feature, and Amazon has suggested that being in the KOLL improves sales. Having that large number of KOLL titles in the top twenty was telling, in that regard. I’m positive on Amazon trying something new, and I think it’s a clever way for them to get people to buy physical goods from them (by making Prime more attractive). I’m unsure of the impact on authors/publishers yet, so I’m neutral on that

      Text-to-speech: I deliberately use the phrase “blocking text-to-speech access” when I describe the situation. It’s a more accurate description of what is happening, in my opinion, than “enabled” or not, as the description is on the books’ Amazon product pages. If the publisher does nothing, text-to-speech works. Blocking the access is the active position: they have to insert code into the file to achieve that. I use the term “access” because it is associated with the disabled, and I think blocking TTS disproportionately disadvantages the disabled. I’m negative on blocking text-to-speech access, and have written about that extensively. The surprise here is that so few of the popular books have it blocked. In my past analyses, I had not seen that being the case. So, again, the “only” here is because of the surprise

      Lending enabled: the high number of books with lending (between consumers) enabled here absolutely shocked me. My intuition is that it is on so few books and so limited, people don’t make buying decisions based on it. That appears to be incorrect, and I love being proved wrong by the data. Now of course, there are intertwined factors. Traditional publishers don’t tend to enable lending, and they tend to have higher price points. It would take a lot more analysis to separate the factors…do people prefer lending to be enabled, or is it that they like something else that happens to go along with it? That danger of conflation is common in analysis. I’m not sure how I feel about enabling lending or not. I don’t mind that publishers don’t enable it…it doesn’t fall into the same category as text-to-speech to me, which seems to be controlling a non-infringing use. I don’t think that it is a right of people to be able to share the rights they’ve licensed…but I do think it’s nice. 🙂

      Independent publishers: I don’t side automatically with indies, and in fact, my guess is that many people would think I like traditional publishers too much. 🙂 I like breaking the dominance that the tradpubs had over paperbook distribution, but I like what a lot of traditional publishers have done in the past, and I think that some will be more flexible and innovative than might be commonly supposed. For example, I like Del Rey, and I liked the Ace Doubles. Those are publisher decisions. The surprise for me here was that the rest of the questions seemed to fit the profile of independent publishers (not blocking TTS, enabling lending, being in the KOLL), but I was seeing traditionally published books that weren’t part of the Agency Model doing the same thing, to some extent.

      As to your question about your analysis:

      The first part of the process is excellent. You made a good observation: I used “only” on some statistics, and not others.

      The second part is the hypothesis, saying why you think that’s true. You’ve stated that, although it’s hard to test whether I prefer something or not. That’s where it veers from what I would consider analysis and scientific propositions. It could certainly be appropriate in criminology.

      The next step would be experimentation (or at least, observation) to see if your hypothesis is confirmed. You could also go back to look at my previous analyses to see if they match up with what you would predict (which you would have to state clearly).

      Oh, and “the exception proves the rule” isn’t something I’ve ever found a convincing construct. Do we think gravity is less good as a postulate unless it inexplicably fails on something? 🙂

      I think I’m going to move part of this into the main article…thanks again for asking!

      • Marvin Says:

        Actually you “confirmed” my analysis 🙂 I said you liked indies, now you say it is not that clear and some people think you like traditional too much. So now I am 100% correct, there is no exceptions proves the rule in here, you used “only” in those parts you did not like.
        (and sorry if I don’t make myself clear enough, English is not my first language as you can see).
        Anyhow, thank you for interesting numbers, you must be really into statistics to spend that much time with it.

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Marvin!

        Your English is fine. 🙂

        Oh, to show I like analysis, check one of my Snapshots:

        https://ilmk.wordpress.com/2012/01/01/snapshot-january-1-2012/

        Those take quite some time to produce…and I do enjoy doing them. 🙂

        I used “only” on those that surprised me or that I thought would surprise others: that made correlate to ones I like, of course. I do tend to expect the positive, and I do think many people tend to expect the negative…

  2. larry james Says:

    What is “KOLL”?

  3. Francesco Says:

    I wonder if when steve Jobs offered the Big Six the agency model it was with the intention to destroy them. After all he knew from music publishing that the publishers would over price their product. He knew that the publishers no longer controlled the distribution channel, he Amazon & Google did. The channel had an unlimited bandwith . He must have known that low priced offerings would flow in & undercut the agency price eating away at the agency revenue.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Francesco!

      It’s an interesting hypothesis.

      Why would Steve Jobs have wanted to put the traditional publishers out of business? Jobs presumably wanted well-known content for iBooks in order to sell the iPad: how does crushing the current supplier of that content help? You could be right, I just don’t see it.

      On the other hand, I think the Agency Model was squarely aimed at Amazon.

      Amazon is a discounter: the Agency Model removes that.

      I also think that Apple doesn’t particularly care about the success of content…they want to sell hardware. Let’s say that Amazon was at a 9 on content and a 7 on hardware. Let’s say Apple could do a 9 on hardware. If they degrade the value of content so Amazon goes to a 7 and Apple can get a 7 (since the bar’s lower), the war goes to Apple.

      One other factor, and I know as a former bookstore manager, I may be prejudiced about this one. Pricing for customers is hard! It was triply so with e-books when the Agency Model was going into effect: the e-book market was very young; and digital prices can fluctuate wildly. I think they may have been more than happy to put the pricing responsibility in somebody else’s hands (for the most part).

  4. Francesco Nicoletti Says:

    Authors (and editors & artists) supply content. Publishers (and bookstores & agents) are channels of that content to the customer in the paper world. The fight as I see it is who is to replace the channel to the customer in the e-world.
    Amazon going the route of giving away the hardware & encouraging their suppliers to charge less then paper books. As your figures indicate that is driving agency publishers out of the Amazon market.
    Apple was going the route of high priced hardware & high priced content. Not particularly successful. They have now released a system that lets individual authors format a book for the ibook store & publish it there that seems to emulate the design of the successful app store. I cannot believe this was not always part of the plan. Apple can now take the same suppliers that are undercutting agency at Amazon & encourage them to put up their content easily (and in a much more shiny way) at Apple.
    Either way both companies now have systems in place that cut out the old middlemen. These systems will bleed the old publishing order to death with a thousand cuts.

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Francesco!

      In the paper world with books sold in brick and mortar stores, there was an important distinction.

      You say, “Authors (and editors & artists) supply content.”

      I think that was in response to my saying that the traditional publishers were the suppliers of content.

      I would instead say that the people you mentioned (and I’m glad and impressed that you included editors and artists, I presume both cover and lay-out) created the content…but the tradpubs supplied it.

      When I managed a brick and mortar bookstore, I would sometimes have someone come in with something self-published. They would usually want to do it on consignment: only pay them if they sold.

      I would ask them what would happen if I wanted one hundred more copies in the next few days. At that point, not many of them could have done that. I might have to explain that every day the book is on the shelf and it doesn’t sell, it costs the store money. Retail stores are always fighting rent (and salaries and “shrinkage”…damage and theft). We can’t just have a book sitting there not selling, especially if we can’t quickly get more if it does sell.

      That need for giant book factories, so to speak, goes away with e-publishing.

      Not, I think, with iBooks Author: the proprietary nature of the output (if you want to sell it, Apple pretty much owns it, from what I understand…I need to confirm all the terms). My guess is that it won’t be a big success for things like novels (where the interactive tools are not as valuable), but I’ll withhold judgement.

      However, with Smashwords and Kindle Direct Publishing (and others), that old-fashioned production part of the chain from author to customer is not necessary.

      Tradpubs provided other services, including marketing, of course.

      Amazon has blazed the trail (which I freely say they don’t always do) with publishing outside the Big Six, both with the KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing) and with their own imprints and publishing, which are succeeding.

      My guess is that Apple didn’t say to themselves that they would break traditional publishing, for novels. For textbooks? Yes, I think that’s more likely.

      I expect a few of the Big Six to convert and do well. The death of a thousand cuts only works if your opponent is relative immobile and slow. It is a new world, but I think some of them will take their personal relationship capital built up over years with brand name authors, and make the necessary adjustments.

      You may also find this earlier post interesting:

      https://ilmk.wordpress.com/2011/05/11/a-tale-of-two-middles/

      I really appreciate your comments! They are well-written, respectful, and well thought out.

      • Francesco Nicoletti Says:

        I have to admit I have a bias against the publishing industry and for Amazon. Here in Australia the publishing industry (mainly arms of large multinational publishers) have managed to establish & keep non tariff barriers to directly imported books, so that a first run hard cover will run to $50 to $60 Australian (the Australia $ is currently at parity or above the American $ ). The release of the book can be months after the release date on the US or UK. It is actually often cheeper & faster to buy from Amazon then to buy locally, and that is just for physical books , e-boos are better again. Amazon can do this with no presence in Australia.

        My other problem with publishers is that, since e-books seem to solve a lot of the problems inherent in publishing (long lead times times, returns, high production costs (if done properly) visibility of product (e-books can be sold wherever there is a screen attached to the internet), product availability, lack of shelf space for physical product) the publishers themselves if they were economically rational , in the first wave of e-books in the early 2000’s, would have taken up and run with the e-book revolution. Instead Amazon had to see the writing on the wall and force change. If publishers were not rational then what will make them rational now ?

      • Bufo Calvin Says:

        Thanks for writing, Francesco!

        I think the primary problem prior to the Kindle was the lack of a popular non-techie platform. The publishers had perhaps been wrong in overestimating the demand when the books were being read on backlit screens on devices that had to be tethered to get the books.

        The combination of the E Ink reflective screen and wireless delivery opened the market to people who were just readers, rather than readers/techies.

        I don’t think all of the tradpubs (traditional publishers) will find a path, but I think some will.

  5. Dave Says:

    Curious about something.

    7 out of 20 are Agency (i.e. Big 6)
    3 out of 20 are Independent (i.e. not Big 6)

    How do you categorize the other 10? I didn’t really know there was a 3rd category. Is there an actual term you would use to describe a non-agency, non-independent?

    • Bufo Calvin Says:

      Thanks for writing, Dave!

      Hm…I don’t really have a term for that group. For me, “Agency Model” publishers are a subset of traditional publishers, which would include this other group.

      Traditional publishers license the rights from the author/author’s estate, and then sell the books to the public (traditionally, usually by selling them to a retailer…this parenthetical phrase added for clarity).

      In the paper world, they are able to get books into big bookstores.

      Let’s take Scholastic as an example.

      They licensed the American hardback rights for Harry Potter and is the digital publisher of The Hunger Games trilogy.

      They have not, however, opted to use the Agency Model.

      It’s unwieldy, but for me, they are a non-Agency Model tradpub.

      It’s a very interesting group to watch. They have the marketing and distribution in place that the Agency Models have (not exactly the same in any two cases, of course), but have the consumer price sensitivity that retailing provides. I wouldn’t be surprised to see their share of the e-book market increase considerably.

  6. It’s over for Apple: Supreme Court denies certiorari in e-book pricing case | I Love My Kindle Says:

    […] Top 20 analysis January 22 2012 […]

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