Online retailer Amazon will begin highlighting Kindle's paid e-books following a small but significant change to its bestseller list due out in "a few weeks": it will split its top-sellers into two lists, one paid, one free. Currently, the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list is a mix of free and paid books and, not surprisingly, the free books dominate the list. Even today, as this article goes to press (so to speak - is that still valid terminology for the Web?), only two of the top 10 books lists are paid. In the top 20, only three more paid books can be found.
According to news from Publishers Weekly, who confirmed the coming change with an Amazon company representative, the Kindle Bestseller list has been a longtime gauge of consumer behavior towards e-books. Some publishers, such as the exec at HarperCollins quoted in the piece, are glad to see the list split up this way since it will better highlight the variety of content people download. Others though, like Richard Curtis, founder of Richard Curtis Associates, will miss the list, which he finds "very revealing" as to what consumers want to buy in digital form.
Earlier this year, the Kindle's Bestseller list was the focus of a New York Times article on the e-book industry. Specifically, it examined how many publishers had begun to offer complete books for free download in an effort to get readers to sample the work of new authors. The hope was that once the readers got hooked, they would go out and purchase another title from that same author, perhaps even in hardback form.
Giveaways: the "Lite" Apps of the Publishing World
This model isn't all that different from the one at play in the iTunes App Store today. In that case it's Apple selling mobile software applications, not books, but the concept is the same: give consumers a taste and they'll come back for more.
In iTunes, developers do this by offering a light (or rather, a "Lite") version of their application. The dumbed-down app is usable to a point, but its crippled nature encourages people to upgrade to the full-featured app.
Publishers could have done the same by offering sample chapters for free, but interestingly enough, many have been making entire e-books available for download instead. For them, these free titles have become the equivalent of the Lite apps to the publishing world.
The model has seen some success, especially when the free e-book is kicking off a new series or can point new readers to classic titles from the same author.
However, some publishers think free giveaways just don't make sense. In a time when many in the industry are trying to resist the $9.99 price point for e-books that Amazon and others have been pushing them to accept, the idea of giving away books seems odd. How is that not devaluing their worth?, they ask.
But with the launch of the dual lists - one free, one paid - publishers may continue to be tempted (maybe even more so?), to throw out freebies in an effort to get their authors on a bestseller list where they'll no longer have to compete with a handful of popular, paid titles. With any luck, publishers may even get a second title from the giveaway's author on that other list later on.