I’m not sure whether it’s Amazon that has created the delusion, but it seems to be spreading. Hence the posts and articles on how to get on the Kindle bestseller list. The first and most important step is to price your book properly, and the proper price is zero. Nada. Nothing. Free. So the first question that pops into my mind is whether a book that’s being given away can be considered a bestseller. Language is flexible and ever-changing, and I have no problem with that. But there’s absolutely no way to stretch the meaning of “sell” to allow free books to be bestsellers. Sorry, but if you believe that hundreds and thousands of downloads of your book make you a bestselling author, you’ve been suckered into a delusion, and maybe it is because of Amazon.
Amazon has appropriated and shifted the meaning of “bestseller” in very much the same way that religious conservatives appropriated and shifted the meaning of “right to life.” Their purpose? To advance their own agenda, of course. What is Amazon’s agenda? To make money. The list of “bestselling” free books is like a loss leader at the grocery story. Once the customer’s sucked into the store, they’re very likely to buy something before they leave. And this loss leader costs Amazon, as close as matters, nothing.
What does this mean for the brand-new author promoting their very first book? It means that they’re giving away months of work from which they’ll make zero, while Amazon makes money from the people to go on to make purchases. In other words, if that isn’t clear enough, they’re providing content for Amazon’s loss leader.
It means that the new author’s book will fall off Amazon’s Kindle “bestseller” list when everybody who’s willing to give it a try has downloaded it. After that, the book will most likely never be heard of again. It means that when the author publishes another book, maybe six months or a year down the line, they’re basically starting over from scratch to establish themselves. And most of those few readers who enjoyed the first book and actually enjoyed it–if they even remember it– will expect the second one to be free.
The purpose of a loss leader is to lead people to something else that they will buy. If you don’t have anything to lead them to, you’ve lost–period. If you’re a loss leader for Amazon, Amazon is the only winner.