As e-books continue to take the world of publishing by storm, it’s natural to wonder how any good books are going to be found by readers in the rising river of e-books. Won’t they be lost in the flood?
Heather posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
I have lately been doing lots of reading on the e-pub buzz and thinking about marketing implications as they relate to fiction. I think to aid the ‘average’ ebook reader in making good fiction selections there will be a rise of some type of ‘recommendation medium’ (like blogs or an offshoot of social networking) that judges/reviews fiction ebooks. Do you see something like this currently developing and if so how as an author do you intend to take advantage of this marketing tool?
Randy sez: Yes, this sort of thing has already developed and will continue to grow. The basic idea is known as “crowdsourcing” and you can Google this word or search for it on Amazon to learn all that you want to know about it.
What is crowdsourcing? For the case of selling e-books, there are three fundamental elements: an open market, word-of-mouth, and a “similarity measure.” Let’s look at each of these in turn:
An open market is necessary for crowdsourcing to work. You make a sea of products available to anyone at reasonable prices, without unnecessary constraints. E-books fit this description exactly. There are hundreds of thousands of e-books available on Amazon now, and many more public domain e-books available at places like Project Gutenberg. This is in sharp contrast to the field of traditionally published books, where publishers and their marketing people make decisions about “what will sell.” The market of paper books is only somewhat open, because the economics of book production require that gatekeepers refuse most books for publication. They have to do this. They couldn’t afford to publish them all.
Word-of-mouth is also important to crowdsourcing. People like to talk about the books they read. They don’t talk about the books they don’t like. What happens is that good books get talked about and they tend to get read by more people who also talk about them. Good books get a chain reaction of word-of-mouth. Bad books don’t get talked about and they tend to get read by only a few people. Reader reviews are essentially word-of-mouth on steroids. This is one thing Amazon does very well — it encourages reader reviews. I read the 5-star reviews and the 1-star reviews of any book before I buy it. I also look at how many reviews there are and what fraction of them are 4 and 5 stars. If a book has many 1-star reviews and many 5-star reviews, it tells me that it’s a controversial book, which may well mean that it’s a very good book. If it has many 1-star reviews and few 5-star reviews, then it’s probably not very good. All those reviewers out there generally do a good job of sifting the good from the bad.
“Similarity measure” is one thing Amazon gets stupendously right. For any book on Amazon, you can see a list of several other books with the caption: “Customers who bought this item also bought:” For example, people who bought my book WRITING FICTION FOR DUMMIES also buy Jim Bell’s book PLOT & STRUCTURE. No surprise there. The two books cater to the same reader. Amazon wisely gives readers a choice to buy them both as a bundle. When an online store tells customers what other people are buying, it’s a terrific way to let people know which books the masses of customers believe are similar.
When you create a completely open market with word-of-mouth in the form of reader reviews and then show customers what the market believes are similar products, the cream rises to the top. Quickly. The junk falls to the bottom. Quickly.
How do you take advantage of this? By writing your best possible book and by getting it out there on the open market in the online stores that do reader reviews and show similar products best. In our current world, Amazon mastered those skills sooner and better than anyone else. Barnes & Noble is making strides to catch up. Competition is good, and we should all hope that several excellent online retailers gain market share by putting these key elements together. Right now, Amazon and B&N are the big players because they deserve to be.
Quality matters, now more than ever. Write a good book. Write a great book. Then get it out there to the online retailers that have mastered crowdsourcing.
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