Popular or Free?

Amazon is segregating its Kindle bestseller list:

A representative at [Amazon.com] has confirmed that the company will be splitting its Kindle bestseller list, creating one list for paid books and another for free titles. The date for the switch is vague—the rep would only say it will happen in “a few weeks”—but the switch will certainly be noticed.

This is newsworthy because, as of the article’s writing, the top ten Kindle bestsellers listed are actually free downloads. The obvious question(s): Are these e-books popular because of their intrinsic value or because they’re free, and, if they’re free, do they belong on a list of bestsellers? Or would it indeed be more appropriate to have freebies tucked away on their own list? My feeling on the matter: yes. Give ’em their own list. Comments on literary racism aside, bestseller lists, while certainly indicative of a book’s popularity, are primarily intended to reflect sales. It’s a retailer thing. “Mine’s bigger than yours.” And so forth.

I sense Amazon.com is worrying here that consumers will mistake downloads for sales—which is silly, because in either case, high numbers equals popularity equals a higher likelihood of sales (reader tries a freebie by an author he’s never read, likes it, and scours Amazon’s site for other titles by the same author, free or price-tagged). “But why are certain titles being downloaded so often?” an Amazonian rep might ask. “Is it because they’re popular, or because they’re free?” Well, duh. It’s a little from column A, a little from column B, isn’t it? People like free shit. People also like free shit that’s well-written by a familiar author. And when shit’s anti-free, but is well-written by a familiar author…people like it.

So, here’s to lists, the creation of, the splitting of, the proliferation of via maniacal, genetically-modified, cybernetic list-sorting corn stalks. After Amazon moves its free bestsellers over to “Most Downloaded” (or whatever they’re going to call the new list), will they further refine things to separate books with covers depicting scantily-clad men / women from those that have more placid designs? Stay tuned.

2 thoughts on “Popular or Free?

  1. eastofeton ·

    maybe they’ll keep them all together and jumble the info a bit so that you won’t really know if something is free or not until you get it to checkout…like I feel when trying to find all the “free” apps at the iTunes store or the Playstation Network Store…maybe just maybe, they’ll find a way of making all the “crappy” titles free and “force” you to buy the good stuff. dunno

  2. jesse ·

    I think it’s an image issue, the fear that a list full of free downloads will give the impression that Amazon is no longer selling books like it used to – which isn’t true. Freebies always turn in higher numbers because you’ve got the Never Bought Anything in My Life crowd downloading – in *addition* to the regular buyers. But both crowds offer opportunities for new fans, new buyers. I can see why Amazon would want to separate lists, but I can’t help feeling like the “Most Downloaded” list is going to be treated as the cheaper (intrinsically) of the two, simply because the titles are free.

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