Is This Cheating?

I think I’ve come up with a new way to ‘massage’ Amazon’s sales figures. My question now – both to myself and all you other indie authors and book lovers out there – is whether it’s ethical.

I read recently that once a book sells 1,000 copies on Amazon the company’s computers will automatically start to promote the book online on the basis it’s got demonstrable sales potential.

Swans: nothing to do with the subject of this post other than as a way of attracting your attention.

I also know that sales of a book can rise noticeably following a giveaway. Back in the summer my book Thin Ice was free for five days. There was a sudden spike in downloads from Amazon’s UK site and my novel suddenly shot up to about No. 5 in the Top 100 Free Books.

Better still, having given away thousands of free copies I found actual sales of all my books went up in the six weeks or so following. (Sadly Amazon UK’s figures have no impact on Amazon.com rankings so I made little impact on that market.)

Making a very rough calculation, I reckon I sold a book for every 23.2 that I gave away. And working on the theory that there are many millions of book readers out there, I’m quite happy with that. (Put it like this, if I gave away 10 million books the subsequent sales would probably mean I wouldn’t have to work for the next decade or two.)

So. More free downloads = higher rankings = increased sales. (And cracking that 1,000 books barrier will get Amazon’s computers on my side.)

From tomorrow, The Tale Of Findo Gask – the book that won a UK contest back in 2005 and got me my one and only publishing contract – will be free for five days.

If I delete the copy already in my Kindle library and then download a new one that counts as a ‘sale’. If I repeat the process every two minutes and do it for five hours each day, I could register 450 downloads. If I got 100 friends to help me (or someone with a cunning computer programme) I could start to multiply that figure dramatically.

It would be a lot of work but – potentially – I could also make several thousand in subsequent sales AND crack that 1,000 sales target. But all those free downloads wouldn’t be genuine ‘sales’.

It seems like a neat ruse but it also smacks of the kind of tactics of authors who buy fake reviews. What do you think?

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8 responses to “Is This Cheating?”

  1. Victoria Grefer says :

    I personally wouldn’t feel comfortable doing that for my book or anyone else’s. I’ve downloaded my book once in a free promo, and that’s it.

    • Huw Thomas says :

      Me neither. The little devil that sits on my shoulder sometimes comes up with these ideas but I try to resist!

  2. Michelle Proulx says :

    It’s a cool idea, but I think that does seem kind of dishonest. Then again, how are people going to notice your book if it’s down at the bottom of the sales rankings? THEN AGAIN, if your book does take off and become a best seller, and someone finds out that you cheated the system, do you want that kind of thing becoming public knowledge?

    • Huw Thomas says :

      I think fundamentally it’s about whether you can live with yourself.
      I’ve no idea if my little scheme would really work – or if Amazon have some clever software to spot it if people are repeatedly downloading and deleting the same book.
      That whole thing about how on earth you get people to take notice of your book is incredibly frustrating. But even if it was never detected I think I’d always have a little underlying feeling of guilt if I ‘fixed’ the system.

  3. Maddie Cochere says :

    I like the swans. 😉 Twice now, I’ve almost put up blog posts that were a little controversial for me. I asked my husband for his opinion, and he gently nudged me to reconsider. I think when we have that nagging little thought that maybe we shouldn’t so something, we should just listen to it. Creative idea though. That’s what you need to be doing – always thinking. The right idea will come along.

  4. John Chapman says :

    Not at all sure this will work.

    Back in early April this year your tactic would have worked well because until 11th April there was a crossover from position in Free top 100 to Paid top 100. Your sales position would hold for 1-2 days and that made a significant impact on paid sales. Then everything changed. There was a crossover for only about an hour. Now in October things have changed again. Once your free give-away is over your position in the charts disappears completely and will not re-appear for at least an hour or two. When it does re-appear it will be as the book’s previous ranking.

    Giving away books in the Select program only works for the author if he/she has multiple books available. If the reader likes the book they will be likely to buy another. This works especially well if you give away book 1 in a series. The book series I co-author with my wife Shelia has done very well from giving away book 1 free. We get about an 80% conversion rate for readers buying the next book. It helps that it’s price matched and permanently in the free top 10 technothrillers and others.

    Doing your process would take a LOT of effort. You would have to log on to your Amazon account, move to ‘manage your kindle’, delete the book from your archived items at Amazon and then re-purchase. I think Amazon would quickly smell a rat if you did this often. It’s a long slow grind but better to do it the real way than to scam the system and risk getting caught.

    9,280 give-aways so far.

    • Huw Thomas says :

      I’m sure you’re right that Amazon would soon smell a rat!
      Also that the amount of work involved doesn’t really make it a realistic proposition. Oh well, back to the slog.
      I’ve never tried writing a series – always get distracted by new ideas. I have noticed though that there’s a definite increase in sales of other books following a promo, also that the one given away gets noticed more by other readers.

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