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Amazon to drop free books from Kindle bestseller list

May 12, 2010 |  2:52 pm
Kindlestore_free

A week ago, Jacket Copy took a look at what books were popular on Amazon's Kindle; we found that the Top 10 Kindle bestsellers were free. Wednesday, Publishers Weekly got word that Amazon will remove free books from its main bestseller list, creating a separate list for free titles.

The plethora of free books on the Kindle bestseller list has been known for some time. In December, Galleycat found 64 of the top 100 Kindle ebooks were free. In January, the New York Times reported on the tendency to climb the bestseller list. All of us were a bit perplexed about the use of "bestseller" to designate book that are not, well, sold. Grammarians, at the very least, will welcome the change.

So, too, will major publishers. Amazon is doing the right thing, an executive at HarperCollins told Publishers Weekly, which reports "consumers 'want to know what books everyone is reading, and buying,' and that a list which combines free downloads and books for sale doesn't deliver this information."

But one constituency that may be hurt by the change are the independent publishers that were scoring so many downloads. Many had used short-term free downloads of one book to help direct readers to a newer title by the same author. Deb Smith, the editor/publisher of BelleBooks wrote in our comments:

The giveaway DOES produce real sales both on the promoted title and the authors' backlist. More important, it highlights small press titles and gives them a chance to find the readership they deserve. My tiny press can't begin to compete with the big pubs in terms of advertising, but via Kindle we accomplish a similar level of publicity and results.

Maybe independent publishers will be just as pleased to find their books topping a bestseller list dedicated to free books. How it might affect sales is hard to predict -- Amazon has not announced a firm date for the switch, saying simply that it will happen "in a few weeks."

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Image: Screenshot of the Kindle bestseller list on Wedmnesday, still topped by free books.


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