MobiPocket, Amazon, and Why I’m not Dooooomed!

So here’s what happened. Way back in January 2008, I hit a brainstorm. My thought at the time was: I’m a really obscure writer, with what I think is a great idea for a book.  Can’t get many people to buy it?  I’ll just give it away! At the time, this was a fairly novel idea, and got quite a response. Enough to crash my webserver until I moved the files elsewhere. I got a fair amount of ink out of the move, including Techdirt, The Long Tail (Wired blog network), and a bunch of publishing blogs.

The result? Something like 50,000 downloads, quite a few readers, and nicely, dramatically increased sales on Amazon. Particularly for the ebook, which at the time was published through the services of Mobipocket, then the only entree into Amazon’s ebook ecosystem. More importantly, the story received wonderful positive responses, often from people who don’t even read the genre. Because while Republic can be shoe-horned as a alternate history novel (it partly is) or a military novel (it’s partly that too), it’s mostly a story about people going through tough times, the challenges they face, and how they respond.  It’s fantastic to me that people who normally read other genres loved the book. It was recently reviewed on Goodreads, for example, by a woman who primarily reads paranormal romance.  Her response? “I cried my eyes out by the time I finished reading this book… I cant wait for his next book.

Along comes Amazon, which buys Mobipocket, and eventually introduced their own publishing platform for the Kindle, which I paid little attention to. Why? Because, frankly, sales were good.  Really good.  For most of 2010, enough to pay my rent, which a real accomplishment for any writer. By December 2010, Republic had been sitting in the top 25 books on the Alternate History bestseller list for more than 2 years, right alongside S.M. Stirling, Newt Gingrich, John Birmingham and other ranking authors.

Then the hammer fell.

To explain what happened, I have to back up and explain a little bit about Amazon’s sales rankings and recommendations system. See, when you look at a book on Amazon, there’s a little strip of books right there on the page under the heading “people who bought this book also bought….” and shows other works likely to be of interest to the shopper.  And when you buy that book, you are usually prompted then with additional “also-bought” recommendations.  Amazon occasionally sends out emails to its customers who have opted in saying, “Since you bought” whatever, “you might like” something else.  All of those things contributed to sustained sales of the book.

Mobipocket, now wholly owned by, is being folded up and shut down as a platform for getting your books onto Amazon.  Mobipocket publishers, such as myself, are being migrated to the new Kindle Direct Publishing platform.  Good news! Means quicker access, ability to make direct edits, upload new editions and corrections, etc. Except for one little tiny problem which has rocked my world in a very unfortunate way.

With the migration, the books were assigned new ASINs, or catalogue numbers, in Amazon’s system.  And with that migration, all of the “also-bought” recommendations simply disappeared.

Overnight, sales ranking for Republic on Amazon plummeted.  And my revenue from Amazon was zeroed out.

This is bad.

So the question for me is, what next?

Well, three years of building an audience on Amazon was wiped out overnight. So I have to build that back. Here are the things I am trying:

First thing, make the book accessible as an impulse buy to new readers.  Set the ebook price to $0.99 cents. Done.

Second, trying some new promotions. Giving away copies on Goodreads, Librarything and elsewhere hoping to generate some buzz.

Third, counterintuitive as it may seem to give away a book when you’re trying to generate sales, I’m pricing the book for FREE temporarily on Smashwords (and ultimately Apple, Sony and other other outlets Smashwords feeds to).  Because Amazon spiders other bookstores to identify the lowest offered price of a title, I’m hoping this will drop the price on Amazon to free sometime in the near future (the lowest I can actually go through KDP is 99 cents).

So, I’m making an appeal to my friends, fans, enemies, whoever is reading this.

Go get a copy for the Kindle (99 cents) or Nook (99 cents) or iBooks(99 cents) or any e-reader format (Smashwords: FREE). Tell a friend about it and encourage them to buy it (or download it free, I’m happy either way).  Help push it back up on the bestseller list. Because while I expect to have Insurgent finished within the next few months, I’m hoping to be able to push through and continue the series and finish it, and to do that, I’m gonna need to be able to spend some real time on it.

I’ll report back as I have time on how this experiment goes.  The main take away is this:

a) The book is free, for a brief time.  Feel free to go get it.

b) If you like it, tell a friend, and encourage them to read it! Post a note or like the book on Facebook (and don’t forget to click the SHARE with your friends button), a review on Amazon or Goodreads, or wherever! Word of mouth is the one thing that distinguishes a bestseller from an invisible book. You can make that difference (and earn my forever gratitude).

And to the folks who’ve been writing me about Insurgent and when am I FINALLY going to get it out there… expect it by the end of this year. Nearly finished with the first draft, and will go into editing mode as soon as possible.


  1. Marsha Miller

    Thank you so much, Charles. I can’t wait to read your book–sounds like it’s my kind of read! I have downloaded it and will begin it as soon as I complete my current book.

    Marsha J. Miller

  2. Republic is STILL one of my favourite books, Charles…and I’ve recommended it to everyone I know!! A must read!!

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