Episode 106 – Algorithms, Gamification, and Facebook Live

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Question of the Week: Do you think the Amazon sales algorithm is game-able? Why or why not?

It’s springtime in the self-publishing world, and Jim and Bryan are blooming with tips and news to help you grow your author career. After thanking their latest patron David King (and his book Hitler Out of Time http://www.hitleroutoftime.com/amazon ), the lilac-fresh friends dug up some tips on audiobooks, going wide, and iBooks. News stories included Hugh Howey’s latest option, the gamification of the ebook industry, a trad pub auction, how publishers should adapt, Facebook Live, and the newest approximately of the Amazon algorithm. This week’s Question of the Week: Do you think the Amazon sales algorithm is game-able? Why or why not?
What You’ll Learn:
  • How to plan your book for audio
  • How to play the long game with your books
  • Tips for getting sales on iBooks
  • Why Hugh Howey’s latest option is great for storytellers
  • Why Jim doesn’t think gamification will work with ebooks
  • How Bryan and Jim disagree on a trad pub charity auction
  • Why publishers should ask themselves “what makes them necessary”
  • How authors can use Facebook Live in their business
  • The best approximation of the Amazon sales rank algorithm yet
Question of the Week: Do you think the Amazon sales algorithm is game-able? Why or why not?

get show updates

  • Side comment about Tapas, their main site is Tapastic so they’ve been experimenting for some time and do have a readership. I think they’re based on Japan’s moble reading market. I see no reason why not experiement (for them) and I think its cause light novels (japanse YA novels) are becoming popular but all of this is definitely to serve a niche (comics, specifically manga). Which is why I think they’re encouraging a lot of peer sharing. they are known for changing and updating things and they are already handing out payments to authors directly, profit share and connection with patreon. I’m going to assume most of their books will end up being serialized like typical manga publishing is.

    • Oh, I thought you guys were talking about the food. You know, the Spanish small plates cuisine. Yum.

      • Bryan

        We were talking about both! 🙂

    • Bryan

      Thanks for the context, Cetriya!

  • Crissy Moss

    If they are correct, that your rank I based off steady sales over time, then it’s a good system and I wouldn’t call it “gaming” I’d call it good selling practice. But figuring all this stuff out and trying to game it in the first place I would call foolish and a waste of time.

    • Bryan

      Agreed and agreed.

  • Is the sales algorithm gameable? Possibly, but only ever in the short term. Any long term strategy that involves the equivalent of fudging the numbers is doomed to fail. It’s like the high school student who goes to great lengths to creatively cheat on a test, when it would have been easier just to study

    • Bryan

      “Any long term strategy that involves the equivalent of fudging the numbers is doomed to fail.”
      Here here.

  • Spider McGee

    Wait, wait, WHAT?!? That was an April Fool’s prank? Does that mean I have to tear up the contract that Random House sent me, and I have to cancel that lunch with Stephen King? No justice, man…no justice.

    • Bryan

      You can sign it, Spider. Don’t worry. But the lunch has been changed to brunch.

  • avoura

    Thanks, guys, for another great podcast, and thanks for mentioning my book. As for why Hitler gets sent forward in time, it’s an accident — an experimental time machine that sends Hitler to the future instead of the past. And he loses his memory, forgets who he is, but people are expecting him and searching for him. You can read the book to find out more of what happens. :-).

    David Avoura King, author of Hitler Out Of Time.

    • Bryan

      Thanks for being a patron, David! Ah ha, I’ll make sure Jim knows :).

  • avoura

    As for Amazon sales algorithm, I expect they work hard to make it not gameable, as they know that once someone can game it and gain an unfair advantage, then customers will not get a good buying experience which leads to less sales. People will go elsewhere if they lose confidence in Amazon.
    So if someone finds a way to game the system, Amazon will be quick to defeat it.
    Although I have seen books with many keywords stuffed into the title, but to me that is a red flag that says Don’t buy this book!

    • Bryan


  • Laura Martone

    Although it might be possible to game the Amazon sales algorithm in short bursts, it doesn’t seem like a viable option, given the ever-changing nature of Amazon’s methods. As always, the best strategy is to write compelling stories, experiment with marketing tactics, and find your audience one reader at a time. Trying to find the loopholes of a system rarely succeeds in the long run.

    • Bryan

      Ted Saves the World #6: The Hunt For Loopholes

      • Laura Martone

        I love it, Bryan – sounds like a winner! Of course, I should’ve pointed out that, despite having a loophole-seeking CPA for a father, I probably wouldn’t be the kind of author to look for loopholes anyway, regardless of whether they worked or not. I don’t tend toward the easy path (just ask Dan), even when it might seem, well, easier than the alternatives of hard work, perseverance, and experimentation. I’d like to think that it’s due to my fair-minded, kind-hearted nature – and, yes, the fear of getting caught by Amazon and pissing off my fellow authors. 😉

  • Bill Weiss

    Any system can be game; however, the work involved in the process is a crap shoot that yields only temporary wins for only the few see this as an option. It’s almost certain death for any author hoping to build a brand.

    Write more. Write better. Learn to market. You’ll have no need for games.

    • Bryan

      “You’ll have no need for games.”

      Well said.

  • QOTW – You asked about the sales algorithm, but is the ranking algorithm and the sales algorithm the same thing? Do people find a book because it’s ranked, or do they find it first, and then let the status of the book influence them? If so, ranking is just one part. Only certain people will look at that. Reviews, covers, ranking (maybe), etc. are all part of our mind’s sales algorithm.

    There are so many ways to find book on amazon. How many people go to top 100 lists to find books? How many dig down into categories? How many just type in keywords and sort through the results?

    Maybe rankings are just a RESULT of sales, and don’t heavily influence the next sales at all.

    • Bryan

      It’s the sales rank algorithm. But yes, that’s not the only way people find books.

  • Ethan Jones

    I don’t think one can game the Amazon system. However, an author can chance many variables within the Amazon system, which will give him greater visibility and send him climbing up the ranks. For example, in my experience, whenever I drop my books’ prices to 99 cents, I sell more and I go shooting up the ranks. And whenever I switch categories, I also increase my visibility, at least potentially to readers browsing those categories.

    On the other hands, when I sell a single copy or two copies of my boxset (regularly priced at $7.99), the ranking for that book arrows up by 400,000 to 500,000 ranks at once. It take 10-20 sales of a book priced at 99 cents to achieve the same climb during the same amount of time, usually within a day.

    My two Canadian cents, which are not very much now, considering the exchange rate 🙂


    • Bryan

      Thanks for your Canadian sense.

  • “Only 3500?” Hmm… Okay. My initial thought was this had to be an April Fools joke…but then, like Jim, after thinking about it, this could be beneficial. A highly-credited editor looking at one’s book is cool, but like Bryan, I hope people don’t get the impression that this is going to be the life-changing decision in their career.

  • Hey, Jim! I’m a gamer, so I’ll take this algorithm knowledge and game the system all day everyday! … Ugh. Who am I kiddin’? I’m too freak’n nice and honest -_-… sigh…

  • The sales ranking doesn’t seem gameable, but the formula is incredibly useful.

    Most authors organise a short term sale with advertising behind it. That advertising is a waste of money unless:
    – The book on sale will pay for the advertising just through the number of copies it sells;
    – Regular, non-advertised sales are at least 50% of the sales gained by advertising, meaning the position will be maintained;
    – The book has a series behind it, meaning later sales will pay for the advertising.

    So it means authors should know their regular, expected sales (the stickiness) and double that, which will give them the best possible position after a sale.

    • I agree. I think gaming the system is a waste of time, but using this information to tailor marketing and ROI on approaches is great.

  • Any system is gameable and I’m sure there are people working overtime just to prove they can do it. I will not be the least bit surprised when your #1 story is about the latest change on Amazon to shut down the latest batch of scammers.

    The bigger story for me was gamification. Specifically, what do they hope to offer I can’t already get by downloading sample chapters?

  • I don’t know if ‘game-able’ is the right term, but if you have a lot of books and keep cycling through them with ads, sales, and deals then you are working the system or gaming the system, depending on how you look at it.

  • Connie B. Dowell

    As so many have said, gaming only works for a little while. Putting out good books and promoting them in ethical ways is how to have long-term success.

  • Courage Knight

    What I took from the news about Amazon’s algorithm, wasn’t “how to game the system” but how to understand the system. If yesterday’s sales rank is halved, and added to today’s sales, then what we authors need to achieve is steady, daily increase in sales rather than an all-at-once sales promotion with no follow up. This is just smart business sense, anyway. Once a book is released, authors can’t just sit back and relax. Now it’s time to shift from the creative aspect of being a writer, to the nitty-gritty of being the VP of Marketing of our own private writing business. We should stagger our ads sales to be slightly overlapping, and continuous. Follow up a book daily with a Facebook ad with a book bub with a newsletter campaign, and so forth.

  • Amanda Smith

    Bryan used to be on Neopets, it’s confirmed.

    Sorry Bryan, just wanted to give you a hard time. Great episode as always guys!

    • Bryan

      Hahaha. Thanks, Amanda :).