23 January 2012

Roman Empire Falls, But Amazon Makes It Rise

 Two nights ago, I was reading in the late evening, propped up comfortably on my couch with two pillows behind my back, listening for the sound of rain that was supposed to start falling that night. My kindle was in my hand, and I was reading Thuvia, Maid of Mars from its Project Gutenberg version (free!) in preparation for my review of it for Black Gate as part of my “Edgar Rice Burroughs’s Mars” series. I decided to take a break, and switched off my Kindle.

An advertisement popped up on the screen for the shutdown mode. I almost never pay attention to these ads, since for some reason Kindle ads rarely target readers. They sell flowers and shoes. I don’t understand the profitability of this, but Amazon rakes in the money and is gradually devouring the world, so the strategy must be working.

However, this time the ad was for a book, and it caught my attention. A 2006 history volume titled The Fall of the Roman Empire: A New History of Rome and the Barbarians by Peter Heather was going to go on sale at the Kindle store at midnight for $1.99. For the first time, I pressed the button to get more info: I’m fascinated with Roman history and Late Antiquity, and the books on the subject rarely go down to that sort of price. I received an email that repeated the information about the sale starting at midnight and provided a link.

I fiddled around on my computer for a few minutes until midnight arrived. Then I slid over to Amazon, slapped the “One Click” button, and received The Fall of the Roman Empire for two bucks.

Before I went to bed that evening, I checked Amazon’s Top 100 Kindle sellers. I had no suspicion that “Farewell to Tyrn” might have jumped up there (I’ve stopped checking my sales rank numbers every two minutes), but I was curious to see if The Hunger Games still had its tenacious grip on the #1 slot.

It did. But two spots below it, at #3, having only entered the charts an hour ago, was The Fall of the Roman Empire.

“Now that is power, barbarian!” to quote Thulsa Doom.
I have no idea how the deal came about that Amazon would publicize a five-year-old Roman history book on the front of Kindles everywhere. No idea. It doesn’t sound like the type of book they would push. It doesn’t sound like best-seller material. But Amazon promoted it, and immediately it turned into one of their top selling items.

What does this mean? Amazon has the tools to make almost anything into a success; if you somehow get access to them, you can move books faster than any method so far in history.

Ah, but how to get to Amazon’s toolkit? I’m already rummaging through it, but I haven’t found the power saw yet.

Addendum: The book is now back to list price of $9.99—but as of this writing it is ranked #5 on Kindle sales. It’s still selling, and at its premium price. Success for whomever planned it.