Following on from our post about Google Trends, today I’m going to run you through another tool that can be used to measure trends, Amazon’s Kindle Store.
Amazon’s dominance of the internet sales market is just as pronounced, if not more so, in the independent publishing world as within the rest of retail. With their origins as a book retailer, it is no surprise that Amazon has continued to dominate the field, but it was their early embracing of eBooks and the famous Kindle that has maintained their position as market leaders.
These days they offer a whole host of tools for the author who wants to go it alone. Self-publishing has never been easier, with authors able to join the Kindle Unlimited program, print on demand scheme and get their book out the world in only a few quick steps.
But what does that mean in the context of researching niches? It means that Amazon’s sales are a great snapshot for the demand in the market as the whole.
We’ll preface the rest of the information with the disclaimer, this is a lot more manual than tracking search terms in Google Trends.
Returning to the principles of our last post, we’re looking at researching what are the top selling niches within the speculative fiction genre. Where could there be a better place to start than Amazon’s best seller lists? Fortunately for us, Amazon makes this information easily available.
A couple of clicks will bring us to this page:
These are the current top 5 best sellers across the whole of the Kindle store. Of course, this isn’t really relevant to us. How many of those are Science Fiction or Fantasy books? In fact, you have to make it to 12th in the chart before Andrew Caldecott’s Wyntertide marks the first appearance of genre interest.
But the beauty of Amazon’s shopping structure means that it allows us to dig down into the subcategories with ease.
It takes only three more clicks to get to a much more relevant listing:
We’ve now limited it to bestsellers in Science Fiction alone. We could, in fact, take this even further. If you’re already set on writing within a specific sub-genre, but want to see what other books are out there, what trends are current and what your competition will be then you can further refine your search with the options to the right.
That’s right, Amazon has available an entire Top 100 best-selling list for categories as specific as “Genetic Engineering” and “Colonisation”. If nothing else, it’s worth having a poke around these categories for a bit of information.
At this point, you know what’s selling. But how does that help you with your decision of what to write, and which niche to stick to?
This part is a bit less precise. The first point is to discount any well known books and authors on there. They’ll sell well enough on name brand alone. The screenshot we’ve used above has Pratchett and Gaiman’s collaboration Good Omens at number one, hardly a surprise with the recently released series, and Orwell’s 1984 at number three. You’re not going to be competing with these, at least not until you’re already successful and then you can write in any niche you like!
Discounting these blockbuster books, are there any trends that jump out at you from the page alone? To hark back to our previous post, are there more covers showing zombies or pirates? This is a bit intuitive, click through each of the product listings and have a read, what are the books about? Is there a common theme among the settings or the protagonists?
Incidentally (and unrelated to this article) this is also an excellent method for establishing what you need for your book cover. These are the covers that sell. Imitate that.
This information should give you a good idea of what readers are looking for within a subgenre. But is it the right topic to be writing in at all? This is where we’ll give you a little trick to find out.
Each books listed on Amazon has an “Amazon’s Bestseller Rank” in the product information listing. You can sample these to see how popular your chosen category is.
To the right is the information you’re looking for.
This is the product information for the Number 1 ranked book in the Genetic Engineering Subgenre. It has an overall Kindle store sales rank of 485. That’s pretty respectable, especially for a book with only 6 reviews. (For context, Good Omens sits at a ranking of 35 overall with 867 customer reviews.)
But at the other end of the scale, the book ranked 100 in Genetic Engineering sits at a lowly rank of 12,615 overall.
It’s this second ranking that gives you a better picture of the genre’s popularity. Being the most popular book in any category is likely to require good sales, but we’re more interested in looking at the sales that an average book in the genre will make.
A quick skip across some other categories, gives us a #100 ranking in “Cyberpunk” of 19,867, in “First Contact” of 9,344 and “Steampunk” of 51,536.
You can clearly see the difference in popularity between the different subgenres. If you’re going to do your research thoroughly, we recommend sampling more than just one book for each category, sample a few at set points (eg. 1st, 25th, 50th, 75th, 100th) to get a more accurate idea of the spread in each category. You don’t want to write off Steampunk due to the popularity of the 100th book on list, only to find out that the 99 above it are all within the Amazon top 1000 overall. An extreme example, but it illustrates the need to not rely on one individual metric.
This is just another tool in your arsenal in preparation of writing a successful book. Get in touch with your own tricks that you use for trend research!