The Viral Catalysts that push a book to the top of the sales charts

Viral Catalysts are the vital difference that can make a book a best seller and Smashwords founder Mark Coker has tried to pick out these catalysts in a major analysis of indie book sales data.

The company is the world’s biggest indie ebook distributor and is well placed to conduct such an analysis as its data covers the Apple iBookstore, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Kobo and Amazon, although only about 200 of its 200,000 titles are at Amazon.

The study looks at over $12 million in sales of 120,000 Smashwords ebooks from May 2012 to the end of March 2013.

Exponential sales for best sellers

The first point concerns the power curve of a successful book. As a book moves up in sales rank, its sales grow exponentially, so, for example, the top title could be selling twice the number of the fifth-placed book and four times as many as the book in tenth spot. Coker reports that over the 11-month period in the survey, the No 1 Smashwords best seller sold, in dollar terms, 37 times more than the title ranked No 500.

Longer books have sales appeal…

The survey also found that book buyers prefer longer rather than shorter books. The top 100 best sellers in Smashwords averaged around 115,00 words.

…But buyers prefer shorter titles

Shorter book titles seem to appeal more to book buyers, with the top 100 in the survey having titles averaging 4.2 words while for ranks 1,000-2,000 the average title was 5.7 words and for the 100,000 rank it was six words.

$1.99 is black hole in pricing

Pricing is one of the key points in book publishing and this provides some encouraging news for authors as the most popular price point was $2.99 while the previous year’s survey had $0.99 as a more common price point.

The impact of pricing reveals a black hole in pricing at $1-$1.99 which significantly underperform books at $2.99 and $3.99. Free books are a massive attraction, getting 92 times more downloads than books at any price.

 $3.99 is the sweet spot for the best yield

Looking at yield to assess what price gets the best earnings for an author, the study finds that books priced at $3.99 earn 55% more than the average book at any price and books priced at $1.99 earn 67% less than the average.

The survey also comes up with the revelation that books priced at $3.99 not only sold more books than $2.99 books but also more units than any other price except free. Coker says the $3.99 price point earned authors 55% more than the average when compared with all price points.

Coker believes this finding shows that readers will pay for quality books and that some readers are moving away from ultra-low prices.

You can read the full survey and Coker’s analysis of the findings at