Books written by Ray Sullivan

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Amazon KDP updates dashboard

One of the bugbears for me with all of the distribution channels available is the limited amount of data available. Blogger, for example, attempts to let the blog authors know where and when their entries have been read, providing numerical and graphical information. It also splits the entry sources of the data and the operating systems down. It sounds useful, especially when using a blog as an advertising window on your books, but in reality it isn't that helpful at all. For example, I might know that in the last twenty four hours that my blog has been accessed in maybe ten countries, with fifty two percent of hits originating in the US, and maybe just a couple of hits in Japan. I may also learn that Firefox accounted for thirty five percent of browsers used, with IE just behind, then Chrome. I appreciate that some blogs might embed media that works better in one browser than another, but most of us just blog words and the occasional picture. The biggest issue with all of this, though, is that the data is too coarse. The US is a big place and it would be helpful to know where you are being read - East Coast, West Coast, good old Midwest maybe.

But it's just a blog, right?  What about people looking at my books? Well the best information available is through the Smashwords dashboard. That tells me how many times each book has been viewed and perhaps more interestingly a twenty percent download has taken place. People can stumble across your book page by any number of ways, and even those stumbling across a book through a wrong turn could result in a new fan, but downloading a sample is a real declaration of interest. You have to be checking your dashboard on a regular basis to get a feel for when the downloads take place, otherwise it's just so many on such and such a date. Location? No luck there, unless you spot the download being registered you have no clues at all. Sales are different because Smashwords emails you automatically, but book sales isn't their main function, distribution is. However, once a sale is confirmed it usually comes with some country ID, however that's about it.

The Ebook stores Smashwords distributes to such as Apple and B&N are black boxes. You find out way after the event that you've accrued sales, sometimes months later, and sometimes you get more granularity. I can recall watching sales of Project: Evil move steadily around Canadian states over a two week period a while back, forming a mental image in my mind of a group of readers emailing each other about a book they had enjoyed. But generally, that's as good as the data gets.

Then you have the Big A. Amazon indicate on your dashboard immediately you have a book downloaded, but they don't inform you by email, so you have to check manually. When I first published on Amazon I was checking my dashboard daily, sometimes several times a day, and would spot sales pretty much as soon as they were registered. Nowadays I review a lot less often, in part because waiting for the post is such a boring endeavour but mainly because Amazon have made it a lot more time consuming. As they've rolled out Kindle stores in individual European countries and in Japan , Brazil, Australia etc, they have added these to a drop down box that you had to interrogate one a time to see where you had sold, how many copies of which books and roughly when. The country data is as crude as with Blogger, so although I know how many copies of The Journeymen I have sold in the US, I still don't know if it's across the board or just in certain parts.

However Amazon have now added a new graphical tool that automatically indicates how many books you have sold over the last thirty days (if any) across all regions and your entire canon. You still have to drill down if you want more data, but as an overview it makes checking daily easier again. The graphics are straight out of the eighties, which is a little disappointing from such a big company but at least it is a step in the right direction.

But what is the big deal on data? Well curiosity apart, it would be helpful to know where in the world I am appreciated, and where I'm making zero impact. Such information could help me to reward the areas that follow me, to work with those that are unaware of my books, which may result in more sales that would benefit Amazon, Smashwords, Apple and B&N. It would also help me target promotional activities for my new book, Assassin, ahead of its release on May 1st. I'm fairly certain all of the above companies could provide better data easily, to their mutual benefit. But at least Amazon have tried to close the gap a little.
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