Welcome to viral book selling

UPDATE:  sadly Baboon Fart Story reached #9 on the narrower >General bestseller list, selling a mere 21 copies before being pulled by amazon. But still an interesting example of a book catching some viral publicity.

Today a book called Baboon Fart Story climbed to #9 on the Amazon bestseller list. The book featured the word “fart” over and over again and a cover featuring a baboon drinking its own pee. This “book” began its life as a rhetorical device in a blog post, an example to demonstrate that anyone can put any book on Amazon they like. Some bloke took the idea seriously and made it real. And, low and behold, as such things are want to do, it caught a wave of viral publicity and sold some copies.

At which point Amazon took it down. Disproving the original idea that Amazon will sell any old shit. But demonstrating a much more interesting truth.

There’s been much talk about the Amazon ebook marketplace this week. Primarily because of Hugh Howey’s “Author Earnings” report. With some scraped data from Amazon, Howey publicised what is already a pretty well documented fact. A relatively large number of writers are making quite large sums of money, almost overnight, by selling their indie published ebooks direct to readers. There has been wailing and gnashing of teeth, focused on whether Howey’s stats are correct. All of which neatly avoids actually asking what the hell is happening over in the jungles of indie ebook publishing.

What’s happening is that the dynamics of viral publicity and marketing which rule on video sites like YouTube, and on “news” sites like Buzzfeed and Upworthy, are arriving in the world of book selling. The books selling on Amazon aren’t quite the same books selling in bookshops. Oh, the big bestsellers like George R R Martin are there. But alongside Game of Thrones are books like The Atlantis Gene by A G Riddle. You know what you’re getting with The Atlantis Gene. Because everyone has heard of Atlantis. It doesn’t matter that the book reads like it’s been written by a twelve year old who has never read a book. Because most readers aren’t going to read it. They’re just buying something for a few quid that happens to look interesting. Crazy cat videos don’t have Hollywood production values either. It doesn’t matter, their viral marketability does not rest in their high quality.

There are two ways of looking at this viral quality that the Amazon ebook marketplace brings to book selling. One is that it undermines quality and the hard work of talented writers. Well, I guess that is true to an extent. But. The other is that writers now have a fairly solid digital marketplace where they can make money. IF they understand, and are willing to work with, the dynamics of that marketplace. So it’s not the right place to launch your intense literary masterpiece. But it might be the right place to bang out some cheesy but fun action oriented fantasy novellas and make a bit of money selling them to help fund your serious work.

Are you doubting this is possible? Remember, today a book with a peeing baboon on the cover made it big. If you’re a talented writer, why not use your talents to exploit a rich marketplace like this? Why not experiment with new kinds of story that engage the kind of casual but numerous readers the Kindle store attracts? Perhaps the question isn’t “does this undermine quality”, but do you have the chops to make quality writing that works in this space? Thought of as that kind of challenge, the reason so many writers are excited about ebooks becomes clear.

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7 thoughts on “Welcome to viral book selling”

  1. A couple comments –

    As you’re a journalist, it might be worth noting some more complete information, including where this comes from — meaning, I posited the idea as something of a joke, and an author named “Phronk” ran with it.

    Origin:

    http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2014/02/16/self-publishing-truism-bingo/

    Also, it did not climb to #9 on the Amazon Bestseller list.

    It climbed to #9 on:

    #9 in Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Books & Reading > General.

    Which is to say, a very narrow category.

    It sold 21 copies, according to the author. It had, I believe, 32 reviews.

    Amazon removed it after about 24 hours, citing:

    “We’re writing to let you know that readers have reported a poor customer experience when reading the following book: Baboon Fart Story: An experiment inspired by Chuck Wendig. As a result, we have removed the book from the Kindle Store. Indicators of poor customer experience are surfaced through a variety of methods, such as customer refunds, customer reviews/star ratings and direct customer feedback. Per our KDP Content Guidelines, we reserve the right to determine whether content provides an acceptable experience for customers.”

    – Chuck

  2. I wrote Baboon Fart Story; you’re welcome.

    Just FYI:

    It was only #9 in Books > Literature & Fiction > History & Criticism > Books & Reading > General.

    I sold 21 copies.

    I’m glad a story about a farting baboon drinking its own pee could generate such deep discussion though.

  3. “…Hugh Howey’s “Author Earnings” report. With some scraped data from Amazon, Howey publicised what is already a pretty well documented fact. A relatively large number of writers are making quite large sums of money, almost overnight, by selling their indie published ebooks direct to readers. There has been wailing and gnashing of teeth, focused on whether Howey’s stats are correct. All of which neatly avoids actually asking what the hell is happening over in the jungles of indie ebook publishing.”

    …except Howey’s report was incomplete, lacking in basic rigour, held together with the sticky-tape of assumptions where data didn’t exist, wildly overextrapolated and he publicised it like it was the greatest thing written since the 1905 output of Annalen der Physik; then the usual schmucks in the press promoted it likewise. Publishers were right to be pissed off; even if Howey was broadly correct, the only thing his study proved definitively was the continuing slide in media standards.

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