One Sunday this month, the crime thriller Gone, Baby, Gone, by Dennis Lehane, sold 23 e-book copies, a typically tiny number for a book that was originally published in 1998 but has faded into obscurity.
The next day, boom: it sold 13,071 copies.
Gone, Baby, Gone had been designated as a Kindle Daily Deal on Amazon, and hundreds of thousands of readers had received an e-mail notifying them of a 24-hour price cut, to $US1.99 from $US6.99. The instant bargain lit a fire under a dormant title.
Flash sales like that one have taken hold in the book business, a concept popularised by the designer fashion site Gilt.com. Consumers accustomed to snapping up instant deals for items like vintage glassware on One Kings Lane or baby clothes on Zulily are now buying books the same way; and helping older books soar from the backlist to the best-seller list.
"It's the Groupon of books," said Dominique Raccah, the publisher of Sourcebooks. "For the consumer, it's new, it's interesting. It's a deal and there isn't much risk. And it works."
LIKE BROWSING AN OLD BOOK STORE
Finding a book used to mean scouring the shelves at a bookstore, asking a bookseller for guidance or relying on recommendations from friends.
But bookstores are dwindling, leaving publishers with a deep worry about the future of the business: with fewer brick-and-mortar options, how will readers discover books?
One-day discounts are part of the answer. Promotions like the Kindle Daily Deal from Amazon and the Nook Daily Find from Barnes & Noble have produced extraordinary sales bumps for e-books, the kind that usually happen as a result of glowing book reviews or an author's prominent television appearances.
Websites like BookBub.com, founded last year, track and aggregate bargain-basement deals on e-books, alerting consumers about temporary discounts from retailers like Amazon, Apple, Kobo and Barnes & Noble
"It makes it almost irresistible," said Liz Perl, Simon & Schuster's senior vice-president for marketing. "We're lowering the bar for you to sample somebody new."
E-books are especially ripe for price experimentation. Without the list price stamped on the flap like their print counterparts, e-books have freed publishers to mix up prices and change them frequently. Some newly released e-books cost $US14.99, others $US9.99 and still others $US1.99.
Consumers are flocking to flash sales, said Russ Grandinetti, Amazon's vice-president for Kindle content, because the deals whittle down the vast number of choices for reading and other forms of entertainment.
"In a world of abundance and lots of choice, how do we help people cut through?" Mr Grandinetti said. "People are looking for ways to offer their authors a megaphone, and we're looking to build more megaphones."
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