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The secret behind the Kindle's best-selling e-books: They're not for sale

Kindle users are leaning toward downloads priced at $0.00. Still, with Amazon playing close to the vest, it's hard to tell what the sales patterns really look like.

One big reason readers choose e-books over ink and paper versions: The digital ones are cheaper.

That wasn't the case when e-books first appeared a decade ago. But Amazon has made a point of selling its Kindle titles at a discount to physical editions, even if it means losing money.

And then there are the titles that Kindle owners really, really love--the ones they get for nothing. As the Washington Post noted earlier this week, the list of best-selling Kindle titles is dominated by free books:

Amazon's customers have made it clear that $9.99 is still too high for their taste. Most titles in the company's list of top 100 Kindle bestsellers are priced below $9.99, and the most popular price point is $0.00.

The good folks at MediaBistro have gone ahead and counted, so you don't have to. As of a day ago, 64 of Amazon's top 100 Kindle titles cost nada.

How exactly does that work? I understand why Amazon is able to hand out public domain works like "The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes" and "Pride and Prejudice" for free. But I'm not sure what's going on with titles like Noel Hynd's "Not Your Mother's Slow Cooker: Recipes for Entertaining" (#9). Anyone want to weigh in?

I'm also not sure what conclusions we can draw from the dominance of freebies on the Kindle charts. I'm tempted to say that Kindle buyers are rabid but indiscriminate readers, and they'll lap up whatever you put in front of them.

But without a real sense of the numbers, which Amazon is never going to cough up, it's hard to tell what the sales patterns really look like.

I suspect, for instance, that a lot of the freebies are picked up by readers in the first few weeks that they own a Kindle, when they're looking to download something simply for the sake of downloading something.

I also assume that the Kindle charts are skewed by hardcore early adopters' reading habits. And that the patterns will start changing now that more casual users are picking up the Kindle for the first time.

And in case you were wondering--because I was--says it is not counting free book downloads when it releases sales statistics like the one it put out on Saturday, when it said more customers had purchased Kindle titles than physical books on Christmas Day.