Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales | Posted on 01-07-2013|
Before Christmas of 2011, I made the first book in my Emperor’s Edge series free at Amazon (by setting it to free at Smashwords, Kobo, and other stores that allow the practice, which in turn can cause Amazon to “price match” an ebook to free), and it was shortly after that that I was able to quit the day job and start writing full time. Lots of people who wouldn’t have otherwise tried a new author (and a self-published one at that) downloaded the free Book 1 and went on to buy other books in the series. My sales had been respectable before, especially for someone who’d only been in the biz for a year, but this gave them a nice boost that persisted over the following months.
Shortly after that, Amazon came out with its KDP Select program, one that gave authors some perks if they were willing to make their ebooks exclusive to the Kindle Store. Among other things, those authors could make their books free for up to 5 days out of the quarter, allowing them to buy advertising and run other promotions to get lots of folks to download the books during the free days. A big number of downloads tended to help sales (paid sales) when the book returned to its usual price, because these downloads were counted as sales (or partial sales) and gave the book a boost on the popularity charts. As you might imagine, there were suddenly a lot of free ebooks available on Amazon.
This made more competition for those of us who had used the back door (price-matching) method to list our ebooks as permanently free, but it didn’t effect my bottom line much. I could run the same promotions and buy the same advertising that the KDP Select folks did.
All the free ebooks resulted in something of a backlash from Amazon though. They’ve taken some measures of late to make freebies less visible in the store, perhaps because they don’t make anything on those downloads.
Top 100 “Free” Charts Less Visible
For quite a while, Amazon was showing the Top 100 free ebooks in any given category side-by-side with the Top 100 non-free ebooks. This meant that if I ran a promotion for my Book 1, and it reached the Top 10 free in epic fantasy, it would appear right alongside all those G.R.R. Martin books dominating the paid charts.
Lately, Amazon has made a small change that requires a person to click “Top 100 Free” in a given category to be taken to that section. It doesn’t seem like a big deal, but this has resulted in a lot fewer downloads for me (and for other authors I’ve talked to who have perma-free titles). You’ve basically got a situation where the only people who are going to find your free ebook are the ones specifically looking for free ebooks (who might not be the best candidates to go on to buy other books you’ve written), whereas before I’d guess you got a lot of people from both sides of the fence. Even those who don’t mind paying $5-$10 for an ebook might try a freebie with good reviews, if they happen to see it.
As far as overall books sales go, I’m still doing fine (I have more books out in my series now, and the other books must appear often enough around Amazon that people find their way to the first book, even if they’re not scouring the free charts), but I’ve heard from other authors who are lamenting the lowered visibility, because their overall sales have taken a big hit.
Free Ebooks Don’t Appear in Also-Boughts of Non-Free Books
You guys can correct me if I’m wrong on this one, but I seem to remember a time when free and non-free books could appear in the also-boughts for any given book. I haven’t seen that for some time. If you look at The Emperor’s Edge (my freebie) on Amazon, you’ll see that all of my non-free ebooks appear in the also-boughts, but if you look at the second book in the series, you won’t see Book 1 anywhere in the also-boughts, even though people obviously would have “purchased” the first before buying the others.
What this means is that it’s entirely possible for the average person to never stumble across your ebook on Amazon, no matter how highly rated or how often it’s been downloaded, because it’s free. Only people who go looking for free ebooks have a chance at finding it.
Well, you think, these changes just mean you’ll have to work harder to drive more people to your free book; you can’t depend on Amazon helping you sell it. Unfortunately, it’s gotten harder to find places to promote freebies too.
Fewer Advertising Opportunities for Free Ebooks
There used to be a lot of sites that promoted these bargain books, and you could get a lot of downloads by buying an ad with such-and-such blog or email newsletter.
Earlier this year, Amazon made a change to its affiliate program, basically telling people that if a lot of their revenue came via click-throughs on free ebooks, their income would be forfeit for the month. A number of the big sites have made changes because of this, and there aren’t as many places to promote your freebie.
Also, those KDP Select post-free sales boosts I mentioned? The reason so many people started trying short bursts of free? To use gaming terminology, they’ve been nerfed. (I never joined KDP Select so can’t say I experienced them first hand anyway, but I’ve heard from many people that they’re not seeing bumps of any kind any more.)
So… Should we Ditch Free on Amazon? Or Can It Still be Effective?
It’s hard to say yes or no here. You’ll ultimately get more people checking out your work if there’s no cost to try it, but if they can’t find your book, it might not matter.
Personally, I am still getting downloads to my Book 1 on Amazon, but it’s hard to know how much of that is from people surfing through the free lists and how much is a result of the visibility of my other titles. I honestly don’t know if I’d do better or worse by simply making the first book a deal (say 99 cents) instead of free. I’m not planning to change the price on EE1, so I won’t find out any time soon (free still helps me out in all the other stores out there, and I personally like having a freebie that I can direct people to), at least not with this series. Because of all these changes, I am, however, planning on a 99-cent Book 1 for the next series. That will give me a chance to compare.
What are your thoughts on using free ebooks to drive sales at Amazon for other titles? Has the ship sailed? Or is it still a good idea?