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Is Using a Free Ebook Still a Viable Strategy for Increasing Overall Sales on Amazon?

| Posted in Amazon Kindle Sales |

66

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?

 

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Comments (66)

Good post Lindsay.

I’ve seen this topic coming up more and more lately (mostly with headings like “The Death of Free” or “Why I’m Completely Done with Free” – to which I applaud you for not being a crazy person like them).

I continue to believe that Free isn’t what it used to be, but is still a tremendous tool for new authors – meaning authors with little or no name recognition. The fact that, whether perma-free or through Select, a brand new author can be seen and downloaded by thousands of would-be readers is something I find to be just as amazing now as it was during the “gold rush” of the last two years. And I would feel the same way if you were talking about WattPad, Facebook, Goodreads, or any other spot that would allow you to potentially reach thousands of new eyeballs.

Now, do those people who specifically search out free titles turn into paying consumers? That’s a lot harder to quantify. I would all but guarantee the percentage is low, but it’s still a real percentage.

All that being said, I’d love to hear how your new $0.99 1st-in-the-series strategy works. Because, as much as I believe in free for brand new authors, I also tend to believe that for an established author with a few titles out, even one with a remotely small following, it’s better to wean your audience off of free and begin building value in comparison to other titles in your genre.

Thank you for the thoughtful comments, August!

I agree that it’s still a good thing to try when you’re a new author; as you mentioned, there are lots of places you can post your free book, besides Amazon. I’m starting to see some love on Wattpad and plan to post the next Book 1 there for free, and will probably even start posting chapters before I publish the ebook.

Hi Lindsay.

It’s like you read my mind. In the last few days I was thinking that some of the information many self-publishers have shared over time wasn’t as useful as it once was. I’m glad you’ve revisited the debate over KDP Select!

I’m one of the folks who recently signed up for Select for the reasons 1) the free days, and 2) As a first time self-pubbed author, I wanted a restriction that kept me in focus as I gained experience. I certainly didn’t want to have to run back and forth fixing numerous errors across several platforms. I also never counted on any boost from Select since all my research suggested its glory days are over. I wholeheartedly agree with that.

Will I renew KDP Select when the time comes? No. However, if you’re a first time author unsure of what you’re doing, it *could* be a good platform to get your toes wet. Just keep in mind that three months can be a drag or a cakewalk. I’m finding it somewhat of a drag. Probably because I’ve downloaded your blog directly into my brain. 🙂

I’ll let you know my experience with those free days soon.

I’ll be curious to see if those free days help out. It’s tough to do much of anything until you have more books out, so, sure, why not play around with everything with the first book?

One benefit you do get from being in KDP Select is increased visibility in the Kindle Lending Library. I’ve heard there are about 250,000 ebooks in it, most by self-publishers, and that’s a much smaller pool for people to search through than the regular Kindle store. Have you had any borrows yet?

Hi Lindsay

I have not had any borrows yet, but I was tickled to see I had purchases in the UK and Germany.

I’m good with the notion of free or $.99 for the first book in a series as a way of selling the others. But how does KDP Select really help with that?

Say you write book 1 and put it in KDP Select. If you make it free (or even $.99) the rest of the series hasn’t been produced yet so there’s no downstream titles to sell. If you never move it out of KDP Select so it can be listed on other sites, then book 1 isn’t ever visible there. So when you get book 2 and book 3, only Amazon has book 1. Or you exit KDP Select for book 1 and KDP Select isn’t useful for you.

Really, I’d love (maybe) to go into KDP Select with book 1 AFTER book 3 comes out, but then I’d lose my presence on the other sites.

What am I missing?

Well, building a presence on Amazon does help build a presence on the other sites. If you’re just getting sales going, establishing a presence on one site isn’t so bad. You can always branch out later.

A lot of the folks who are in KDP Select are people who never sold anything on the other platforms, even when they were there for a year or more. It can be tough to gain traction in the other stores, though I found the permafree Book 1 (and before that I had a free short story out there) is a way to do so.

One way for it to work with a series is to wait until you’ve written several books and put them up with only the first in KDP select. After 90 days, drop out of select and make it inexpensive elsewhere.

Yes, this is a timely post. I just had my three fantasy novels come off KDP Select yesterday. I quickly put them back up on Smashwords and listed the first one as free.

Will Amazon pick that up and price-match it? Perhaps, but not this month. Since Smashwords is doing their summer/winter promotion a lot of their books are at a discount. I imagine Amazon might wait until August before it starts looking at those prices again.

Now, if Amazon does list my book as free like Smashwords, will it help me? I don’t think so anymore. I too noticed the missing top 100 free books on Amazon over the past month or two and it was evident to me that they were beginning to phase those out. Like you said, they’re not making any money, and that’s really the same as losing money as far as they’re concerned.

So if this tactic for gaining new authors exposure is to be no more, how will people get noticed? Many popular self-published authors got their start that way; where would they be today if they hadn’t had that opportunity?

I started out selling my ebooks at 2.99 and was actually a year into things before I published Book 3 and decided to make the free first book. It *is* possible to build an audience and make sales without having anything free, though, yes, lots of people had things facilitated by the free advertising Amazon was giving the free ebooks for a while. 😉

My book got price matched down to $0.00 today, just about 2 months after I first listed it on Smashwords.

It got a lot of downloads right away and that bumped it up into three categories.

Still, those free categories aren’t as visible as they once were, and it’ll be interesting to see how it plays out over the coming months.

Hi Greg,

I found the “flush” of a new e-Book lasts about 2 weeks…and then it gets buried so deeply in other free books it doesn’t get noticed and sales of the 2nd and 3rd books started to slide. I also ran a Bookbub ad for my free e-book ( http://www.amazon.com/Bring-Fire-Part-Wolves-ebook/dp/B008UUIGB2 ), again after two weeks sales of the other books began to slide.

I’ve decided I have to have a marketing ploy to run every week…and I WILL have a blog post on these ploys in errr…soon.

However, I can definitely say, you should see if ereaderperks has featured your book yet. A lot of places no longer feature free books but she does. When my ebook first went free it got 7000 downloads. I thought it was just my fans, word of mouth and Amazon’s magic, but I just learned from the woman who runs ereader perks that she had featured me on June 4…honestly, that was probably the more likely culprit.

http://www.ereaderperks.com/

Hey Greg — I came up with a list of free, or close to it, marketing opportunities. I’m going to try one a week.

But Bookbub was awesome.

Here’s the post:
http://ibringthefireodin.tumblr.com/post/60180758284/advertising-your-original-fiction

Amazon is going away from free. With my book, there was no way to price it for free for promotions because I wasn’t in KDP. What I did was set it for free at Smashwords, which filtered through to Barnes and Noble, etc.. Then I went to my book page at Amazon and told them that the book was priced lower at other places. Two days later Amazon dropped the price to free. I don’t know what will happen when I try to raise the price again later. I’ll figure something out.

What a timely post! I’ve just come off my first Select promotion on the second book of a five book series. I only have the first two books out so far. My first book is on several sites and not in Select. Before, during and after my 5-day promo, I reduced the first book price to 99 cents (on Amazon) to help give a bump to the free promo.

But I have no real idea now whether it’s a good thing or not. Some of my target audience is (English readers) in Germany – since the books take place here and I live here. – A German blog picked up on the free promotion which may have helped for a few downloads, because I got a tremendous boost on Amazon.de – the second book reached #1 in one of its categories (on free) and stayed high for the whole promo. The second book climbed up to the top 10 as well in paid books for both categories. The top free 100 was still visible on .de so that may have helped.

I also got some presence on .com as a result of the promo getting fairly high in the ranks of free and paid books for my categories.

But now? Don’t know. After the promo, the books sank again to obscurity on .com, but I’m still in the top 100 for paid ebooks in my categories for the second book on .de

I’m going to stay in for one more cycle with the second book before distributing it on other markets since I’m thinking of doing the next promo in conjunction with launching the third book (what do you think about that idea???)

I’m playing with prices for the first book right now to see if there’s a sweet spot to get some sales on other channels – seems to be working but too early to tell. Don’t want to go to the 99 cent price point permanently until I’ve got all five books in the series out.

I didn’t use any of the pricey promotion sites since I am not yet ‘good enough’ to get into them. So maybe I would have done better. Maybe next time. We’ll see.

I still believe that the best way to get noticed is to have a lot of books up – good quality books that are the best that I can make them. But it is fun to experiment. I only don’t have any way to know whether it is effective or not at this point. I am not convinced that Select is the way to go for the long-term. At least not for all the books in a series.

Would love to know how others gauge the effectiveness of their promos.

I just had a number of titles come out of Select, and chalk me up as one of those who isn’t seeing the sales spikes. I put 7 books into Select (different pen name) in late April and ran 2-5 day free promos for them spread across the 90 day window. I saw no noticable sales bumps on my non-free titles during that time, despite some of the free books making it into the top 100 free list in their genre.

I’m not going to stop relying on making the first of a series perma-free as a sales and marketing tool, especially since the other distributors haven’t nerfed it on their sites, but I’m far more likely to price match down to 99 cents rather than to free for future sales promotions on my other books.

The poor royalties on price points below $2.99 makes this whole question a lot harder. I think offering an omnibus ebook helps out a lot with the “take a risk” factor, though. Here’s why:

Assuming you have three books, and they’re all the same length, a reader gets a disproportionately large sample of your Book 1. Amazon gives 10% of an ebook’s length as a sample, and since you have three books, that translates into 30% of the first book in the omnibus. That gives you a chance to show your setting, introduce your characters, set your hooks, and spring the main conflict, all at no risk to the reader. That’s a pretty good sales tool.

You mentioned lately about how Mr. Siregar released his book as a short version. Well, that actually irked me a bit, when I got to the end and realized I needed to pay for the version that had an ending. I think writing a short story or some such thing and giving that away for free is a great idea, as long as it has an ending.

I’ve noticed this, as well. Toward the end of last year, my book, LILY’S REDEMPTION, went free on Sony (due to a glitch at Smashwords). Amazon price-matched it and the result was 20K downloads in just under a month and 42 reviews. And this was without me really doing much of anything, other than mentioning it on my blog and Facebook pages a few times.

As my newest novel, INVASION OF THE NINJA, wasn’t getting many reviews, I purposely set it to free through Smashwords. Amazon finally price-matched it. The downloads are much slower this time around. So the changes that you mentioned seem to be making a difference.

I made my first book $0.99, and so far that strategy seems to be doing well. I’m able to find “bargain bookshelf” advertising opportunities to drive sales, and the low price allows people to try the book for the same price as a soda at McDonald’s. I didn’t do KDP, so I’ve not had a free day on Amazon, although I haven’t seen much return when offering it free via coupon on Smashwords. I’ll probably do the same thing for the next series.

Your data is biased at this point, because you are no longer a newbie author. Setting a first book to 99 cents when you have an established series with lots of reviews won’t really indicate whether or not “free” matters. You need to find new authors, people publishing and marketing for the first time in 2013 under the new rules and see how they are succeeding.

Unfortunately, the only real success stories I’ve read of new authors succeeding in 2013 have been from people who had an established niche audience due to already being a part of some community. Most other people skyrocketing up the charts have been people who have published for years and have some middling/low end success before finally having a breakthrough year.

In 2013, I personally have not heard of a new author with no major reading base succeeding purely off the merits of their work and/or building a base from scratch. Most new authors are clamoring for reviews and just pouring money into advertising hoping some day it all pays off.

The days of “democratic” indie publishing are over. Everyone without a pre-established fanbase is vying for limited resources like bookbubs to succeed. Unfortunately, many sites like bookbubs require some early form of success and a building base to really promote a book. And more and more venues are dealing with the bloated market by charging/increasing prices. And in the most elite examples, only people who’ve already made money could truly afford the price. Even IndieReader has started charging a $100 for a review. Promoting as a new author is becoming expensive with very few outlets managing to make the price worth it in any short term timeframe.

Most veteran authors keep giving advice on how to succeed in 2013, but their viewpoint is very biased. JA Konrath, Russell Blake…changing your strategy to continue/maintain your success is not the same as trying to breakthrough from ground zero under the new self-publishing paradigms.

Self-publishing is becoming just like traditional publishing. Everyone is searching for the latest marketing tricks to make their work stand out. People play it safe, writing books that clearly fit a genre/niche or just pandering to said market instead of taking the kinds of genre bending risks that made self-published books interesting in the first place.

It may not be until 2015 that we finally begin to hear who really managed to succeed in 2013 and what new patterns are developing. But by then those writers will be established and there will be a new newbie generation working under new rules.

The technology for self-publishing may be innovating and evolving, but I feel it’s coming at an expense to the diversity of the work and the kinds of ideals that self-publishing was supposed to represent in the first place. Self-publishing is just becoming a microcosm for traditional publishing.

Dan,

I understand the points you’re attempting to make but I feel, in response to your comments, it’s worth asking what “success” means?

You say that you haven’t heard of any new authors in 2013 “with no major reading base succeeding purely off the merits of their work”. I have to believe that the idea of a brand new author showing up with their first work and finding major success with no base was just as absurd in 1982 as it was in 2002 as it is now in 2013.

To use the argument that “free” (at least for the latter part of 2011 and most of 2012) allowed unknown authors to become overnight successes, and now that it doesn’t, free is now redundant – and the self-publishing industry is the same as traditional publishing – seems wildly off base. That 18-month period of the “free” gold-rush WASN’T the norm; it was never going to stay that way. Now the systems and algorithms are starting to normalize.

Is Amazon perfect? No. Is B&N or Kobo or Apple perfect? No. But the technology is still amazing and it’s still unbelievably liberating.

You use Konrath and Blake as an example and say that they are spouting things that are irrelevant in 2013. I think if you really look at their core message, the idea is to plan for slow growth. If you hit it big because of free or some advertising company, great, but the idea is to keep writing, get better at your craft, and plan for the future.

That is what self-publishing allows for. I entered the industry full-time in March of 2013, with no writing experience other than as a hobby (I never submitted to agents or publishers; I also never submitted a single story to competitions or magazines). I published my first book via Amazon in late May 2013. I just finished publishing the 2nd in my series, a short novella, in late June. I’m not yet on any other platform.

So far, in the month and a half I’ve had books available to purchase, I’ve sold roughly 1 book per day per title. So, again, I ask what is “success”, because under any metric you’ll find online, I’m a complete failure.

Yet, here’s the reality for someone who is a completely new author in 2013:

– In 4 months, my website has attracted close to 500 subscribers who are actively engaged in the articles I post.
– In 1.5 months of being “published”, I have 115 subscribers to a newsletter specific to my book series. (The cross-over between these lists is minimal, roughly 4%).
– In 1.5 months, I’ve averaged about 1 sale per title released, per day.

This is what those numbers project to be by the end of 2013:

– My website subscriber list should be somewhere between 1000-2000 people.
– My book series subscriber list could be anywhere from about 500 up to “who knows”. The reason this is hard to quantify is because I only have 2 titles out right now in the series, where by the end of 2013 I plan on having 7-8 books out.
– I plan to publish to all platforms later this summer. Should I be able to bump the 1-sale-per-day-per-title up to a modest 3 sales per day (across all platforms) and, accomplish my goal of releasing 7 titles by years end, I would be selling 21 books per day. 21 books per day at my current avg profit price of $2.35 would equal just over $18,000 in 365 days.

(Also, it’s worth noting that I have a KDP Select run scheduled for July 26-27th, but as of right now, all my current numbers are with no free runs and no advertising. I’ve yet to use a KDP free day, and I’ve not even submitted my books to Bookbub or any other advertiser.)

Are those numbers blow-the-roof-off amazing? I don’t think so, but what IS amazing is that they are completely attainable. Is is “success”? I don’t know, I guess that’s for each individual to decide, but for me, the idea that a very realistic minimum of $18k in 2013 with ZERO pre-established base before March of this year, I have to say that I think that’s quite amazing.

With the right marketing, a mediocre free run (regardless of what that means right now), or a well-placed ad, my numbers could be well in excess of that projected minimum.

This response is way too long, but I wanted to take a minute to show that the things being thrown around right now, like “free is dead”, “Amazon is squeezing out self-published authors”, or “self-publishing is just becoming a microcosm for traditional publishing”, whether you believe those things to be true or not, simply sitting down in front of your computer and having a plan and writing every day can still turn a nobody into a success.

I agree with August’s perspective. All of the hyperbole about “self-publishing success” tends to make some people feel like anything less than instant riches is a failure. But there are other ways to look at the concept of success.

For example, I chose to self-publish my fantasy novel because the typical traditional deal for a fantasy novel isn’t all that great. From what I’ve gathered, a debut fantasy novel gets an advance of less than $5K, and it’s pretty normal for a book to never earn out that advance. Meanwhile, the author has probably spent plenty of time/energy/money in the process of securing that traditional deal (getting an agent, submitting the book to publishers, etc.), and when the book is accepted for publication the author loses the rights to their book.

Frankly, that doesn’t seem like awesome success to me.

Personally, I feel successful just for having finished my book in the first place. But if my book earns enough from sales to cover my costs (mostly from cover design and formatting), I’ll consider myself financially successful, too. (My book’s been out for a little over a month, and I’m about 70% of the way toward that goal. I’m already feeling pretty successful!)

In two days my book will be available for free through KDP select (July 4 through 6). If it gets even a little bump in sales from the free days, I might be able to earn back the rest of what I’ve spent. And then I’ll start thinking of what would qualify as the next level of success.

Heya Dan,

I heard very similar arguments when I got started in December of 2010. Nobody could make it the way Amanda Hocking and Michael Sullivan could any more. The Kindle store was too crowded. 99 cents was no longer unique, etc. I was like, “Well, crap, wish I’d gotten a Kindle earlier and learned about all this stuff.” But I went ahead anyway and tried everything I could. And, hey, some of the stuff worked.

I’d bet a lot of money that in 2015, you’ll find some indie authors kicking ass who got their start in 2013. The gal who commented above you, Kendra Highley, published her first book last August and is doing quite well at building a fan base and she was at the top of her genre categories when her most recent release (Book 3) debuted.

If you dig back a ways you can see my interview with Leeland Artra. He published his very first fantasy novel in January of this year and has sold tens of thousands of copies. I have no doubt that his second book will debut high at Amazon.

Oh, and if you want a crazy success story (from someone utterly new who made it to the Top 100 overall last month), check out my interview with Sue London. She published in MAY. 😀

From the readers perspective, I’m free book shopper. I don’t like buying authors who I’ve never read but once I’ve found an author I love I buy all of there books. How fast depends on the cost but eventually I’ll own all of them.

Thanks for chiming in, Vicki! I’m the same way. I always used the library back in the day, and now I almost always download a sample (or a free Book 1) before buying, especially for fiction where I’m quite the picky reader. 😉

I’m still working on my first novel but I have a few free short stories out. I’m not sure how folks are finding them but so far this month one has been downloaded 250 times as of this moment. (They are price matched for free from Smashwords.) Just for kicks I uploaded another one for .99 and added it to select to he what happens. Having a loss leader is a standard marketing technique, I can’t see how having hundreds of folks reading my work not eventually helping my exposure. Writing is a game played over the long term. Just my thoughts, I’m still a newbie! And Lindsay, thank you so much for all the info you share on here. You are a real role model of what it means to be part of the community of self-published writers.

You’re very welcome, Stephen. There are definitely still plenty of folks who click around to find the free ebooks. I know those people do go on to buy if they enjoy the first sample from an author. I’ve had lots of folks tell me they first found me on Podiobooks or Wattpad or in the freebie section on Amazon.

For everyone who commented here, I’d like to mention I found the Emperors Edge series via Bookbub which sends me a list of category specific books on Amazon every day that are typically either free or less than 2.99. If there is a way to get on this list it might be an excellent marketing point. I downloaded read the opening EA Trilogy then moved through the rest paying as I went. The trouble is there is very little wheat and a great deal of chaff in the free category. The Emperors Edge was an exception rather than the rule

Most of what I download gets deleted before chapter 5–I would say easily 65%. To be honest some I don’t get past the first chapter. The rest I read but most of the remaining is either so poorly written or juvenile that I never choose another book in the series or from that author.

The nice thing about BookBub is that it pre-screens for interest and it puts books in my face that are so cost effective, if I delete them without reading I don’t feel too badly.

At any rate, I’m very happy to have found you Ms.Buroker and I am very much enjoying your work. You make my very long trek every few weeks to Hawaii to work nearly bearable.

Yeah, Bookbub is incredible. I’ve found some really good books there too. I plan on using it in the fall.

Thanks for giving the EE books a read, Mj!

I like Bookbub, too, both as an author looking for advertising opportunities and as a reader. They’re one of the few outfits that divide things up by genre, so you can just get the suggestions you’re likely to be interested in.

I put my book up for free at the beginning of February of this year and it’s been really good. Between .com, .uk, and .ca I do not too bad and it has carried over into the paid sales. Not enough for me to quite my day job (like I had one, :P), but it’s ease the stress of me putting my book expenses on a credit card.

The freebie is like any other marketing tool and should be used along side of other marketing strategies and not alone. I think you mentioned that a while back too. I think the key any of this is exposure. I would never restrict myself to KDP Select. There are still a few sites that will promote free books, and between that and figuring out other ways to draw readers to my website (Note: I said website and not Amazon book page), it’s been interesting.

I’ve been a long time follower of your site, so thank you for all the great content and sharing of your ideas.

I made the first of a new series (Seduced by Innocence) free everywhere after doing KDP select for 3 months. The select days were a huge hit (60k downloads during those few days) and led to the sequels and the first book becoming #1 in their categories.

This was in February, and the series continues to sell well. I did see a post free bump after the free days on KDP select, but was surprised by it. I think it’s hit or miss lately. Mostly miss. I was lucky.

Since then, I made Seduced by Innocence perma-free and the sales of Seduced by Pain and Seduced by Power have been steady and high. Enough so that these three (two?) books constitute 99% of my income and support a family of 5 comfortably.

I have noticed the changes you spoke of here, and while it’s potentially affecting sales, my books are still doing well. What I’ve noticed even more about free books, is how critical the reviews can be if the book is part of a serial or trilogy and is not a stand alone.

Seduced by Innocence is advertised as the first in a trilogy with a cliff-hanger ending (this is made clear in the product description). The entire romance unfolds over three books, with each book having a mini-arc and climax of its own, but the book has received a lot of 1 stars from people who loved the book until they got to the end and realized they would have to buy another book (at $3.99) to continue the story. I’ve seen this on other author reviews as well, not just my own. It seems those who are getting books for free, many of them really don’t want to ever have to actually pay for a book.

Still, despite this, the sequels continue to sell well, so I’ll be keeping it free. But I won’t likely do another free book for a new series, so that I can experiment and see how different price points and books are received.

Well, Kimberly, I think being able to support a family of 5 on your book sales alone is certainly a 2013 author success story. Way to go!

Thank you! It took a lot of work, and a lot of books, to get this far. I have two other complete series (The Forbidden Trilogy and The Three Lost Kids series) out, in addition to the Seduced Saga, and a new series begun (Kiss Me in Paris), along with several short stories and anthologies, but it wasn’t until the Seduced novels took off that I could retire from marketing work and devote 100% of my work time to writing. It meant working full time at two jobs (writing my books (and even ghost writing), and marketing for other authors), but I was determined to make it happen. It took a little over a year to get to this point, and a LOT of writing.

Now I’m increasing my pace so that it doesn’t disappear like a dream.

First off.. Congratz with the sales and success, Kimberly.

Regarding the 1-star reviews due to the cliffhanger, then I have also noticed quite a few authors who have gotten this reaction to especially cliffhanger endings for book 1 in series (some even being hit without using cliffhangers).
The thing to take away from these 1-star reviews is that they are just a segment of the readerbase. Some people just look for a free read, and without reading the description expect a complete story.

With the help of Select, all three of my full-length novels have been Amazon bestsellers (several times each) in Lit Fiction, Romance, and three or four other categories. As a result I’ve been listed a few times as one on Zon’s top 100 “Most Popular Authors” in Literary Fiction, and probably a couple of others. When I ran them for free my books have finished on the Free BS list at #3, #4, #5, #7, #9, #10 and so on. Now, after all these small successes, I am seriously thinking of jumping Amazon’s Select ship.

Time and time again I have watched Zon whittle away at the perks a writer once enjoyed after a good free promo. Since many of them have already been brought to light in posts here I won’t reiterate. But I’d like to tell you about my most recent disappointment. This past Monday and Tuesday I ran my BEYOND NOSTALGIA for free and it hit the #10 spot. I had 68 sales the first day–not earth-shattering, but not too bad in today’s pared-down Select. I thought to myself, Okay, these sales will hike my book way up in it’s category rankings and I’ll really start to sell now. Huh uh! It never happened. Where it usually takes only about three hours after coming off free status for a book’s ranking to reappear on it’s Amazon page, it took an email the first morning to them–followed by a TWO DAY WAIT for my ranking to finally how on the book’s page. By the time that happened, the book was ranked at #4,700–after selling only 10 copies the second day post promo.

BEYOND NOSTALGIA would have almost certainly been rated in the top 1000 paid had Amazon updated its ranking two days earlier than they did–instead of leaving it “enabled”. the book would have sold far, far many more copies than the measly ten it did on the second post-promo day. I just thought I’d share this with those, like myself, who are thinking about abandoning ship. Best of luck!

It all depends on the book.

On the other hand, like many other writers I know, I find the idea of literally giving away the product of all my work simply because many readers collect ‘free’ books.

The real question that should be asked is how many of them actually read their free copy of your book – not many is the current consensus…

Yupper, Jack, most estimates I’ve seen sat only two to five percent of downloaders will actually read our free offers. And they can cone back to bite us. Imagine if your books, or mine, or anyone else’s ever became HUGE sellers down the road? I’ve easily given away more than 100,000 of just one of my four books already. If that book makes the big-time, and those free downloaders try to buy (since most never read it), they will get a reply from Zon telling them that they already own it. Nix that sale!

That’s an excellent question. Because I can tell you I probably read less than half of what I download for free or for a couple of dollars. The comments here are interesting but if what is being written is not well executed then no amount of free will work. I love being able to try something. I don’t think I should get months of a person’s blood sweat and tears for nothing but I really dislike paying for something that is bad. That said I rarely comment on anything I purchase. It’s a shame there isn’t some kind way to offer feed back to authors about why you didn’t read or why you didn’t buy the next book.

And just as an addendum, if I like an e-book, I have a fairly extensive library and will often buy the book version is there is one to be bought. I’m not sure how many people are like me, but many of my friends are. There is just something about holding that book in your hand that an e-reader doesn’t have.

Very interesting question. If Tom is right with those estimates then the conversion from download to read is very low, and this doesn’t even include the maybe more important parameter of read to “buy book 2”, which is of course where the quality of the book comes in.

10.000 free downloads = 200-500 read copies = ??? amount of sales for book 2

If we go with about the same conversion as for download to read, then its anywhere between 4-25 copies sold of book 2, after 10.000 free downloads. Now this is of course just an estimate and should not be taken as fact, but its an interesting angle. It also depends a lot on how many books are in the series and the further conversion from book 2 to 3 to 4 etc. Where the more books you have of course will increase the amount of sales, but ny how much?

Maybe the question is exposure vs. conversion? Since (if we follow general business standards) the conversion from book 1 to book 2 will be higher, if the reader actually paid for book 1, because they will already be invested in the series.

I think the problem is free, per se, but the perma-free. I understand your strategy of book 1 always being free, but I think the KDPS model is better overall than an always free book, if you want to point people to other books in your series. Obviously always-free worked in the past, but “free” (and 99c) has attracted a lot of people who just download but never read. When you run the free as a special, rather than a permanent price, people perceive more added value. That’s why stores do loss-leaders for a limited time.

Obviously, the algorithms and advertising in this biz are changing all the time. When I write a blog post on any marketing success (or failure), I always include the caveat that it may change at any time! You’ve had a good run with the perma-free, but unfortunately, that doesn’t seem to be the way to market in the future. And anything you choose now will also evolve over time. We can’t ever rest on “our plan” because that plan will have to change and adapt if we are to continue to sell. Nature of business, unfortunately.

Good luck! I look forward to what you discover is the next big thing!

[…] Buroker: Is Using a Free Ebook Still a Viable Strategy for Increasing Overall Sales on Amazon? Excerpt: “Before Christmas of 2011, I made the first book in my Emperor’s Edge series free […]

If you’ve got people looking at the non-free books because they actually show up in searches, a simple link pointing to the freebie at the top of the description can go a long way.

I typically click on links to free or discounted books when I see them, and if you mention it’s the first in the series of whatever book I’m already looking at, I’d be that much more likely to try them both.

It blows that Amazon is doing its best to hide free books, but especially if you don’t have a lot of reviews under your name, don’t give up on them! The IA scene has exploded and there are so many godawful books out there that some days it just doesn’t feel worth even 99c to try a brand new book from an unknown author.

Speaking just for myself, I went from reading your blog, to checking out the free book, to buying the rest of the series just this year. Having the graduated pricing was a big draw to suck me into it. Sort of like a drug dealer: give them the first hit free, the next cheap, then full price once they’re hooked. 🙂

Likewise, Michael Sullivan’s free short story was an enticement to check out the first book in his Riyria series (and once you read the first chapter of the first book, there’s no way you can’t read on; absolutely perfect hook).

Free only works, however, if you can find it and if the first bit draws you in. The “first five pages” rule seems to apply more in the age of the free Amazon chapter 1 than ever before.

Thanks for giving my work a read, Alex!

Free only works, however, if you can find it and if the first bit draws you in. The “first five pages” rule seems to apply more in the age of the free Amazon chapter 1 than ever before.

Good point. I’ve heard a lot of authors argue that people download free ebooks and never read them, but I suspect it’s more a matter of tried-them-but-weren’t-grabbed-by-them.

Nice article, I think a most important question would be a bit different tho. It should be should authors stay on KDP Select instead of should they use free. Non-KDP Select perma-free books still seem to work and it’s great because you don’t do give away exclusive rights to Amazon. In that case, I’d still think free is a good option for series of books, but staying on KDP Select is no longer a great option.

Yesterday (July 6) was the third day in a three day long, free download drive for my book Blood Brothers. It turned out to be a pretty big disappointment for me. 120 downloads the first day, 20 the second, and 20 the third (these numbers are for Amazon.com, and don’t include downloads from other countries–though those weren’t very notable, either). My book made it to around #35 in the free section of Epic Fantasy, and to #4 in Metaphysical Fantasy, but immediately dropped off of those lists after the free days ended–no bounce-over sales to place me on the paid lists. And so far, no new reviews.

Back in April 2012 I tried Kindle Select free days for the first time, for my novelette The ElectroLive Murders. In two days I had 350 downloads, and two new reviews followed soon after.

A direct comparison isn’t possible–two notable differences between the free day drives are the fact that ElectroLive is in a different category (near-future murder mystery sci-fi), and the fact that I paid for a promotion service (eBookBooster) this time around (though, obviously, it didn’t seem to help). Even so, I’m inclined to believe, at this point, that Kindle Select free days aren’t really going to be a key part in any additional sales my book (hopefully) eventually has.

I’m thinking that my sales weren’t all that high to start with, so when I ended up price-matching my novella SEEKER to free over on Amazon (it had been between 99 cents and $1.99 for a couple of years prior to that), it ended up stirring up sales of the other titles in my series. I’m definitely not knocking it out of the park, but there has been a marked increase over the first five months of the year. Most of the increase has been on the two remaining 99-cent short story collections I have. So, at the very least, the free giveaway has convinced some readers to spend a little bit more on buying other titles…and they’ve been selling a heck of a lot more copies in these past 45 (free) days or so, versus when I had a title in the KDP Select program for 90 days (and could only give it away for five).

As for the original post and the tie between freebies and non-freebies in the also-bought listings, I checked my full-length novel (which has never been free) HEROES DIE YOUNG, and it still shows SEEKER in the also-bought list (and vice versa). Maybe that’s because both titles had been for-a-price previously, before I ended up making the latter free…who knows?

As an avid reader and also someone who started with ereaders by pre-order ing the Kindle2, I have to admit that I’m frustrated by the changes on Amazon’s search pages and lists. I used to use ereaderiq (formerly kindleiq) to find free books and sample more authors. The ability to find decent quality New authors has been mauled by both the search engines and by the sheer volume of material. I have over 100 authors on my “must read next book” list I keep to help me keep track. Over 25 are independent or former indie authors. I haven’t been able to add more indies to that list this year. It takes too much time to search and too much money. I have heavily u sed the free books and I’m glad I did because I found some great authors like Lindsay , Rhiannon Frater and Shelley Adina. But so many new authors out there who self publish their first work or two are not in the same ballpark for basic quality, grammar, and just plain old good storytelling. The free books let me sort through and find the gems without the hassle of returning books that turned out unreadable on a weekly basis. Basically, I have limited dollars to spend on books and I can’t afford to lose it on books that make my twelve year-old´s grammar look professional. Without the KDP or permafree (or tempfree), I would be unable to find and then support the number of indie authors that I do today. I make a point of “buying” at least one new author a week but if all of those were pay books at$2.99 or more each, there is no way I could continue. At least not without increasing the number of returns. 30% of the free I’ve tried in the past failed due to MAJOR grammar issues or just plain bad plot/story/dialogue VS only one book from traditional publisher ever returned (due to MAJOR copy editing errors). With 1700 items in my kindle library and an 80/20 split (tradpub/selfpub), the quality issue can’t be ignored. But I like self published authors, they’ve had some of the most original and entertaining books over the past few years and I want to continue exploring them and moving on to buy their books after getting a chance to experience them.

Dear Kelli,

If you make a point of trying at least one new author a week, then I want to take this moment right now to say “thank you.” There are countless new authors who’ve pinned their hopes on self-publishing, and readers like you–who are not only open to unknown authors, but even actively trying to support them–are a godsend to us. So thank you very much. It means a lot.

If you’d be willing to review my book, I’d gladly give you an eCopy for free. The same goes for anyone else who is visiting Ms. Buroker’s website. Email me and I’ll send you a free .mobi file of Blood Brothers. My email is:

mf.soriano {at} yahoo {dot} com

Thanks again, Kelli. You’re awesome.
M.F. Soriano

Great post, Lindsay!

I have to admit that if your first book was not free, I may have never started reading you and that’s a shame!
I may not have found you through a free book list, it was actually through The Creative Penn and then promptly added you on Twitter, even then it was months of seeing your tweets before I actually picked up EE1, but the fact that I could get a book from an Indie author who I had Tweeted back and forth with was a cool idea. I figured I had nothing to lose but time. Boy was I wrong, I didn’t lose time, I GAINED a lot!
Okay, anyway, my point is that I feel like giving away a free ebook is still viable as long as you’ve spread yourself out. By this I mean both on websites people can BUY your book and on social networks. This is something I believe a lot of authors are missing, but that’s a story for another day (and one you’re well aware of!)

Having a free book available may not be the path to a steady income it once was, but it is still probably the best way to get your name out there.

Making the first part of I Bring the Fire free was the only way I was able to generate steady sales. It would be great if Amazon would let EVERYONE, not just KDP Select participants, turn free giveaways on and off (I think if you’re up there in everyones’ eyes everyday, it generates some fatigue on part of the freebie hunting public).

Still, despite the glut in freebies, and all Amazon’s changes, I still think for those of us without a lot of time to market, it is the best way to get our work read and reviewed.

my book was promoted on ereaderbuddy.com they still accept free books. I believe they make their money off advertising not affiliate revenue.

Those who downloaded my free book then bought my others so I think its still a viable way

Boy, Lindsay, you hit the jackpot with this post!

50 comments in little more than a week; I guess you’ll have a pretty good idea of what to write on in the coming weeks.

As a reader with no interest in writing myself I am very happy that Emperor’s Edge was free or I would never have found it. I think I found it on ereaderiq.uk. I have since gone on to buy every book you have written and recommended it to two friends who have done the same. I download between 8 and 20 free books a week, of which I read between 8 and 12. Some are so bad I never finish and some I wonder at the authors levels of delusion as they are so poor they would never be an advert for other works. If a book is realy good I would usually purchase one other book to see if I like that too, so long as the price was not too high. If I like that I then would often buy anything else by that author regardless of price.

Thank you for giving EE a read, Emma. I’m glad you enjoyed it and the other books as well. Thanks for taking the time to comment here as well. I’m planning to keep that one free out there, and most likely some other stuff too. I think it’s nice for an author to have at least some work available for free, so readers can try without any risk. And, yes, there’s some rough stuff out there!

What an interesting topic! I am a reader, not an author. Unfortunately, I don’t have a lot of money to spend, or time to read anymore, so I put a bit of effort into weeding through the huge lists of free books on Amazon. I want to find good authors with lots of highly rated books.

Amazon’s sorting is perfect for me. The way I find new books lately is to go on Amazon, select whatever genre I feel like reading, narrow it to ratings of 4 stars and up, and then sort from low to high price. Then I research the reviews and try to determine WHY people like the book. Finally, after narrowing down significantly, I look at the prices of the rest of the author’s books to decide if I even want to get started reading them. If the prices jump to 8 or 10 dollars per book, then I’m not interested.

I’ve found quite a lot of really great stories, and usually buy at least several more of that author’s books.

I know I’m a bit more …methodical… than a typical reader, but I thought you might be interested in as many viewpoints as possible.

Oh, btw, I just got the first Emperor’s Edge book for free a few days ago, and have since purchased the next two. I am really enjoying the series, and am sure I’ll buy more!

Thanks for chiming in and for checking out the EE books, Wendy!

First off, great post! It really got me thinking, so I thought I would ask Amazon about the -Free Ebooks Don’t Appear in Also-Boughts of Non-Free Books.

This was the email I received back. Take it for what it’s worth.

Kindle Direct Publishing
11:23 AM (17 minutes ago)

to me

Hello DC,

Yes, the free Ebooks will appear in the “Customers Who Bought This Item Also Bought” section for any of the paid Ebooks as well.

I hope this helps. Thanks for using Amazon KDP.

============================================
If you need to provide us with more information about this issue, please Reply to this e-mail.

Otherwise, did we answer your question? Do you have another question? Use the appropriate link below. You may need to copy and paste the full link into your browser:

Yes, you answered it:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A1YZCQP8GNRRED&k=hy

No, you did not answer it:
http://www.amazon.com/gp/help/survey?p=A1YZCQP8GNRRED&k=hn

I have another question:
https://kdp.amazon.com/self-publishing/contact-us
============================================

Regards,

Vasu V
Kindle Direct Publishing
http://kdp.amazon.com
=============================
Connect with KDP and other Authors and Publishers:
Like us on Facebook http://www.facebook.com/KindleDirectPublishing
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—- Original message: —-

I have a question: do Do Free Ebooks Appear in Also-Boughts for Non-Free Books

Thanks,
D.C. Akers

FREE: HAVEN: A Stranger Magic:
http://www.dc-akers.com/

Terra Vonnel and the Skulls at Amazon.com: http://www.amazon.com/Terra-Vonnel-Skulls-Aries-ebook/dp/B003ZK5PXY/ref=tmm_kin_title_0

Follow Us:
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Well, I can only speak for myself, but I haven’t seen a free book in the also-boughts for the paid books in a long time, and with my own series, it’s a foregone conclusion that people who bought Book 2 also “bought” the free Book 1. Maybe someone can post a screenshot if they find an example.

Because my free first book was for sale for a while it actually comes up when you look at books 2 and 3.

Maybe that is a good argument for selling your book for a few months before making it free?

http://www.amazon.com/Chaos-Bring-Fire-Story-ebook/dp/B00DPBB60E/ref=pd_sim_kstore_1

A screenshot is a great idea. You know, Amazon is such a complex system and things change so often I wonder how up to date KDP-Support is?

[…] of each title in my series being sold each month. This is, I believe, largely due to the fact that free books aren’t getting quite the visibility at Amazon that they once did. Outside of promotions, I get far fewer downloads of EE1 than I was getting a year ago. In addition […]

Been learning a lot by reading all of this. Thanks to everyone. Seems like everyone here is a fiction writer. I’m doing non-fiction–self-help/metaphysics/body, mind & spirit type stuff. I have one book out through an author services company since 2007, but have a handful more written now (with more to follow) that I’ll be publishing myself as both print books and ebooks. In case anyone might have an opinion, I’m wondering if you think most of what I’ve been reading here would apply/transfer over to non-fiction. I don’t have a series, as such, but my books will be such that if you like one you’ll want to read others as each book is another piece of the puzzle of using metaphysical/spiritual knowledge and techniques to help govern this “reality” of physical/material life. Anyway, at first glance I’m guessing a lot of/most of what I’ve read above would transfer over to non-fiction, but that’s just a guess and I’d be interested in what those more knowledgeable on this subject might have to say…

I had noticed that the free promotion on Amazon is nowhere near as effective as it used to be. When I first published, I didn’t advertise my book elsewhere but I got over 100 sales after I had promoted it for free. When I tried the free promotion more recently, I spent ages applying to free book sites to get it featured. It was featured and I got over 5000 downloads while it was free. This was about 10 times more downloads than when it was previously free so I was hoping for a great upsurge in sales again. However, though there were some sales after the free promotion this time, it was very disappointing. Like you say, Lindsay, I am wondering if the KDP select free promotion scheme has had its day. My next books are a series and I think I will just set the first one at 99p and try and promote it elsewhere as a bargain book. It will be interesting to find out how you get on with this. PS I liked Emperor’s Edge!

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