My last blog focused on the positives and negatives of the Amazon KDP Select scheme, particularly pertaining to the loan fees and how they compare to outright sales commissions on higher priced books.

This blog will focus more on the value of the actual promotions, and explore what, if any, benefit one can hope to garner by giving away thousands of books. I’ll do this by describing my own experiences with one of the titles I made free.

Last month, I dipped my toe in the water by making The Geronimo Breach free for three days. During that time, I saw about 12K downloads. Not too shabby. Then, when it went back to paid, a funny thing happened. After languishing for the first day, it shot like a rocket, finally hitting #165 in the paid kindle store.

All good. Or rather, all should have been good. One problem was that the book was .99 rather than $3.99, due to price matching with Barnes, which after three weeks still hadn’t taken the book down, even after numerous e-mails. And .99 was the wrong price anyway, but I digress. The point is that Amazon’s software matched it, so folks were downloading 500+ books a day at .99.

Sales peaked at day 3-4 of being paid, and then started dropping off, bottoming at week three or so.

At the time, I didn’t know what to make of the data. I was frantic on day 5 – what was going wrong? Why did God hate me? Were the clowns behind it? What gave?

Turns out that this is a very predictable and knowable cycle for those who have done free days. Reason is because the Amazon algorithms pick up on the ranking from when it was free, and begin featuring the book on their recommendations pages about, you guessed it, 24 hours after going back to paid, as well as in the “also bought” strip at the bottom of other books your shoppers picked up. Over the next two to three days, love is in the air, and sales roll in. But then the book, whatever it is, gets pushed off to the second tier to make room for the more recent titles that did well since then. And the buying from folks Amazon was presenting you to dries up, little by little, and you’re back to your old run rate. Sort of like being a Hollywood starlet who briefly dates a celebrity, you have to be satisfied with and enjoy your moment in the sun, because it won’t last.

But knowing this presents an opportunity. It suggests a way to play the game so you can win, if you’re an author. Specifically, you can understand the phenomenon and capitalize on it. How? By running another free promotion 4 to 5 weeks after the first one. Maybe at 6 weeks, maybe at 3 1/2. Depends on sales. But you can repeat the performance.

Let’s go back to The Geronimo Breach. Thursday, it went free for 24 hours. It saw 10K+ downloads, and hit #11 in the Amazon free store last night. Most of the day, it, and one of my other free titles, The Delphi Chronicle, were #2 and #5 in Kindle free Action/Adventure.

That’s the second promotion, and it was more successful than the first – 10K in one day versus 12K in three. And the best part? I didn’t tweet about it. I didn’t do anything. Because I’d forgotten I was going to run it, and only figured it out halfway through the day when I checked my rankings. So that was with no social media at all, other than a few tweets from some friends (thanks Claude!) and being listed as free on several websites that picked it up. One of the best I’ve found for thrillers being Epic Kindle Giveaway (I follow it on Twitter at @eBookSwag), as well as The Digital Inkspot, and Digital Book Today. Others that may or may not pick it up are Cheap Kindle Daily, Pixels of Ink, and a host of others. Google them for a complete listing. There seem to be new ones every week. Most are very good for what they are, and save a lot of time.

I am now at day one of The Geronimo Breach being back to paid. Before the promotion, I was #9K-#11K overall. Today, so far, I’m at #2300 or so. At $3.49 – a sale off my usual $3.99 price to encourage folks to buy over the weekend. I’m sure if I lowered the price to .99 it would sell a lot more books, but given that I would need to sell 8 times more books at .99 to see the same revenue as at $3.49, I question whether it’s a smart idea. I also don’t want to brand myself as a buck a book author. Lord knows that is played, and there are more than enough of them out there. We shall see how sales go as of late this evening and tomorrow, but I’d say the trend is positive at this point. Even if it only stays at 2300 for four days, hey, that’s an improvement over where it was, and there are 10K more people with it on their kindle now – probably the most important thing for an author like me, who has a slew of titles and is adding to them seemingly every month. Because I believe the primary value of free is familiarizing readers with the work.

To put that into perspective, I’ve had around 70K free downloads of my work since I started giving books away. That’s a lot of downloads. A lot of folks who can decide they love, hate, or are ambivalent about me.

What is the takeaway from all this? Do Select freebie promos every 4 to 6 weeks, don’t freak out when day one sucks or starts slow (remember the algorithm, my friend) and then promote the hell out of it days 1-5 of it being paid. Recognize that the decline in sales over the next two weeks isn’t a function of an angry and vengeful deity singling you out for persecution, or that word of mouth has spread and your book sucks (I mean, either are possible, but not a given, is my point), or anything else. It’s a function of the Amazon algorithms having moved to new, fresher, more exciting faces.

Think of that first 4 or 5 days as your time at the bar where everyone wants to buy you drinks. Day 6 on is where a new kid on the block captures everyone’s attention, until you are ultimately yesterday’s news. Unlike the dating world, though, you can repeat the performance over and over (well, I suppose that is a little like dating – wink) and hopefully see a higher trough each time you decline. Then again, I’ve also heard that the effectiveness of the free days diminishes for a title each time through the cycle, so there is probably a point where it won’t work any more. But cross that bridge when you come to it.

For now, if you’re in the program, make hay while the sun is shining.

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Comments

  1. Sun 26th Feb 2012 at 2:13 am

    Fabulous article… thanks for taking the time to share your experience, and in great voice!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 26th Feb 2012 at 11:30 am

      Thanks, and you’re welcome. Hopefully other authors will find it helpful. Of course, mileage may vary.

      Reply
  2. Sun 26th Feb 2012 at 2:35 pm

    Ah, the crack high with the ever-diminishing high and the ever-lower bottoms. Sign me up!

    Scott

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 26th Feb 2012 at 3:16 pm

      And at the end you die.

      Turn that frown upside down, mister optimistic. The bright side is that, well, er…I’ll get back to you on that…

      Reply
  3. Sun 26th Feb 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Excellent analysis. I haven’t done the freebie thing yet. With so much discussion, it’s been very confusing. Your post finally clears up the confusion for me. Thank you.

    Reply
  4. Sun 26th Feb 2012 at 7:48 pm

    I would have assumed as much I think. Though as I said before, after my freebie promotion I’ve gone from selling nothing to 3 or 4 books a week, and it hasn’t changed since my promotion over 4 weeks ago. That’s nothing, but it’s a 400% improvement on before! Hopefully I can keep building on it. If I could sell as many books as you do I’d be happy – but I haven’t written that many yet.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 26th Feb 2012 at 10:29 pm

      A good reason to write more books (wink). What I would recommend is that you do another single free day, and then see if you can see another 400% improvement over your current run rate. Worth a try. Good luck.

      Reply
      • Matthew Rowe  –  Mon 27th Feb 2012 at 7:57 am

        I did say ‘yet’! Thanks for the advice.

        Reply
  5. Wed 29th Feb 2012 at 11:18 am

    Very clear and clearly intersting.

    My own experience, on a smaller scale, was very similar, so it’s nice to see it’s not a hating god who halted my particular experiment.

    Good luck and thanks for sharing.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Wed 29th Feb 2012 at 11:23 am

      Don’t get me wrong. It well could be that God has singled you out for persecution. But I’m saying it’s unlikely, or alternatively, that he/she has also singled me out in the same manner.

      Misery loves company.

      Reply
  6. Wed 29th Feb 2012 at 1:52 pm

    Enjoyed the info on your experience. I was going to post on the goodreads thread I started but figured it might to ‘nuts and bolts’ for general readers.

    I’m wondering if an author could take the difference between the royalties lost during the freebie promo and the regular sales price and call it advertising for tax purposes. I’m no accountant but I would think any business that gives stuff away as a promo could consider it as an advertising expense and deduct the freebie (lost royalty) as a legit business expense.

    This flew through my brain only because I’m working on my taxes.

    Reply
  7. Wed 29th Feb 2012 at 2:12 pm

    Russell,

    Just saw this post retweeted by @PaulineNolet and had to compare your experiences to mine. I also tried the KDP Select “Free” option with similar success and was floored by the results. (http://jlbrackett.com/?p=954) I’ve not had the courage to tempt fate in a second attempt, though. :)

    Truth be told, I have a couple of scheduled paid ads that I’m working through to see how they may or may not compare. ITMT, as folks keep telling me – the best advertising for your book is the release of your next one. So it’s back to writing for now.

    Thanks for the post. Now that I’ve found your site, I’ll be watching to see what else you come up with.

    Reply
  8. Thu 01st Mar 2012 at 8:25 am

    Great post. I haven’t tried the KDP or even offered by book for free yet. But I think I might give it a whirl.

    BTW, I’m linking your blog to mine. You’ve got great info here.

    Reply
  9. Fri 02nd Mar 2012 at 6:17 pm

    Great post and good advice for promoting a book. Thanks.

    Reply
  10. Sun 04th Mar 2012 at 11:17 pm

    Great post. Thanks for sharing your experience. Good point. It’s nothing personal, just mathematics. Question about running the free promo so often. Do you think potential customers will come to expect it and hold off on downloading? Or do you think “who the heck pays that close attention”?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 05th Mar 2012 at 3:00 am

      My experience has been that while you may lose some prospective paying customers to free, the number you acquire due to the algorithms outweighs the loss. As an example, I’m now seeing 400-500 books a day sold. Before I started KDP in Jan I was seeing 50-100. So the rising tide of visibility is raising all the titles. I’m a believer.

      Reply
  11. Tue 10th Apr 2012 at 9:38 am

    Thank you Russell, an excellent report. I have only the one book at present which is languishing at the bottom despite all my promotion efforts which are enormously time consuming as you must know. I was wondering what to do about the KDP freebie having tried it once, a week after releasing my book, to very little effect. About 400 downloads and absolutely no follow up since. Now I know where I went wrong and what to do when I try again. Thanks.

    Reply
  12. Tue 08th May 2012 at 11:10 am

    Russell,

    Thanks for this post with superb tips.

    My first book will be released shortly and will be following your advice.

    Thanks again,

    David

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 08th May 2012 at 11:39 am

      Well, you might want to read my latest blog first. The technique I described appears to have lost much of its usefulness. Sigh.

      Reply

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