I’ve been tracking the sales effect of the Amazon free program, and an interesting phenomenon is manifesting itself.
NEW NEW NEWS: A guest blog on six tips for ebook promotions by yours truly.
BREAKING NEWS: A new blog by author Bert Carson about, well, me. Good stuff.
NEWS: New guest blog on writing with the lovely Emerald Barnes is worth a look. “My Year of Writing Dangerously.”
BOOK REVIEW: A shockingly positive book review on my newest one, Silver Justice, by acclaimed author Steven Konkoly!
First, the effectiveness of free on sales is down to anywhere from miniscule to nil. I’ve run a few programs to test the water, and watched the action on several of my author friends’ books, and it ain’t happening, to put it mildly. I see 15K downloads and a few days later their books are ranked around#20,000. Guess what? If you hit #5 on the free list, and the best it’s going to do for you is position 20K, it is over. Through no fault of your own, but over nonetheless. There are a few standouts, but even those are things like, “I moved from #30,000 to #5000.” OK. Wow. So you were selling 2 books a day, and for a few days you are now selling 12. Guess what? If that whopping increase lasts 4 days, you saw 40 additional sales from 15,000 freebies. For which you also are accepting $2 on loans instead of the $3 or more you might have netted if your book was $3.99 or above. So you net maybe $120, but see at least that many loans, bringing the real net down to $80. I’m afraid that if the best the free program can do even if you’re in the top 20 is around $80 (or even $120 if you still believe that loans don’t eat into sales) of increased revenue, that’s sort of wildly unimpressive. And bear in mind that only a small fraction makes it into the top 20. Most don’t, which means that thousands of books every day see NO sales effect from giving away a bunch of books.
But because indie authors are so desperate to get visibility, they are behaving like’s Pavlov’s famed dogs, salivating when the free bell is rung and behaving as though there is still a treat being handed out, even though there’s now no treat. Authors are still doing free promos, seeing little or no sales effect, but rationalizing it as somehow increasing their readership over time – a hypothetical based on a host of assumptions, not the least of which is that anyone actually reads most of their free downloads.
It’s amazing, but it also speaks to the desperation of authors to get noticed. I know, I’ve been tempted to put one of my newer titles into the program to see that bump I was seeing three months ago – but I’m also logical enough to recognize that it ain’t working, so to do it would only denigrate my brand for no return.
I have free books available. They’ve been free for 7 months. They are the first books in a series. That still seems to drive sales. But a stand alone? Nada.
Whether it’s worth subsidizing the Prime program and giving Amazon exclusivity on a title for 90 days to get the loan $ is also debatable if you are selling your book for more than $2.99. The logic before was that loans didn’t cannibalize sales. Well, guess what? They do. I have tracked it across multiple titles and see the same thing on every one. If I sold 400 of one title last month outside KDP, I put it in the program and this month I loan 100 and see 300 sales. It comes out of the program after 90 days and moves back up to 400. So that is another folksy bromide that I haven’t seen prove to be true.
What does this all mean?
Put simply, if you are doing free programs now, you aren’t seeing much if any sales effect from doing so, and the loans you are getting are likely merely displacing sales. Maybe that doesn’t matter if you sell 50 books a month. But there is a part of me that questions the wisdom of giving away tens of thousands of books if I’m not going to see any measurable effect. Put another way, every day there is a top 100 list of free books. If you really believe as an author that yesterday’s 100, or the last 150 days worth of top 100s, are even close to landing most of those authors on anyone’s radar, all you have to do is track how many of this week’s free titles are selling well next week, and you’ll quickly find that the answer is almost none.
And one of the biggest negative effects we’ve now created as indie authors is denigrating the value of ebooks – specifically indie ebooks, as you’ll find the trad pubs don’t do much, if any, free promo – in the eyes of the audience that buys them. “Why buy your book when I can download 100 free ones?” I have heard that, and I understand the logic. To some readers who don’t make any distinction between good and not so good, all indie ebooks are now sort of the same. Imagine if wine drinkers behaved like that – all wine is the same, be it box wine given away at a picnic for a BBQ rib promo, or a bottle of Screaming Eagle. It’s all wine. Crushed grapes. Why would anyone but an idiot pay for what they can get for free?
Fortunately not all readers are like that. But I believe that enough of them are, especially in tough economic times, to make a difference in sales to many indies. Those were the readers who might have taken a flyer on an indie book they had heard good things about. Now, they must debate spending $5 versus spending nothing, and still getting something to read. Again, if all you are looking for are letters on a kindle, there is a lot of free stuff to read. Most of it’s crap. But it’s free crap.
I would love to hear about some wonderful results in the last two weeks, but I suspect that Amazon has changed the treatment of free yet again, and it is now on an order of 1/20th what it was in April. Or half of what it was in June. I might be overly generous. It could be more like 1/30th.
My point is not to counsel authors whether or not to do free promos. It’s to accurately describe the results I’ve been seeing so we can all make informed decisions. I have my share of, “I had 15K downloads and sold 1500 books!” stories, but they aren’t from June. And they certainly aren’t from August. My bet is that nobody else has any August stories like that either. But bring em on if you do. I’d love to get some counterbalancing info.
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Update. Watching the free books I have been tracking that hit in the top 20 this week, Sat afternoon the rankings started to climb, and now the rankings are more in the #2500 to 13,000 level, depending upon the book. So there is still an effect, but it’s muted. As an example, at 13,000, that represents about 10 books today. At 4000, about 25. And all of these were in the top 20. Hard to do much better than that on free, and if you were one of, say, 5000 books a day that went free, if you were one of the absolutely most popular, you were rewarded with those kinds of numbers. Little different than the good old days when the number 5 position would get you couple thousand in a week. Still, better than nothing. But my question to everyone is, how much better? And more importantly, if you didn’t hit in the top 50, you have seen virtually no sales increase. I know because I had one hit #38, and it’s selling about what it did before I took it free. So it would seem that the top 20 books still see a positive, albeit much less than before, and everyone else is sucking exhaust. Is it still worth doing on the chance you get into the top 20? I think the answer depends on whether you do or not. If so, and you go from 30K to 2500, of course it was. If not, well, not so much. I’m still willing to roll the dice on a few of my titles, but then again, I have enough of them so it sort of is immaterial whether this week’s promo is a winner or not. For you, I guess it depends. In the words of Dirty Harry, how lucky do you feel?