23 February 2013 by Published in: Uncategorized 57 comments

Amazon sent out a communique to its affiliates stating that as of March 1, if it determines that the affiliate is primarily involved in touting free ebooks, or it has over 20K downloads of free ebooks through its affiliate links, it is ineligible to receive payment for that month.

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BREAKING NEWS: I’m featured as the lead quote on Forbes.com in an article on the future of book discoverability. How cool is that? Would appreciate you sharing it via facebook, twitter, etc. Easy to do with the buttons on the left.

NEWS: A brand new interview on self-publishing with yours truly at Worpreneur.com. Worth a look!

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That means that all the sites that have sprung up to push free ebooks will now fade away. Unless they don’t care about the affiliate revenues. Which some might not. But the lion’s share will. So their business model just collapsed.

[***UPDATE*** Here is the actual language of the change to the Amazon TOC - I have discovered an interesting loophole that could be exploited by the free sites to remain compliant and still go about their business:

“In addition, notwithstanding the advertising fee rates described on this page or anything to the contrary contained in this Operating Agreement, if we determine you are primarily promoting free Kindle eBooks (i.e., eBooks for which the customer purchase price is $0.00), YOU WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE TO EARN ANY ADVERTISING FEES DURING ANY MONTH IN WHICH YOU MEET THE FOLLOWING CONDITIONS:
(a) 20,000 or more free Kindle eBooks are ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links; and
(b) At least 80% of all Kindle eBooks ordered and downloaded during Sessions attributed to your Special Links are free Kindle eBooks.”

What they could do is just do all free books through NON-AFFILIATE links! Because the verbiage specifically calls out Special Links. So just use non-special (i.e. ordinary links) for the free books and you've complied.***]

What has the reaction been? From readers, it’s mostly akin to taking a bottle away from a drunk – they don’t like it. Most don’t seem to understand that there will still be free ebooks – they are responding as though Amazon has stopped allowing free ebooks. That’s not the case. But no matter how often they are told, most still keep reacting the same way: “It’s an outrage! Bad Amazon!!!”

Here’s my take. Free content will still be available. You will just have to spend a minute of your precious time finding it. Instead of having it nicely delivered to you on a silver platter, you’ll actually have to invest a tiny amount of effort. Now, I know, to a populace that is hooked on entitlements, any time you propose that those receiving the benefit have to work to get it, the howling rivals a wolf pack at midnight. Guess what? You want free crap, you’ll have to spend some time to find it. Boo hoo. Poor you.

As an author, I celebrate Amazon trying to pull away from free. They created a monster. And they know that free is impacting their sales. They’re not stupid. Free has created an environment where there is a whole sub-culture of readers who believe that they shouldn’t have to pay for books – that the author, the editor, the formatter, the proofreader and the cover designer should all work for free, as should Amazon. And Amazon is basically trying to close the door on that notion. Bravo Amazon, I say. It was fun while it lasted, but the ride is over.

I have built a large following using free. I heart free. Or rather, I did. I started turning less positive on free last late spring, if you go back and read my blogs – it occurred to me that while I was personally working the free thing about as well as it had ever been worked, that it was hurting the overall market as a whole. In short, it’s a bad long term strategy, except for on the first book in a series.

And before I get countless agonized comments about how free has allowed you to discover new authors, myself included, go back and reread the part about free still being available. As in, you can still discover new authors by reading their free books. But you’ll need to do some work. That’s the part everyone is crying about. The work part. Because a tiny amount of difficulty has been introduced in order to obtain something for free. Repeat. You can still get free books. That hasn’t changed.

So my take is that this is a strong positive for authors, and for Amazon. Because guess what? New authors were getting discovered before the free promos, and they will still get discovered after they’re a thing of the past. The glut of free material has helped some, but it has hurt most. Now authors have to go back to traditional, old fashioned marketing – they can no longer spend 20 minutes alerting 15 sites about their freebie and call it a day.

And the freeloaders will have to put in a little effort to get their free lunch. My hunch is that Amazon knows full well that most people are too lazy to exert the slightest effort, so free will drop off dramatically. Which is what they’re after, I believe.

Having said that, did I mention that JET is currently FREE on Amazon, B&N, Kobo, Apple, etc.? I’d hurry and pick up a copy, because soon, you won’t be able to find it easily for free, either.

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Comments

  1. Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 5:28 pm

    But what if you don’t have a series? Just one novel? I guess it’s back to paid marketing instead of mass giveaway followed by paid marketing.
    Just when I think I have things figured out it changes. I’m going to open a bottle of wine now. :(

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 5:36 pm

      As I’ve been saying for some time, till I’m blue in the face, free giveaways haven’t had any effect on post-sales unless you’re in the Top 40 overall, for, well, about three months now. So on a day like today, where there are 30K free titles being offered, 29,960 of those titles won’t see any positive benefit.

      It’s been a sucker bet now for a while. And yet authors continue to throw themselves under the bus. Why, I couldn’t tell you.

      I would NEVER run free promos if I only had one novel. All you’re doing is converting prospective paid sales into free downloads. It’s self-defeating.

      Reply
      • Kim Cano  –  Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 5:42 pm

        Okay. Good point as always. Thanks.

        Reply
      • Vikki  –  Sun 24th Feb 2013 at 10:02 pm

        I have been using Amazon’s free site and have read many good books. I have been introduced to many authors that I have not heard of before. Such as I was when I got Jet for free then purchased the rest of the Jet series.
        I do think that we owe it to the authors to give a free book a review to get the word out.
        You say that we still can get free books just not so easy I am going to miss the convenience.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Sun 24th Feb 2013 at 11:43 pm

          Vikki, I understand, but it’s Amazon’s playground, and they get to make the rules based on what’s best for them from a business sense. So free books will be available, but it will require a little bit of digging. One easy way to do it would be to bookmark the top 100 free list, as well as any genre top 20 free list you favor, and then just check it periodically. We’re not talking about a lot of work here. I think most will be able to adapt.

          Reply
  2. Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 7:30 pm

    “I would NEVER run free promos if I only had one novel. All you’re doing is converting prospective paid sales into free downloads. It’s self-defeating.”

    Hear! Hear! As a slow writing (OK, lazy) author with only two books out (and for a long time, only one), I second that point. I DID give away quite a number of freebies of the first book to prime the review spigot, but I never found that just allowing free downloads worked. Rather, I always set things up where folks had to email and REQUEST a free copy. At least, then they had a little skin in the game by virtue of having expended a SOME effort to get the ebook.

    To my mind (and I suspect Russell might disagree with this), having free downloads is somewhat akin to passing out flyers in a parking lot. Folks just take it because it’s thrust upon them, and their perception of a free book’s worth is often formed before they ever look at it. I’ve only received a handful of 1 and 2 star reviews, but I think it’s instructive that most of those were from people that got the book for free.

    I’m glad that the ‘free’ gambit has worked for some authors and I don’t for a moment begrudge them that success. Having said that, it’s pretty tough to be heard above the noise, and I for one, will be happy to see ‘free’ play a less central role in marketing and promotion.

    Reply
    • Kim Cano  –  Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 7:58 pm

      R.E. McDermott– You just jogged my memory. My first book is a short story collection, and my first one star review was titled: “Glad it was free.”

      Reply
  3. Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 9:42 pm

    It’s long past time, in my opinion. and Kim, I sold 140,000 copies of my first mystery novel, Big Lake, and never gave one copy away free or paid one penny for marketing. I worked at it every day.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 10:08 pm

      It’s never been an easy gig, and just because we sold well last week is no assurance we will next week. Having said that, free has been good to me. But it lost its luster a while ago, and I’m not a bit surprised that Amazon has reined it in. About time, actually.

      Reply
  4. Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 10:49 pm

    I have a book for free and I download free books to discover new authors. I love to discover new authors and this is a great risk-free way to do it. I have appreciated every free download I have received and because I put my first book on free about three weeks before my second one came out, there is no doubt it helped with sales. I think everything that is going on in publishing right now is crazy good! I was a fairly early Amazon-adopter (1997) as a customer. As an idiosyncratic reader, I could alway get books at Amazon that I could not find elsewhere, so for that, they won my heart and loyalty long ago. I am not breaking any sales records, but let’s face it. If it weren’t for Amazon I wouldn’t have sold any books so far:) I was just telling my husband today, I envy the authors that got into self-publishing before December 201. That being said, they were the smart ones who took the risks when there was no hoopla about it. So as much as I envy them, I also admire them. This is a tough business anyway you go about it. The exciting thing is that it is POSSIBLE. I don’t know that these changes to the free book listers will have a lot of effect of me. I am one of those that never made it on those lists. My book ranked #4 on Amazon’s epic fantasy bestseller list on Dec. 3, 2012. I think it was just because it had been out a while and never been free. Probably folks were curious:) I didn’t expect to chart at all when it went free, so it was a huge rush. Charting is very addictive:)

    I am rambling. I think we are all going to have to learn to surf:) Amazon is going to keep generating waves of change and we are just going to have to learn how to ride them. The fundamental doesn’t seem to change. WRITE. I think that’s why I love indie authors. No matter how the algorithms models etc. change…WRITING…seems to be the underlying commonality to success. Writers who are WRITING are also the happiest and most well-adjusted writers I know.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 24th Feb 2013 at 1:38 am

      What I think will happen is this will put the final nail in the coffin of the gold rush mentality that started about two years ago, with the wild success stories of people like Locke and Hocking.

      I haven’t checked lately, but my hunch is that Locke ain’t Patterson in terms of sales two years later, and from what I have paid attention to of Hocking’s career, her trad pubbed books aren’t giving Dan Brown a run for their money. So the media did its job in convincing everyone with a manuscript in their drawer that they too could hit big, and the gold rush was on, but very, very few actually saw careers manifest out of that. Some, like Hugh Howey and Colleen Hoover, have knocked it out of the park. Most haven’t. I’ve been very lucky as well, but what’s clear to me is that the concept of a career that goes on for many years in this business is as much of an anachronism as the horse and buggy.

      You’re only as good as your last week, and your next promotion, and there’s no guarantee that because you sold 100K six months ago, that you’ll sell 1K this month. Just the way it is.

      But nobody is holding guns to our heads.

      Reply
      • Kim Cano  –  Sun 24th Feb 2013 at 2:36 am

        I saw Hocking’s books at Walmart yesterday. My guess is she’s still doing well. I think it isn’t fair to compare her to Dan Brown since she’s in a different genre.
        Also, Hugh and Colleen really knocked it out of the park, that’s for sure. But I also think it’s possible to be successful making less money than they have. For instance, if you were a data entry clerk making 25K per pear, and you manage to replace that income with book sales, I would call that success.
        I guess everyone’s version of it is different.
        To be honest, I think it’s way more fun talking about Mugsy. :)

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Sun 24th Feb 2013 at 11:15 am

          OK, then you can compare her to Twilight. You take my point. I looked at Hocking’s ratings on Amazon for her new stuff and it’s nothing to get all that excited about – certainly not #1 stuff.

          My point is that it’s unlikely her $2 million deal has made its money back for the company. I don’t know enough about it, but that’s a lot of books. And they’re not being sold in those kinds of quantities on Amazon, that’s for sure. No offense to Hocking – more using it as an example of how the media helped create a gold rush.

          Hey, as a guy who started this 20 months ago and saw $16 his first month, trust me when I tell you that now that I’ve been selling a solid 15-20K units a month since Oct, you can make a more than decent living at it. But I’m also an outlier. And I don’t know anyone who works 15 hours a day, 7 days a week at it, or has released 20 novels in 20 months like I have. So every “success” story has a lot of wheels within wheels in the background.

          I’m personally very happy that Amazon is backing off from free. Although a potentially alarming new twist is their new “indie” category. That could either be good, or it could relegate anyone who isn’t with a big trad publisher to a ghetto where 80% of potential readers stay away because “indie” is synonymous in their minds with “low quality crap.” I’ll be watching that very carefully – hopefully it isn’t the first step in removing indies from having fair visibility on the “normal” lists. I fear it might be.

          Reply
          • Kevin O. McLaughlin  –  Sun 24th Feb 2013 at 11:38 am

            If that happens, it’s probably time for the more serious writers to look into what Ingrams requires to go into direct ebook distribution. ;)

            I know some indies are already working this angle. Just in case, of course.

  5. Sat 23rd Feb 2013 at 11:46 pm

    I think there’s going to be another impact here.

    As Russell points out, only the top 40 or so on the free list actually see serious sales from the visibility boost after the book goes off free. The problem is, they get that visibility because of the raw numbers of free downloads they get – NOT because of their free rank.

    So for example (not real numbers here), if the rank 40 free ebook gave away 50,000 ebooks during this free run, then 50,000 freebies is the bar you need to reach to get serious bounce from the algorithms post-free. Not rank 40.

    And with the loss of these affiliate sites (not entirely, but there are going to be a lot less places to advertise free books next month!), it’s going to be a lot harder to reach that “magic number” of downloads. Meaning things like the brief free runs for Select probably just became worthless for almost all writers. Barring a freak stroke of luck that gets you super-high download numbers, you’re probably not going to see much bounce from a Select free run, anymore.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 24th Feb 2013 at 1:20 am

      Exactly. From a writer’s perspective, free just became even more worthless than before. Again, if there are 40K books free tomorrow (about the avg number these days), 39,960 are wasting their time and will see no positive, and possibly a negative (they just saturated their market without any benefit obtained, converting the few possible buyers into free downloaders). So the truth is that everyone’s been wasting their time for about the last 3 months, as I tried to point out, well, about 3 months ago.

      But now, it’s going to be pretty much worthless even for those who might have had a shot at one of the coveted top 40 free slots. Because as you point out, ranking is just a function of downloads, and it’s the number of downloads that will determine whether you get noticed by the algos, and now, almost nobody will. So time to find another way of marketing, because that giddy 14 months of free being the mechanism just came to an end. Last one out, turn out the lights.

      Reply
  6. Robert Jones
    Mon 25th Feb 2013 at 2:30 pm

    I can fully understand Amazon wanting to do this. It might make it a bit more work for readers and authors alike though. Writers will have to find ways to promote themselves. But does it require “paid marketing?”

    And secondly, what about those writers that found online groups and gave away a limited number of copies of their book to that specific group to gain some work of mouth. Is Amazon saying this is considered some breach of contract? Or is it just those promotional freebies listed on certain sites for download?

    I’m thinking the internet is a big place–bigger than ever in terms of ways to get the word out about your books. And unless you were signed up for a mid-six figure deal with a trad. company, wasn’t it always primarily up to the writer to promote their own work?

    These things may not be as easy as signing up for a big free giveaway, but there are ways to market. Some cost a little, some might take a little more effort, but to my way of thinking–which probably will be frowned upon–the freebies have made writers lazy as well. Or at the very least, limited. I’ve read a lot of marketing ideas that told me most people aren’t “really” marketing. Or the marketing consists of giveaway after giveaway that some writers have rotated their stock within until all a patient reader has to do is wait a little while and it’ll come back around.

    I’ve got news for the repeat offenders, you’ve torpedoed your sales as well as Amazon’s.

    As for the readers–most having the same excuses that they spent money on their Kindle and want to make that money back on free books–if you can’t find enough free content offered in classics and public domain books to offset the price, do you really think sinking the indy trade by not paying will end profitably?

    There are some very good authors (Mr. Blake is a fine example) who sell their hard work at an average of $4-$6. Is that too much much? The trad. publishers are selling their meat at twice that price. And if the indy biz goes belly-up because you walk away and don’t want to pay, then this becomes what you are left with.

    These booms happen, and change is to be expected when those who either expect to get rich, or expect everything free, leave. Those who enjoy this venue and are serious about the quality of craft on both sides of the fence need to have a little give and take.

    Most of the free was lousy reading anyway. I got a handful of good authors, who in turn lead me to some other more craft serious authors. Which is pretty much how I tracked down my better reads. Most of the other stuff, I couldn’t even get through. Believe me, you won’t miss this boom once it’s over. I just hope a fickle public doesn’t ruin it for everyone. Because in the end, the changes are all about the numbers.

    Go ahead an hate me saying all that if you must.

    Reply
  7. yoon
    Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 12:58 am

    I did once follow all those kindle freebie sites, and got tired of them pretty soon because it was not like they were listed with any discernible criteria (other than Amazon ratings on some sites). People just have to look at the top 100 free lists on Amazon, which, for me, is the easiest way to find something.

    BTW, I saw JET at #4 just now. Getting a second wind?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 1:18 am

      Seems as though JET has miraculous rebounding capabilities, no?

      I don’t get why people can’t just bookmark their favorite Amazon genre freebie lists and check those once a day. Is this really that hard?

      Reply
  8. Robert Jones
    Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 9:07 am

    Russell,

    I’m going to go all OT here for a minute and ask your take on something that has been bugging me in terms of writing. Personally, I prefer to have an ending in mind before working on a story. And I usually do. Currently, however, what I thought would be an ending to shoot for was not so good. I’ve refined several times, and in the process found very little from writers anywhere that might help, or inspire.

    I think that’s why so many endings can be a let down. I believe that a good ending can be everything. I’m a fan of big finishes. Yet a big finish is not always possible. And with Hollywood giving us bigger slams and less impact, where do you find a balance for your own action yarns?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 10:57 am

      I think the hardest thing to do is to avoid being formulaic. Whenever I hear someone complain about the ending not being “properly” impactful, I think of the film Amadeus, where Mozart is being counseled by the hack court composer to give the audience a big bang at the end so they’ll know it’s over.

      I know some of my endings feel like a letdown, because a part of me hates that formulaic big bang. I also like cliffhangers, and ambiguity, which can annoy some readers. But you know what? In the end, I think our job as the writer is to write the story as well as we can, not subscribe to notions of requirements from the cheap seats or other, usually unsuccessful, authors. True, it’s a lot easier to write the expected story with the expected ending every time, but part of what we do as artists is take risks, and I tend to like something a bit different in my stories.

      Not sure that helps, but that’s what I do.

      Reply
      • Barbara Morgenroth  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 6:48 pm

        Thanks, Russell. I like a Hitchcockian ending myself in which all the loose ends aren’t tied up, or could be called abrupt. This really bothers some people but I’ve been at this for a long time and I think I know what I’m doing. It’s neither an accident or a mistake, it is an artistic choice. Now I’ll just think “cheap seats”.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 7:08 pm

          It’s a fine line between writing puerile, predictable pap and something entertaining and original. Often, readers will be divided. I’ve adopted a philosophy that as long as my review ratio isn’t any worse than any of the massive blockbusters that have defined genres, I’m doing something right. I look at Bourne, Da Vinci, Day of the Jackal, Red Dragon and Silence of the Lambs, The Pelican Brief or The Firm and calculate the ratio, and it’s usually 10-20% either extremely negative or somewhat negative – one or two stars. That tells me that even some of the most popular books on the planet were hated by at least 10-20% of those that read them, for one reason or another. Now, if the reason is because my work is riddled with errors, that’s one thing, and must be attended to. But if it’s because 1 out of 10 hated my ending, guess what? It’s going to happen. I figure that if I ended a novel with a predictable, satisfying ending, I’d get 10% complaining that it was too formulaic. So you can’t please everyone. I think, in the end, that’s where trusting your gut, as well as some close beta readers whose opinions you value, comes in. If you think that’s the way it should end, that’s it – literally, end of story.

          I’ve gotten negative reviews from readers who were pissy about a cliffhanger ending in a series. I can accept that they wish everything was resolved by the end of the story, but sometimes, that’s not how I want it to end, and whether or not they want to read countless tomes that are virtually indistinguishable from one another in their character arc, pacing and resolution (BTW, it’s usually failed authors who make a big deal out of that – they studied the “right” way to write a story, and they get really testy if you don’t follow the precise formula they were taught was the only, or best, way to do it. Their opinion is meaningless to me, as they’re simply annoyed because my approach conflicted with the dogma they were indoctrinated with, and they only know one way to write a “good” story – the way they were told to), I have to be willing to accept some disgruntled readers who got something different than what they expected or wanted. I don’t assume that my readers are idiots, and sometimes, a pat ending is just too obvious, and speaks to a lack of craft and invention, not a firm command of it.

          Not that I have an opinion. And adverbs are fine, too. So there.

          Having said all that, sometimes readers call it right, and if your reviews start moving more to 30+% negative with the same objection over and over, maybe you have a problem. One of the beauties of e-pubbing is that you can always go back and add, or change, to suit. That’s powerful.

          Reply
          • Robert Jones  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 8:00 pm

            @Russell–Can’t say I disagree with your reasoning. It always falls in line with either my own, or what I believe makes good sense. Your percentages seem to fit quite well with some of the author’s reviews I’ve been checking out on Amazon. Even some of the bigger selling indy authors fall here in terms of disenchanted customers.

            @Barabara–I too prefer something a bit on the Hitchcockian, or ironic, side. I don’t feel I’m there with my ending though. And every time I’ve tried for 100% irony here, it feels like I’m forcing something that doesn’t fit. Which is why I’ve settled for part ironic, part moment of terror for the villain in the end. The irony comes from the villain using fear and terror to gain what he wants. He’s a very angry man, and what is anger but fear after it finds a home within and metastasizes?

          • R.E. McDermott  –  Wed 27th Feb 2013 at 10:25 am

            @ Russell – I think it’s very much a case of ‘to each his own’ in the ending department, and I’m definitely on the side of satisfying endings. But that’s a personal choice, not dogma, and informed more by my experiences as a reader than by any hypothetical formula.” Frankly, I don’t give a shit about what’s ‘right.’ (And BTW, I like adverbs too.)

            My reading tastes are quite eclectic, and I read pretty much everything from thrillers to SF to historical fiction. In recent years, I’ve found some series (especially true in SF) seem to be never ending, and after the third or fourth thousand page tome, I throw in the towel.

            Conversely, there are other series such as Lee Child’s Reacher books, or Bernard Cornwell’s Sharpe series, that I devour. They are a series, and each carries the character forward, but they are stand alone stories. Are they formulaic and ‘virtually indistinguishable’ from one another? Possibly, but I don’t care. I read for pleasure and I seldom analyze WHY I enjoy something, it’s enough that I’m compelled to turn the page.

            What works for me as a reader, works for me as a writer. I don’t think any of us who write genre fiction are writing for the ages. It’s enough for me to tell an interesting tale and hope the readers come back for more. Just my $.02.

          • Robert Jones  –  Wed 27th Feb 2013 at 12:00 pm

            Hi Bob,

            Thanks for chiming in with your thoughts on endings. It really makes sense that we’re all going to gear our ending towards the kind of fiction we read and enjoy.

            I too have eclectic reading tastes. I seldom get stuck on one author for more than a book or two before moving on to a different genre, different author. I will always return to the authors I like, but my thoughts are to absorb as much as I can and attempt to widen my personal perspective.

            Then you naturally have to gear those tastes toward a wide audience on some level. But I find I’m ever more against attempting to do something for the sake of popularity, or write down to anyone simply because Hollywood chooses not to rise above a the mentality of the average twelve year old. I’ll concede that there is a twelve year old in all of us who enjoys adventure, discovery–and likes a certain amount of action blended into the mix. But that twelve year old is also evolving. Even kids who are twelve are different today than they were 20-30 years ago. And I believe the reason that age group is more interested in electronics than most other forms of entertainment is because it engages them with multiple levels, and allows them to put their intelligence to work at having fun.

            Having worked in the entertainment field, I can testify how much of it has been geared downward, over-simplified due to the belief that the average attention span was growing shorter, and that people in general really didn’t want to think too much. Escapism is related to a low IQ, or a vegetable. Then those same people will tell you that books. movies, nothing outside of the electronics section is making any money–and when they do, it’s all a fluke.

            Then you come to realize it is all part of the corporate strategy not to pay too much because they claim nothing is selling and don’t know what the hell the public wants. It’s easy to see that now during the recession. It’s even easier to believe now that it’s so wide spread. But before it became a national past time, corporate America was telling their employees this same crap. And since it worked so well for them, why not take it nationwide and envelop every aspect of our lives with it.

            All the more reason to find our own way as writers. If you buy into popular thinking, you better have a plan to make a profit through loss–you know, the basic plan that’s sinking our country as we speak?

            Illusion, illusion, illusion. Everyone has their brand of fiction these days. The trouble is, their robbing us of our resources, including”creative resources” to do it.

            I guess the moral here might be: Write the ending YOU choose :)

  9. Robert Jones
    Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 11:33 am

    Thanks, Russell…it does help. I like a bit of irony, but not always the big twist that makes us see what we previously believed was not entirely true. Outside of the occassional story like “Shutter Island,” most people can’t pull that off without being annoying.

    There’s a large part of me that thinks my villain just needs a good old-fashioned ass kicking. I do have a touch of irony, but thet comes the villain’s character–his personal beliefs/plans spinning against him when all is said and done. And yet, it kept leaving me with thinking there should be something more. When I finally figured out “how” things turn against the villain, that part of it seemed fairly satisfying.

    The ass kicking part, I believe will depend on what happens leading up to that moment (making the reader feel this guy really deserves it) as well as how it’s played in the end. Not always as easy to do in print as it is in a movie where everything is choreographed from just the right angles.

    Reply
  10. Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 4:11 pm

    “I would NEVER run free promos if I only had one novel. All you’re doing is converting prospective paid sales into free downloads. It’s self-defeating.”

    Very true. I did some free runs at the back end of last summer (before your update on the Top 40 effect) in the hope of benefiting from the post-free boost, reviews etc. The boost was nice but very short lived and reviews were minimal so I got fed up with it. I also agree that it has only helped a few and hurt more, so if Amazon is trying to kill their monster, then it sounds good to me.

    I hadn’t heard about the new indie category – that is a worry. I just Googled it to find they launched it back in 2011 though. Have you heard anything new about it?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 4:22 pm

      That shows you how much I get out. I just noticed it the other day. Doh!

      Reply
    • Kim Cano  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 4:32 pm

      Simon–I had a similar situation last time I went free with my short story collection. It was last fall and I made it to the top 40. I think #42. I had 4700 downloads. After it went back to paid, I had a bump in sales, like 60 books the next week. It’s only 29 pages long and retails for 99 cents, so the profit wasn’t much. Since then I’ve left it paid because it’s stayed ranked in its own little categories.

      Reply
      • Russell Blake  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 6:00 pm

        Right. But Amazon changed the algos again on Black Friday – the end of Nov, reducing the impact on sales by half, yet again. Now, 8000 freebies might be good for 60 additional sales (you have to subtract your normal run rate from sales over the next 10 days to evaluate what you actually get from the promo), at most. That would have you at around #20 or so. I know. I just did it with Zero Sum. Those are my numbers. 8000 free would have resulted in more like 150 sales in Oct or Nov. In June, more like 300. In Feb, 600-800.

        See where this is going?

        Reply
        • Kim Cano  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 6:06 pm

          Sure do. Forgot to mention. I had a paid WLC book buzz the following day, so I don’t really know if it was the freebie or the advertising.

          Reply
          • Russell Blake  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 6:55 pm

            I’ve found the WLC book buzzes add some to momentum, so it was likely a combination of both.

        • Kevin O. McLaughlin  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 8:20 pm

          Where free still helps is in ways like what Russell did with Jet.

          I downloaded Jet. It’s on my phone now. I haven’t read it yet, because I’m under the gun on release deadlines, but I will, because I already appreciate his writing from this blog.

          If I like that book, I will probably buy more. If I really like a writer, I tend to buy…well…everything they write. ;) Or darned close. I read 50+ books a year. Every year.

          And he has a lot of other books out for me to read.

          THAT’S how free works for you: as a tool to connect to new readers, a few at a time, who will go on to read the other dozen or twenty or fifty works you have available. And that’s how writers will be able to use free to continue to build audience.

          Reply
          • Russell Blake  –  Tue 26th Feb 2013 at 8:47 pm

            Exactly. Although I don’t target other authors with my work, I have my fair share of them. And inevitably, they’ll say they sampled it via a freebie, and then went on to see if it was a fluke, or if I could actually do that across 20 novels.

            Free can work for you, but like anything, it’s got to be used intelligently, which often means, sparingly.

            I’m of the opinion that I’m at a stage in my career where I need to build my audience, not squeeze every penny out of each book. I can give away a few representative examples of what I do, and if people like it, they might buy more. The best strategy has always been to deliver something they can’t get anywhere else.

            So far, so good.

  11. Thu 28th Feb 2013 at 9:22 am

    An interesting read on all ideas. A great blog Russell.
    All I have found on Amazon with selling books, is that you cannot please a free reader as much as, if the reader paid for it.
    Also the free reader is often a different quality reader, who don’t understand why the book was written, because it wasn’t exactly as they expected.
    As far as cliff hangers, I love them. Yes we can never please 20% of our readers, but a cliffhanger shows the reader’s emotion. If the reader didn’t care about the story, they wouldn’t care about the ending.
    And we are in the business of selling books!?! And 90% of readers never comment or review anyway-just wait for the next part of the series.
    Finally, thanks to freebies, I am having the best sales month, selling more books than any other month in my short 2-year career of selling on Amazon.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Thu 28th Feb 2013 at 12:27 pm

      Too true. I notice that the reviews I get on JET and Night of the Assassin, my two perma-free books, are on average a star or so lower than the rest of the books in the series. And inevitably, there’s a comment something to the effect of, “I don’t normally read this kind of book, but thought I’d give it a try, and discovered I don’t read this kind of book for a reason (I don’t like this genre), therefore I’m rating the book low.”

      If a reader has to spend money to buy your book, the chances are that they at least thought through whether they would be enjoy the book, assuming it was well written. As an example, I know I wouldn’t be interested in a contemporary romance book. Just not my thing. So I don’t download, “Love’s Savage Fire” and then rate it one star because it was filled with romance. And yet that happens more than I like to think when the book is free. You get the dregs, the folks sitting in their trailer park just clicking on anything that’s free, and then when they get around to reading it, they rate it low (usually in pidgin English, replete with typos, grammar problems, etc.). That’s just a part of the risk of free. I’ve gotten used to it.

      Reply
      • Barbara Morgenroth  –  Thu 28th Feb 2013 at 1:04 pm

        I have to show up here more often, I like it, even if it is free!
        I had a freebie this past weekend. It’s a screwball comedy. The first review was a freebie downloader who complained that there was nothing serious in this book titled Nothing Serious.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Thu 28th Feb 2013 at 3:26 pm

          Figures. Not surprised. I had a bunch like that on my parody, How To Sell A Gazillion eBooks In No Time (even if drunk, high or incarcerated) – people complaining that they were expecting a serious explanation of how to sell, er, a gazillion ebooks, presumably even if wasted or in the joint.

          It’s yet another reason the Chinese aren’t worried.

          Reply
  12. Thu 28th Feb 2013 at 3:32 pm

    Low information readers.

    Reply
    • R.E. McDermott  –  Thu 28th Feb 2013 at 4:04 pm

      I got a 1 star from a lady that said, “I bought this book because of the comparison to Clancy in a lot of the reviews. I don’t like Clancy but I decided to try this book anyway because of all the good reviews. It was terrible.”

      Go figure. Sometimes you just have to laugh at the insanity and move on down the road.

      Reply
  13. Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 9:03 am

    Russell, your points are well taken. For new authors (especially Indie authors), do you agree it’s really not about sales as much as it’s about establishing readership? My novel Night Sea Journey, A Tale of the Supernatural (not a series) did well with the freebies on Amazon KDP Select. I got 1300 downloads over a 3-month period of 5 free days. Of course, I doubt all 1300 will read the book but maybe 20% will. That’s 260 people so I figure that’s a pretty good start. Freebies are important for new authors. And anyway, how different is a freebie from getting a book at your library?

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 12:52 pm

      I think most authors misunderstand the usefulness of free in this new environment of changed algorithms. The only reason I would take a non-series title free nowadays is if I was confident I could get into the top 40 free, and see a sales bump. Otherwise, I think it’s not a good thing to do, as those that download free titles, as a rule, aren’t really book buyers in the sense that we would hope them to be. For the first book of a series, by all means. But these days, I counsel against doing free for stand-alone titles. All it really does is convert potential sales into free downloads. I wish establishing readership meant something in the free environment, but the truth is the free readers read your book, then go immediately to the next free one, forgetting you and your book in seconds. That’s been my experience. Alas.

      Reply
      • Paula Cappa  –  Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 1:39 pm

        I did NOT see any bump in sales after my freebies. And I’m not sure why marketing people tell us that freebies spark sales since I’ve heard from so many authors that freebies did not produce results. My book did get in the top 100 free books (#25 and #38) on Amazon (twice during free offers, so the visibility improved. But what did that accomplish? Not more sales and that was the whole point. Do you have a suggestions for new indie authors on how to get readership/sales without going free?

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 2:17 pm

          I wish I did. I am constantly trying new things. Guest blogs, interviews, my own blogs, being quoted it pubs like Forbes, co-marketing with other authors, Wattpad, etc. etc.

          The truth is that the second something is discovered that sort of works, it stops working, because soon everyone is doing it. Twitter used to be useful, not I can’t see any real point. Facebook is still vital, but even so, not sure how vital.

          I’m the wrong guy to ask. And I’m afraid there’s nobody who knows. Only those who pretend to know so they can sell you crap on how to gain visibility.

          Reply
  14. Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 1:43 pm

    You know, the free promo is the ONLY thing that made a difference in selling my lone novella, Only the Truth. Prior to the giveaway, I had advertised through social media and I was selling a book or two a day. After my first giveaway which was 37,000, I sold around 10,000 copies. When things got real slow again, the giveaway jumped things up, though nothing like the first time. I just finished a three day freebie and gave away 11,000 and coming off of the free list, I sold 100 the first day and loaned 50 and the numbers are hanging in today. Before the giveaway, I was selling one a day. So, personally, I think the free deal was great for my one lone book and I have no idea how I am going to do any decent promotion of it without the program getting me those high number of giveaways.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 2:15 pm

      Well, as I’ve said here till blue in the face, Free was a great strategy a year ago, a pretty good one last summer, a so-so one last fall, and a crap one post-Thanksgiving. The algos now offer about 10% of the impact they did a year ago, so if you see 37K downloads now, you might see 1000-1200 additional sales related to the promo. At 10K free downloads, you might see a few hundred, max.

      But each day there are 30-40K free titles. And maybe 50 of those will see a positive boost. Those odds are beyond terrible. So on a day with 30K titles free, 29,950 of them are wasting their time and will see no positive impact. What does that tell you about free’s usefulness for most authors?

      The numbers aren’t hard to figure out.

      You’ll also see a declining number of downloads each promo, so if you do really well the first one, you will do middling the second, and then the third will be uninspiring, to say the least. What amazes me are the tens of thousands who just keep giving Amazon exclusivity, give their books away, and see nothing, and yet still keep doing it. Talk about desperation combined with a complete lack of understanding of the data…

      Reply
    • Paula Cappa  –  Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 2:53 pm

      Pat, when did you have this giveaway that achieved 3700? Was it in the last few months? And was it your first book? Indie author?

      Reply
      • Pat Brown  –  Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 7:42 pm

        Paula, the 37,000 was last March and it was, as Russell says, the last time we saw that kind of download or return. Then I had two less thrilling ones that netted me a bump but nothing thrilling. This last one I just did a couple of days ago and gave away 11000 and is seeing better sales than the last two (for reasons unknown) but not as awesome as back in the day.

        Russell, maybe it seems desperate but I never saw decent sales from other venues or I never would have considered putting all my eggs in the Amazon basket. Even my regularly published books do poorly at other venues

        And as to who benefits off of Amazons free program, true, most do not and they will not do well no matter what because most people are so unknown that they can’t get publicity no matter what they do. Sad because sometimes they have awesome books, but it is reality. My new book, The Murder of Cleopatra, was published by Prometheus and not one of The Big Six. Stacy’s Schiff’s book WAS published by a big publisher and she has a large following. Her book made millions and mine will not (even though I have fans and a following as well). If someone else writes a book on Cleopatra and has no television appearances and no big following, their book will tank barring some miracle. So, Amazon KDP worked well for people with a following of some sort and for a lucky few. What happened with the new algorithms and the new March rules will people like me will join the larger group of unsuccessful folks and only the very, very top will still make sales. Kind of like wiping out the midlisters or the middle class; you end up with just the elite and the poor. What was nice about KDP was at least it widened the group that had success even if it wasn’t huge and I was for anything that gave a way for more people to get publicity and sell books.

        Reply
        • Russell Blake  –  Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 8:43 pm

          My observation is just that tens of thousands of authors are making their work exclusive in the hopes of an elusive bump that simply won’t happen. That’s dumb. Worse, it’s self-destructive. By doing free promos, they are contributing to an environment where nobody buys unknown but promising authors anymore – they simply download 10 freebies which then sit unread on their kindles as they download 10 more the next day. And they are converting the very few paid sales they might have seen into freebies.

          It’s just a terrible deal, but because it’s so tough to make it or get noticed, most will do anything, even if they know it won’t help and might hurt. Because they’re dreaming, or hoping, or praying. It’s like buying lottery tickets – most who understand the odds simply won’t do it. So it’s a tax on the stupid. Those who can least afford it.

          Those who can least afford killing off the fringe audience at the margins that might have sampled indie fare two years ago are still racing like lemmings for the cliff. And it’s destroying the very market they hope to participate in – the mid-list audience of readers who might have tried their book for $2.99 because it looked interesting, but now doesn’t because there’s just too much free stuff available. Free, as I think I said last May in a blog, is akin to crack – it seems like a great idea while you’re doing it, but longer term it’s nothing but destructive. I think Amazon has realized that their free monster is hurting sales, so is dialing back in the only way they can without alienating readers/customers. But they also have to keep authors interested enough to put their books in, even if the overwhelming majority of them see no benefit. To do that, Amazon needs authors to be stupid, gullible, and delusional, which it seems they have no problem doing, given the number of free books out there.

          I’ve sort of given up on free except as the loss leader on a series. Konrath or Eisler or myself might be able to hit into the top 10 and see 1000 post-free sales, but most can’t. For us, free is still useful in very specific circumstances – say, to boost sales and a flagging title. But overall, it’s just a bad, bad deal, and I found myself looking at the 250 additional sales I might see from 12K downloads and weighing that against the longer-term damage I was doing to my brand, and decided it wasn’t a particularly good tradeoff.

          Just as I only did a few .99 promotions a year and a half ago when Locke et al were touting that as the way to go for indies, I also have kept most of my titles out of Select since I saw the direction the algo changes were going. And now I’m seeing better sales activity from Kobo, B&N, etc. – but it took 4 to 6 months to start building. I think the absolutely biggest mistake rookie authors make in this game is when they opt out of Select, wait 60 days, and then go running back because they aren’t selling elsewhere. Of course they aren’t. They haven’t given it enough time to get any traction. So they’re on the crack pipe cycle of free promo, lackluster or negative result, anger followed by quitting Select, despair when they aren’t selling elsewhere, then back to Select, even more desperate than before.

          I don’t get it. The book business has always been extremely competitive, extremely difficult, with the only guarantee perpetual poverty for all those except the lottery winners. And yet it appears there are hundreds of thousands who think that they should be selling books, by virtue of a few hours on twitter and their uploading an MS.

          As you know, it’s a tough business, and now it’s getting tougher. Most won’t succeed. That’s just the odds. Free isn’t going to change that. I can’t think of a single author I’ve heard of who had big free run last year that’s selling anywhere nearly the number of books they were because of continued freebies. I know there are some authors who touted Select as though it was the secret to eternal youth, but they did so because they were hoping to sell their books, which generally touted their success on Select as the answer. The truth is it was an awesome marketing tool last year, which for at least the last four months, has been a loser except for the very, very lucky few.

          But nobody wants to hear that.

          Doesn’t matter to me. I’m still scribbling away at the next one. Over time, writing good books people want to read seems to be a decent strategy, coupled with good old fashioned hard work on marketing them. No magic. No “set it free and watch the money tap turn on.”

          Alas.

          Reply
  15. Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 3:05 pm

    Thank you, Russell. Not only should Amazon not be beaten up over this bit of business acumen, Indie Authors should all celebrate! While it is true that some writers derived some useful readership or visibility from the giveaways, I’ll know that you can’t even buy a cup of coffee with the proceeds of giving away a million books unless you were one of those who set up freebie clearing houses are were able to “trick the system” and make income off freebies. It came as good news to me, too.

    Reply
  16. Pauline Tarver
    Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 3:28 pm

    I’m not a writer but a prolific reader. My take on free books is the first book tells you if you like the writer’s style. After that Amazon has a great feature that allows you to get a “sample”, and it is quite a generous one, of a book. If I like it I can download the whole book right from my Kindle and never miss a beat. If it has not grabbed me by the time I finish the sample I just delete it. Works for me. If there was never another free book I would continue to use this feature to preview before buying. After all, authors do not live by words alone; they have to eat! Buy books!!!

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Fri 01st Mar 2013 at 8:46 pm

      I’m also a prolific reader, and I generally can tell within 5 pages whether a book is for me or not. Although I have discovered some great books on free promos – but truthfully, I haven’t bought more from the authors, simply because I have no time, and at any given point, have 50+ books I’ve been sent to review or to skim over.

      I think free has its place. But I also think Amazon curtailing it is a good thing. For everyone.

      Reply
  17. Terry Tyler
    Mon 04th Mar 2013 at 3:12 pm

    I think it’s excellent news. Because all the NOOBS have heard that a free promotion is the way to make ‘it’ happen, they’re all sticking their book out a month after publication, and sometimes before. There are so many free books out now at any one time that it MUST have an impact on people who actually want to sell theirs. Like you, I used to think it was a great thing, and I had a splendidly successful free promotion about a year ago, before it all went tits up. I would still give books away for free to individuals, but I certainly wouldn’t stick them on free now; there’s no point. All you get is a few read that might not have been read, but most of them are probably sitting there with the other 2000 books on people’s Kindles, never to see the light of day. Also, some of those people might have actually bought it…..

    Reply
  18. Jeff Khoury
    Mon 11th Mar 2013 at 2:32 am

    Russell,

    Just wanted to let you know that your idea of “what free is for” worked out well with me.

    “The Geronimo Breach” showed up in my recommendations one day. I’d never heard of you, but the ratings were positive and the book was free so I had little to lose. I liked the book and based on that, I’ve purchased almost all of your other books. I think your strategy is working, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

    Reply
    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 11th Mar 2013 at 2:38 am

      Thanks Jeff. Glad to hear it. I’ve given away almost a million books, and my hope is that 5% eventually read one of them, and of that, half like it. If so, that would be 25,000 new readers.

      Which is abstract. It’s way better to hear from readers one on one.

      Makes it all sort of worthwhile.

      Reply

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