I’ve been in KDP Select for a little over a month. For those of you who don’t know, that’s a program where you sign up as an author, and Amazon pays you a fee for each book their KDP subscribers borrow every month. Fee for borrowing? Sounds great so far. But the big incentive for authors is that Amazon also allows you to list each title you enroll, as free for 5 days per 90, either consecutively, or a few days here and there. In exchange for this, you agree to make your title exclusive to Amazon for the term of the deal – which probably doesn’t matter to Amazon nearly as much as it hurts their competitors. Does that matter? Not to me. At least, not right now. Amazon gives their competition the eye dig, and we win. Right?

The free thing is a double edged sword, as far as I’m concerned. On the one hand, it gives readers a chance to sample books by authors they’re unsure of or unfamiliar with, including me. That’s good for both readers and authors, at least in theory. I say in theory, because there’s also a negative. Three actually, for authors. For readers, it’s almost all good.

The first negative is the commission. In Dec. it was $1.70 per title. That was awesome for those with .99 cent books, but not so much for those with $2.99 and higher books. That meant that if your book was listed for $2.99 you would have seen $2 for a sale, you saw $1.70 for a loan, for a net loss of 30 cents (assuming you were at 70% commission). The deal got worse if you had $3.99 or $4.99 titles, as you were seeing $1.70 instead of $2.50 or $3. Still, the boost to sales that you got from being able to put your book free was worth it.

It also raised the issue of whether a loan was accretive, or if it cannibalized a book sale. Some argued that it was accretive, others said it cannibalized. My experience, having listed several titles in the middle of the month that were steady sellers, was that it cannibalized. I saw the sales numbers drop by 15%, to be replaced by loaned books. That’s just me. I’m not complaining. Just letting everyone know what I noticed. I believe that if you only had one book you could get as a loan per month, you got something you were planning on buying. My experience to date bore that out.

The second negative is that in January, the loan payment dropped to $1.60. That further skews the value proposition for the higher priced books. If one views the delta between the loan rate and a sale as marketing dollars, it makes the price of the free 5 days considerably higher for a $4.99 book than a $2.99 book. It’s still an awesome deal for .99 books, BTW. Get paid more than the book is listed for. Who wouldn’t sign up for that? But it comes at a high cost to more expensive titles. And it raises a legitimate question – is dropping the monthly rate a trend? If so, it’s one many authors will find troubling. Some won’t. But if you enrolled in Dec, it means that your average reimbursement on a loan is in reality south of the $1.70 you thought you’d get. This is too new to rate, but still worth watching.

The associated negative for readers is that the reimbursement favors .99 books, as well as cheaper books, which many believe means lower quality efforts. That means that the perceived benefit would be lower to customers who pay the $80 KDP fee for the year’s privilege of shipping discounts and free books at a rate of one per month, over time. “Big deal. It’s filled with cheapo books.” And so on. Again, not my problem. Just an issue for Amazon more than anything else. I can’t for the life of me see why they didn’t just offer a percentage of the asking price rather than a fixed rate – unless they were planning to lower it. Which is exactly what they did after one month.

The third negative is that the market is saturated with free books. That’s both good and bad for everyone. For authors, it’s bad because it creates a culture where books are something you don’t pay for, but good because it creates a vehicle for folks to sample your wares. It is also bad because there will be a segment of the market that just waits to buy, because they figure they can get your title for free if they just hang out for a while. From a reader standpoint, it creates an overwhelming number of choices that can be off-putting. Now you are playing literary agent, going through the Amazon slush pile. Read the first five pages, toss it. Second five pages, toss that one too. And so on.

So what do you think? As authors, given that a lot of my followers who aren’t clowns pretending to be Latvian prostitutes are authors? Think it is cannibalism? And do you think it is net positive, or negative? And readers. What’s your take?

I’ll be genuinely interested to hear.

For the record, I believe Amazon is doing a hell of a job creating a market for guys like me to make a living self-publishing books, whereas before I was just uninterested in waiting 18 months to see a title come out, and get beer money for the pleasure. They have created a boom for me. For that I am grateful.

But what do you think? Chime in.




  1. Fri 17th Feb 2012 at 10:40 am

    Thanks for the invite to read your blog. Love it. I’ve not tried the kindle KDP. Was a bit leary. Loved your insight into the pros and cons.

  2. yoon
    Fri 17th Feb 2012 at 10:10 pm

    As I’ve been a prime member for a few years now without KDP (I guess that’s what the lending library is to the authors), I don’t really have anything invested in it. I did browse the books included in KDP, but I’m yet to take out a loaner. I’m probably not normal in a sense that I prefer owning the book I like – if I borrow a book from my library and like it, I end up buying it afterward. So if I ever get a loaner from KDP and like the book, I’d probably buy that one as well. But with all the free books on there, I don’t think I’ll even try it.

    Anyway, isn’t it like having your books in public libraries? Although I think they should have a due date when the book gets deleted from the devices.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 1:00 am

      Libraries buy the books, then lend them. All good. I have no problem with the concept of lending, but when lending provably cuts into sales, then it’s an issue. One can argue philosophy all one likes, but 15% lower sales replaced by 15% higher lending at a reduced revenue rate drives the question of whether it is worth it to the author. In my case, probably not for most of my titles. For others, probably. I don’t think Amazon is quaking in their boots either way I lean.

    • Brian Meeks  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 2:29 pm

      I am not an expert, but I thought that I read somewhere, one had only 14 days to read the book they have checked out. It then disappears from their Kindle.

  3. yoon
    Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 1:23 am

    It reminds me of a discussion at work a few months back when Amazon announced the lending library. A dude was not a fan of ebooks and I asked why not. He doesn’t like that fact that after he’s done with an ebook, he can just give it to somebody else, say “Here, Yoon, I liked it. You read it!”

    I have no idea why I started with this comment. I forget… I’m a little drunk. Friday night and all.

  4. Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 7:54 am

    Interesting post, Russell – the first of many on your site, I see. Will follow. From my point of view, coming onto Kindle with 6 books – 3 previously published by reputable print publishers – I agree wholeheartedly with your last point; the kindle revolution has transformed my attitude to publishing. Instead of doffing my hat to publishers and agents and saying ‘please look at may book …’ ‘Please … just give me a hint of how it’s selling …’ – now I feel like I’m charge of the whole process as a small entrepreneur and most of it depends on me. Except that there are a gazillion other folks doing exactly the same thing!

    But as for the KDP Select points, that’s interesting too. I’ve felt forced to bring down most of my books to $0.99 to try to climb up the ratings, so on your info I’d be glad if someone would borrow them, but so far no-one has! It’s useful to hear how the experiment has affected you. I keep reading advice about how it would benefit me to give the books away, but that sticks in my craw – after all, if readers can’t afford $0.99 (as if!) they can download the first few chapters free anyway!

    Good luck with your books anyhow – your blog seems one to follow.


  5. Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 10:05 am

    To be honest, I am new to the whole thing. Almost a month ago I had kept my head down and was working on writing new material and my day job so I wouldn’t, y’know, die while waiting for a publisher to discover me. Then I looked up and I realised there was a bit of a revolution going on. So I am still finding my feet in it and hoping it’s not dog poo.

    That said, I have just released my first novel (which is why I looked up) and I enrolled my previously published anthology in KDP select. I saw the promo thing right away so I made my anthology free for 5 days and plugged it as best as I could in my fledgling network. I saw just over 1,000 sales, which is tiny in the scheme of things but mind-blowingly big for someone who had only sold a dozen copies in the past 2 years. That and since then I have been selling an average of 4 copies a week of my anthology because of it. So I am more than happy for the opportunity and I would like to ride that for a bit longer. I’m just reformatting my novel for Kindle and then I’ll get that out there with some promo and see what a splash I can make.

    I’ve been reading all sorts about book pricing and the like too. Royalties aside, I agree with the idea to charge a little more for my work because I know it’s unique and good quality and I want readers to know that too. The only thing I will sell for $0.99 will be short stories! If anything…

    In short, I’m just starting out so I’m ecstatic to get any amount of money for my work, but I want to build a name. KDP select and Amazon in general provide the opportunity for that.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 10:39 am

      No question. My comments are intended as informational, but also to point out that for every pot of gold, there’s also generally a dark side.

      I see myself KDP-less other than a few titles after my first go round. I want to see the trend on the royalty, and also have noticed that with multiple titles, the free thing has less impact. First time’s for free works brilliantly. Second time, not so much. Third, Meh.

  6. Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 10:54 am

    I tried KDP too. Lots of people downloaded my book for free. I noticed some people added my book (The Walking Man) to the 25,000 other books they had on their “Kindle to-be-read” bookshelf. I suggest instead of KDP spend $100 advertising on Goodreads. You’ll get a better result. Still love Amazon and their innovation, not so sure about KDP yet.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 1:20 pm

      I’ll take a look at Goodreads. Is it better for a book launch, or for an existing title? I’m putting out new books at a rate of one every six weeks, so anything I can do to draw attention, I will.

      • yoon  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 2:22 pm

        As somebody who had to “rescue” one of your books to put it on my Goodreads shelf, I have to say you should be on it, if only to claim the books as yours. I don’t pay much attention to ads, but I pay attention to what my friends are reading and how they rate the books. Since it’s easy for people to find others with the similar taste in books, you’d draw attention from your “target audience” as you put it. Also, I tend put more weight on Goodreads average ratings than Amazon ratings since I myself rate books differently there from how I rate on Amazon.

        • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 2:46 pm

          What does that mean, rescue it? I still don’t understand the concept. Thanks for doing it, whatever it was, but can you help me out here and tell me what it is? Or how a book becomes required to be rescued? I honestly don’t know or understand.

          I like goodreads, but it’s an issue of time. I spend couple hours a day on social media stuff – responding to e-mails, comments on this blog, doing interviews, tweeting, etc. Sometimes more. And I write for 8 to 10 hours a day. That doesn’t leave much time to spend “connecting” with folks on Goodreads, or prowling their forums. So for me, perhaps an ad makes more sense, because I don’t have 10 hours a week to go there and be effective. I’ll look into it.

          The other thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of authors are on Goodreads, and they tend to leave much lower ratings than readers. Probably because their personal battle with the craft colors their objectivity, or because they’ve never rated a book five stars in their lives – because they “just don’t rate books five stars.” I know a few like that, actually.

          Having said that, I’ll at least look into the ads. I know I have no time to be on it.

          • Pauline  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 4:43 pm

            “Rescuing” was a one shot deal, part of Amazon’s seeming trend to not play nice with anyone else associated with books. I think (don’t quote me) Amazon used to allow Goodreads access to information like book descriptions but now they no longer do so any books with info from Amazon had to be ‘rescued’ or updated with info from somewhere else.

            Goodreads is more geared to readers interacting with each other than authors with readers (and has over 7 million members). I do think authors should create an author bio there and add their books. Anyone can add a book so one reason for the author to do so is to have their book(s) show up with the title, description, etc., the way they want it.

          • yoon  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 10:03 pm

            By “be on Goodreads,” I mean you should create your account, put your bio, link to your blog and claim your books as yours. I’m guessing once it’s established that you are the author of certain books, you’d have some control over the info and description of those books. Because anybody can add a book if they can’t find it on Goodreads, there tend to be a lot of mistakes. For example, I wanted to add a book, but somebody else had already added a book using the same ISBN but wrong title, I had to add one myself, or I added a book and found out the book was linked to the wrong author with the same name, or the book is missing the cover image which is not a good thing IMO for people to want to look into it. In all these cases, I’m not allowed to edit the book info because I’m not the one who added the book in the first place.

            I do rate books lower on Goodreads because I consider my Goodreads shelves as my own catalog of books and so I give 5 stars only to those books I’ve read more than once or plan on reading more than once if I get a chance, and so on. But your books are going to be there anyway if you are there or not, so might as well put 15 minutes to set it up? And then you can just update it whenever you have another book come out. Most people I know don’t use forums and such, and purely use it to catalog the books and read the reviews, so being “active” there probably won’t help you.

            As Pauline said, rescuing happened because of Amazon making it tough for Goodreads to use their info on books, so if a book was only listed on Amazon among the sources Goodreads use for book info and the book was initially added using Amazon (not added manually), then the book lost most of its info other than the title and the author. Since the rescuing a book involved entering data manually, I guess people who already had your book on their shelves didn’t feel the need to do it. But if you were there, you could have dealt with it as soon as the book got lost in lala land, which was a month or so ago. You know we readers are not too smart and very lazy, so if it involves more than a few clicks, we are not likely to add your book.

          • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 10:23 pm

            Ah, I didn’t understand it. I’ll put it on my list to do tomorrow or the next day. I agree that’s worth doing.

          • yoon  –  Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 2:02 am

            Glad you agree. I hope you get to put some cover images on some of your books. It just doesn’t look like a good book with the cover missing, you know.

            BTW, I thought you might be interested in this article if you haven’t read it already about Goodreads. http://paidcontent.org/article/419-book-discovery-how-many-touchpoints-to-purchase/

            Another BTW, I’ve gone through everybody’s website who made comments here and it looks like all of them are writers and an editor. After reading 3 of your posts, I gathered as much since all of them seem to have something to do with ebook publishing. It’s a bit intimidating, you know, for an average reader who can’t write squat. Although I got to see what you guys talk about when not writing and it was interesting, not being in your line of business, I don’t think I’ll be reading much of your blog in the future. Good luck!

          • Russell Blake  –  Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 3:23 am

            Admittedly, most of my blog readers are authors. I don’t mean to exclude readers – most authors are also readers. It’s just that’s the orientation. That, and puppies. And economics, clowns, humor and examples of my writing.

            Sorry you won’t be stopping by much. Catch you on Twitter.

            And I will be sitting down and trying to figure out how to upload covers and descriptions tomorrow. I’m not that tech savvy, so it takes me a while…

          • yoon  –  Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 1:08 pm

            I see you are a Goodreads member already, but not as an author. How pedestrian of you. I guess you just have to claim your books. Fortunately for you, I’m in IT so in theory, I could help you out, but unfortunately for you, I don’t know what authors have access to there, so I won’t be of much help.

          • Russell Blake  –  Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 2:57 pm

            I have a buddy who is the tech brains in the area, so I’ve asked him to sort it out. I’m a simple writer. He gets paid the big bucks for pushing bits and bytes around.

      • Phil Rowan  –  Mon 27th Feb 2012 at 6:37 am

        I think you’ve made some excellent points throughout your blogsite here, Russell. KDP remains a bit of a mystery to me – huge numbers go on the free days, but I’m not sure what’s happening the rest of the time!
        For me, the biggest problem is trying to find readers for my dark humour thrillers – a genre that several agents say doesn’t exist. Most of those I follow and who follow me are writers, which is great, but I think I’d like to try and reach out to more folk who just like a good read. This takes me to Goodreads, which I’ve now heard a lot about and am about to try shortly.
        I look forward to following. Phil (@writerrowan)

  7. Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 11:49 am

    Great post Russell.

    I published my first novel “The Opening” http://tinyurl.com/7cz9ph4 October, 2011.

    I enrolled in KDP Select in December. The eBook is priced at $4.99. Since enrolled I have done three free promo’s.

    The first, a one-day offer, I “sold” 750 books and had good paid follow-on buying afterwards – enough to get my book onto the Amazon Best Seller list in three categories.

    The second free offering was a two-day promo 12/25-12/26. In that offering I “sold” 600 or so. Again, the follow-on paid buying was brisk and helped my book stay on the Best Seller List.

    The third free offering was on 1/28. In that offering I “sold” 5000 or so. I’m not sure what caused the spike on that offering. I did some social media promoting and I included the transcript of a recent blog interview so it’s possible a few blogs picked it up and promoted it (there are blogs whose purpose is to promote free books.) Again, after this offering the follow-on buying and borrowing was brisk and it had a positive impact on print sales.

    I spent seven years creating my novel. I worked with a an excellent, top-notch editor. “The Opening” is literary quality and well formatted. I plan to keep the eBook price at $4.99 for now. I’ve offered a few $0.99 promo’s mostly in conjunction with appearances on radio/TV/blogs.

    I have found KDP Select to be quite helpful in building my platform. It has a bright side and a dark side as you suggest and I agree with most of your points.

    The bright side is that it’s not forever. It’s only an exclusive deal while you’re enrolled and you can pull the plug anytime.

    So bottom line for me is that I’ll work with the KDP Select program for a while longer and then branch out to other platforms. And of coures, we authors must be very flexible right now as the industry is morphing at breakneck speed.

    Thanks for sharing this Russell.

    Best wishes,


    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 1:18 pm

      Well, I’m in a different position. I plan to write and release 6-8 top notch thrillers this year, effectively doubling my catalog. Once I have 12-15 paid titles, I can play with making one or two free here and there.

      There’s no right or wrong answer. Just information.

      As always, mileage may vary.

  8. Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 12:14 pm

    Another informative post from someone forging his own path. I love the information, Russ.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 1:16 pm

      I figure that we’re sort of all in this together, so the more info other authors have, and share, the more likely we all are to understand what is effective at the moment – sparing us the time wasted on unproductive tangents. So far so good.

  9. Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 2:07 pm

    I’m am so conflicted about KDP! I really didn’t see much activity on actual sales after giving away my books. Red Mojo Mama “sold” more than 2,000 and there was a very brief bump in real sales. None of the others have had any bump at all. I did appreciate being paid $1.60 for borrows on my $.99 books.

    I just don’t know if the influx of cheap or free is good in the long run. I believe it’s sort of playing itself out and will diminish in the long run. I actually sell better at $2.99 than $.99 in almost every case.

    I guess the answer is – we’ll see…

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 2:24 pm

      I think the .99 thing is so last year. Hocking and Locke’s success at that price point, which was actually more a November 2010 forward thing, was the free of last year. I agree that free will lose its cachet value once the novelty wears off. I’m already seeing that on my two free titles – Night of the Assassin and The Delphi Chronicle, book 1. I think at best it exposes you to some new readers, and at worst it makes your work appear worth….less. As in worthless.

      The countless self-help books from last year I mocked in Gazillions largely counsel the same thing. Price your book at .99 to create a flurry of sales. It’s interesting to me that Locke, who was absolutely successful with that technique, is now struggling at $2.99 and higher on many of those same titles. I believe that anything that worked yesterday probably will fail tomorrow, as we, and the market, are highly adaptive, and we adjust real time to new stimuli. So .99 worked – until it didn’t. Free is working – until it doesn’t.

      In the end, my bet is that quality writing – telling a story in a way that the reader can’t get from anywhere else – will rule the roost. I look at the history of dime novels and pulp fiction, and the decades are filled with big sellers you’ve never heard of. Because disposable fun books, which was the business model of the dime novel, have a parabolic assent, and a cliff-like drop off. I told a buddy of mine last April, when I decided to get into the self-publishing game for real with Fatal Exchange (which I released in June or July), that I absolutely wasn’t going to do any of the things recommended by the then gurus. Because while the strategies sounded reasonable, they were doomed to failure the moment they were committed to paper and others started using them. I think history has borne that out to a certain extent. I said in one of my earlier blogs, show me ANYONE who has had a hit using the techniques described in the books – writing the heartwarming blog that goes viral, pricing the books at peanuts, blogging once a month or less, writing for a carefully dissected demographic versus what you feel like writing…

      In the end, if I hit, and there is no guarantee (odds and my business plan says it won’t – but even as a failure, with 15 titles out, each selling 10-20 per day, you can have a nice living), it won’t be for any of the reasons in any of the books. I’d say it will be more because I wrote. A lot. I sat my happy ass down, day after day, and wrote the absolutely best books I could envision, offering no excuses and refusing to pander or dumb it down. But that wouldn’t sell a self-help tome, would it? “Spend 10K hours getting good at your craft, and throw it all away. Then, spend a year writing 12 hours a day, constantly re-inventing your craft and approach to story. Oh, and come up with completely innovative themes and stories every time, rather than serializing some completely unbelievable character.” That book would sell nothing. But it would be the truth.

      So yes. I guess the answer is, indeed, we’ll see. Always nice to see you here, my friend. Be well.

      • Scott Nicholson  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 5:02 pm

        Like you said, Russell, this is just one mini-era of many. I happen to believe the lending library is the natural model for digital products (well, at least for a mini-era of a couple of years, maybe) so my efforts are heading toward that goal. And while writing the best books you can is important, all of this is still largely luck.

        As you said, no guru has been able to offer a reproducible result for more than one author. That’s why I say “Get your own result!”


        • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 6:19 pm

          Everything in the performing arts is luck. Fate is fickle, and audiences more so. The best you can do is to be prepared in the hopes that when and if your lucky day comes, you can present quality examples of what you’re capable of. The rub is that the best books don’t necessarily sell well, nor are the ones that sell well necessarily particularly good. I think it’s like that line on the board at the amusement park – you need to be at least this tall to get on the ride. In the traditional publishing model, you had to be at least “this” good to get an agent and a deal, but beyond that, it was feces hurled at walls to see what would stick. Same as music. Same as acting. Now, in our brave new world of self-publishing, while there are more opportunities for an author like me to make a living (which after a whopping 7 months at this, I actually am), there’s also an ocean of dross readers need to wade through, so it actually decreases the odds of hitting big due to the sheer volume of offerings.

          I think the future is lending/free content within a few years, with advertising of some sort – a web-centric model. Readers choose what they like, at nominal or no cost, or borrow the content in a lending scheme, and advertisers jockey for the offerings they think will get them closest to their target demographic. I can also envision sponsorships. At least I’m hopeful that I can talk Cuervo into believing it’s a good idea.

          Having said that, I’m optimistic. I believe that industries need to evolve, and if they don’t they stagnate and die. Literacy has been shrinking for generations. Books were largely viewed as anachronisms by many, having been replaced by single paragraph information downloads on websites. Amazon has made it hip to read books again, or at least hipper, via their Kindle. I get that they want to sell gazillions of them. And the probably realize that this is a razor blade business, with content the blades, but understandably want to source better or more cost-effective blades than those offered by the century-old blade consortium. Short term, as in two years, I think we see the current model holding, but with wilder oscillations. Beyond that, if I was a betting man, I think Nike and Walmart and yes, Cuervo, sponsor authors and view the content as a mechanism within which to imbed their produce message, either overtly via ads, or slyly, via paid product placements (so when you start seeing my protags savoring their richly brewed, satisfying Maxwell House coffee in key scenes, you’ll know I happily sold out, but I’ll have a benz and be partying with the Tecate twins, so everyone can suck it – Tecate being a favorite, finely crafted brew discriminating folk all over the world enjoy when they want to celebrate accomplishment, or merely life’s precious moments, and which can be found wherever better adult beverages are sold).

          That’s the future, I think. Unless I’m wrong. In which part I’ll claim that this future was merely a transitional, possible one. Leading to that other one that actually happened. So I’ll be right either way.

          And so on.

          • Brian Meeks  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 2:49 pm

            I love the idea of product placement in novels. I struggle with which sorts of little details I should sprinkle through my novels and if someone was paying me to have my character wear Nike shoes, that would be just fine, because my character LOVES Nike shoes. Well, he would, if there was a check in it.

            Some call it selling out. I call it, “Figuring out how to do this for a living”.

  10. Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 9:23 pm

    Just some stats to muddy the waters further. I did a 3-day freebie with KDP right after Christmas, ‘sold’ 6700 copies. The first week in January I actually did sell over 500 books, then it continued to drop. By first of February, I was under 100 books per week.
    I did a one-day freebie on Valentine’s Day. Again, ‘sold’ 6800 books. From the 14 to the 18, I have sold 500 books, so yes, KDP is doing more for me than Smashwords ever did. (Don’t know if I’ve ever sold a Nook or Sony or Apple download. Never got any money if I did.) Actually, I never got any money from Smashwords for the few I sold there.
    Activity in the UK is minimal.

    I admire your work ethic, Russell. Certainly can’t keep my butt in that chair for 10 hours a day!! (I am thinking of just plagiarizing the next book to free up more time for marketing.) *^_^*

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 18th Feb 2012 at 10:23 pm

      That’s the free effect. Well understood. Short duration sales boost, usually 10 days or so.

      Congrats on those numbers, BTW. Nicely done.

      • Brian Meeks  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 2:50 pm

        I about to release my second book in the series and I thought I might go “Free” on the 1st one, to generate interest in the new release.

        Does that seem like a good idea in the current environment?

  11. Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 11:28 am

    Russell, great article and many thanks to the many replies. A couple of points from a book reader, retail book industry veteran, and blogger of books/authors.

    1) I agree this is just a mini-era.
    2) I look at people who “buy” free books as the same people who pay 25 cents at a garage sale or buy a “bargain” book at a bookstore. Most of these people have never paid full price…and never will. Don’t worry about them.
    3) There is some muddy waters in this promo. However, there are ways some authors are capitalizing on the promo from a financial standpoint.
    4) I wonder what the next iteration will be from Amazon. They must have something else in their backpocket.
    5) How about a base price of $2.99 with a “free” price of $0.99. Not sure if it would work, but it would sure give another set of numbers to analyze.
    6) Good luck to all the indie authors. Remember when you decided to be an Indie author, you also decided to become a salesperson. Most books don’t sell by just being “stocked” on a shelf.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 11:45 am

      I’m actually very curious how most readers would react to advertising within a book. Almost a magazine approach. If they understand that they are getting the product for low or no cost because they’re being subsidized by advertisers, would they balk and feel insulted, or play along? Or maybe you give them the option of opting out for a higher price – the Kindle model?

      I really believe that’s where this will go. My hunch is that is the next big big thing from Amazon.

      I’ve toggled between .99 and $2.99, and there is very little difference, at least on my titles. Maybe a 3X, but it doesn’t make up for the 7X reduction in commission.

      Agreed there is a subset of cheapskates whose expectation is to get something for nothing. I know a few. Nice people, but not a lot of fun when the check comes at dinner…

      • Brian Meeks  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 2:56 pm

        I have two books up for sale. One is a non-fiction at $9.99 on Kindle and the other is a mystery/crime novel at $2.99. The one priced at $9.99 is outperforming the 1st month of the one at $2.99, for its first month.

        I think a big part of the reason is I’ve done a much better job of getting the word out and have worked harder with the second book.

        I have a degree in Economics and think in terms of price elasticity. I am starting to think that book buyers see little difference between the $2.99 and the $9.99, though I don’t have the data to back it up. I may go “Free” for the 1st Henry Wood Detective book, right before I launch the second, to see if it builds readership. I’m sure that the 2nd book will be higher priced than the 1st, because it is 40% longer and I just don’t think the sales will drop off much, if at all.

        • Russell Blake  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 3:05 pm

          Well, another possibility is that highly targeted non-fiction has a well defined audience, whereas fiction needs to find one. If I’m interested in the history of classical economics, I am willing to pay more for a treatise documenting its assent and fall from popularity than I am a whodunnit. So you may simply be seeing that at play. If it keeps outperforming, I suspect there’s your answer. Not price elasticity.

          If you do free, I recommend that you don’t publicize when it is free. List it for two days. Let the engines do their thing. Start hitting the publicity hard once it switches back to paid, maybe with a limited time introductory price for the first 3 days. Sales after free will peak between day three and four, and then gradually decline. Move the price up, assuming that’s part of your strategy, when it is at peak, so you are capturing more revenue per unit as the units naturally decline. By week three they will have stabilized, or dried up. Repeat with another free period a month or so later, using the same technique. No marketing on free to your network, then market like mad once on paid.

          • Brian Meeks  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 3:24 pm

            Actually, I believe you are correct about the targeted audience point.

            I am going to take your advice on the free idea, too. Thanks for helping a new guy along.

      • Douglas Dorow  –  Wed 22nd Feb 2012 at 3:31 pm

        Russell, don’t know if you know, but if you want to get your kindle cheap, you can get it “with ads”. Basically the screen saver is an ad or series of ads and I think there might be a small ad banner on the page you’re reading of the book, but nothing intrusive.

        I could see something like that, based on your book, the audience, the demographics of the genre ads might be added. Maybe not by the author, but by the book seller.

        We’ll see what happens.

    • JR Tomlin  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 8:39 pm

      Do you have some evidence that all people who download free books never buy books? Even antidotal evidence? Because it is quite opposite of my own experience.

      My experience with Select? That I went from averaging about 200 sales a month in November and before to 500 in December and 1500 in January. It looks as though February will be about 1/2 between the two, but I’ve done almost no marketing in February because I’m finishing a novel to publish in March.

      My own experience on borrows is that they don’t *seem* to cannibalize sales, but if they do the pay out amount is high enough that that I’m still making a reasonable amount of money on them and normally none of my novels are priced below $2.99, several above.

      Making 99 cents a “giveaway” makes no sense to me and I can’t imagine any reason for Amazon to destroy their best selling novels–you might want to take a look at the prices on the 1/3 or so indie novels in the Amazon Top 100. I do think there is a good chance they will decide to allow Select authors to set a temporary “Reduced” price in addition to going free and the ability to do that would guarantee my staying in Select. Although the fact is for the time being I’m doing well enough I am not going to leave.

      • Russell Blake  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 10:03 pm

        My take on select is simple. Right now the payout is a windfall for .99 cent novels, and is short paying on higher priced books. The higher the price, the worse it gets as a deal. Now, one can argue angels on the head of a pin – do loans or do they not cannibalize. My purely unscientific observation was that for a novel I put into the program halfway through the month of January, the sales moved down, replaced by loans. Now that could well have been coincidence. But to me, it seemed linear and causal. Whether that is good or bad is a different matter.

        As to the value of KDP, sure, if you work the free thing correctly, it can provide a big boost to sales. I’ve seen that effect. Albeit a temporary one. Seems like you get the bump for three or four days, and then they start a steady decline. You can plan for that and make it work. I’m not advising folks whether it’s a good or bad strategy. That’s not my gig.

        As to whether or not free book downloaders never buy books, that smacks of a straw man argument. I don’t think I said they never do. Nor did I say they always do. If I did, I didn’t mean it to be taken literally. One can look at the like books those downloading your free efforts also bought, and if 90% are also free books, I’d say there’s some strong evidence as to their buying habits – or rather, their non-buying habits. Actually, I think it’s like everything else. There’s a segment that won’t pay for anything, there’s a segment that gives it a try for free to see if they like it, and a segment that could care less. The art in this is to find readers who will pay for what you generate. Readers eventually become sales, I would think. But my experience on the free books is that I see maybe 10% sell through on paid titles. How do I know? Because books in a trilogy, with 1 free and the others bundled, see 10% overall sales to free downloads. On both trilogies I’ve done. It holds on both. Also, on Night of the Assassin, which is a prequel for King of Swords, that ratio is holding. Now again, it’s not scientific, but it seems like something valuable to look at.

        I’m glad you are having a good experience with KDP. Sounds like you’re making it work for you. I hope you continue to be successful at it. This is a tough gig even under the best of circumstances.

  12. Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 5:16 pm

    As an Indie author my refusal to use the Kindle Select service lies completely in the exclusivity. I posted about this too at my blog: http://www.promotionalacarteblog.com/2011/12/whats-up-with-kindle-direct-publishings-new-select-opportunity/

    I sell my books all over the web, though concentrate with my listings at Kindle & Amazon print, I just can’t make use of anything with such Restraint of Trade. I love listing with them but I resist any exclusivity.

    Though I CAN see the wisdom, in cases like mine, of publishing a Kindle Single niche book to offer only in their Select lending library for the three required months.

    That’s a great way to test the market for my subject and maybe make some pocket change in the meantime.

    Then I would un-enroll out of Select and update the book for true publication, and offer everywhere I usually do, including Kindle and Amazon print.

    Thankx for the chance to post our thoughts!

    • Douglas Dorow  –  Wed 22nd Feb 2012 at 3:33 pm

      Other big name authors are doing something like this; exclusive with a seller; B&N or Amazon when they first release for some set time before they expand sales to other outlets. The seller with the exclusive launch advertises the heck out of it and bundles it with deals on the author’s other books.

      • Aggie Villanueva  –  Fri 24th Feb 2012 at 1:33 pm

        Yes Douglas, I think uses like this are the way to go with Kindle Select. You lose nothing, but gain humongous free publicity.

        The drawback is that it seems fiction/lifestyle is mostly what these users are looking for. My genre is how-to books in the field of book promotion. Very narrow market, but at least I know exactly who to market to! lol.

  13. Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 6:09 pm

    Just finished my second two-day stint with free for one of my books (I’ve also had the other one free twice). Overall I think it offers the author a slight exposure boost (particularly for the book(s) not being offered for free). I don’t see much “borrowing”… my sales unit numbers are significantly higher, and I don’t notice the free offering changing it all that much.

    I’ll say this: right now it’s moot because I wasn’t selling much on B&N, Apple, etc. much … but if/when that changes (which it may never) my take is the exclusivity the author gives Amazon isn’t worth the beans it’s cooked with. For now, though?

    It’s kind of fun to see 2,000 copies of your book move in two days time! Thanks for the thought-provoking post, Russell.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sun 19th Feb 2012 at 6:49 pm

      Agreed that it can provide a boost. But my experience is that no time is like the others. I took Geronimo free for three days a month ago, and saw 12K or so copies go out, and then I rocketed up the charts once it went paid, and peaked at #165. It was awesome to see 500 copies a day selling of a title I’ve always had a warm spot in my heart for. Then Feb. 1 came, and Amazon’s oopsey daisey hit, and my ranking plummeted as did sales of the title. My sense is that when readers see a book dropping like panties at the playboy mansion, they hesitate to buy – maybe the book sucks! Somebody must know something! Geronimo never recovered from that two day hit, and is back to 10-20 copies a day.

      Neither An Angel With Fur nor Gazillions particularly benefited from the sales pop one expects after free days. There was some, but nothing like with Gazillions. And they’ve returned to normal now – regressed to the mean.

      Fatal Exchange was free for one day yesterday, and I saw couple thousand copies go out. All good. Today, sales are okay, but nothing awe inspiring like with Geronimo. Overall sales are about what they were at the start of the month, which is down about 20% from January. Most are telling me their sales are also down about the same. Feb being a historically sucky month as all the new downloads from Xmas and the new year are digested by readers, who then aren’t in the game for a month or so. I also think the free thing has created a glut of content, amplifying that seasonal effect.

      So I think I can say with absolute certainty that I have no idea what the hell is going on at any given time, or why some things work once, then don’t work the next. Back to my theory that a lot of this gig is luck…

  14. Mon 20th Feb 2012 at 10:01 am

    Very interesting indeed. A quick glance and I’m following your reasoning quite clearly. Have bookmarked your blog page and I intend coming back to re-read it a few times.

  15. Mon 20th Feb 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Some great info, Russell. Thanks for sharing. I went with two free days to start and saw a big boost initially with my sales and have seen it slowly drop to a new plateau, higher then it was before the promo.

    I have another 3 days to use and then I’ll see what happens. I’m still trying to decide if I’ll stay enrolled in KDP Select for another round of 90 days. I know I have given up a small percentage of Sales from B&N by being exclusive on Amazon.

    Talking with another author, who had higher/premium pricing on his books, another interesting phenomenon was the number of returns he saw when he put his book out Free. Those readers who had just purchased it a few days earlier, returned it and then got if for Free. Some more lost sales the author needs to take into account, real buyers/readers who are saving themselves some money taking advantage of the Free offer as well.

    Keep up the writing and beware of the clowns.

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 20th Feb 2012 at 2:47 pm

      I’ve seen some of that, but as a friend of mine says, it’s about attracting readers, not buyers. In the longer run, one has to balance the value of attracting X new readers by Y “lost” sales. Again, all businesses have a marketing cost, so it’s not necessarily a bad thing. But I find most authors aren’t analytical enough about all this, and don’t examine the various implication of their decisions. For me, 10% of my sales going to marketing is fine. If you look at books as a product, which you have to once you have your publisher hat on, having taken off the author hat, you have the development cost (your time, editing, copy editing and proofreading, cover design), and your marketing costs (advertising, promotions, etc.). Most businesses shoot for 50% gross margins off wholesale. On a $3 book, wholesale would be $2 or so. So I look at that and quickly calculate that on a per unit basis, I can spend 20 cents on marketing, and 80 cents on development. Put another way, if it costs me $1000 to generate a book (hard costs – editing, proofing, cover, formatting) I need to sell roughly 1300 of them to break even on development. If I value my writing time at $100 an hour, and I am into the book for 200 hours, I need to sell 2000 books to have paid myself. But a strange thing happens. Because I also have another $700 from the books that I sold over 1300, from the development side. So I really am at breakeven at only 1650 books, adding that in. From there on out, every sale nets me $2.00, minus the 10%. So $1.80. After taxes, that’s $1.25 per book.

      You can see using that model that it becomes an interesting business from book 1651 through infinity. It also underscores the foolishness of trying to save the money you would have to pay an editor. If you want to sell your book at $2.99, and sell more than to family and friends, you need to pay that cost of product development. Otherwise your book will languish, as readers eschew the less professional efforts in favor of competently generated work. In a business where you could make tens of thousands off a single title over years or more, to skimp on the $1K is madness.

      • Brian Meeks  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 3:01 pm

        Great point about the hiring of an editor. I have two, one for non-fiction and one for fiction. They are both great and worth every penny. In fact, one day, I’d like to pay them more, because I truly value their efforts.

  16. Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 9:36 am

    I am a very new author, so new I am still waiting for my paperbacks to arrive of When Tigers Attack! But I have to say, I opted for going with the ‘loan your book for free’ thing for one simple reason. When you are just starting out, there is a mentality that spreading your work as far an wide as you can is far better than making any money. I’m sure there comes a point for a successful author where the line on this moves, but right now, that’s where I’m at.
    My decision wasn’t a very well informed one, I learnt far more from reading this blog than I ever knew before, thanks!

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 11:46 am

      I think you made the right decision. Doing a free promotion when you launch a book is important to get it out there and reach readers, as opposed to making sales. One should view that as a marketing cost, and be ready to capitalize on the boost you get when you go paid. Nothing wrong with that. Question is whether it makes sense to do it on an ongoing basis. For me, on my premium priced titles, not so much.

  17. Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 2:37 pm

    I just wanted to give a shout-out to Yoon, who left a bunch of comments about Goodreads. They were incredibly helpful to this struggling author and you’ve inspired me to work on my Goodreads Author page, this evening.

    Thanks Yoon! You rock.

  18. Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 3:09 pm

    In an unrelated note: If you’ve made it this far in the comments, I wonder if you’ve seen the “Pet Wall” tab at the top of the site?

    When I saw the pet, “Fluffy” the bull python and chuckled, I realized that this is the best marketing an author could do! It just might be the secret sauce. I’m definitely going to include a “Pet Reader” page in my redesign. Brilliant!

  19. Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 7:50 pm

    I put a short story in Select just to test the water. I also put another short up free for 30 days. The free not in Select out sold by 50%
    I don’t think the readers will read 10% of the free stuff they upload. Then you only gain ranking in the free category.
    I’m not putting a long form novel in. I’m thinking B&N will offer me some “I’m Mr. Solo dolo” and Kid Cudi and I will be rocking to the moon.

    Keep working my friend I see you gaining and I hope you are making some dough.

    C G

    • Russell Blake  –  Tue 21st Feb 2012 at 8:13 pm

      Thanks. I am now a working author making a living from it. Not buying a big boat just yet, but there’s hope, and it’s gratifying that so many readers are enjoying my work. Except for the ass clowns, and they can bite me. I mean, except for those whose taste differs from mine, with the understanding that not everyone will like the same things (wink).

      That said, your take on KDP isn’t necessarily completely accurate. Because of the way the Amazon algorithms are written, your paids see a boost when it goes off free. Not in the first 24 hours, but for days 2, 3 and 4. Because the free item will appear as a recommendation and as a mover for a few days, assuming it saw significant downloads. So a strategy of free with that in mind should theoretically allow one to manage the waves. I’ve seen it myself in my numbers, but didn’t understand it the first time – I was looking at the data, but didn’t know what it meant.

      What you see is sales peaking on day 3 or 4, then slowly declining until they plateau at week three or so. So it’s good for a short term spike.

      As to 10%, I think that’s about right. Most won’t. The world’s not fair. And there’s no santa. But if you see 10K freebies, and get 1000 new readers, it’s a worthwhile effort, I think. My issue is with the higher priced books. I don’t see the value there beyond as a launch vehicle. I’ll be trying my next one, The Voynich Cypher, with a hybrid approach and will report on the results.

  20. Thu 23rd Feb 2012 at 10:05 pm

    Nutshell – I ? Amazon KDP; I hate Kindle Select…because it’s exclusive. I’d rather sell in 20 markets world-wide than 1 (albeit a nice big one, but mostly America/UK).

    I did do an experiment with a new collection release, just to see if Select made up for exclusivity with massive sales. Nope.

    • David Barron  –  Thu 23rd Feb 2012 at 10:05 pm

      Oh. That’s supposed to be “I love Amazon KDP”. Not sure what happened there.

  21. Sat 25th Feb 2012 at 3:35 pm

    Thanks for this, Russell! I think overall it’s a good thing because it gets you name recognition which is also important in building your platform. I can’t complain, so far.

    • Russell Blake  –  Sat 25th Feb 2012 at 4:55 pm

      You know what? Neither can I. In fact, I’m going to do another blog to clarify my sentiments. Seems like this one focuses on the deleterious effects vis a vis price on more expensive books. I’ll do one more oriented to the net positives.

  22. Mon 27th Feb 2012 at 11:24 am

    A fantastic post with so much information to digest. As a new indie author it’s great to find gems like this blog to help me along the way. I have joined KDP and also experienced many ‘sales’ during the free promo.. The longer term sales have not lived up to my expectations, but as my book has only been released for a month I need to be patient.
    You have a new follower ????

    • Russell Blake  –  Mon 27th Feb 2012 at 12:21 pm

      Read the next post, as well, which covers the why of the sales bump, as well as the timing you can expect. Knowledge is power. By understanding the phenomenon, you can benefit from it and make more informed decisions.


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