questionWith the introduction of their KDP Select Program late last year, Amazon changed the rules with regard to self publishing. Prior to its introduction, self publishers were free to sell their books though any channel or retailer. However with KDP Select, Amazon demanded a commitment  to make the digital format of your book available exclusively through KDP.

In return for this exclusivity, Amazon makes the book available to their ‘Prime Lending Library’, plus allows for five days of free promotion each ninety days for each book enrolled. Quite honestly, it doesn’t sound like such a great deal.

However, many self publishing authors, including myself, joined the program with the hope that the ability to reach new readers via ‘Prime Lending’ and free promotions would translate into sales further down the track. After having had all of my books enrolled for over seven months now, I have to say that I’m really not sure if it works. The numbers of books I have ‘lent’ are so few, it’s just not worth mentioning, but free promotion does seem to generate some interest and possibly new sales. I just don’t know by how much. In hindsight, perhaps this is because I haven’t taken a measured and methodical approach to free ebook promotion. Additionally, Amazon have changed their algorithms regarding ‘free book sales’ a number of times since KDP Select’s introduction and this may have reduced the effectiveness of promotional days.

To try and get a more precise idea I decided to have a famine and feast test to see if I can measure this ‘free’ effect a little better. The famine being that I have not offered a book for free on Amazon KDP for the last two months, and the feast being a full on promotion over four weekends this month of my four best performing books. To make sure these books are given every opportunity, I have also asked for support from a number of websites and blogs who promote free Kindle books. In particular, I need to thank Free Ebooks Daily who have kindly agreed to promote all four of my books in July.

So for those who would like to follow my promotion, or perhaps grab a free book or four, here is my promotion schedule.

February The Fifth – (Science Fiction Adventure) Free from 6th -8th July.

For The Love Of Sam – (Contemporary Romance) Free from 12th -15th July.

One Last Love –  (Contemporary Romance) Free 20th – 22nd July.

HAL –  (Science Fiction Adventure) Free 27th – 29th July.

The measure for me in the first instance will be to compare the sales performance of my books over the two months of May and June with no promotion, against July with 13 days of promotion and then any positive carry over effect in August. Then in September I can make my decision as to whether or not I continue to use KDP Select.

Do Free Ebook Promotions Increase Sales?
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13 thoughts on “Do Free Ebook Promotions Increase Sales?

  • 06/07/2012 at 11:47 am
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    Derek,
    From where I sit, having utilized KDP for my own books. I firmly believe that the success or otherwise of book sales using their system, largely depends on one thing – does the book in question appeal to the readers out there?

    In my own case, one book in particular seems to have caught the imagination and curiosity of the reading public, particularly here in the UK – my scifi adventure “The Seventh Age”.

    During its one and only ‘free promotion weekend’, a total of 3152 copies was snapped up – 869 in the US, 2257 in the UK, 2 in Germany and 1 in Spain. As for copies borrowed, only 8 copies.

    To date, 970 copies have been purchased.

    Does the system work? Like everything else, it is seems to me to be a matter of luck, plus having an established author like Robert Bauval read and review it on Amazon UK didn’t hurt either.

    :)

  • 06/07/2012 at 5:44 pm
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    We made ‘A Vested Interest’ free over Easter for two days. before the promotion sales were effectively zero for all the books in the series. We gave away 2484 books. 1628 in the UK, 796 in the US, 59 in Germany and 1 in France. I calculated that if the books were read and enjoyed at a ‘normal’ reading speed then we should see an increase in sales of books 2-7 in 10 to 12 days. ‘A Vested Interest’ got to #1 in free medical thrillers and technothrillers. After the promotion it hovered for about two weeks at #6 in paid thrillers/medical and #10 in SF/Mystery & Crime and Technothrillers.
    Even before the 10-12 days sales of the other books picked up.

    Then Amazon changed the rules. Sales slumped again. We decided to withdraw the books from Kindle Select and make them available on Smashwords. On 28th – 1st July we used up the remaining 3 days of free promotion. We chose those dates since they covered the weekend before a US holiday. This time we gave away 556 in the US and 205 in the UK. The book got to #3 in technothrillers but as soon as the promotion ended it dropped off the charts. We are waiting to see if sales of the other books pick up early next week. Already there is a slight improvement.

    One thing is certain – before the change Kindle Select worked.

    • 06/07/2012 at 8:52 pm
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      I have to agree John. Earlier this year I found that free promotions on KDP worked very well in creating later sales, but Amazon have done what they usually do. They’ve changed the rules and discounted ‘free sales’ to 10% value in their algorithms. As I have always suspected, I’m coming more to the firm belief that self publishing authors are just being used as canon fodder in Amazon’s aim of monopolising the publishing industry and in selling Kindles. Although it’s very nice to have the facility to publish so easily, it leaves a bitter taste in knowing that you are being discounted after being used.

    • 12/07/2012 at 9:30 pm
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      I’m pleased to say that we are now seeing an increase in sales of the other books in the series and increased traffic to the books website. Seems that the free promotions do still work if you are giving away the first book of a series.

      If you are promoting a single work with nothing else on offer then the Kindle Select promotion has probably little to offer you. At best you might pick up a review or two.

      One thing that has become apparent is that timing of your giveaway is crucial as is how you promote the event also. This time we targeted the US by offering the books the weekend before a US holiday. In addition we used Buffer to ensure Twitter posts about the event appeared throughout the day & evening in the US – a time when the UK is normally asleep. Last time we made books free over Easter weekend and Tweeted about it in the UK daytime/evening. Results – In Easter sales were largely concentrated in the UK and this time we got more sales in the US. I was told the 4th July weekend wouldn’t be a good time to promote in the US since everyone would be outside with family. Seems they were wrong.

  • 06/07/2012 at 7:35 pm
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    I sold roughly thirty copies of ‘The Black Ships’ during it’s first six weeks on the market. At the six week mark, I gave away two thousand copies using select and began tracking daily sales. I averaged thirty a day in the week following the giveaway. That began to trail down as the ‘popularity ranking’ began to drop off. It now sits at a slow boil but it still sells at five times the pre-freebie rate.

    Having said that – amazon has tinkered with the algo a few times since then, so I probably wouldnt see the same results now.

    I’ll pobably put it back up for a freebie when the sequel comes out in August or September (I’m referring to the months here – not to the Gregorian royalty of Derek’s excellent series). If I do get the same buzz the second time around, I’d like to have a second book ready so readers can pick it up as well.

    Never like to waste a good buzz…

    • 06/07/2012 at 9:04 pm
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      Thanks as always for your comment Andrew. I’m still ‘out’ on the value of these free book promotions especially after Amazon’s change of algorithms, but have to say that having a backlist of books helps. Especially a series. Well, that’s my theory anyway. That’s why I’ve used the first in my series of Gloth Tales to kick off this month’s promotion, and will end the month with the second in the series. My measure of success will be to see if the third and final book sells at all in the following weeks. We’ll see.

      • 06/07/2012 at 11:58 pm
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        I’m sure you will see results. I was halfway through ‘Hal’ before realizing it was the second book in a series. I picked up ‘Feb the Fifth’ and blazed through it. I’m in the middle of finishing first draft on ‘Dark Defiance’ but should be done just in time for our vacation on the East Coast. I’ll be loading ‘Septimity’ before we leave.

        Your stories are good brand builders – it’s hard to stop at reading just one…

  • 06/07/2012 at 9:55 pm
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    I tried KDP Select free days for GHOSTS ON THE RED LINE earlier this year. Approximately 1000 free copies were downloaded, and “free” rankings looked good on Amazon. However, there was no apparent effect on paid sales and no bump in reader reviews on Amazon. I may try again when the prequel THE TRAIL OF MONEY is released in September, or maybe not. What is the new Amazon algorithm? Unclear on what you mean by “discounting free sales to 10% value..” http://www.ghostsontheredline.com

    • 06/07/2012 at 10:02 pm
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      Hi Peter and welcome to The Vandal. The algorithm that Amazon changed related to the weight a ‘free sale’ gained in bestseller lists. Originally a ‘free sale’ counted 100%, or equal to a paid sale, but recent changes seem to have discounted this to 10%. Therefore you need ten times as many ‘free sales’ to equal the original formula. This makes it very difficult, ten times in fact, to benefit from free book promotions.

  • 07/07/2012 at 4:40 am
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    Thanks, Derek. I think this new algo may have been in effect when I was testing free promo days for GHOSTS ON THE RED LINE. I can see the rationale behind it… people place a lot less value on something that is free. In fact, I suspect that many “customers” for the free downloads are just collecting everything that is remotely interesting with little likelihood they’ll ever getting around to reading the free books.

    Some folks say that KDP Select has worked for them. As I noted earlier, perhaps it works better when you’ve got multiple books and can somehow make the customers of the free books aware of the others for which they’d now be more willing to pay.

    I’ll probably try it again when THE TRAIL OF MONEY comes out but my expectations are a lot lower than they were.

    Cheers,

    –Peter

    • 07/07/2012 at 8:50 am
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      Peter,
      I think you nailed it when you said – “In fact, I suspect that many “customers” for the free downloads are just collecting everything that is remotely interesting with little likelihood they’ll ever getting around to reading the free books.” If they are collecting books like a hunter gathers trophy heads, why do they bother? Maybe they should collect stamps instead.

      The only way any of us know whether or not our book is doing well is sales. You can have a book sitting in the list with 5,8 or even 10 five star reviews, but unless it actually appeals to the reader and sells copies…

      :)

  • 07/07/2012 at 9:17 am
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    I used KDP Select from March to May. March was a great success, but it fell off big time since then. As someone already noted, Amazon’s algorithm change greatly affected sales potential, so I plan to never use KDP Select again. I wrote three blogs about my experience on my website.

  • 12/07/2012 at 4:32 pm
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    Never have dreamed out loud but have talked in my sleep.Have written some when I must have asleep. ’cause it was lousy and had to be destroyed. Just couldn’t erease it from my mind. Its still there..

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