Do Free Ebook Promotions Work? My Conclusion

Does KDP Free Ebook Promotion Work?Does free ebook marketing work?

After a four-week blitz of free Kindle ebook promotions, I have to say that the defining answer as to whether free ebook promotions work, is well, yes, no and perhaps.

There are so many factors at play when you use KDP Select’s free book promotion that in all honesty, it can become a bit confusing.

Let me start at the beginning and the confusion might become clearer. My plan was to offer four books over four three-day weekends. To increase the exposure of each promotion I looked for ten sites that promote Free Kindle Ebooks but quickly discovered that most of them are very selective about what books they promote and there is no guarantee whatsoever that they will list your book.

My feeling, and I certainly can’t offer anything other that a feeling here, is that due to their selectivity, there’s Amazon affiliate marketing money at stake. While some ridiculously state that they only accept books with at least ten 5 star reviews, others offer the opportunity to pay exorbitant amounts of cash to list a free book. Thanks, but no thanks.

There are literally hundreds of Free Kindle promotion sites and I have to say many aren’t worth the bother. However, out of the ten that I chose to list my promotion, one site did do exactly as promised. Free Ebooks Daily was the ONLY one that delivered on everything as promised. So a big thanks to Sharrel at Free Ebooks Daily for all her help.

Of the four books that I chose to promote, one did brilliantly, one did well and two were flops. Surprisingly for me, when I offered the first novel in a series it did very well. Two weeks later I offered the second in the series and it flopped. I suppose one conclusion could be that the first book was rubbish and no one wanted the second, but I’m not sure this was the problem. The first book managed to get listed by a few ‘promo’ sites, but the second one didn’t and hence didn’t receive as much exposure.

The surprise for me was a little romantic novella that I had as one of my four books. It went absolutely mad. No, ballistic in fact! It was downloaded so many times I was starting to think it was being downloaded on autopilot by a bot. It did provide me with some proof though that in this particular case, sales do follow a successful promotion and the book is still selling well.

The other confusing factor is where you book ends up on Amazon’s bestseller lists. Before May this year, Amazon’s algorithms gave free downloads a chance to earn your book ’15 minutes of fame’. But since May and their decision to give a lot less weight to free books, you’re lucky to get ’90 seconds of fame’ now. Unless your promotion results in immediate real sales, it will disappear extremely rapidly from view.

I suppose the conclusion I have drawn is that the free book promotion option offered by KDP Select is a worthwhile marketing tool and a chance to get noticed and get your name out there as an author. Although it’s a bit pot luck, that’s still better than nothing. Trying to get a few good free book listing sites to add your book is certainly a way to help boost your exposure and is definitely worthwhile as is a bit of good old fashioned self-promotion on your own social media networks.

Secondly, gaining immediate sales from one book is unrealistic as it logically takes a reader a while to either read the book, or more likely longer to get around to reading it. When they do though, you need to have more books available. If you only have one book to offer, I really think free book promotion is problematic unless it does so remarkably well that the book manages to keep a good bestseller ranking on Amazon for a week or more after the promotion.

So was all the effort this month worthwhile? I have to say yes. Although I don’t have the complete sales and revenue report from Amazon yet, I can see from my unit sales and borrows that July was a very good month. A five-fold increase over June.

So yes, overall it works. But no, it’s not going to succeed for every book. Just perhaps though, there is a bit of luck involved too.

13 thoughts on “Do Free Ebook Promotions Work? My Conclusion”

  1. One really important thing to note though, is that each free book will be seen by different people, and could be thought of as a stand-alone sale. So people who download a freebie book one in a series might look immediately for book two – but if it isn’t also free, there is no way they’ll keep checking until it is! So the second book, to an entirely new bunch of book buyers, was just book 2 in a series – hence, not a popular buy! One of the best tactics with a series is to make one permanently free, in the hope of attracting readers who will go on to buy the rest – but making book 2 of a series free on its own at a random point in time is unlikely to garner vast numbers of downloads.

    I found it really worthwhile to contact the various sites and newsletters that promote freebies – I started planning about 10 days in advance, submitted to most of the biggies a week or more in advance, and got picked up by most of them. The rest of that week I spent submitting my freebie to every single site, Facebook page, Twitter handle and newsletter I could find, in the hope of generating maximum buzz. It worked! Just over 20,000 downloads in 2 days!

    Most people seem to agree that 2 days is the best length of time for a freebie run as well – any longer and you risk falling back down the free charts, as newly-free books rise up and overtake you. One day, and lots of people who are late opening their email newsletters will miss out, so you won’t reach maximum potential.

    Just some thoughts!

  2. But the bigger question is, is this worth it over a 90 day period to pull the books from other sites? I’ve watched books go free and back to paid over the past few months, and that old bump is really nowhere to be seen. Is it worth not having the book for sale at BN, iBooks, Kobo, etc. just for the small possibility of a small bump in sales? Maybe back in January/February (the salad days of Select) it was, but now?

    I know, everyone’s first reaction is “well, I’m not selling much at those sites anyway, what’s the harm?” Bad business strategy – better question is what’s the benefit? Having a book go free for five days out of 90, getting a day or two of a sales bump – what about the other 70-80 days? How many potential sales *could* an author have missed at the others?

    Most books seem to drop right back down to where they were before the free run, so is all Select for is a 10-15 day “bump” at the cost of ALL sales at other outlets? What happens if an author goes Select, and the next day Apple announces the iPad Mini, sells 10 million of them, and suddenly iBooks is popular? Or Google Books takes off with the Nexus 7 release? And think about the worldwide market, where Kindle is an even smaller player (Kobo is really starting to be aggressive in Canada and elsewhere).

    To limit outlets where a book can be sold I think is bad business overall, even if the percentage is low. I’d hate to have to tell someone “no” when they say “I have a Nook, can I buy your book?” Regardless of percentages of sales, there are a heck of a lot of Nook owners out there, and so on.

    The most disappointing thing I see is an author who wrote only ONE book doing Select. Free may have somewhat of a benefit if it leads into other works, like first in a series, or teaser, or at least a book with links at the end to other books by the author. Giving away 10k free books (meaning 9.9k won’t read it anyway; freebie scoopers just collect, rarely read or review – ask anyone who’s given away 50k books how many reviews they received) does nothing for the author’s name recognition if his/her next book is months away from being published. That name is long gone. (Not to mention it seems most free book “buyers” will NEVER buy books for $ – and with the flood of free ones out there, why would they?)

    My opinion is have your book available for anyone, anywhere to buy and read, and keep writing. Don’t game the system with Select, hoping for a bump while marketing the heck out of a free book. Writing is a marathon, not a sprint.


    1. I have to agree with you Steve. When I moved to Select late last year there was some measurable benefit in doing so. However as is common knowledge now, Amazon changed the way they account for free ebooks and a lot of that early benefit has been lost. Having given Select a good trial over now nearly eight months, this latest little blitz I had was my last test of how well Select really works. I actually have one more free weekend coming up this week, but after that I am going to reevaluate the benefit of Select and decide whether or not to leave the program and return to a wider distribution base. I must say though that over the last eight months of using Select for all bar one of my titles, my sales have increased quite nicely indeed, so it’s going to be a difficult decision to make.

      But there is one thing that nags at me. Independent authors and exclusive distribution makes very strange bedfellows.

      1. That always begs the question of, would the sales have increased on their own without Select? I’ve been in marketing pretty much my entire adult life, and the fact that we as independent authors can’t tell where a sale comes from kills me. No way to track besides guessing, “well, it was on this site and sales went up” – would they have gone up anyway? Was it something we didn’t know about? Oprah mentioned it? Drives me crazy!

        One quick note – my Nook sales have steadily increased (at least until a slight June dip) every month by 25-40% since December. My thought then was it was because a lot of authors jumped ship and joined Select, leaving less “competition” for my books in their genre lists, etc. But again – I have no idea why! Crazy stuff…

        And yes – the word exclusive gives me heart palpitations…


        1. All true Steve. Sales data is something we just do not get and it drives me insane as well.

          Just another point. When I moved to Select, my decision wasn’t based on the ‘free days’ or the borrows. I moved for other reasons that included Apple’s loss of interest in iBooks, a chance to experiment with pricing, which is impossible with Amazon’s Price Matching monster and because Smashwords were driving me crazy with their approval process when I only wanted to do a minor edit to a book. It could take weeks!

          Publishing to Kindle is by far the simplest and fastest platform around to make small changes such as adding a new book to the ‘My other great books’ bit. lol Apple are still disinterested in self publishing, but there are good signs coming from Sony and B&N, so it’s worth reconsidering all the options. But I’m still waiting to see if Smashwords will improve their very slow and cumbersome system.

          1. Agreed – Smashwords is a mess. However, I’m pretty much officially out of it (and I’ve never marketed that site; my feeling is only other authors buy books there, and while authors certainly read, that’s not remotely my target market).

            By out I mean I’ve always been direct with Amazon & BN. Last month I went direct with iBooks, and last week fully direct with Kobo (they released the Writing Life platform, which is *very* nice). so now I can change covers, descriptions, and most notably pricing within hours – not weeks like SW can be! Only thing I’m using Smashwords for (shh, don’t tell) is to grab a freebie ISBN to publish with Apple. Oh, and the ‘massive’ Sony & Diesel e-book markets…

            Irony: Of the four direct platforms I’m using, Amazon is now the *slowest* in pushing through price changes (sometimes 24 hours). Even BN is quicker, go figure…

          2. Actually I’ve looked at publishing direct with B&N, but always run into their crazy US centric policies, so can’t publish direct from Switzerland. How do you manage it from France?

          3. Whoops – forgot about my US-centric views myself. (I only got to visit France for a few days – I’m stuck in lovely New Jersey, US of A, full time.) But that’s a very good point – Smashwords is sometimes the only option outside of the US. At least until BN actually sits down and thinks about it, which apparently they don’t do very often.

  3. So glad I stumbled across this blog via @DerekHaines. Reading the blog + comments. Thanks for sharing.

  4. I wouldn’t totally write off Select. The algorithm seems to have been tweaked again recently, perhaps in reaction to the launch of Kobo’s self publishing platform. My recent free days saw a pretty good bounce effect, which I put down to the free downloads counting (to some degree) for ranking in the ‘popularity list’. This is a slightly elusive beast, but is sometimes displayed to customers instead of the best-seller lists depending on how they browse Amazon.
    Due (presumably) to the large number of freebies, shortly after I returned to paid I had the most popular non-fiction book on Amazon UK. Being in this position must have contributed to the sales which have kept my ranking buoyant, with the result that two weeks on I still haven’t sunk back down!

    This might not be the same experience as everyone else, but I can only really go from my own figures. I wont bother running another free sale, but Kobo is already being referred to as the Black Hole of self-publishing, with many top Kindle sellers seeing rapid reporting – of zero sales! So for now I think I’ll keep in Select – the Lending Library alone is doing me sterling service at the moment! And if enough Select authors jump ship to take advantage of Kobo becoming more accessible, maybe we’ll see an opposite effect, where the fewer indies left in Select get a bump due to diminished competition…?
    Well, I can dream!

  5. Thanks Derek, Tony and Steve, for an informative blog on Select. It was always my plan to go for the wider distribution once my 90 days were over, (sounds like a jail sentence) I think my biggest problem is one bad review. Every time I promote my book with a link on twitter, the bad review pops up first. I imagine it has something to do with the 33 yes this review has helped. I was on page 25 of contemporary romance. This is dropping dramatically. I was going to wait until the Olympic games were over, before I posted a free book again, but not sure it will make much difference.

    Thanks ~~~ Louise

  6. Hi Derek,

    Re free e-book sites, I’ve found 2 that I like, the one you recommended, Free e-book daily – & – Kindle Book Blast.
    I’m not having much luck otherwise…not sure that I like Mad Kindle Promos. Can you suggest anyone else?

    Many thanks

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