How Free Ebooks Make Money – But Not For Authors

How Free Ebooks Make MoneyFree Ebooks Make Money

Every day there are more and more sites, and social media accounts promoting free ebooks. Literally thousands of them. But have you ever wondered why there are so many? More to the point, have you taken a moment to think about why it is such a popular product to promote, and where the benefit lies? How can free ebooks make money?

Of course, the answer is money.

But how can anyone make money from free ebooks? This is the question I asked myself a few months ago, and once I discovered the answer, it became so obvious.

Let me start at the beginning. Some years ago I set up a book promotion blog, and for convenience sake, I used an Amazon tool to create a small bookstore page on my site. To do this, I had to enrol in a programme called Amazon Associates. In doing so, it also qualified me for affiliate income on sales from my little store.

This was not a money-making scheme at all, as the rate of commission on any sales is 4%, which when applied to an ebook sale amounted to a few cents. Anyway, my site continued merrily, and once every few months I took a look at my Amazon Associates account and if I was lucky, I may have earned a whole dollar. Usually, it was less.

Then, a few months ago, I made one small change to my book site to make it easier for visitors to go from a listed book on my site to the book detail page on Amazon, especially on smartphones, by using an Amazon supplied link, which was embedded in the book cover image and buy link. I thought nothing more about this small change to my site, except that it would benefit my listed authors.

BUT! A month or so later when I checked my Amazon Associates account I saw that I had earned a $3.60 commission on … wait for this … for an order for pet food! What?? Then down the list, which included books and ebooks, of course, were two more orders for, organic hemp seeds and natural farro!

It was time to do some serious investigation here. After a few days of scouring the net, I finally found the answer. A cookie! Not one to eat with your cup of coffee, but a small piece of computer code that is quietly added to web browsers when people visit websites.

So, this is how free ebooks make money. When someone visits Amazon via an Amazon Associates link, (such as mine on my book site) Amazon installs a cookie, and this cookie is valid for 24 hours (or longer in some cases) and any further purchases made by the visitor in this 24 hour period will gain commission. Here is Amazon’s explanation:

How long do visitors have to add an item to their Shopping Cart after clicking on one of my Amazon links until I no longer earn advertising fees on their purchase?

In most cases, you earn advertising fees for visitors that come to an Amazon site and place any qualifying items in a customer’s Shopping Cart within 24 hours of their arrival at most Amazon or 30-days for However, this 24-hour window for most Amazon sites and 30-day window for will end before it expires once the customer submits his order or reenters through a Link that is not your Special Link. Once the window is closed, you will not earn advertising fees on any subsequent purchases. However, if the customer then returns to through one of your Special Links, this opens a new 24-hour window for most Amazon sites or 30-day window for

It is, of course, possible that a customer may arrive at an Amazon site (including via your Special Link, add an item to his Shopping Cart, and then leave or without placing an order. As long as the item was added to the customer’s Shopping Cart during this 24-hour window for or 30-days for, you will still earn an advertising fee if the order is placed before the Shopping Cart expires (usually after 90 days). The advertising fee will not be credited to your Associates account until the customer has purchased the item, accepted delivery, and remitted full payment to

Now, back to free ebooks. How do they make money? They don’t by themselves, but by using them to attract, lure or bring buyers to Amazon, free ebooks are the starting point to make a little money for affiliate marketers using Amazon Associates, but for Amazon, they make a LOT of money from the vast number of shoppers free ebooks attract.

So, now you understand how free ebooks make money for a lot of people, and a lot of money for Amazon, but alas, authors don’t see a single penny of it, do they?

1 thought on “How Free Ebooks Make Money – But Not For Authors”

  1. Laurel L. Russwurm

    Thanks for doing the investigation; that is good to know.

    But there are other ways free ebooks make money, just as they always have within the publishing industry. Publishers have always given away free e-books to attract readers. Many self publishing authors do too… because the way authors grow a fan base is by giving readers something to read. Just as I’ve spent my life buying books I read free through public libraries, when readers read our work and become our fans, they will support us if they like it, especially if they want more of out work. If they can’t read it, most are unlikely to buy it.

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