Self-publishing & free Ebooks

TO MARKET AN EBOOK AS FREE, OR NOT TO GO FREE, THAT IS THE QUESTION.

BOOKSHOP

COME AND GET IT, IT’S FREE

 

It has to be worth a shot to talk about free, because the use of free to promote an eBook has gone through many disadvantaged algorithm and visibility changes across at zon over the last 12 months.

Here’s how free works.

1, You put your book on Amazon at whatever price. You then upload to smashwords and mark it as free. Once it goes through the distribution process and reaches the likes of Barnes and Noble or say Apple, then the Amazon computer bot finds it and they price match to free all over the world, Or, customers can report a lower price on the book page and again AMAZON will price match. That’s how it is supposed to work, or at least how it used to work.

That’s all changed now. No surprise really, because Amazon is a business and free got out of hand when 99c stopped working and guess what? There was a scramble to make books free by self-published authors.

How free worked was that the free chart was right alongside the top 100 paid chart, clearly visible. Readers looking for top 100 paid books could see it and were tempted to click a free eBook with a top ranking  to see what all the fuss was. The same with the category charts. If they read your book and enjoyed it and you had others, then they would likely pay for your other book. If they didn’t have another book then at least in the authors’ minds, it got their name in front of tens of thousands of readers. Or so they thought, because there were so many free that most languished on kindle…unread.

Due to a quirk in the algorithms, if you then put a price on your eBook after a promotion period, some of the free downloads counted as paid sales and it gave you a rank in the paid sales and hence sales followed.

Amazon associate sites realized that they could use free as a means of building traffic to their sites. Associates earn a percentage every time to buy a book through their site from Amazon. They realized that while free might encourage someone to visit their site, some would also buy books. One such site was Pixel of Ink, which built a massive internet presence through free eBooks to the extent that if an author paid for an ad to promote a free book,  then they could guarantee 50 to 100,000 downloads. They became so successful, that they eventually insisted on a book having 10 minimum 4* reviews to accept a book. But for a long time this wasn’t requred.

Other associates jumped on the bandwagon around the time that KDP select was introduced. This allowed authors 5 free planned days in a 90 day period and stands today. Amazon quickly realized that by having a virtual one for one ratio in the algorithms,  that after a successful free day – especially if an author had a Pixel of Ink ad – then once it went to paid rank, some were even ending up in the top 100 paid ranks. Great for the select authors concerned, but not for the free downloads Amazon suffered and that catapulted them there. Free was hurting Amazons bottom line… and the quality of books in the top100… they acted.

Associates were told that if the percentage of free downloads exceeded a certain percentage of paid sales from their site, they would take away their associate status. They altered the algorithm from free to paid ranking, reducing the worth of a free download. They actually did this in a few reducing stages. They reverted many previously permanent free books to paid for those outside the US and stopped auto price matching. They still do price match, but it’s like rationing and hit and miss and almost impossible outside the US   ( Or it was,  But as I have said before, things change). They also hid the top free 100 chart, which is now only visible with extra clicks or a search.

Needless to say, free has been tamed and with the introduction of countdown for KDP select authors, Amazon are quiet on the subject… for now… but bet your ass they are watching.

Countdown works for Amazon in two ways… it provides the KDP select author with the option of doing reduced prices in stages, getting higher, over say a 7 day period and it shows the reduction and time ticking down on your eBook page. You can only use one or other during your KDP select period and you have a time limit on changing prices after the event, so it’s either free or price reductions and not both. This has further reduced free downloads, in addition you have to be exclusive to Amazon Kindle, so you can’t use smashwords free option as a means of getting it free.

Phew, I could have written another two chapters by now.

That’s how it is. One way to look at free is that it is demeaning your product. Not only that, but you run the danger of picking up less than 3* reviews from customers who download out of genre and their comfort zone, Or it makes you an easy target for a drive by one star from those out there who hate self published books and it costs them nothing to do it. If you have thick skin to cope with that, then it can have advantages to increase sales as there still is some algorithm advantage in going from free to paid

It works best as perma free, if say it is the first book in a series and you want them to go on and buy the others. For single free days, then even 50 downloads will be followed by usually 3/5 sales within a few days if you are at $2.99+. One experience of a free day on a KDP select book, was that following 4,000 downloads I had over 50 sales at $4.99 within a few days, for a book that had tanked after 3 years published. The disadvantages were that I picked up some drive by reviews in the US.

On another note, I had a prema free short in the UK, which was also one of a 12 short stories in a compilation I had published. I didn’t market the free short, but it had a regular 100+ free downloads in the UK and a top ten-category rank. From that, I was selling 10 to 15 of the compilation at $4.99 every month. When Amazon reverted the short story to 99c in the UK, sales of the compilation stopped. So in certain circumstances, free can work as an aid to other sales.

Incidentally, bookbub has taken over as the place to promote books with paid ads from Pixel of ink. They concentrate on quality at reduced prices and minimum reviews and stars. Even if you want to pay, if they don’t like your cover, they refuse to accept the ad. New releases are usually not considered until they have the reviews averaging 4* or more.

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